Thursday, April 18, 2024

An Overlooked Danger To Traditional Church Music

by Dr. James Rasbeary

Simply put – we need more piano players.

There was a time when many Baptist churches had a piano in every Sunday School department, and someone to play it. Now, many churches across America struggle in the musical part of their worship services simply because they either do not have a piano player, or they do not have one who can play adequately for church. The musical part of the worship service for many churches would be taken to a whole new level if they had a skilled pianist and organist (and with a good electric piano on the organ setting, a pianist can now double as an organist).

There is nothing wrong with “traditional” church music. The hymns of our faith came out of times of great awakening and revival, are full of doctrinal truth, and contain melodies and harmonies that have blessed generations of born again people – while also pointing lost sinners to salvation in Christ. Someone has well said, “We don’t sing the hymns because they are old. We sing them because they are GREAT.” When the hymns are really sung as they were written to be sung, they are matchless.

While it is true that the hymns are still great when sung a cappella, especially in large groups that really sing out, it is also true that most churches are greatly aided in singing by the accompaniment of a piano and organ.

B5T28DWhen we started Lighthouse Baptist, we did not have a piano player for over a year. A senior man in the new church could play the guitar, and he would accompany me as I led three or four hymns. Trust me – no one was coming for the music program! Half the time, my musician would go forward in the invitation for prayer, leaving me with a silent and uncomfortable altar call.

I promised myself then that I would NEVER take a piano player for granted.

After a year, my wife taught herself to play chords on the piano and it was a definite improvement – but we were very limited in range and scope. Later, a couple joined – the husband has been our song leader and his wife our piano player ever since. Soon, she began offering classes, and I encouraged all of our kids to try to learn. All four of our kids have been taking lessons since around the age of 4 or 5. My oldest daughter is now Pianist church flyerthe backup pianist and plays our keyboard/organ. My second oldest plays for children’s church. We now have about a dozen students taking lessons from Mrs. Camp.

If Mrs. Camp said that she wanted her name on the church sign, I would at least consider it.

I am being facetious, obviously, but the fact is that a good piano player is worth at least two staff members and three and half deacons right now.

Parents, encourage your children to learn to play an instrument that could be used in ministry. It is worth the expense. Churches across America are struggling to find someone who has developed this talent and is willing to use it for the Lord.

We can complain about the rise of worldly music programs, but are we doing anything other than complaining about it? Do we sing out in church? Are we willing to serve? Are we willing to learn, to put in the endless hours of practice so that we can be useful vessels for the Lord?


What will our churches look like in twenty years if Bible-believing Baptists don’t answer the need for dedicated, spiritual, skilled musicians?

Original article can be found at

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    • Great article!
      We had the same experience with our church. (My wife taught herself to play chords until my daughter learned to play piano.)
      Now I have a granddaughter that taught herself to play and plays twice a week at our nursing home services. BTW, no matter how much of a beginner you are, they love the piano playing at the nursing home.

    • I have been looking for a place to play piano for a church for many months. I ad lib with ease and sight read very well. I love southern gospel. I feel that I was put here on earth to play to glorify our Lord. In the southeast Kansas area, I have not found one church that needs a piano player. If there is a shortage of piano players, there seems to be a very large shortage of opportunities for piano players.

  1. Dr. Rasbeary, I grew up Catholic and singing in a boys’ choir, was saved into a moderate charismatic church with traditional hymns, and eventually moved into Baptist and Baptistic churches for another 24 years. I was a congregational song leader and occasional/substitute choir director where traditional and conservative music was the rule. About five years ago, I started attending another church whose roots were in a school/hotel venue and whose music was contemporary and youth- (college-) oriented. Guitars and drums and other stringed instruments were used, but no piano or organ, even after purchasing a church building. The first service I attended was impressive because those saints could sing! And it was obvious that they loved Jesus and were worshiping Him in the medium that spoke to – and from – their hearts.

    As a child of the 60’s, I was attracted to this alternative style of corporate, musical worship. Although I am in my 60’s, I loved the 30-minute, standing, worship that was not limited to 2 or 3 hymns [mostly] from 1870 to 1970. The musical style is much closer to what I grew up with and seems to allow much more freedom in the [S]pirit. I began to sense that the traditional worship was more of an attempt to hang on to the comfortable and – if I may say it – the obsolete than to follow a scriptural pattern.

    Yes, there are legitimate criticisms of much contemporary music, but the right approach is not to hold on exclusively to the last century’s musical styles. Look around at your churches and see if in the desire to protect the visions of the older saints (and I love them too), you aren’t excluding the young saints and making your churches unattractive to the people of the 21st Century. Don’t become in your music like Hassidic Jews who think they are being true to Old Testament laws but are really following medieval styles of dress.

    • God sets the standard by which man must worship Him. He made the mold not man. We are not to change the mold to fit what we want it to be Mike D. We are to pour ourselves into the mold God has made for us to please Him. God NEVER changes, what makes you think we should change? There is a right way and a wrong way with no room for gray area when it comes to worshiping God.

      • Thanks, Elaine. I appreciate the reply. But I would ask you if the worship you are suggesting is God’s mold is the way worship occurred in the 18th Century, or the 10th, or the 2nd. My point is that most defenders of “traditional” worship seem to be defending their own comfort zones, not God’s. I don’t want to be harsh or dogmatic about my thoughts, and I fear offending some, but musical styles change. The styles that one generation uses to communicate are often different than what another generation uses, and I want to encourage the churches that appear to be dying to not shut out younger people.

      • The piano is a new instrument, only coming around about the 1600-1700s. So if God never changes, why should we change the mold to use a piano when God was worshiped fine without a piano for at least over five thousand years (assuming Ussher’s chronology of the Bible is right)?

        Furthermore, I imagine that if you look at the songs you sing in church, most of them are not old. They are new, written in the last 150 years or so. You probably have only a few that even go back to the 1600s. You have almost none that are actually old songs. So again, if God never changes, why are you singing all these new songs?

        I think a piano is the best accompaniment instrument for any kind of singing, and all kids should have some piano lessons starting around the first or second grade. But we must acknowledge that it is new, as are almost all of the songs that we sing in church. Most of church history didn’t have a piano to learn, much less debate about whether or not it should be used.

        Let’s not forget the Scriptures in all of this. The Scriptures present biblical worship without a piano in sight, without even in a piano in its vocabulary. So appealing that “God never changes” actually hurts your argument, not helps it.

        • Jason, you need to “unppack” your question! There is a great deal of commentary preceding it. What in particular would you like someone to respond to?

          • Why is the piano, the only instrument a child can learn? There have been forms of guitars and percussion since Bible times. You do realize “worship: is not just whats done in a church service. Our service to God is worship.

  2. Dr. Rasbeary –

    Great article! I really enjoyed it. I have been praying and struggling for the past few weeks on whether I should spend more time helping others learn music. Your article was timely for me.

    I love the hymns, but I also like our contemporary praise and worship as well. I think it is most important for the music to be the breath for the service to help people open their hearts to listen to the preaching of God’s word.

    God bless you!


  3. Thank you for these thoughts. I’ve been a church pianist since I was 14, and I’ve seen many churches who didn’t have very many (if any) pianists. I teach piano now to kids in my church, and my hope is that they will learn to play and use their talents in the church music ministry.

  4. Oh my. You say it well. The old stuff is not just old its awesome. There is power in it. This new stuff we often refer to as 7-11 stuff. Sing the same 7lines 11 times. You get the gist. Thank the Lord for a good message in song like amazing grace or it is well with my soul. Thxs for speaking out.

  5. This has been a concern of mine for some time. I love the old hymns–I loved them when I was a child, I loved them when I was a teen-ager, and I love them today as a senior citizen. Why are they not good enough for today when they were good enough for us as kids???? As to the piano playing, I am our church pianist, and though we do have a couple others who can play, they too are getting up in age. What will happen when we are gone? I would hate to see our churches without the wonderful piano (or organ) music. The piano can be very versatile when played with zest and enthusiasm.


    By Ken Blue

    Some of the brethren condemn your choice of friends, music and instruments while whitewashing the scapulars of those who would scorn them for their hypocrisy. The men they pretend to esteem would refuse to preach in their churches if they were alive today.

    Spurgeon said, “… What a degradation to supplant the intelligent … by the theatrical prettiness of a quartet, bellows, and pipes. We might as well pray by machinery as praise by …strings and pipes… We do not need them. That would hinder rather than help our praise…” (Charles Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 42.)

    Wesley said, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our worship, provided they are neither seen nor heard.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 685)

    Luther said, “The organ in the worship Is the insignia of Baal… The Roman Catholics borrowed it from the Jews.” (Martin Luther, Mcclintock & Strong’s Encyclopedia Volume VI, page 762)

    Adam Clarke said, “… Music as a science I esteem and admire, but instrumental music in the house of God I abominate and abhor.”

    Some things never change. Some of the brethren continue to whitewash scapulars of the dead while crucifying the living who will not march to their… dare we say “drum”?

  7. as a mom , I did give my daughter paino lessons but she was taught the classical music because she was that good but now she does not know the hymns I wish she would have learned the hymns while she was taking the lessons

  8. Taking regular piano lessons is not the only thing needed to become a congregational pianist. Much of playing hymns is learning to embellish what is written. In essence you are composing, so taking some music theory and composition would be helpful in becoming a better musician. There is also an aspect of congregational playing that you only really learn by doing and that is where the older, wiser, more experienced teaching the younger comes in.

    Having the elder work one on one, giving advice and tips, being hands-on as the younger develop the practical use of the skills they are learning is invaluable. Isn’t that the Biblical way?

    Our churches are setup in a way that don’t allow for these two groups to meet and build relationships. Churches have created groups according to age, common interests, like life circumstances, etc. While well meaning and useful in certain areas, these groups have helped form gaps in the Biblical way of teaching.

    So pianist, take the first step, bridge the gap. Seek out those who are learning piano. Have them sit at the piano with you for a service. Get them playing at nursing homes and junior church, Wednesday and evening services. Let them get some guided experience. Have them play at a second piano/keyboard until they are ready to take the lead.

    Don’t sit around wondering if it’s the Lord’s will. It is! We have already been given the command, elder teach the younger! Help build the next generation of congregational pianists. If you don’t who will?

  9. The old church of God hymnal is what we use in our home church! A piano and a bass guitar ! Those old songs were written by people tried in the fire! Those are the inspired ones that HE ( the spirit of The Lord Jesus) anoint and he sings with us! It’s a wonderful thing! When that all comes together! The Holy Ghost singing with the choir! Then the glory falls… Like it did in our churches in times past! That is the way it has been done from the beginning ! Look at psalms ! By the way we’re old fashion Baptist! Southern Baptist ! It’s not the name it about The Lord Jesus and the worship of him period! He is all we need and what the church needs!Amen!

  10. A great new website to help Christian people and their churches with their music is They teach hymns and Gospel songs on acoustic instruments. Their theme is “Playing the right kind of music the right way.” Check it out…..

  11. I agree but also learning how to sing those old hymns is also important. When I was a kid our churches in South Mississippi had yearly “Singing Schools” where a man would teach the basics of music, how to tell what part of the song to sing and how to properly lead a song with all of the hand motions. I think that is lacking in most churches today. I am available to teach Singing Schools if anyone is interested. I do not charge for this service.


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