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Music Performance vs. Music Ministry

Music Performance vs. Music Ministry

May 3, 2016

The difference between musical performance and music ministry is in the heart of the musician.

There’s a fine line between musical performance and music ministry, and as a long-time cantor I can honestly say that it isn’t always easy for music ministers to know when they’ve crossed the line from serving God to serving self.  Here are a few guidelines that help me:

  • Performance is concerned with a quality product, while ministry is concerned with a holy process.
  • Performance seeks to be successful, while ministry seeks to be faithful.
  • Performance strives to shine like the sun, while ministry strives to lead others to the son.
  • Performance draws attention to the performer, while ministry draws attention toward God.
  • Performance is out front to be seen, while ministry is out front to lead.
  • Performance entertains, while ministry prays.
  • Performance is for an audience, while ministry is with a community.

If you still aren’t sure, pay attention to what is going on in your mind as you approach the microphone.  Do you pray: “Lord, use this instrument as you will to bring your word to your people”?  Or do you pray: “Lord, help me to sound my best so I will impress people; grant that I make no mistakes and do not make a fool of myself?” When you make a mistake, what is the first thought that crosses your mind: “Did that make people think less of me?”  Or: “Did that distract anyone from God’s message?” 

Finally, how willing are you to hand the microphone to someone else, trusting that God may want this other musician to minister to you? 


  • Rosanne ThomasPosted on 2/08/18

    Hi, Bernadette:

    Thank you for your kind comments. I'm glad you found this useful in your stewardship of your musical gifts. You are most welcome to print the article. When I write professionally, I use my full name: Rosanne Masters Thomas, MAPM. I'm Pastoral Associate/Director of Religious Education here at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ft. Mitchell, KY, Diocese of Covington, and I'm a cantor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

  • BernadettePosted on 2/07/18

    Hello Rosanne, Your words are so eloquently written and beautifully expressed. I stumbled upon this article a while back, printed it, and always refer to it to remind me of where my gift of music came from, how to use it to serve Him, and always bring glory to His name.

    I am a harpist and cantor in a church outside of Philadelphia, and would like to have your 7 points on Performance vs. Ministry printed in our ACMP (Association of Church Musicians and Cantors in Philadelphia) newsletter. Do we have your permission to do so, and what title accompanies your name? We will, of course, use your name and title for the quote.

    Looking forward to hearing from you. God Bless

  • arnoldPosted on 11/19/17

    We are God's musician.

  • Rosanne ThomasPosted on 7/19/17

    Thank you, Kevin, for contributing.

    I agree that many, perhaps even a majority, of church musicians - and church staff members and congregants as well - do approach liturgical music as performance. Many church-goers also critique the priest’s homily as they would an actor’s performance, and many homilists try too hard to live up to those entertainment expectations. Many people approach prayer as if God were a vending machine and all they had to do is push the right button to get the desired miracle. Many people use religion as a weapon. Others use it as a money-making venture. That doesn’t mean that true ministry doesn’t exist, be it musical or otherwise. It just isn’t as common as we thought when we were young. All the more reason to keep working in God’s vineyard.

    Jesus dealt with people’s misunderstanding of ministry too: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37

    Yea, a lot of times we just don’t get it.

    But that’s no reason to stop evangelizing because every once in a while someone does get it, a window opens, and the Holy Spirit rushes in.

    I don’t think only clergy persons are called to ministry. I think it is the baptismal call of every Christian. There are plenty of clergy persons who aren’t ministerial, and there are plenty of lay persons who exemplify ministry, often in difficult circumstances. There is plenty of corruption in the Church, as you say, and there is plenty of compassionate pastoral care witnessing to the Good News as well.

    I’m glad you don’t see it as hopeless. I don’t either.

  • Delete Comment

    KevinPosted on 7/13/17

    I have a master of music degree in organ and church music. At age 50 I retired. Now at age 51 I discovered a dirty secret: churches from small to large want performers. They pay lip service to ministry but that is the job of a qualified clergy person who has spent time to get those credentials. A church musician is a performer, through and through. A dedication to high quality music is the most important thing in music in any form. A church musician gives a weekly concert.

    Yes, I went for 30 years believing in music as a ministry. That was a huge mistake in my part. Let me put it this way: when my previous church needed a new organist, they said I auditioned well but they wanted someone from out of town and younger and with a doctorate. That's what they got. With me, it would have been personal.

    Bitter? Yes. Hopeless? No. Even so, I have had enough working of fundamentally corrupt churches. What counts is what the big donors want.

    Take famous churches like National Cathedral, St. Thomas NYC, or Grace Cathedral. I have met people who have served in all 3 churches. I can assure you that performance is key to music in these places. They need what only the very best people can give.

    Leave ministry to the clergy - music needs the very best in performance even in the praise band megachurches. You can bet Saddleback Church puts priority on performance.


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