The Role of Music in Teaching the Faith

We know that music is important in teaching people about Jesus, but what does that actually look like? What practical steps can music directors take to teach not only music but also the Christian faith? Below is an excerpt adapted from Kenneth T. Kosche’s article in The Pedagogy of Faith, a book for Lutheran educators about teaching methods they can use in the Christian classroom. Our excerpt is from the chapter about music.

Word and Music Together Are Powerful

Words and music independently affect heart and mind significantly. Combining language with music may at times seem to exceed the sum of the two parts, so powerful is the symbiosis. St. Paul also knew the power of word and music combined when he wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

In a single sentence, St. Paul encapsulates this theme, linking the rich indwelling of the Word of Christ with the thankful response of singing. There is no doubt he believed such singing reinforced the indwelling of the Word of Christ. St. Paul is not engaged in sales or propaganda; nor does he advocate for a particular genre of music. For the child of God, singing the faith is simultaneously a natural and powerfully effective activity. True in St. Paul’s day, it is still true for us in the twenty-first century.

St. Paul also tells us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). We sing of faith in its simplest form:

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
   Little ones to Him belong;
   They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me! He who died
Heaven’s gates to open wide.
   He has washed away my sin,
   Lets His little child come in. (LSB 588)

Countless little children have sung, memorized, and loved this simple song of faith. Perhaps you have as well. It tells us that the Word of Christ is about Him and comes from Him—“for the Bible tells me so.”

Go Deeper in Faith by Challenging Students Musically

Of course, children need eventually to be drawn into deeper biblical truths, which should be done through teaching the Word of Christ and singing about it. Simple songs must be supplemented by other expressions of the faith as children grow in intellect and experience. A mistaken assumption holds that since children cannot understand more complicated matters, we should not challenge them with more complicated words and songs. Of course, common sense indicates the truth of this statement to a point, but it is also proper to challenge children to help them grow.

Songs learned in youth revisit a person throughout life. Concepts that were not clearly formed as a child may develop over time and bring richness to an adult’s faith experience at an appropriate time. Some early challenges are worthwhile and may also prove the means for classroom discussion and explanation. This is true also for the Christian congregation and for pastors who shy away from hymns they consider “difficult” or unfamiliar. Given the challenge, children and adults might actually learn to like the once unfamiliar songs!

Cover a Range of Emotions in the Music You Choose

Finally, select lyrics that cover the whole range of human experience and interaction with the Almighty. Select music with a wide range of emotional affect. “Happy clappy” music represents only a tiny portion of a child’s emotional and faith experience. Use words and music that have intense emotional impact as well as the more “cheerful” manifestations. For this reason, a valuable part of a child’s repertoire ought to include settings of the Psalms either verbatim or in paraphrase. No other part of Scripture covers such a wide expression of the faith and human emotion.

Here is an example. Together, sing Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Then explain the text with questions: “Have you ever been afraid, perhaps afraid of the dark? What does it mean for the Lord to be your ‘light’ and your ‘salvation?’ How does He help you to not be fearful?” and so forth. In this way, faith is nurtured and the Word of Christ dwells richly in a child—and develops later as an adult. This is how a child takes it to heart.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Quotations marked LSB are from Lutheran Service Book, copyright © 2006 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Read more from The Pedagogy of Faith.

Tap into the wisdom of theologians, professors, DCEs, school staff, missionaries, and parents to fuel and shape your passion for top-notch Lutheran education.

Look Inside the Book
Picture of Anna Johnson
Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson loves to share the Good News of Jesus with children, youth, and families. She's a graduate of Concordia University Chicago and the University of Colorado - Denver. In her free time, Anna enjoys fishing, reading, and a good cup of tea.

Subscribe to all CPH Blog topics (Worship, Read, Study, Teach, and Serve)