Five Favorite and Five Least Favorite Instruments Used in Worship Services

January 11, 2016

Jonathan Howe told me I was opening a can of worms by conducting this Twitter poll.

He was right.

Still, I wanted to hear from churchgoers what their favorite and least favorite instruments are. Some of the responses were anticipated. Many were not.

Favorite

  1. Piano — Piano is not only a favorite; it is one of the few instruments that did not also get mentioned as a least favorite.
  2. Acoustic Guitar — This instrument was a clear second preference.
  3. Organ — This instrument was also the number one least favorite. There seemed to be a clear generational divide here.
  4. Violin — The violin and the organ were only one vote apart.
  5. Cello — This choice surprised me. Maybe it should not have surprised me.

Least Favorite

  1. Organ — Wow. There were very strong negative sentiments here. One person wrote, “I will ask God for permission to haunt my wife if she allows an organ at my funeral.”
  2. Tambourine — I was surprised at the negative sentiment here. Apparently, many churchgoers believe this instrument to be the choice of those not musically inclined.
  3. Drums — Again, there was mostly negative sentiment here, but the reasons for the negativity varied.
  4. Handbells — Handbells did not get one positive vote.
  5. Banjo — I can’t remember the last time I heard a banjo in a worship service. Maybe there’s a reason for that.

I was also fascinated to see the “one-vote wonders,” those instruments noted by only one person.

  • One vote wonders, favorite: Hammer dulcimer; mandolin; and ukulele.
  • One vote wonders, least favorite: Oboe; jazz flute; whistle; kazoo; harmonica; recorder; tuba; shofar; cowbell; accordion; chimes; and saxophone.

I bet this discussion will be fun. Let me hear from you.

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122 Comments

  • Aric Russell says on

    Why We Do Not Use Instrumental Music In Our Worship?

    One of the most often asked questions by those who visit our service is, “Why do you not use instrumental music in your worship?” That is a good question. It is a question that is worthy of a biblical answer. It can be answered in just a few words, “We do not use it because God has not authorized the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship to Him.” All that one does is to be done “in His name” or by His authority (Col. 3:17). Since He has not told us to use instrumental music, we do not have the right to assume that it is alright to worship Him by means of the instrument. This answers the question but let us dig deeper to see why we do not use instrumental music in our worship services.

    Establishing Authority
    As we begin, we must first look at how we establish Bible authority. The Bible teaches us in three ways. It teaches by direct commands, by approved examples, and by necessary inference. A direct command is a command spoken directly by Jesus or an Apostle that we are to follow. An approved example is an example given by Jesus or an Apostle that teaches us how to live, act, worship, and treat others. A necessary inference is speaking of things that are implied. There are no other conclusions that can be made but that which is inferred. Another thing we must consider when it comes to Bible authority is the subject of general and specific authority. Whenever anything is authorized in the Bible, it usually contains some general instructions and some specific instructions. Understanding this difference is important to successfully determine authority for all things. Notice the difference. In Matthew 28:19-20, we find both general and specific commands given to us. The text reads, “”Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” Jesus’ commands to “Go” and to “Teach” illustrate this principle of general authority. Both command us to do something, but many of the details are left to us. For example, we are to “go”, but it does not say how. Therefore, we can walk, drive, fly in a plane, or even stay in our homes and use the internet to spread the gospel. All of these would be authorized. General authority includes authority for anything that falls within the general instruction. “Teach” also instructs what to do, but there is not specific mention of how to accomplish this. We could teach publicly, privately in the home, or in groups and classes. All of these are still teaching and, therefore, are authorized by the general instruction to teach. We also see within this verse specific authority. When the disciples were told to “go and make disciples”, the exact method of “making disciples” was not left general, but rather, it was specified. They were to “baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Also, they were not allowed to teach anything they wanted. Jesus specified what they were to teach: “to observe all things that I have commanded you”. So, for the same instructions, we see that while some things are general, other things are specified.

    Applied To Instrumental Music
    Now that we know about Bible authority, let us examine the topic of Instrumental music in the church. First, notice the specific authority (or command) given to us. The command is that we are to sing. There are no less than 10 verses that either command or give the example that the music in the New Testament Church is vocal music (Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9; I Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; Heb. 13:15; Jas. 5:13). Now, we won’t look at all 10 verses but notice a couple of these verses. Ephesians 5:19 says we are to “sing and make melody in our hearts.” Colossians 3:16 says we are to “sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord.” Looking at these verses we can clearly see the specific type of music commanded in our worship today, vocal music. There is no mention in these verses of musical instruments being played. When God commanded a specific type of music, all other types, including mechanical instruments, were excluded. We also see in these passages the specific command of what we are to sing. We can’t just sing what we please. We must sing spiritual songs, songs of praise. Notice another thing in regard to singing, notice that we are all to sing. Go back to Ephesians 5:19. The verse says, “We are to speak to one another.” Therefore things such as choirs, solos, quartets, etc. are not authorized in the word of God. How do we speak together if only one or a few are singing? Next, notice the general authority from this passage. We have just confirmed the command to sing and not play instruments. However, from this study we see that there is general authority we can draw as well. The general authority is the freedom we have to use our best judgment to properly follow the command given to sing. By this authority we have the freedom to use song books as an aid to keep everyone singing together. We have the freedom to pick the amount of songs we choose to sing in our worship services and the order we desire to sing those songs. These are things that fall within the general authority to sing.

    Answering Arguments Favoring Instrumental Music
    Now that we have established authority for why we do not use instrumental music, we must address one more issue. We must answer those who seek to justify why they use mechanical instruments in their worship. Notice a few of the most common arguments made.
    “It has always been a tradition in our church.” This argument is really far from the truth. Looking at the examples of worship in the New Testament, the music used was always that of singing. Not only that, but there are many famous individuals in the religious world that spoke against the use of instruments in worship. Notice what some of these men said. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, said, “I have no objection to instruments of music, in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.” Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran Church, said, “The organ in the worship is an ensign (sign, token, or emblem) of Baal.” John Calvin, founder of the Presbyterian Church, had this to say. “Musical Instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of other shadows of the Law.” Finally, Charles Spurgeon, a well-known Baptist preacher said, “I would as soon attempt to pray to God with machinery as to sing to Him with machinery.” I remind you, that we are not using what these men said as authority, but to show that the use of instrumental music has not always been a tradition.
    “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” If this is your thinking then your worship is ignorant worship (Acts 17:22-23). It is ignorant because you are not aware of the kind of worship God commands from us.
    “I like it in my worship.” If this is what you believe then you are guilty of will worship (Col. 2:20-23). You offer things to God that you like, and not the things that are pleasing to God. Remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu when they offered up will worship (Lev. 10:1-3).
    “It is found in the Old Testament.” There are many things found in the Old Testament that are no longer binding on us today. John 4:23-24 tells us that the time has come and God expects His people to worship differently. The fact that God may have commanded it in the past does not mean that He approves of it now. Consider Moses. In Exodus 17:5-6 we find that God told him to strike the rock for water. Later, in Numbers 20:7-8, God told him to speak to the rock. We see that Moses struck the rock as before, and in doing so, lost his right to enter the Promised Land. Moses did not listen to what God had commanded him at the present time. God commanded instrumental music in the Old Testament. Now, He commands us to sing.
    Why do we not use instrumental music? It is because it is not authorized by God. We are to walk by faith, which means we walk by the instructions which God gives (Rom. 10:17). Where God is silent, we do not have the authority to act.

  • As a worship leader, I’ll put *almost* any instrument up there… IF the person playing it plays it well and plays within the song.

    I’ve played with a banjo, cello, melodica, flute, accordion, and harmonica to go along with the usual worship band instruments. It can be great if that IF is met.

  • Lori Schreur says on

    When Praise and Worship music came out, I jumped on the bandwagon along with many other worshipers and sang with both the worship team AND choir for several years, enjoying the blend of music styles.
    Unfortunately, many people feel that the two styles cannot blend together, and I find that sad. I love piano being added to organ music and hymns, and I love organ being added to praise and worship music. Both complement each other SO WELL!
    Be a progressive church!!! Erase the divisions, blend the music!!!!!

  • The main reason for drums is to keep a steady beat so the praise and worship band may successfully lead the congregation. Personally, I like the drums and I really like the electric guitar. I go to a United Methodist Church and we take advantage of these instruments, along with the saxaphone, clarinet, flute and congas. We also have a keyboard and acoustic guitar.

  • surprised to have no mention of flute, trumpet, or trombone…

  • Ryan Forrest says on

    Wow. Those results hurt a little. I am in my 20s and absolutely love to play the organ (pipe). I love to play in traditional and more contemporary settings. I actually play the organ in our more contemporary service and I think it’s awesome getting to play with a band and also with an orchestra. I love the organ because of all the different things you can do with it. It’s just a fantastic instrument to play. But, I am glad it did make the favorite list as well.

  • Here is a great worship song with banjo by Messianic worship leader Joshua Aaron called “He’s Coming Again” (in English and Hebrew):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRayGjasq4Q

  • My church along with two other Episcopal Churches have been joining together for occasional Sunday afternoon “Uke-Charists” – joyful, ukulele-based worship services with communion. Besides about 20 ukuleles, we also get a mix of other instruments, including banjo, mandelin, clarinet, tuba, harmonica, and more. Lots of fun, old-timey Gospel music mostly. (“I’ll Fly Away”!)
    It started because we have a posse of female priests who play Ukuleles, and have connections to the wider ukulele scene in Richmond, Va.
    As my colleague said, “We have a long way to go if only one person listed Ukulele as a favorite!”
    (My church also has an awesome organ and organist doing a mix of classical hymnody and world music on Sunday mornings.) I’m sure God loves it all!

  • Six string banjos are making a comeback with many groups. We use one from time to time on old favorites like, “I’ll Fly Away”. We also have a very accomplished mandolin player.

  • Shocked that Electric Guitar is not on the list. Smaller churches do well to go with electronic drums so that the volume can be controlled by the board. Just give your a headphone monitor that is turned up really loud so it feels normal to them. I don’t mind a well played organ. I don’t care for synthesizers and cheesy keyboard sounds. The music is what you make of it.

  • Favorite instrument? Congregational voices. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. I’m a worship leader [play keys], and if I can’t hear voices lifted in worship — THE MOST IMPORTANT INSTRUMENTS in a WORSHIP GATHERING — then we’ve got a problem.

    Least favorite instrument? ANY instrument that’s not mixed in well with the other instruments. Thus, let’s hear it for the seasoned, experienced sound techs who help each instrument be appropriately heard without muddling the sound / mixing to the middle.

  • John Nozum says on

    That was a VERY GOOD article that you wrote. Yes, I can see how you can stir up a hornets’ nest. Actually, there’s one instrument that is COMMON, but I hate it it WORSE THAN ALL THE ABOVE PUT TOGETHER! It is that awful distorted electric guitar, especially death metal and acid rock! To me, this instrument is POISONOUS!!! These are fit to be thrown into a molting pot burning at about 3,000 F!

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