A Message from Pastor Hale

A Message from Pastor Hale

Zion is currently looking at a big change in the near future. One that we pray will be a tremendous gift and blessing of Christ. A call committee of Zion has three names for consideration for a new Director of Music position. The impetus came, at first, in trying to obtain a quality organist locally. There are few non-retired LCMS organists without a position in Omaha, but after searching, we found there are actually few trained for this in our synod. Quality music and singing skill, on the whole, seems to be on the decline in our culture. Since Rev. Bartelt is retiring from directing the choir, after years of devoted service, and we need an organist starting this summer (our current organist, Timothy Schreiber, is going away to college), Zion is looking to call a man to a full-time position to oversee the music and liturgical worship of Zion and continue the great work done among us by them, and those who served before them. We are thankful for the musical foundation and love for singing great hymns we already have, and want to build upon it. This move will mean change and will have some new implications for Zion, but we are confident that this new position will be a great blessing for our congregation which loves to sing and confess Christ with quality music.

What does it mean that this Director of Music is to be a called position? A call is a divine call by Christ, through the congregation. Like the call for pastors, called church workers, and churches through whom the Lord calls, are to treat the call as divine – as God’s express will. Called workers are not hired hands to be fired or demoted at will, or the congregation’s whim. God does end every call, but the call puts congregation and called worker into a very specific relationship. If Zion calls a man to this position, they commit to support him and his work among us. A call is to be taken very seriously – it gives a weight to the position that a secular or hired position does not enjoy. A called worker is not to look for a better or more advantageous position, unless God explicitly calls him elsewhere. The public call, through a congregation, is how God tells a man where to serve and be content.

Commissioned workers (those called to a non-pastoral office in the LCMS) sound exactly like pastors, and there is a great similarity in the process and implications of their call. Yet Scripture only speaks of one divine office instituted by Christ – that of pastor or shepherd. But in Christian freedom congregations can establish new, man-made offices to support the one office of preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments that Christ instituted. Properly, only congregations can issue a call on behalf of the saints at that place. It is never left to a committee or certain group of people. These called positions that we create to support the pastoral office we call “auxiliary offices” in the LCMS (such as teacher, Director of Christian Education, deaconess, etc). These optional positions support the pastoral office and answer to the pastor called to that one divinely instituted office, but the call to these secondary offices is still divine and to be honored by the person in the office and the congregation through whom Christ called him. What we say is God’s will, intent, and call can never become less that that, even if it is inconvenient at a later time. So both called worker and congregation have great obligations when a call is issued and accepted. It makes what some see only as a job or business transaction something holy and divine to Christ.

During the interview and research process, I have learned a tremendous amount about the possibilities of such a music position in the congregation. This position actually has a lot of history in the Lutheran church, going back even to Luther’s days. There are various terms being used today in our synod to describe the leader of music, with a wide variety of meanings for most of them. The term or title we use is not as important as what Zion, and the new Director of Music, expect from each other.

Christian MusicFor the standard title in the modern LCMS, “Director of Parish Music,” Concordia, Chicago has this definition: “A Director of Parish Music (DPM) will play the organ and piano, direct a variety of choirs and instrumental groups, and help plan worship services with the pastor.” But Concordia, Irvine has a much broader definition: “A DPM may function as a Minister of Music, an Organist or Lead Guitarist, Choral/Instrumental Conductor, Music Teacher, Worship Arts Director, Leader of Contemporary Worship, or quite often a combination of two or more of the above list.” Here we see the divisions and differences in our synod. Worship style is neutral according to synod leaders. But what we do as a congregation does affect others in our fellowship. Those who look different in worship also look divided. And it turns out we are divided doctrinally in the LCMS, even though worship style is the most visible difference among churches. Unfortunately, some people pay more attention to the outward style than the doctrine taught, preached, and practiced. We believe that how we worship and how music is used is not neutral – it should be informed by Scripture and its doctrine. Our use of traditional music and liturgies says something about the Gospel of Christ we live by and in which we believe.

As the call committee interviewed men who are like-minded theologically to Zion, a new term kept coming up: “Cantor” or “Kantor.” I vaguely remembered a Kantor in my days as a seminary student at Fort Wayne, but I had no direct contact with that position. I could not define the term for the life of me a month ago, but through communication with our candidates, I have come to a new appreciation for this historic term. It is not necessary, nor really beneficial in itself, but in thinking through this new position at Zion, definitions of this term may be illuminating.

The standard and generic LCMS title today, “Director of Parish Music,” is fine, but a bit cumbersome and not very descriptive. Today some DPMs (and DCE’s and teachers, as well) function as de facto pastors, writing sermons and services, teaching without oversight – things that are more pastoral, than musical. Many traditional, liturgical churches are bringing back an old Lutheran term to describe the person who oversees the musical life of the congregation in doctrinal faithfulness: Cantor/Kantor. Music is not entertainment – it is sacred when employed to adorn the Word of God and our hymnody, which confesses the richness of Christ’s Word. This definition is from the LCMS Liturgical glossary: “Cantor/Kantor – One who leads singing, especially that of the congregation. One of Luther's associates, Johann Walter, is considered the first Lutheran cantor. J. S. Bach is probably the most renowned cantor. The term is finding increased use among those who are called to oversee the congregation's music- making and to work with the pastors in service planning.” This term implies a closeness to, and support of, the pastoral office in doctrine and liturgy, that the term DPM does not necessarily imply today in LCMS churches.

All of the men that we interviewed identify with the substance of this definition, and Zion would benefit greatly from a similar understanding of this potential new role. This auxiliary office of Music Director (or Kantor) is not in competition with the pastoral office – it works underneath it to support its preaching and teaching, and works closely in conjunction with it, ensuring good Lutheran music and doctrinally sound words are sung well. You don’t want your pastors playing instruments, singing solos, or directing choirs – for sure with your current pastors!

I found this explanation very helpful from Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA:

Trinity is among a growing number of Lutheran congregations in North America and around the world to restore this historic title to those who are called to care for and nurture the musical voice of the congregation.

Cantor comes from the Latin word cantare, which means to sing. Thus, the term Cantor refers to the chief singer or musician – the person who plans, guides and leads the people in singing and offering musical worship.

Happily, this title emphasizes our holistic Lutheran understanding that in worship all our varied musical expressions are to be coordinated so that we achieve the goal of praising God together.

The Association of Lutheran Church Musicians states that the Cantor is responsible for coordinating the entire musical expression of the liturgical life of the church. This includes: solo instrumentalists, instruments that lead and undergird the singing of the congregation (here, the organ and organists are especially important for Lutherans) small and large instrumental groups, solo singers, large and small choral groups, and the singing life of the entire congregation. Whatever resources are available, the Cantor uses them in the manner most appropriate to helping worshipers worship well and thus, be served in their spiritual needs.

At Trinity Lutheran Church, the Cantor is the principal musician at most worship liturgies, conducts choirs, and collaboratively plans worship with the pastors and other lay leaders.

This use of Kantor describes a very organic and holistic position beside the office of pastor, while DPM can simply be used of an independent bureaucratic office with a fixed set of rigidly detailed duties. Again, the term itself is not really significant, but the expectation and function of such an office is critical to get right.

A person called to such a position by God is to be treated a certain way. This role of musical oversight and care allows much more freedom than a proscribed list of duties without any flexibility. The call committee envisions such a person in this new role being able to start choirs for youth and/or children, to work closely with instrumentalists, and musically lead children and adults alike. He can help the choir to see its role as a leader of song for the congregation. A Kantor, in the traditional understanding, has the role of ensuring that all that is sung and played in worship is also doctrinally sound and in accordance with the church’s confession of Christ. He is not just the organ player and choir director, but he also helps plan, coordinate, and teach in his office, overseeing the music of the congregation, in support of the pastoral work to forgive sins. The music of the congregation cannot be disconnected from the Word she is taught and by which she is drawn to worship:

The Kantor oversees the music of the church, seeing that those who are able have the opportunity to serve the Church with their musical gifts, and sees that the music of the service is done in good order. But the Kantor is more than just a musician.

A Kantor is also a teacher – a teacher of music, but also a teacher of worship, hymnody, liturgy, and theology. In leading the Church's song, the Kantor not only leads the music in the congregation, but also teaches not only music, but worship, hymnody, liturgy, and theology to the congregation. Bach in Leipzig not only taught music to both the adults and the students of the school, but he also taught Latin and theology.

A Kantor is also a theologian – a good Kantor is a student of theology, as their  role is to proclaim the same Gospel from the choir and organ loft as the pastor preaches from the pulpit. Part of this is working with the pastor in the planning and leading of the service, so that the Gospel is taught in its truth and purity.


I hope this gives you a taste of what is to come at Zion, assuming the Lord gives us a man to fill this position. We have much to look forward to, as we aim to continue and strengthen the excellent organ playing, instrumental music, and choir and congregational singing we enjoy today. Zion can be known in Omaha for its musical confession of Christ – doing music and liturgy excellently and in accordance with the seriousness which with we take all the teaching of our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Philip W. Hale is a pastor of  Zion Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE.