For about 20 years I have been playing for churches. I have met many musicians, ministers of music, worship pastors and “MD’s”(musical director) all with varying styles and levels of playing. As a music teacher I have trained and taught many church musicians over the past decade. Out all of my many years of experience I’ve noticed that most of the people I’ve met or trained fall into one or two categories. There are some that are minstrels others are just musicians. But what separates a musician from a minstrel?

If you look at the word “minstrel” you’ll quickly notice that it closely resembles another word more familiar “minister”. In fact our English word “minstrel” derives from Latin word “ministerialis” which means servant. It was term applied to musicians during the medieval times and was applied in place of the word musician often in scripture. Which makes sense since the bible was translated into English during those times (ie King James version). So what do we take from this translation of the word musician to minstrel? And what application does it have for us today? A scripture in the old testament gives us a look a little deeper:

“But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.” 2 Kings 3:15(KJV)

Such a small verse but yet it speaks volumes to us of the purpose and function of the minstrel. To put this verse in context let me give you a brief summarization of this chapter. Basically their were three kings Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, Jehoram the king of Israel and the king of Edom. They went out to battle against the kingdom of Moab and as they were on a seven day journey they found themselves and their men stuck without water and low on supplies and confused as to whether they had what they needed to win the battle. So at this point they called for a prophet that was in their midst by the name of Elisha for direction from The Lord. Elisha at this point did what we just read in verse 15 saying, “Bring me a Minstrel.” So then it says that as the the minstrel played the Spirit of God then came upon Elisha and he began to prophesy. As I read this verse I begin to now understand the difference between a minstrel and a musician. At that point Elisha needed someone capable of ministering in music so to the point that the spirit of God would be able move and speak to him so he could give needed direction to God’s people. The same holds true for today, in our churches we desperately need musicians that are capable of not just playing an instrument but are capable of ministering in music to the point that the Spirit of God would begin to come upon our congregations and our pastors and teachers and give us direction. A musician just is someone who plays an instrument and expects compensation, cares nothing as to weather or not the Spirit moves or if God uses him or her. Am I saying that musicians should not be paid for what they do? No, but rather that if the situation calls for you to play and minister and no compensation is available, would you still play? I personally played for my church for 10 of the 20 years without any compensation at all! If you read in verse 15 again it doesn’t say that the musician received any compensation for what he did, but rather ministered freely. simply put a minstrel ministers and a musician “just” expects compensation. As Church musicians we must begin to set our hearts and minds on not just being compensated for what we do but making ministering in music a precedence over compensation.

In the next post, I will dig deeper into the stark difference between a minstrel and a musician.