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Monday, November 12, 2012

Church Music

This is my old set up from my guitar pedal board. I'm a youth minister, but I have also been a participating worship leader in some respect for the last 15 years. 

The worship wars have been going on for some time now.  I am probably not the only person annoyed by them.  The presidential election provoked my thinking about a lot of things, and worship happened to be one of those things. Christians on every side of every issue were ranting and raving about their side last Tuesday- whether it was winning or losing.

Here is one example of someone I assume is a Christian doing that in a public way. 

I want to set the baseline here and then get to the stuff I want to share. First of all, I think both our politics and our worship have serious implications for the rest of our lives. I voted on Tuesday. I am not telling anyone (including my wife) how I voted for any issue, but I did vote.  I did so because I truly believe our politics have serious real world consequences.  Second, there is an objectively right answer to both of these important issues.  We just aren't focused on those things in this post. Third, I have never, repeat never, been in a worship service that played the style of music I would want it to be all the time. It just doesn't happen for me, and I am not advocating any particular style of music or lyrics.

All that being said, Christians often focus on the wrong sorts of things when discussing both topics.

What do I mean? Aren't we supposed to care about important issue x? Of course you are, and there are probably very specific biblical principles related to that particular issue.  You may even be right.

But we get upset about the wrong sorts of things when we don't keep the main thing the main thing. Substance and style matter here people.  More on all that in a minute, but first let's return to the worship wars for just a second to bring church music back into focus.

When we think of the worship wars, we often think of differences in style. Sometimes, a difference in substance separates people, but most of the time this is not the biggest complaint.  I have been in many churches where people complain about the use of the drums, the lack of drums, amplified instruments versus acoustic instruments, praise songs being too repetitive, and older hymns being just plain boring. A number of other things often come up in the complaint category too- style, worship leaders, aesthetics of the room, and slide backgrounds.  We could probably make a much more comprehensive list of all the complaints people in the church have about music and worship.

Let's be honest, this is all petty stuff for the mature Christian.   Don't get me wrong the discussions about substantial issues- i.e. lyrical content of the song, especially about its general and specific referents- should be a concern to all Christians.  However, when we complain about things like repetitiveness, style, or aesthetic concerns we are being self-centered whiners.

And here's the point- When we raise an issue of substance or style in an un-loving, un-merciful, and un-servant like way we fail to communicate the Gospel.

What? Really? Yes!

Whiners fail to communicate the Gospel.

To put it differently, when we attempt to communicate in any way and we are not Christ-like, we fail to communicate the Gospel.

Can the Holy Spirit still get the message across to hearts and minds? Absolutely. God can do wonders like illuminating the dark recesses of our hearts.  It's actually part of the sanctification process.  The part troubling me is our disobedience. We are called to share the Gospel message and we fail to do so when cannot substantially or effectively communicate who God is because we are focused on the wrong things.

Here is what I think about church music:
1. We must remember worship is a lifestyle, not something we do on Sunday mornings. If we can't worship throughout the week, why are we trying to evaluate the music at a service? Let's live it first.
2. Excellence is great; being about attraction is not (See #3).  We should use those servants who are willing to obediently commit to things like practice corporately and individually. It's not a show. We must employ the same standards we would use for things like teachers in the church.  Some people may not be as skilled or talented as others, but they are committed servants and should be utilized appropriately as worship leaders.  See #3.
3. It's not about us. Church music must be about Christ first and foremost.   We can celebrate what God has done, is doing, and will do through our Savior and Lord.
4. Clarity- clarity of mission, clarity of message, and clarity of sound.  This is just about staying on task in every area.  We need to make sure we aren't just putting out noise (virtual or audial). In order to be clear we need to teach things that are both repetitive in some way and new in some way.  Different types of learners inhabit the church.
5. Just about everything else is up for grabs if we follow the first four rules.  Want to use metal to worship? Cool. Just make sure you follow the previous rules.  Bluegrass? Same applies.

Remember, Just because it's old or new doesn't mean you have followed the rules. It just means it's old or new.

Let me know what you think.

in Christ,

P.S. Here are two of the most formative verses concerning what I think about church music.

Isaiah 53:2 (HCSB)
He grew up before Him like a young plant
and like a root out of dry ground.
He didn’t have an impressive form
or majesty that we should look at Him,
no appearance that we should desire Him.

Philippians 2:1-11 (HCSB)
 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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