August 04, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 2

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1.

Choir vs. Worship Band
Argument #2--Our church is on the wrong path because they either don't use a choir anymore, or when they do, it's not "real choir" but just a bunch of people up there singing.

What I think is really being said:
"The church I grew up in had a great choir, and I always enjoyed hearing them sing, or singing in the choir myself. It sounded so good to hear a four-part harmony singing in unison a great anthem or classic piece of Christian music. I especially loved those big Christmas musicals and Easter cantatas. It's hard to express the feeling I get from singing together with my friends in front of the church each week. Now I don't have that same opportunity week in and week out and I miss being a part of leading in worship for our church. Now they do music that I don't really care for because it's hard for me to sing along, much less sing harmony. I wouldn't even call what that band is playing "real music." Real music doesn't repeat the same things over and over, or need so much electric guitar. Sometimes they even "re-do" hymns in a different way that I don't recognize...or like. Why should there only be a few people up there playing instruments and singing when we could have a lot more people on stage. I miss my choir."

Appropriate response: For years, the choir was as guaranteed in the church as the cross and stained glass, but lately it seems that more and more churches are moving away from them, or at the very least to using occasional choirs that don't require any musical training or much musical knowledge. I realize that this is a rub for people who are musically trained. It's like being an orchestra conductor forced to sit through a Green Day concert. The problem comes, though, when people say that one type of music or one type of musical presentation is better (or more correct, or more godly, etc.) than others. If you think having an edgy worship band is better than having a choir, you're wrong. If you think having a choir is better than having a band, then you're wrong too. This kind of thinking is at best silly, and at worst is elitist.

Music reflects a culture. Most churches have their own culture. Many churches are experiencing a change in culture, and therefore, and change in music. This is not right or wrong, it's just a change. Sometimes people want to hold onto a culture in the midst of this change, but this usually proves to be impossible. Culture is always changing. If your music reflects a culture that is different than the people coming to your church, then you will quickly see those people disappear...whether their cultural preference is choir or band-driven. Southern churches found a way of doing church in the 1940's and 1950's that worked well, and many of them have had a hard time giving up those methods and practices. It was effective at reaching the culture at the time. Our culture has drastically changed since then.

Most churches I know who want to reach unchurched people are moving away from using choir music. Not all of them. But, most.

This may continue to push people who love 1950's church culture (not just senior adults, by the way) to move towards churches who still provide that kind of worship experience. In the meantime, churches who are engaging an unchurched culture will work hard to find people who are experienced in the Christian faith to serve as "spiritual parents" to new and growing believers.

This is a debate that will continue. Those who are getting the music style they want like to tout its effectiveness and how much they love it. Those who aren't getting the music style they want will usually criticize the current style as somehow "less than" their own preferences.

Here's the bottom line: 1) Are the words to the songs acceptable to God, or theologically correct? If yes, then the music doesn't matter. There is no such thing as "Christian music"...only "Christian lyrics". Guitars, choirs, drums, organs, piccolos, or even turntables and synthesizers are all morally neutral. The intent behind their usage and the lyrics sung with that music determines their place as "worship."

2) Does the music reflect the culture, and is it allowing people to connect with God? If yes, good. If not, then rethink what you're doing. If mature believers need their kind of music to connect with God through worship for 30 minutes on a Sunday, then I would question how mature they are. Worship is more than just a short burst of music once a week (Romans 12:1-2). If the current music is helping new and growing believers connect with God (choir or band), then that's a good thing.

Remember that music reflects a culture. Worship music usually reflects the music of that culture. Your best bet as a church is to use music that reflects the culture of the people your are either reaching or wanting to reach.

A friend recently told me a story about a lady who attends a church that does very traditional music with a large choir. This lady left her former church which had made the switch to band-driven modern music that was successfully reaching the younger generation. The lady said, "I love my church. I just wish we could reach more young families."

Are you kidding me? Translation: I want them to like what I like. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.


Dane Conrad said...

Hey, humanivy,

Great post. Brings back memories of when Darcie and I were in college. We had a group of friends (leaders in the college group) who wanted to have dinner and "meet" one night. I wasn't sure what about but after dinner they started a discussion on how the older church members were just going to have to get over the fact that we weren't singing hymns or that we shouldn't be singing hymns. Why? The younger crowd said they didn't feel God moving, they didn't "worship" unless the praise band was leading and singing stuff like Rich Mullins (who I love by the way.) It had more than a little of a militant edge to it. I was sorta embarrassed. One of the first questions that came to mind was - "When did [insert church name] become YOUR church and YOURS alone." I felt like I was now in danger of being associated with the equivalent of a "Praise Music Panthers" group who was ready to storm the church leadership or at least hold the music minister hostage.
Darcie had the same mindset as me (we weren't married yet but I paid attention to that.) By the end of the evening we had calmed them down a bit through making several points about the neutrality of music (the lyric point that you make,) about the population of our congregation (college students weren't the whole congregation,) and change over time.
Anyway, this discussion is one of the several ones that seem to always be around church bodies. In a way, I think it is healthy sign that the church isn't complacent, not stuck in a rut.
I love our church for many reasons and this is certainly one of them. I am certainly not one of the most dependable members or direct leaders; however, I never leave our church's meetings/gatherings/services without being "moved" - sometimes even by the music no matter the style/genre/loudness/instruments/leader.

humanivy said...

Dane, that's a great story and is exactly what I'm talking about. Definitely the other side of the coin.

Maybe you should write a blog, too...:-).

Robby said...

I think the hard part is figuring out what the culture today is and how that translates into what we do on a Sunday Morning

ashlee said...

I've honestly never heard anyone articulate this subject more objectively and intuitively. It seems that you've so accurately (I think) described the feelings of so many people. The thought I keep coming back to is that God's people should unite on what we agree on. God is good, holy, Almighty, He's always the same, always worthy of praise no matter what the method, the culture, the style. It's probably one of those debates that will go on forever. If life is what you make it, and happiness is a choice, could the same be true of worship? I would argue that worship is a choice. We choose to worship in good circumstances, and in bad. Through both the mountaintops and the valleys. As you said, (Rom. 12) we worship with our lives. Maybe music is a microcosm of worship. Worship, to me, is surrendering your heart to His heart, letting go of all of you and giving it to Him, laying it all down at the foot of the cross. It's something personal you do with God. Amazing corporate worship, to me, happens when you've worshiped God personally, you grasp the notion of grace, and you come together with the body in the name of Jesus. The focus is God. There is no name that is stronger than the name of Jesus. And when we come together in His name, whether we have music or not, we can worship....if we so choose.

Adam said...

Great post Jay. 3 thoughts:
1. Great Xn hymns like Holy Holy Holy & A Mighty Fortress have bridged the generational and cultural gap for hundreds of years.

2. I think modern culture is so obsessed with not being like our grandparents that we loose sight of what some of those older hymns meant to generations of Xns: Me and grandma disagree about allot, but I'm glad we both love Isaac Watts.

3. Good hymns ought to confront modern culture's obsession with innovation and declare our unity in Christ across generations. This might mean looking to another cultural form besides the rock band to bridge the gap.