I have read several articles lately relating to music in church worship services. Though I do agree with many aspects of each of the articles, I have sensed a leaning that I disagree with and feel compelled to address. Maybe I am reading into the articles, and they are not intending to leave this impression. However, my impression is that there is a trend that seems to discredit the value of what some define as contemporary worship. Specifically involving two issues: performance and the lack of congregational singing.
I agree with the premise of the articles I have read regarding these two issues. Music in worship services is not about performance and music should be done that encourages corporate participation. Music should not be performed by a few people on stage rather it should be a corporate experience where the only one being praised is God. However, in the articles I have read it seems that the cause of the demise of effective corporate worship has been identified as contemporary music. This is the idea I would like to address.
With regard to the issue of why people are supposedly not singing during the worship service, I agree with details mentioned in several articles – choose songs that glorify God, play songs in appropriate keys, songs should be easy to sing, etc. I disagree though with a notion that contemporary music is the culprit. In my opinion musical style is not to blame for people not singing in worship services. I have seen, led and participated in many kinds of worship services over the years including contemporary, blended, traditional and liturgical. In services of every musical style people are singing and people are not singing.
To me, the biggest determining factor in whether or not I sing in worship services is my heart not the song or the style; it is what is going on inside me not what is happening on the stage; it is an internal issue not a music style issue. It’s about the condition of a person’s heart. If I am passionate about what Christ is doing in me then I will lift a song of praise. Yes, there is a musical style I personally prefer that is more conducive for me to actively participate, but I sing in whatever service I attend. So If I don’t want to sing in church I need to check what is going on in my heart before I check what is happening on the stage.
With regard to the performance issue, I agree with a basic premise. Music in worship services is not a time to perform or for people to admire and praise the talent of the musicians and the ones leading out, or for those leading out to desire the praise. It is a time to sing to God, honor God and lift our voices and hearts in praise and adoration to God. But, to suggest that contemporary music is all about performance and traditional music is all about pure worship is simplistic and wrong. To say that the use of lights automatically signifies a performance mentality is a mistaken judgment.
It seems that any suggestion of performance qualities is being devalued. If you prepare and pursue excellence then you are performing and that is heretical. Maybe we should never practice or think through a service song order. Maybe we should simply invite anyone that wants to help lead to come up that morning, hand them an order of worship and let them help lead out. If preparation denotes performance then let’s not be prepared. It seems as if an opinion is forming that says if you pursue excellence, if you want to set a mood, if there is any emotion involved then it is performance. Performance and excellence are not synonymous. The use of lighting and other visual effects is not about performing it is about creating an environment- an environment conducive to worship. I often use visuals while preaching, some say I am trying to entertain. I’m not, I am trying to communicate in a way that speaks to people and helps the message stick.
I, as do many others, seek music and music leadership that is authentic, real, and unpretentious. Lights, visuals and other environmental applications do not mean worship has become fake, shallow and performance motivated. I have witnessed many traditional services that come off as fake and performance-driven. If a person does not like or want visual/creative aspects in worship, great. Those who see those elements as enhancing their worship experience should not be seen as consumer Christians who are focused more on themselves than they are with Christ.
Another sub issue surfaces within this discussion. It involves the use of hymns verses worship songs. One, the trend suggests hymns are more sacred than new worship songs. Why are hymns considered more sacred than new worship songs? A hymn is a musical style of writing. Every hymn was a new song at one point! Two, the thought is developing that original songs should not be used or should be used sparingly. Why is using original songs in worship discouraged? Every hymn was someone’s original song! I am not against singing hymns or making them a part of the music in a worship service. Many wonderful hymns exist and are a great means of expressing praise to God. But many new worship songs exist as well and are just as effective for praising God. Original songs reveal what God is doing currently in the lives of those leading out in worship. What could be more authentic and real than that?
My bottom line – The use of different styles is blessed because people are different. Services can look different. Music can be diverse. Diversity is beautiful. And – Music in worship services is an internal issue not an external one. The current condition of corporate worship is a reflection of the condition of the worshipper’s heart. If the music leadership’s heart is right and the congregant’s hearts are right, style should not and will not be an issue. Performance will not be the desire and participation will be abundant.