15 July 2014

Music/worship style: a small-to-mid-sized church conundrum

by Dan Phillips

I realize that the premise is legitimately debatable, but for the sake of this discussion, we'll assume that the various styles I'll mention are all legitimate, and usable by Biblically-faithful churches. We're not comparing (A) singing doctrinally rich, Christ-exalting hymns with (B) throwing such over for "Jesus Is My Girlfriend" type drivel, or sheer entertainment, or music so loud no one can hear saints sing, or twerking "worship teams," or Bieber. We're talking about doctrinally rich, Christ-exalting hymns in musical style/musical period/culture A versus doctrinally rich, Christ-exalting hymns in musical style/musical period/cultures A-C.

That said:
  1. A church has Worship Style A, particularly in terms of music. Has had for years.
  2. Many say that this church it does not adopt Worship Style B, worshipers in their 20s and 30s — not currently in attendance — will conclude that they are deliberately excluded ("You're not welcome here, our ministry doesn't have you in mind"), and are unlikely to attend and remain.
  3. Others say that if this church does adopt Worship Style B, worshipers in their 40s and up will leave.
  4. If all a church has is worshipers in their 40s and beyond, particularly if it is sheerly due to an issue of style, the effectiveness of its ministry is hampered, and its future is worrisome at best.
  5. But is it wise to shift from a style comfortable, edifying, and not distracting to those who for
    decades actually have been serving and sacrificing and building the ministry, in the interests of people not present, not committed, not serving, not sacrificing, and not building?
  6. And if the faithful preaching of the Word plus vital, loving fellowship is not enough reason to come and stay, is it worth it to risk alienating the faithful to reach for the wobbly?
  7. Equally, is it wise to allow an issue of mere style to become a barrier to the spread of the ministry of the Word, when Christian graces such as God calls for in a great many passages would prepare people to accommodate practices which are not their personal preference?
  8. Such being the case, is not refusal to accommodate a style with which others are more comfortable tantamount to insistence on having it my way, all the way, all the time?
  9. Or is insistence on adopting a different style less comfortable to "pillars" tantamount to slapping them in the face, for the sake of those who have sacrificed and given nothing to build this church's ministry?
Simple? I don't think so.

Dan Phillips's signature


Paul said...

Working with the premises you've established - I agree, it's difficult.

Which is why I'd add (speaking as a musician) another factor into the equation.

How well does this musical style allow us to express the full range of meaning and emotion that the Bible calls Christians to worship with?

Of course, this still requires wisdom and is an area where musicians are often better equipped for than pastors.

Another key question is - what style or styles can our musicians play well?

Unknown said...

Interesting article,Dan. I have seen smaller churches in great turmoil over this very issue. Adding a second alternative service on Sunday morning may simply not be an option for many small churches, if it means less than 30 at each service. A sanctuary of 200 with only a tenth of capacity in attendance can be discouraging. I don't have answers either, but many churches have fallen into the ditch chasing the culture. God bless you, in all you do.

DJP said...

Kent, I totally get the intent behind goodhearted folks having two services. I really do. But that so guts what I see in Titus 2:1ff., and it seems to me to be — unintentionally! — the answer to the question, "How can we minimize our need to cultivate patience, grace, humility, forbearance, other-centeredness, and love?"

Kat said...

All I can say is, I'm soooo tired of praise choruses. As someone who has sung in classical choir, praise choruses fall flat at evoking the majesty and beauty of God--the whole idea of worship itself. Praise choruses tend to be repetitious and boring (and yes, I know some hymns have repetitious stanzas, too). There's a lot more meat in the older hymns, and I'm afraid we're losing that in chasing after approval by the "younger generation." The whole controversy reminds me of the old joke about hymns vs praise choruses:http://jokes.ochristian.com/Christian/Hymns_Vs_Choruses.shtml

MSC said...

I recently finished a series of sermons on Eph. 5:18-19 and dealt with these issues at length. We have both sets of people in our church and both serve faithfully and yet there remains a palpable tension with differing preferences that simply won't go away. I believe Phil. 2:3-4 is very relevant to this persistent matter.

Robert said...

I think the two services actually can encourage separation instead of unity. I think having a good blend of musical styles can be a way to bring people of different backgrounds closer. People on each side can actually gain some exposure to rich lyrics of praise from the other's preferred style and find some common ground to relate. In the church, that is really supposed to be one of our goals...to find our common ground in Christ. And while it might be a bit irritating for a bit, it might be a good idea to examine what the real cause of the irritation is before trying to get rid of it.

Luke Wolford said...

There is a third option. You can have a little from each "culture" that is represented on a Sunday morning. Also, Paul Huxley brings up a good point that any style of music played badly is not good and mixing styles would have to take what the musicians can play into account. The generations should love each other enough to share the service, I would think. (I'm not sure if my comment got through the first time, so if this is a repeat, please disregard)

DJP said...

MSC, are your sermons online?

Michael Coughlin said...

Amen, Dan. Seems like someone has to be the bigger man at some point and, frankly, I'd suppose that's the old folks' job off the top of my head in your scenario.

MSC said...

Sorry to say my sermons are not online. We are reworking our website later this summer in order to do that.

JackW said...

As a Christian musician, I find the lack of good teaching on the purpose of the music ministry to be a major contributor in not understanding these issues. I would start at James 3:1 and when asked what that has to do with music ministry, take them to Colossians 3:16. Once you see music ministry as a teaching ministry the boundaries are more distinct.

HST, in this specific case, I would expect the more mature in faith, those having joy, love, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control, to allow for a little more leeway on the preference issues.

Unknown said...

One other option is simply to duck the comparison and sing the Psalms without musical accompaniment. Then everyone can be uncomfortable (at least initially).

DJP said...

Yeah, but to what beat? 4/4 is of the Devil to some.

One's tempted to say "OK, that's it! No music! We'll buy MP3 players for members. That's it!"

David Regier said...

Why did you post this on a day when I don't have time to write a book?

DJP said...

Because (see comment previous to this one).

Anonymous said...

I'm probably too biased to objective here, but interested in the topic. Back in the hey-day of the "Purpose Driven Church" program (which our Pastor was implementing without the church's knowledge), my wife and I (in our early 30s at the time) got asked to leave because we weren't jumping and waving our hands during the musical portion of the program on Sunday mornings. (Previously, musical worship there had consisted of nothing but older hymns on piano and organ for the 12 years we had been there.) Pastor told me we were hampering the younger believers from being culturally relevant. We left quietly (along with most of the congregation over 40), and two years later the church no longer existed.

Robert said...

I often wonder if we dare consider how God receives the worship we give in our singing and corporate worship through preaching of the Word. Different people have different manifestations of worship. One of my sons listens attentively while looking like he is looking into space...the other is drawing and making small notes about the sermon. They both have Bibles open to keep up with the reading of Scripture, though. I ask them both about the sermon and they both have different comments that show they listened attentively most of the time.

If some people choose to play a guitar or have a faster, more upbeat tempo to their songs, but the lyrics are still true to Scripture and deeper than most pop lyrics, do we not think that God receives them well? And is not any preference that we have with regards to style more of our fashioning than God's? Show me where God says He prefers one over the other as far as style alone is concerned. You'll have to forgive me if I don't hold my breath waiting.

We have enough obstacles preventing us from loving other Christians as we should without making musical styles becoming a major one.

Chris H said...

My church is small, and mostly comprised of 40+ people.

God, in His gracious generosity, has blessed our congregation with talented musicians who seek to honour Him above all else with their gifts.

We usually start our service with 3-4 more contemporary songs, done with guitars and drums and vocals. These songs are all carefully chosen by the chorus team (of which I am a part), for musicality, theology, and singability (that's a word, as I've decided it is), as well as what the song conveys to people - Christian and not.

Throughout the service, we have 3-4 more traditional hymns sung from our hymnal, accompanied by the piano. These hymns are chosen carefully for their musicality, theology, and singability, as well as what the song conveys to people - Christian and not.

Any song from any era that doesn't pass muster in these four areas isn't sung. We just agree it won't be done.

We haven't had anyone leave because of our singing, and we haven't had anyone say they feel alienated.

God is good.

Randy Talley said...

We did quite a bit of rework over the course of 15-20 years trying to deal with this issue. And I won't hide the fact that we did much of it wrong.

For us, anyway, having different services simply to cater to music preferences was one of the experiments. And the way we tried to avoid those services creating two different church families was to sandwich Sunday School in between worship services. Of course, if you wanted "traditional", you had better be an early riser. So life was much easier on the "contemporary" crowd.

For at least 10 years now, we have gone ahead and used a mix of "traditional" and new, but we really do strive to make sure the music we use is theologically sound. That, by necessity, sidelines music from *both* sides.

Basically, we decided to make everyone miserable - LOL. Just kidding, although there were a few voices who were not happy that their preferences weren't necessarly given the air time they wanted. But we were also more committed to urging our people on to live faithfully and obediently. And as we saw people take that seriously, the complaints disappeared, and everyone saw the rich truth in all of the music we use.

We do have a couple of Sunday School classes that include music as part of their class time, and those classes tend to use just one style vs. another, so the hardliners still have a choice.

Greg Linscott said...

There needs to be some room for accommodation. We've had to do so at our church, not only across styles, but across language and culture because of a refugee group we are working with. We don't have all the answers, and we've still remained pretty traditional (no drums, using hymnals and printed music rather than projected lyrics). But one thing we have realized is that we need to make every effort to have the gathered church together in the corporate worship service.

I would also observe that while this often centers around music, one way you can focus the worship and perhaps at the same time clarify the best choices to support the worship is by being more intentional about non-musical practices, such as Scripture readings, public prayer, and even the offering. There are some choices that just don't coordinate well with the atmosphere that prolonged readings of Scripture, extended prayers, and so on create. A bouncy, shallow chorus just "feels" out of place- though simple or even repetitive doesn't need to be shallow. We sing things like the Doxology and a benediction hymn for several weeks at a time- something that can be committed to memory and become familiar. We have concluded our services with Newton's "May the Grace of Christ Our Savior," but have for the last couple of months concluded it with the 4th verse of "In Christ Alone." I think that establishing forms with the congregation has helped the older generation ultimately be more open to introducing new songs, because they see how the specific new song choice accomplishes the same or similar purpose the older hymns were doing, too.

Scott Aniol said...

A brief challenge to the presuppositions here. Music in the context of corporate worship is not primarily about giving people an authentic expression through their preferred musical style.

Music in worship is (as is liturgy and preaching) formative. It shapes right spiritual responses to God's truth. It is as part of teaching and discipleship as preaching is.

So you should not concern yourself with what particular age demographics prefer what styles of music any more than you concern yourself with what style of preaching or content of your sermons particular age demographics prefer. Do you poll your people to see if they'd prefer expository or topical sermons?

Instead, you should choose a body of music that shapes people to feel the right way about God and His Word and express themselves appropriately.

And then, of course, you've got to teach the people to view music in worship this way as well.

Scott Aniol

Michael Coughlin said...

Quick response to Scott's comment:

1. I don't think anyone presupposed that ",usic in the context of corporate worship is primarily about giving people an authentic expression through their preferred musical style.

2. The logic you employ, when applied to things like, say, whether or not to turn on the A/C or the heat, falls apart completely. Worship isn't about whether we are comfortable on a cold day in a heated building, either, is it?

But I'd guess you happily run A/C or heat if available, right? Why not just teach worshipers to praise and worship God without that type of comfort.

Similarly, why aren't people allowed to have some preference in the music style as long as it follows the pattern outlined in the very first paragraph of the post?

Is it because you do not believe there is any other worship style but "A"? If so, then your problem is with Dan's supposition that there are multiple styles of music with which we can worship.

Just be honest, you only believe in one worship style and you believe that all Christians should adopt it or be forced to. Is that right? If not, then I don't understand your comment.

Larry Geiger said...

Status quo. Can't have it.

1. In the 70s and 80s people stopped singing. It was drummed into our youth that only performers sing. Everyone else watches/listens (and pays, by the way!). Whistling, singing, strumming etc. were frowned upon. It's an activity for "artists" and professionals.

I began to notice this in my Scout groups. No one sang. When I was a kid everyone sang and we sang heartily. We hiked singing and we sang around our campfires. Since 1990 when my boys entered Scouting I have seen no singing. Every once in a while the Wood Badgers will sing a chorus of their theme song but that's it.

I have some sort of feeling that this is related (probably spiritually) to many other things that we see happening but it's hard for me to tie it in or relate it.

2. There will always be churches, I suppose, that can pay for a classicly trained organist. When I was a kid many of the local churches has volunteer organists and pianists. Some of them even in high school at the time. Most of them pretty good too. The big baptist church on the island had a big choir and organ and instruments, but most everyone else had an organ.

Try to find a volunteer organist nowadays. Nope, not happening. Everyone plays guitar. All the players/singers are in "bands". No one, and I mean no one who is in any way cool wants to be in a "choir". Yeeeeeeeeecccchh!

It's a mess out there in music land and pod-thingys are part of the problem. I once told a pastor that in 20 years he wouldn't be able to find an organist. He laughed. He's not laughing today. The transition from 1950 First Methodist (Pres/Bap/Epis, etc) to 2014 Calvary Chapel (non-denom, etc) is almost complete. From many people singing along to a few singing and a lot standing and waving.

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan, I feel your pain.

I'm sure my age influences the following comments, but not much, in my humble opinion.

There is an emperor with no clothes in the room, sitting on an elephant in the room, and it it this:

Most NEW stuff is junk.

I didn't say some people don't like it, even swoon with it.

But I've come to believe that swooning in modern praise music DETERS from worship, while pretending to be worship.

Such swooning in repetitious praise music is not significantly different than under-the-influence rockers swooning to a long swaying Grateful Dead instrumental.

It substitutes for communion with Christ, instead of promulgating it.

I agree with Scott Aniol, "Music in worship is [I would say "should be"]...formative. It shapes right spiritual responses to God's truth."

He and I might not agree on the beat, instruments, or musical style, however. The Bible is remarkably silent on those things.

But what to do when (I repeat) most new stuff is junk?

1. Make sure and sing the old stuff -- Toplady, Watts, etc.

2. Make sure the song leader COMMUNICATES with the congregation the truth of what's being sung, as well as the importance of that truth.

If he doesn't see *understanding* and *absorption* in the glazed eyes of the congregation, he should pause and rattle them into THINKING as they sing.

That kind of *thinking* will cause the flowering of worship in the hearts of true believers.

3. Pick and choose some of the new stuff that's not junk, and mix it in. Make sure it's not just missing Bible error, but positively inculcating Bible truth, Christ-centered.

BTW, it doesn't have to be complex and "deep". Gaither's "I'm So Glad I'm A Part Of The Family of God" is ultra-simple, but promotes koinonia in the hearts of the singers.

4. Lastly, pray that someone, or many, would rise up and plagiarize, say, "Gadsby's Hymnal", maybe modernize some of the King James English, maybe write some modern tunes for it, and give the Church some solid sovereign grace music for all ages to...

a. learn from
b. speak to and honor the Lord with
c. enjoy (yes, curmudgeon, enjoy)

5. Lastly, make sure and use plenty of Southern Gospel Music (just kidding -- this is, of course, optional -- as are Terry Kath interludes during the offering)

DJP said...

Scott, I really appreciate your weighing in.

You disagree with the presuppositions? Which, the ones I stated in the opening paragraphs? So is it your position that "doctrinally rich, Christ-exalting hymns" can only exist "in musical style/musical period/culture A"? If so, what is that style, period, and culture? If not... then what are you disagreeing with?

Paul said...

These comments have veered away from DJP's point. But since it might be useful:

Some of the comments betray a lack of knowledge of how much really good modern music (and lyrics) is being written. I could genuinely introduce a new worship song/modern hymn every week for a year that are of real quality. The breadth of topic covered wouldn't necessarily be brilliant but the words would be.

Terry Rayburn - coming from a more modern Church music background and knowledge, I basically agree with your points. Do you know that there are groups like Red Mountain Church Music, Indelible Grace and Sojourn who've done a lot of work on modern versions of Gadsby's Hymnal and similar?

There's also Sovereign Grace Music, who, despite the problems going on across the movement as a whole, are putting out strong, rich, Biblical music. The Gettys and Townend. Matt Redman has written a few genuine classics. Even Hillsong (!) have put out some decent music with thoughtful words lately.

Then there are nobodies like me trying to serve to the best of our ability. Here's a song of mine with lots of Romans theology (imputation/justification etc.). I'm no great but our church finds it helpful and singable.

Basically - I'm saying that if your reaction to DJP's post is "Modern worship (or praise choruses as it has inadequately been called) is shallow" - then you've not been looking in the right places and you've probably missed DJP's point anyway.

Scott Aniol said...

Hey, Dan. This is a fruitful discussion. Thanks for stimulating it.

The presupposition with which I disagree is that the styles of music chosen for worship are merely preference, like whether we put in red carpet or blue carpet, and thus accommodation to what is comfortable for various demographics in the church for the sake of unity is better than deciding which styles are best.

Color of the carpet? Yes. Merely preference, so let's accommodate.

Music? No, because it's not about comfort or preference but rather about what kinds of music best fit the weight of biblical doctrine, best express the kinds of reverent affections appropriate for expression to God, and best form mature, sober-minded Christians.

No, I do not believe there is only one style or time period that is acceptable. Hardly. I believe there are many, many varied styles and cultural expressions that are appropriate, and this variety is evident in the rich traditions cultivated over hundreds of years by God's people. What I object to is the notion that all styles are fitting.

Nor do I think people can't have preferences. They certainly may.

It seems to me that the whole discussion is predicated on the assumption that the purpose of music in worship is to give people a voice to their heart's expression, and naturally whatever is most comfortable to them should be encouraged.

Yet I repeat: music is not just or even primarily about expression in worship; it is about forming mature, sober-minded worshipers.

Our church is a small to mid-sized church, we have the full span of ages from young children to senior citizens (somewhat weighed toward young couple and families) in our services, and we have never chosen music based on what is comfortable to a specific demographic. We have simply chosen what we believe to be the best music that has been cultivated within systems of biblical values, using styles and accompaniment we believe to best facilitate the goals listed above, and the only people this has kept away are those who are more interested in the music they prefer than on a worship service that will disciple and form them.

Again, I would compare this to preaching since it is just as formative. Do you decide what style of preaching you will use based on what is most comfortable to a particular group of people in your church are a demographic you wish were there?

Paul said...

To Scott Aniol:

Hugely agreeing with you and my situation is very similar, church-wise, to yours.

I would just want to add to what you've said: ability. Both the ability of the musicians in your congregation and the non-musicians.

I believe the Genevan Psalter has a lot to teach us, style-wise that is very fitting for congregational worship. But the length of some of the lines and melodies are, at present, beyond what our congregation can pick up.

Also, imagine a traditional hymns and organ church made the call that a drums + guitar style of music was the most fitting (not saying it is, but it's a possibility). But no one plays those instruments in the congregation. We are called to play skillfully (Psalm 33:3) and clearly it would be unwise for that congregation to try to suddenly transition to rock/pop music.

DJP said...

"Do you decide what style of preaching you will use based on what is most comfortable to a particular group of people in your church are a demographic you wish were there?"


That is, yes, my style varies, depending on my audience.

As you could see, when I preach Sunday mornings to the general assembly, I hand out a two-sided outline and preach usually in the 55-60 minute range.

But when I speak to the VBS or Awanas group, no outline, and about 5-10 minutes.

However, the uniting factor is: whether 5 minutes or 55 minutes, Scripture is the text and Christ is the focus.

So am I a contextualizing sellout?

Now, I'll wax on a bit more prolix yet. Could I switch up? Preach 55 min to those poor kids, and 5 to the general assembly? Sure.

But boy, wouldn't that be foolish — to pretend that I can just ignore who my audience actually is?

Joel Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Pemberton said...

It's not simple. It really depends on your church's location with its mix of subcultures, age, spiritual development, and GC focus.

There are subcultures already in the church. There are subcultures outside the church the members of which you hope to evangelize and bring into your church. If your church membership isn't spiritually mature, they won't accept an influx of new Christians with different cultural sensibilities. Too many Churches are in this situation and therefore aren't fulfilling the GC. I'll call them "frozen churches".

On the other hand, a new church plant is naturally set up to welcome new Christians where an old one might fit into the frozen church model. It's a blessing to see an older church with the spiritual maturity to adapt negotiable methods for the sake of new members.

Scott Aniol said...

I am absolutely in favor of considering the audience, and any music chosen for worship must be accessible to that congregation. But these are considerations only after presupposing that some forms are better than others in shaping worshipers, and some forms are inappropriate for corporate worship.

Paul said...

Scott - I'm so close to being in full agreement.

But the suitability of a style in a particular congregation is part of that the judgement of whether it is able to shape worshipers. You can't shape people with music that they are unable or unwilling to participate in.

Of course, a completely inappropriate (i.e. sinful) style, if such a thing exists, is another matter.

Unknown said...

One church's solution

Beginning in September 2014, Ridgeline Community Church will be offering two distinct worship experiences: ROOTED|worship and RESONATE|worship.

Both services feature expositional Bible teaching and contemporary worship. The 9:00 ROOTED|worship experience is taught by Pastor Brent and, while contemporary, is more likely to involve hymns and more traditional service elements.

The 10:30 RESONATE|worship experience taught by Pastor Craig is just a little bit louder and more energetic, intended to "resonate" with the needs and interests of younger families and individuals, though of course people of all ages are welcome in either service.

Unknown said...

So the "worship wars" continue. I have known the Lord for 42 years and have seen what a mess this conflict has made. As an example, I am a trained, professional musician. As my training in my masters program, and before, was all classically oriented, I, like many I know, no longer have a place in Church music ministry. We meet together as a separate fellowship, offsite. Kind of painful in a way.
I think, for the most part, Scott is hitting the nail on the head. This is far less a conflict over style, than it is over substance. This is, for the most part, a theological conflict not a cultural one.
We need to keep in mind that music is not worship. Yes, I said that. I'll say it again - music is not worship. It is a means of expression. Mostly, what matters is what we express through that music.
Worship is not something that is done to us, but rather something we do to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we do that through prayer, scripture reading, music and even silence. It is truly a priviledge. I challenge any pastor to occasionally have a worship service without any music at all. How instructive that would be. Can you worship our God and Creator without music? What do you think the tone deaf do? Or, what about the deaf, period? What did Beethoven do when he lost his hearing? And what does that teach us about music in worship? And about the precious presence of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe who is mindful of us?
Styles, shmyles. Our worship is our souls' response to the awe-inspiring attributes of our Heavenly Father, not a feeling that is externally stimulated by an entertaining musical group, old OR new. Worship is something we bring, not something we get. Many people come to Church just to feel. That's not worship. They need to be taught. If we stay so deeply focused on the object of our worship and design our worship services accordingly, this whole conflict goes away. It is Christ who is to be glorified, not ourselves. This is the lesson that the mature must teach the immature - a theology of worship. It is not good to have the children running the family.

Michael D. Rourke said...

This cantankerousness is a perfect example of the perpetual sin problem since the fall. Conditions in this sinful world are so out of whack that this problem in the church may be like the world’s problems, unfixable. In the church, Christians are pointing to Scriptures to enforce their beliefs and or their opinions. So we have saved people, with a sinful nature, pointing to perfect scriptures, trying to please all the people. This condition may take time but we don’t have time, America’s youth are wasting away.
At this time I am attending in a church of 100 people that tries to blend the old hymns and their rich teaching doctrine with the repetitive mundane weak lyric younger style. On Sunday I see and hear the microcosm of what is the condition of our macrocosm American church. Strong worship is fading out of style.
When the hymns I love are sung I sing loud and my worship is more alive during that song. When the repetition starts I have found that in order to keep my worship strong during that song, I pray in silence. After many failed attempts at joining in I have found that I cannot bring myself to offer God less with those weak or say nothing lyrics.
Perhaps prayer may be the best alternative when someone isn’t able to join in. At a time in America when the last thing true Christians need is more division in our churches it seems so easy to say let’s pray.

Unknown said...

I am in my 30's and we have a church filled with people my age and large batch of children and it has always seemed to me that it's the Boomer generation that thinks we want the "cool" music. But the fact of the matter is, we've had enough "cool" and really enjoy the rich much more. I truly think the Boomers think they are doing it to draw us, but it isn't working and it's not what "we" want. It's either what they secretly want or it's that they think we can't find good music to listen to, so we might try church??

Unknown said...

To Unknown at 3:31...
See DJP above on Titus 2:1ff. If you have too many people to be one body with many members, with various gifts, in various age groups, working together, then it's time to plant a new church. If they just don't want to worship together, there is a deeper problem.

Tim said...

I'm under the impression God wants to make me happy so I think the music should be exactly to my liking. Once a church plays one song I dislike or uses an instrument I dislike or doesn't use an instrument I do like or has us sit down for a song or doesn't let us sit down for a song, then I'm out of there!
I'll be visiting my 74th church in 58 weeks this coming Sunday. Wish me luck!

PastorBoys said...

Dan...see what you started?!? ;)

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Tried commenting yesterday on my phone without success. I'll try again today; hopefully more profoundly.

I think you should consider the demographic when choosing how you'll do the worship service, especially if it's mostly made up of a certain age group/era.

I think it matters what you teach the children & yoots.

I think that hospitality goes a long way in promoting unity if it is done out of a genuine desire to get to know one another and encourage one another to love and good deeds. Younger adults need the older ones to show an interest in them rather than a fear or contempt for their (frankly, bad theology and) skewed worldview. This is where hospitality can make a big difference, I think, but I don't see a lot of that going on outside the walls of the church.

As far as that goes, there's plenty of bad theology in older folks as well.

Words matter. Tone matters. When it comes to singing, the music sets the tone for the words. We sang two good hymns as part of our service on Sunday, but the keyboardist didn't know them well, and we sang them SO slowly it was really uncomfortable, even for me.

Brian Jonson said...

I have been involved with local church music ministry since the early 90s and appreciate this post. It is not simple.

Lately, I've actually wondered if adopting the antiphonal, voice-only singing style of the Eastern Orthodox Church would be the best solution.

DJP said...

I'm sorry there was some logjamming of the comments. Really don't know how it happened; I've been approving them as I've seen them.

Marie said...

All could be solved by adherence to the regulative principle, could it not?

Donny said...

DJP. My new church is more traditional for my taste, but they preach the word and hold firmly to Sola Scriptura. Singing style was just not the priority anymore.

All that said, our church does have a contemporary service once a month and has "Bridge-gapping" songs in either service. Such as "In Christ Alone" or other getty/townend type songs.

The fact that my church is trying to appease all while still maintaining the reverence and doctrinal integrity is all I need even though my preference is not catered to fully. Hope that helps!

Ian S said...

I'd like to respond to this comment from Scott Aniol:

Music? No, because it's not about comfort or preference but rather about what kinds of music best fit the weight of biblical doctrine, best express the kinds of reverent affections appropriate for expression to God, and best form mature, sober-minded Christians.

I used to go to a church where all those things were true about the music, and the members were mature and sober-minded.

BUT the members were also lifeless, proud, greedy, unloving, and argumentative. The joy of the Lord was absent, and the services felt like you had gone back in time 50 years.

Scott's comment reminded of the period in history when the church banned major scales because they were too happy-sounding. Church music had to be in minor keys to suit the solemn and serious nature of faith and worship.

Yes, everything Scott said is true, but is it the whole truth? Respectfully, I don't think it is. For example, I believe the Bible teaches that joy should be one of the main characteristics of worship. If that isn't reflected in our music then there is something very wrong.

Back on-topic, within the parameters of glorifying God, building up believers, and reaching the lost, I think churches should use a range of music that reflects the make-up of the congregation.

dorothy erdely said...

For this comment & the one a few below: why do the "old folks" & the "more mature" always have to be the ones to give in & accept the changes to the "new way society says things should be done"? So much of these "new" praise & worship songs/music are either redundant to the point of boredom or the "music" is such rock that it sounds like satanic music.......the old hymns sound more worshipful I sure hope this doesn't mean CBC is thinking of changing it's style!!!!

Tom Chantry said...

I've been watching this without commenting, which was probably wise, but hey...

Scott's comment reminded of the period in history when the church banned major scales because they were too happy-sounding.

As long as we're making stuff up, Ian's comment reminds me of when Martin Luther chased the organist around the cathedral in Wittenberg with a sword because he had played "Ein Feste Burg" too slowly. But maybe that's just me.

Jim Pemberton said...

Tom, I happen to like some of those made-up stories about Martin Luther. Chasing the organist... good one!

Jim Pemberton said...

You're absolutely right. I think all those youngsters should either accept the old style whether they like it or not or just stop coming to church. But they are evil if they leave and go to another church that has a new, hip style. Churches like that should stop stealing our young people.

Sarcasm aside, it truly is the spiritually mature that should sacrifice for the needs of the spiritually immature lest they lose the opportunity to pour into the lives of the spiritually immature and disciple them. That's the simple side of the "worship wars". Who is going to be spiritually mature?

Paul said...

It's getting to the stage where it's hard to tell who's being sarcastic in the comments and who really believes what they're saying.

DJP said...

Well, Paul, of course I was sincere in the opening paragraph that frames everything, and the questions. And let me say that I appreciate everyone who read all the post and have been discussing these issues seriously and respectfully, like family.

Paul said...

Absolutely DJP and I thought the post and most contributions have been excellent and thought-provoking. But with a few posts I get the sense that I might be being trolled hard - or that I'm completely missing the point (could well be that).

Tom said...

This is in reference to Scott's comments about some musical styles being more appropriate for worship than others. I have a question: what styles would be more appropriate to worship and which ones would not be as appropriate?

Scott McClare said...

My church has long had a so-called "blended" service: meaning hymnody and spiritual songs from a multitude of styles and eras.

The theological rationale - given as part of a sermon series on Ephesians, if I remember correctly - is that the church is a family. A "real" family is made up of different people, each with different tastes in food, music, clothing, etc. Yet, for a family to function, you can't cater to one person's particular tastes at the expense of another's. Everyone has to learn how to get along despite their differences.

Our church has been blessed with some talented and thoughtful song leaders, who consistently choose music that is literally worshipful: ascribing the worth to our God and Saviour that he is worthy of. If they keep up that good work, then (with relatively few exceptions) I care not what package it comes in.

Scott Aniol said...

Lowell, you asked: I have a question: what styles would be more appropriate to worship and which ones would not be as appropriate?

The styles that I approve as appropriate, of course.

Ha! Just kidding.

Seriously, my point is not to say that it's perfectly apparent or easy to make such decisions as to what exactly is appropriate. All I'm suggesting is that we must begin with the right presupposition, and it is that music is formative: it shapes its textual content and shapes people. Therefore only music that shapes its content appropriately and forms mature believers is good for corporate worship. Beyond that, we must also certainly consider accessibility and other factors unique to our situations, and thus what is best might differ from congregation to congregation.

What I am objecting to is exactly what Scott McClare just implied, that musical choices are just preferences, and therefore the more mature Christians should simply accommodate their preferences to the less mature so that the less mature feel comfortable. If biblically speaking the more mature should be leading and teaching the less mature, and if music teaches and shapes, then it makes more biblical sense that the LESS mature should submit their preferences to the biblically-informed decisions of the more mature.

Chantry - nice.

Marie - The regulative principle solves more issues with the elements of worship than the forms, but I do agree that it nevertheless helps. Although less specific, Scripture does give guidance for our forms in how the Bible expresses truth through aesthetic forms and the kinds of affections that the Bible encourages in worship.

Ian S - That leads me to address a comment you made. First, I'm not exactly sure where I said that worship music should not express joy; of course we should express joy in worship.

But, this does raise an important issue: Yes, our worship should include joy (along with all kinds of other biblically-prescribed affections), but there are different kinds of joy, and not all of them are appropriate for expression to the Lord. Some things we call "joy" are more fitting for a sporting event or a party than for reverent worship before a holy God.

Scott Aniol

Ian S said...

Scott - you didn't say worship music should not express joy, but when you use phrases like "the weight of biblical doctrine", "reverent affections", "mature, sober-minded Christians", it doesn't exactly bring images of joy into my mind. (But maybe my mind is not fully renewed!).

In response to your claim "there are different types of joy", what Biblical basis is there for that?

Unknown said...

It seems to me that the goal of corporate worship is that it be corporate. I think that is the purpose of music in worship, as a vehicle of unity in expressing truths glorifying to God, not so much a vehicle for emoting. So in my opinion, that which accomplishes this, is best. Some of the good ol' hymns are seriously distracting as they are tuned to an ear from a couple hundred years ago. They should be changed. On the other end, many songs are so clearly just emoting that they distract from the spirit/truth content.

I LOVE me some Bifrost Arts, but I get queezy when it happens at church. It is too clearly a performance put on by skilled performers, not corporate worship (emphasis on corporate). This makes it quite distracting with reference to the real goal.

And the musically inclined should not be discouraged by this principle. I build cabinets and I think it glorifies God. But I don't plan to do it on stage as part of the worship service.

JackW said...

Ian, all three of those phrases bring images of joy to my mind and it’s not fully renewed either.

Bill said...

We have a different twist on our music - there is a good blend of "old" and "new". And, depending on song and/or Sunday, various instruments. The issue is the speed - it is always so slooowww. And, yes, people are leaving the church because they can't "get into" worship. It isn't easy to just say that "we all have to get along" or that certain groups have to "be more mature". There is no question that the music is worshipful or that the music is appropriate or that it is a cross section. It seems to universally disagree with everybody. But, for some strange reason, the leadership talks about change but it never comes.

Jim Pemberton said...

Bill: 'It isn't easy to just say... that certain groups have to "be more mature".'

A) It is absolutely necessary that all groups continue to mature.

B) It isn't easy, but spiritual growth must be pursued at all costs.

Without growth in spiritual maturity, symptoms of spiritual immaturity, like the worship wars, will continue to divide churches.

Robert said...

I'm just wondering if people somehow have forgotten how Jesus said the world can judge whether we are believers or not in their minds (this isn't the determining fact for salvation)...He said by our love for one another. If we're so attached to a particular way of singing hymns in church that it becomes an obstacle to less mature believers, how is that loving? And at the end of the day that is what we are really talking about here whether people want to admit it or not. Especially when I see a straw man used to make the argument against the types of songs people want to bring into conservative churches. Unless you're talking about Rick Warren's church or something.

Robert said...

The straw man argument is not in the post, but the comments...just for clarification.

Unknown said...

IMO, in the last analysis, I think the hymns should be sung, and anything with good approved content be sung. Performances should be banned, period. Corporate is the goal and the point.

But the hymns we sing from the hymnal have common popular tunes from the era in which they were written. They were not sanctified bits of chord progressions, but rather common popular, easy on the ears, easy to follow for the times, tunes. So why do we not do the same? Why do we need to stick to the King James Version of tunes? Was there something holier about the bar tunes of the past?

And on the other end, the youth do not come because the music is better at church than in the bars. Seriously.

And the Holy Spirit does not work through the 1-4-5 cuz it feels nice. The point is to unify and focus people on the words they are singing not on the snappiness of the tune.

Change the tunes already, if they are are difficult and not unifying. Stay away from songs intended to only emote by the right chord progressions and the appropriate build (that's not the Holy Spirit working, unless I am getting the Holy Spirit at secular concerts as well).

And think of how many race/cultural differences are being ignored in this whole discussion? Let's tell them in the Congo that this tune accompanying the Horatius Bonar diddy really reflects the mature folks in America, so you better enjoy it!!

Seriously, lets allow for an ESV of music without mystical attachment to the "glory" days, especially cuz that was their ESV when they were doing it!

Trim it back, keep it corporate, cut the mysticism, stop the performances, let the Spirit emote, and keep it simple and comfortable for the 21st century ear.

Scott McClare said...

Scott Aniol wrote:

What I am objecting to is exactly what Scott McClare just implied, that musical choices are just preferences, and therefore the more mature Christians should simply accommodate their preferences to the less mature so that the less mature feel comfortable.

First, I object to your assertion that a preference for certain genres of music indicates a lack of maturity--spiritual, or otherwise.

Second, I didn't say that musical choice is "just" a mere preference, without any sort of moral value. Punk, for example, was born out of anger and rebellion; while that might make it a suitable vehicle for protest, it seems to me hardly suitable for praise. Some genres of electronic music are so mechanized and processed that all natural, acoustic sound has been filtered out of it; it reflects an apparent worldview that seems so de-humanized that it couldn't have room for God, either.

As far as I'm concerned, if someone objects to a certain genre of music being used for corporate worship, then it's his job to identify the moral characteristics that make it unsuitable. If that can't be done, then perhaps it is a mere matter of taste, after all.

If biblically speaking the more mature should be leading and teaching the less mature, and if music teaches and shapes, then it makes more biblical sense that the LESS mature should submit their preferences to the biblically-informed decisions of the more mature.

And, biblically speaking, Paul told Timothy, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12). The Church is not a labour union; maturity is not concomitant with seniority.

Paul said...

Scott McClare:

Second, I didn't say that musical choice is "just" a mere preference, without any sort of moral value. Punk, for example, was born out of anger and rebellion; while that might make it a suitable vehicle for protest, it seems to me hardly suitable for praise.

Are there not Psalms that would benefit, at least in places from slightly angrier types of music?

Punk as a movement is a problem because it's anti-skill - contra Ps 33:3. Obviously there were skilled musicians in the movement but the aim was basically not to be.

But there might be places in which something more akin to certain kinds of metal would be enormously appropriate accompaniment to some Psalms. Obviously, it would have to be within the musicians' skillset and singable by all - but that is possible.

I think the bit I differ from you is the term 'praise' - in that worship involves more than just praise (e.g. petition and narrative)

Some genres of electronic music are so mechanized and processed that all natural, acoustic sound has been filtered out of it; it reflects an apparent worldview that seems so de-humanized that it couldn't have room for God, either.

Really interesting thoughts there. More straightforward synthesised sounds (e.g. square waves) tend to have associations with stars and space - the heavens as the Bible might put it. Since the heavens declare the glory of God, I could see value in using it for those associations.

At the same time, redeemed humans are the most able to worship God so the more human elements of instrumental music would definitely seem more generally appropriate.

DJP said...

I don't know; if God had wanted more than one kind of music to use, wouldn't He have made more than one kind of flower, one kind of fruit, one kind of vegetable?