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Thursday, August 04, 2016

Worship Music

I know. Grand title. The truth is I don't intend to discuss worship music. I'm not planning to analyze style, content, techniques, whether or not we should be using screens or drums or anything of the sort. What I want to know is ... what's the point? What is the purpose of today's worship music?

You would think the answer would be obvious. "Well, uh, to worship, right?" Seems like that would be the answer. But there has been a burst of articles written in the past few years about why we're not singing anymore. What?! How can that be? Worship music is for worship and Christians want to worship, so ... why does it seem like there is a growing problem of not singing in church?

Part of the problem, let's be honest, is men. The truth is that some singing makes some men uncomfortable. They're just not into singing these "Jesus is my boyfriend" kinds of songs, where a very slight shift in the lyrics -- like substitute "guy" for "Jesus" and the like -- and it wouldn't be distinguishable from a pop love song. The best illustration is what they did in Sister Act with a choir of nuns singing "My Guy", substituting "God" for "guy". Face it; men aren't so much into it.

A bigger problem is education. No, not because we didn't get the right stuff in school. It's just that we've been taught by observation in life that when someone is performing, you do not interrupt. If you do sing along with a favorite tune, make sure you do it quietly so as not to disturb the rest of the audience. It used to be that music was part of life. When I was a kid everyone did music. Everyone learned to read music. A junior high choir (made up of everyone in the class) would be given sheets of music and expected to sing four part harmony for the PTA at the end of the semester. That kind of ubiquity ("ubiquity": something that is present or found everywhere) is gone. Only a few read music. Many (most?) churches no longer bother with hymnals or any other printed music because so few read it anymore. No, we've been taught to listen. We've been taught that music is a "performing art" and probably best left to the professionals or the privacy of your home.

Oh, there are truly many reasons that congregations are singing less. There is the glut of "new" -- the idea that "new is better", an almost worship of "novel" -- so that so few congregants ("congregant": a member of a congregation) even know the words anymore. In some cases they can't sing it. Older music was fairly predictable; newer music not so much, and the newer is often written in a key outside the range of the majority with complex rhythms and, of course, no notations, so they can't sing it. A big problem is that no one can hear others singing when the music is so loud. I've been in churches where the music is so loud you can't hear the worship leaders sing and you just have to rely on the words on the screen to know what they're singing. Just to list a few reasons.

My problem is that music is biblical. As it turns out, those Old Testament prophets spoke primarily in verse -- they sang their prophecies. (Look, for instance, at the bulk of Isaiah and Jeremiah and you'll see that they're written out in verse structure.) Beyond the history of it, Scripture commands it. In Ephesians we read that we are supposed to be "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." (Eph 5:19-20) Did you see that? "Speaking to one another" with our music. In so many of today's churches you can't even hear one another and in too many it's only the worship team doing the singing anyway. Paul told the Colossian church more. "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16) You have to admit that's even bigger -- "teaching and admonishing one another" with music. In our day most of what we're getting is an attempt at making us feel something. Teaching and admonishing ("admonish": to firmly warn or reprimand someone)? Not happening.

There is a purpose for worship music. I'm just afraid that too many churches have forgotten what it is. It is not to make people feel. It is not to draw in the unsaved or unchurched. It is not to put on a good show. Somehow, somewhere along the way, too many have forgotten that we are there to worship, that God is the audience and the congregation the performers for His pleasure. The problem is misplaced affections, whether it's the male ego or the performer's ego or a love for the new over the old or a faulty aim to compete with the entertainment of the world. The solution is repentance and return to worship. Of course, I suppose I'm preaching to the choir ... or do I need to define that term, too?

2 comments:

David said...

I frequently find myself not singing for a couple reasons. I don't know the words to most of these new songs. If they are put on a screen or program, I don't know the song, and when it comes to worship music, I'm discerning about what I sing, so if I don't know the song, I can't honestly sing it. Or, I just flat out don't approve of the song. There was one service I went to that three songs in a row made no mention of God, Christ, Jesus, Spirit, Lord, King, or any of the typical honorifics applied to God, only "he" and "you" and "I". Nothing dividing them from anything you'd hear on your local pop radio station, except for the context of it being sung in church.

When I was in high school (a private Christian school), we had chapel every week and I sang because that's what you do. I can't bring myself to blindly sing like that anymore.

Stan said...

On no mention of God, I was at a church on a Mother's Day and the selection of songs that day would have convinced me that it was a worship service for mothers that day. I was honestly amazed at the total absence of worship of God. (Funny thing. That church did not repeat the same thing on Father's Day. I guess fathers aren't as deserving of worship?)