Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Contemporary Worship Music, Round MDCCLXXII

I'm part of an online community called Arts and Faith. And every six months or so another "Contemporary Christian worship music sucks/No it doesn't, you suck" debate emerges. This is part of the latest round. The comments in italics are from another person on the mailing list. The regular text is me.

You say they're not up there to have people look at them. Then why, pray tell, are they up there? On a stage? In front of people? There is something to be said of the old model of placing the choir behind the congregation. While I certainly don't know the hearts of folks doing this, I know where the dangers lie. For years, I played guitar in front of a church, etc. I don't blame the musicians for the existence of that stage, but would urge music ministers to get musicians off of them. They don't need to be there.

They're up there to lead worship. Frankly, the position/place of musicians in a worship service is immaterial to me. I don't care. It doesn't affect my ability to worship (or lack thereof) one iota. My ability to worship depends on me, the attitudes I bring into a worship service, and how I position/place myself before God. Whether someone stands in front of me or behind me with or without a guitar is simply not worth debating, in my opinion. In terms of worship, I think you should find a church where you're able to fully and freely worship. And I think I should do the same. And I think it's problematic for either one of us to imply that our worship preferences ought to be shared by everybody else.

As far as the performance aspect of worship, I simply don't see it as the menace that you do. Performance is a potential pitfall in any aspect of the Christian life where communication is involved. I've seen plenty of Christians bullshit one another in entirely convincing ways because they were able to articulately mouth the words they were expected to say. And I've done that, too. Some of those performances were worthy of an Oscar. But I left a very nice, proper stained glass and pews and robed choir church partly because of the performance aspects I saw, complete with strutting mezzo-sopranos in the choir loft and virtuoso Buxtehude organ preludes, and I'm quite content in a church that incorporates contemporary praise and worship music precisely because I don't see those performance aspects. I see men and women who face me and play their musical instruments and sing, and whose desire is to facilitate the congregation in worship. Most of the people who do this appear to have some musical talent. This is a good thing, in my opinion, just as it's a good thing that my pastor has some insight into the Christian life and can communicate well. Why would it be a bad thing to acknowledge that some people are more gifted than others musically? But again that doesn't impact my ability to worship. Only I can worship. That band up there can't do it for me. And I'm fairly confident that the people in the Samsonite chairs (no pews, although that's yet another thing I don't give an ecclesiastical rip about) understand that as well.

By the way, I grant that my statements were of the blanket variety, but as there are exceptions to most rules, I figured that went without saying.

But your rule is false. It's not that "there are exceptions to most rules." It's that your rule is based on an incorrect perception of contemporary worship. I don't doubt that there are some people who are involved in leading worship who are doing it for selfish/egotistical reasons. Ego has a nasty way of insinuating itself into even our best intentions. But I don't know anyone (truly, and I know dozens of people who are involved in contemporary worship music) whose goal is to draw attention to themselves, or who think "Wow, I sure hope, nay, pray, because I want to be spiritual about this, that the congregation notices that cool new guitar riff I've worked into "Now Is the Time to Worship."" The people I know, across the board, recognize that their egos can get in the way, pray earnestly that that doesn't happen, and genuinely desire to worship God and facilitate others in worshipping God.

You said: But you've essentially branded a huge segment of the evangelical church as inferior Christians. They can't worship. And you're wrong. I hope you'll rethink your position.

I'm not sure how this came across. Of course I don't think of any of these folks as inferior anything. I'm simply suggesting that while the music of most churches involves performance on some level, whether it's a robed choir or a rock band, there is an alternative which seems to suit the spirit of Christian worship more closely, to my mind. If you were to attend a Sacred Harp singing (not a performance!), I'd be very surprised if you didn't come away thinking how less like a performance it is than very many Protestant churches. Just a hunch.

It came across in this statement:

The congregation is not exactly playing a critical role. It's a performance. And the musicians want to be seen as much as the audience wants to see the musicians.

You're 0 for 3 in that paragraph. First the congregration is, in fact, playing a major role because they are worshipping. They're not watching people worship. They're worshipping. That's why they are there. Can you understand why someone might take offense when you brand huge swaths of the church as passive concert-goers? It's not true. Second, the musicians are not performing. They are leading worship. I've already discussed this. And third, the musicians don't particularly want to be seen. That's not why they're there. Some of the folks who play in our worship band also play in rock 'n roll bands. I've seen them when they want to be seen, on Friday and Saturday nights at the local bars, and I can assure you that their demeanor is quite different on Sunday morning. Although sometimes I think our worship might be enlivened if the guitarist played on his back while writhing on the floor.

Sorry if I offended you. Didn't mean to...

No problem, ,name>. Really. But I am trying to explain why some of your comments seem misguided at best, insulting at worst.


mg said...

i'm digging it andy. keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I feel like a spectator sometimes from the floor, and I feel like a performer sometimes from the stage. As you said, however, that's a problem in my own heart.

jackscrow said...

The fact that I hate (I don't believe that's too strong a term.) canned accompaniment doesn't keep me from worshiping, but I do think about it every time anyone chooses to take the kareoke way out....

More related to the repost here, I have seen egos take over a music worship. I think it's the canned music's fault - every half-ass singer becomes a holy AI contestant. If they had to actually concentrate on a complete presentation, there wouldn't be as much room for strutting and preening.

But a stage doesn't have an ego, and it's needed sometimes. The visual is part of the presentation.

On another somewhat related tangent, I've often wonder if stage fright isn't at least partially caused by pride.

Anonymous said...

Zzzzzzzzzzz. Not an argument I care to get into. As you know, I'm more into greatest worship hits of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and with the choir screen in our church, it's hard to see anyone strut. Still, however, our organist is impressive. And fortunately humble.

Anonymous said...

We have amazing talent in our church and they do an excellent job leading us in worship. I look forward to singing in church with my church family every week. However, we have 3 big video screens in front of the church. Most of the time it is used to showcase the words of a song. It is very annoying to me when they zoom in on one of the worship leaders. I didn't come to see them and it isn't a performance but it sure feels like one when the worship leaders faces are plastered over 3 large video screens. I sing and have been asked to try out for our worship music team. I don't do it because I know my own ego and vanity. I don't want to be on stage and soak up admiration from the people in the congregation. I've been there and done that. There is definetly a temptation to perform when you are leading worship. I applaud the humble song leaders who are simply leading worship rather than performing or getting their strokes. I'm a reassurance junkie, so I haven't gotten to the place where I can lead worship humbly.

Love your blog by the way. It rocks!

Unknown said...

i enjoy a lot of contemporary christian music, and think that is has a place in the church.

Download Worship Music, Hymns, and Karaoke Accompaniment Tracks at

Anonymous said...

i live in Nashville. i left the church because of egos.. i go fishing, hiking, and share the gospel in dive bars and art galleries. i rather be absent than fake reverence. God doesn't respect that either. i am happier, more gentle, and dont have a so called shepherd tsk tsking me with malachi chapter 3 every other sunday. Earn your own cash and try to reach the broken. the church has left the building. i wish you well andy... criticism gets old.