I’m something of a packrat, and I don’t think I should apologize for the trait. While most of my friends and acquaintances, including my wife, prefer good-natured chiding of my resourcefulness to mouths-agape awe at the sheer volume of information at my fingertips, I maintain habits related to e-data storage and retrieval.
Although these habits amuse or even annoy others, I often enjoy getting into some old files and retracing some steps. Just today, my eyes happened on a reply I’d written to a Christian acquaintance about ten years ago, and I was pleased to feel that I would write essentially the same things today. Today I’d like to share this background question, “fresh” from the corner of my e-attic where my little nest is found . . . followed by my reply, with only minor alterations to broaden the applicability and to avoid annoying extraneousness.
Here’s the question:
Suppose you were part of a group forming a new church, a community church, leaving you free from restrictions so to speak, what would you do musically? I’m speaking directly here of the worship assembly. We would love to get your feedback.
And here’s my reply:
I’d say that my first concerns would be variety, meaningfulness, and not getting stuck in a rut in any way.
In the area of variety, I would say it’s important to include both music that any given assembled group can relate to already AND music that perhaps stretches the preferred genres a bit. In other words, if I had a typical group of teenagers I would probably resist confining myself to pop and rock. I would incorporate a bit of New Age, jazz, and, in the church context, some hymns and more traditional, time-tested music. And, within a given genre such as rock, I would make sure that of variety of tempos, moods, and keys existed, for instance.
Meaningfulness? That probably speaks for itself, but let me just say that I think any music used in a Christian setting should be subjected to a test of meaning. Does it have any? Not that there can’t be some music “just for fun,” but I would think even “fun” music should have some meaning for the group.
When I say I would watch out for getting stuck in a rut, I mean more than one thing. Certainly the stylistic variety has something to do with it. I would also absolutely include thematically appropriate “special music” that allowed the more musically gifted in the group to use their talents. I would, however, steadfastly avoid becoming slave to a program that said, for example, every Sunday assembly must include four worship choruses and one piece of “special music.”
Some of my leanings include “blended worship” and worship music itself. I find that Christians need to emphasize vertical worship more, with deeper, more authentic, and more heartfelt expressions; some others seem to find that Christians should deal more with each other than with God on Sundays. Some emphasize Romans 12 service, whereas I emphasize the worship of the Psalms, Heb. 13:15, etc. I have certainly seen abuses of the assembly that essentially left all Christian interrelating out in left field, but I am still led to work along the line of fostering the vertical priority. I tend to think that the horizontal goals are met when the vertical ones are placed first.
I spend quite a bit of time reviewing contemporary praise and worship music and have composed a fair amount myself. You probably are aware that I also have a family heritage that appreciates and capitalizes on hymnody of the 1st through the mid-19th centuries. There are pros and cons, of course, with both the “ancient” hymns and with modern praise choruses, to name a couple of prominent genres. Personally, I believe in exploiting the best of all types of music. At Cedars, I think I do a fairly good job balancing styles as a song leader — not always leading only the new stuff, for instance. In a contemporary church with very few Christian musical traditions, I might put even more effort into drawing from the rich history of the past. In a church more staid and stuffy than Cedars, I would be looking even more for ways to incorporate fresh expressions of the current day into the worship assembly.
On the pragmatic side, I would seek to involve as large a proportion of the group as feasible and would try to emphasize group participation to the greatest degree possible (I do retain some Restoration Movement ideals!). I do, however, find both biblical and common-sense support for the use of individual gifts, i.e., sharing special, non-congregational songs. I would de-emphasize formality and ritual, trying to foster a “natural” atmosphere for the music of the assembly, as well as other aspects. Though I still do it, I have come to be annoyed by the Church of Christ “song leader” paradigm. I doubt that model would have a valid place at all in a newly begun community church. I subscribe to an “open church” model (there’s a book by the title that espouses some really great concepts) in which the predominant “feel” is one of mutual involvement and not formal leadership vs. audience, if you know what I mean.
I would not introduce an instrument in a typical Church of Christ setting, given the way things are now in our denomination. I do think instruments can quickly and easily take control of things during an assembly; I would tend to use more acoustic, “low-key” instrumentation such as a single piano and/or guitar, adding perhaps a flute or something like that, from time to time. Full, amplified bands with drums and the works have their place in larger settings, and I get into all that when I experience it, but my ideal church is a smaller, more intimate group, and it seems to me that the application for large instrumentations groups is limited in small groups.
These reflections give me pause even today, as I continue to dream of a church more closely aligned with New Covenant ideals and less tied to human tradition. Music, I suppose, will always be a significant part of group worship. For me, even private, individual worship has been fostered primarily within the context of musical sounds–both as I heard and as I made the sounds. Music is not, however, necessary, and I would like to see more worship occurring in Christian gatherings apart from whatever styles and extents of music are employed. For instance, I think spiritual drama is a very important direction for a new church to pursue in its assemblies, and well-conceived drama can well contribute to worship in the hearts of a gathered group of Christians.
It seems appropriate here useful to remind readers of the Soul Survivor church in England where Matt Redman led worship through most of 2002. Apparently, at some point, the “senior pastor” decided that there was too much fluff or periphery or something, and the leadership decided basically to fast from music. They had no singing or other music of any kind in their church assembly for a period of weeks, believe it or not. (Paradoxically, it was during this time that Matt wrote the song “The Heart of Worship,” in which he reminded that church and the world that “it’s all about You, Jesus.”) Truly, worship is about reverent adoration of the Father and Son; music is peripheral, although clearly a gift, and frequently a likely vehicle for worship.