I was thinking about worship music on this Easter Sunday, and a thought occurred to me. It's not really a new thought, but it is a bit of a restatement or a solidification of a way to describe what I've thought of in the past.
In introduction, it seems to me that in a lot of places the church "music wars" have quieted down in recent years. A music war, as many of you are probably aware, is that great battle of the generations and the stylists as to what the most appropriate and meaningful style of music should be in the church worship services. In most churches that I've been involved with, the contemporary worship style has caught on, with perhaps a few traditional songs mixed in, or a separate service set aside for traditional music and style.
Now, what I've noticed about this general state of things is that it's hard to find the right mix of music styles. Often, the contemporary style is used without regard for any other style. Where there is a mix, it's usually a compromise issue to please the various camps of people attending the service. However, the thought I had today is that this mix of music styles is a key element in true worship. And this mix should not be based solely on the audience's tastes, but instead on the intrinsic variety that I believe God enjoys in worship.
Heed the oft-quoted words of Solomon:
I believe that these verses are very applicable in worship services. One thing I've noticed recently (perhaps a problem with my always-short attention span, or perhaps an inherent problem) is that contemporary music tends to be played...and played and played and played. Contemporary music tends to be repetitive anyway, and so much more when the same song is played week after week. Not to mention the fact that in praise services the verses of many songs, which provide the most meaning in the song, are usually left out. Church praise and worship sometimes seems to be a "Christian music's top hits of the year" party. Actually, it's not of the year, more like of the past two to three years. But the point is that there seems to be a fairly short list of currently popular Christian songs that are played over and over and over again, ad nauseum. Over the recent winter (2002/2003), the favorite seemed to be the song "Come, Now is the Time to Worship". I don't know how many times I've heard this song, but it's been a ton lately. In one case, I visited another church in another state, and I said to myself, "I'm going to laugh if they play C.N.I.T.T.T.W. in this service." Guess what? They played it first thing. Hello??? Variety? Non-boredom? Not stuck in a rut singing the same song nearly every week in every church in the country? Please?
That is one pet peeve of mine. I don't mind repeating a cool song some, but there are a lot of cool older songs (older contemporary songs, as well as older hymn-ish songs) that are rarely if ever played, because the new songs are repeated so much. I don't think church is a current hits radio station, but sometimes I'm not so sure. There is such a wealth of music out there, with such a range of feelings and so many ways to impart truth, that it saddens me that we rarely do more than scratch the surface of what's available. Instead, we just use what's convenient, what we're used to, and end up having a cookie-cutter worship experience. Sing the same songs, think the same things, with little room for expanding our minds and spirits.
Now that I've vented, my real point in these paragraphs is to point out the idea that besides just repeating songs too much, many times the choice of music in service does not really match the event at hand. I believe, strange as I am, that music sets the mood for whatever is going on in the service. The mood of the service, I believe, is a very important practical consideration. If the message or the event is clear and powerful, but the mood is wrong, at least the bored people such as myself will get distracted or just tune out and think about some random topic.
Maybe most people don't really notice the music style, especially if that music is supporting some other activity in the service (distribution of communion elements, for example). But I for one do notice it, and I think that the church service in some sense should be a choreographed event, where all the pieces, including background music, lead to the same concerted focus. Background music should not be random, but should be done with careful planning whenever possible.
What bothers me is that more often than not I've seen some disregard for the importance of choosing the right music to fit the occasion. And, in this disregard, the choice always boils down to a selection from whatever the current happy favorite praise choruses are. However, many times this is not the most appropriate selection for the event. With a little planning and a little forethought, a much more appropriate and more powerful song could be found that would lead the worshippers into a more deep, more relevant worship experience.
As I've said before, I believe God is a God of variety. I think that the tendency towards flip hip homogenization of church services is sad, and makes it a lot harder for me to worship. There is a time to worship with loud boisterous songs. There is a time to sing honest, even mournful songs. There is a time to worship with quiet prayers. There is a time to worship with even quieter introspective time. There is a time to worship with no music at all. There is a time to reflect on the past and the former times, which in many cases means singing some of the hymns or other favorites from our former years. There is a time to worship with new music, fresh from the heart of God. There is a time to worship in a multitude of ways, and I think it should be our goal as followers and worshippers of Jesus to celebrate that variety, to be aware of and make every effort to partake in these various forms and moods of worship.