A common argument is made that churches should do things with excellence, it is usually assumed to the glory of God but somehow that part keeps getting left out. What usually follows this statement is an explanation as to why the lighting should be programmed rather than just turned on, that a new and better drum kit must be purchased, or simply as a justification for why only the best looking and sounding people should be allowed on stage. And while there may be some “high” churches that would use the argument to justify the purchase of a Steinway Piano or refurbish the organ those are, admittedly, far and few between. And, though it may come as a surprise I agree with the basic principal. Churches should strive to do things with excellence. What is more important though is where the focus is.
Or to put it another way. The argument for excellence is almost always applied to the music. Sometimes the quality of a sermon. But it is rare to consider the excellence of the pulpit itself. And though that may seem trivial, keep in mind that when it comes to the music no detail or expense is spared. And place that over and against what has become of pulpits today. In most cases they are glorified music stands. I have even preached in places where I had to wait for the bass guitarist to remove his sheet music from a stand before I could carry it over to deliver the sermon. This communicates that the preaching of the Word is cheap and the real value is the concert.
If this particular turn of events in Reformed churches does not bother you in the slightest then I require your Calvinist card. Preaching the Word has historically been the calling card of the Reformed. The first thing that would be done to a church during the reformation, after the removal of the idols (trans. Icons) was to remove the alter and construct a pulpit. It was central and high. It drew the attention. It was above all other elements of worship. Puritan churches were built with the pulpit in the center. Now a days, pulpits are treated as an inconvenience that blocks the audiences clear view of the band. And this communicates something.
Churchgoers are being catechized that the preaching is the long dry bit. Oh I know that in churches that claim to be Reformed the sermons are longer than in the average church. But that is simply walking through the motions. And I can prove it.
Here are three questions that every pastor should ask of themselves to see if the music has taken the place of the primacy of preaching. Or to rephrase if the music has become an idol both to the congregation and that guy with a guitar and skinny jeans who calls himself a minister.
1. Can the congregation sit in silence for extended periods and often?
Is it a requirement that there must be some music during the “quiet parts” of the service. Prayers, The Lords Supper, Benediction and the like? Would people get bored more quickly if there wasn’t an emotional steady tone and some spiritual noodling on an acoustic guitar during these things? Can their affections be stirred by what the preacher is saying or do they rely on musical cues to tell them what emotion they are supposed to be ginning up, and mistaking for the Holy Spirit?
2. Would people leave if the Pastor were to insist on a large musical change?
Eliminating the offertory, or if you are Southern Baptist, “Special Music.” The pastor taking over the choice of songs to choose songs that are thematic with his sermon. Or at the very least insisting that the the music guy do so and bring in songs that are not in the regular repertoire so people are made to think about what they are singing instead of going to melodic auto-pilot. The increase of Hymns and all verses, restoring songs that have nonsense chorusses added to them to freshen them up (such as the new In Christ Alone). Would a substantive change result in people leaving because this is not what they like. Many pastors will preach about the dangers of church consumerism, but I have met none that are willing to actually confront it in their own churches music ministry.
3. Would the “Worship Leader” freak out if the band was moved off the stage and he was moved to the side merely to keep time? Would the congregation get upset?
If the argument is that the church should do things with excellence, why then is that strictly defined as what happens on stage? That is downright Papist. The Church should do things with excellence. The Church is the entire body of believers who have come together regularly to worship God in that time and in that place. My suspicion is that the band has become the actual object of worship.* Try to remove the idol and be prepared to have people loose their minds. Even on a small level simply placing an opaque, large, and eye directing pulpit in the center would still cause must consternation in the average church that is not “mega.” And don’t compromise and have the thing on wheels so it can be slipped into place during some prayer. The point is to be central.
Reformers made specific changes to the architecture and ordering of the Church service, and they did them for very good reasons. Those things have been lost or rejected too often. Much of the time out of pragmatism, and another good amount out of pure ignorance. At the very least pastors should paraphrase Chesterton, “If a pulpit is placed specifically, there is likely a reason for it. It may be an illogical or inconsequential reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.”**
The Church should do things with excellence. Part of that is evaluating what is being communicated and how. As it stands what is communicated is that the Preaching of Christ and Him crucified is to be endured, it is a bug not a feature. That is not explicitly stated but it is communicated in multiple subtile ways. Music ministry people often point out how we have very little of the early church to base our style of service on. And yes there are no musical styles mentioned,*** But what is always present is the preaching of the Word. It is central. Even if someone wants to make the argument that there would be no pulpits, show me where there were music ministers mentioned in the early church? There is preaching, the sacraments, and congregational singing. And no mention of, sight lines for the band, good lighting, a praise team, or a new drum set.
*Or worse they are leading in worship, but by the songs that are popular they are leading in the worship of individuals in the congregation themselves. Most popular worship music is just shy of they lyrics from Glory to Glorzo from Rick and Morty, “Glory to Glorzo means glory to me.”
**I mean really it is not good when a Papist would take the point better than us.
*** Though let us be honest with one another. Typically the styles that are argued for did not exist and would be considered as obscene by the early church… Just throwing that out there.