I get so few comments on posts that when one crops up it’s something of a big deal. It’s an even bigger deal when the comment is good and advances the thinking. Such is the case after Friday’s post, where I took to my old hobby horse of modern worship music and music ministers in general. S.Petrilli commented on that and rather than simply hit the reply button like a normal person I am responding in article form.*
“I am part of the worship team at church, I play violin, mandolin, and sing. I have been increasingly bothered by the way the music is used during the service, the invitation, and on those rare occasions we are having what they call the Lord’s Supper nowadays. I am classically trained, but I can play by ear, and can make it up as I go which makes me good at “noodling”, but I don’t like it. I have noticed that when we stick to songs that are well written and doctrinally sound, or when we do good hymns, there are some bad hymns (ie I come to the garden alone) we are met with near silence and stares from the congregation, but if we sing the klove stuff we get applause and participation. I am not in it for applause, unless it is aimed at the Lord and not us, but it makes me wonder why they mumble their way through a message like “Be Thou My Vision,” and rock out to “Holy Water”. Not all contemporary stuff is bad, maybe not right for during church, but not bad. Worship has been misused and misunderstood in some churches for so long it is going to take a “reformation” to get it back on track.” – S.Petrilli
The first thing is the observation on how the congregation has been or has lacked training. “I have noticed that when we stick to songs that are well written and doctrinally sound, or when we do good hymns… we are met with near silence and stares from the congregation, but if we sing the klove stuff we get applause and participation.” This points to two distinct things that are happening. First, is that the people, and more broadly mainstream evangelicals are taught more by what they hear on the radio or in streaming than they are by the, well call them, “Minister in charge of music.” Happy, poppy, yippie, skippy, light, positive encouraging music dominates. And that is to our detriment. A Bob Ross-esque veneer covers how Christians present themselves, and christianity. It is antithetical, not to the world, but to reality. It is a facade that the world sees right through because inevitably it will crumble under pressure. Why are churches filled with disunity because of politics? Because we are a bunch of political idolaters who covered over the cracks with wax and polish for far too long. We smiled, bought Bible verses on rustic chic decor, ignored actual holiness, but listened to K-love over breakfast and in our cars. It is all a little Stepford Wives, and is incongruous with actual life and actual theology. Second, Ministers of music have abdicated their pastoral responsibilities to teach. It is, and should be off putting that a congregation is bored with the great doctrines presented in the great hymns. Yet they sing and clap for cotton candy songs. Now before I get too mean, I’ll also point out that Preaching Pastors are also responsible for making sure those doctrines are well taught and that the people affections for them are stirred. If a Pastor is, “fluffy” then a Music guy flogging the great hymns will have much less success in his endeavors. Either way, I return to a constant theme that teaching is not commonly done in our churches, therapy is, positive encouraging therapy from a pulpit.
Bad hymns… Oh yes, they do exist. Jesus Sweet Lover of my Soul is creepy. And stranding athwart the intersection between hymn/folk/gospel is Build Me a Cabin on the Far Side of Heaven… Yeah there are some stinkers out there, and it doesn’t advance the cause of those of us who advocate for hymnody to pretend our own can never misstep, right off a cliff.
Applause, please no. I have complained somewhere in the archives about a local big; or since he is a friend of Donald Trump I should say “Huge” local pastor. And how he writes his sermons with applause breaks anticipated. This church has reached the point of Pavlov’s Dog to where if he said something in the right intonation a solid 50% would still applaud and amen, even if that statement was that Shibbidy do was drinky pappa. But also applause is not great because even through the music leader might say that the applause is for Jesus, it does come suspiciously after the worship set, or particularly well preformed song, just finished. The stench of entertainment lingers over it.
“K-Love stuff.” I really thought this was an interesting distinction. Solomon tells us there is a time and place for everything. And even though I manifestly am not a fan of that particular style of music, I can concede that there is, probably, some good there and that there is a time and place for it. But what was so smart about S.Petrilli’s comment was that there is room for even more discernment on some songs played may actually work well for congregational singing, and some not. My suspicion, drawn from years of watching music ministers pick and preform songs, is that they are choosing exactly the opposite ones. It would appear the, most likely not thought out but assumed, rubric is A. is it currently popular? B. Can I sing it? C. Will it pass for congregational singing in the chorus? I tend to think the dead giveaway that a song is not good for congregational singing is if it has a long musical lead in, or interlude where musicians are just preforming. And if it starts with an obvious solo for someone on stage that everyone is expected to wait until their part to get into. If this were done on the odd occasion with a sort of call and response kind of thing (Such as Andrew Peterson’s Is He Worthy)** then I would let is slide. But I get the sense that most church services begin with a solo as a “Call to worship.”
My thanks to S.Petrilli for commenting. I really appreciated it and it made me think over some things I have missed or not connected. “Worship has been misused and misunderstood in some churches for so long it is going to take a “reformation” to get it back on track.” A reformation is needed indeed, Ecclesia semper reformanda est.
*Don’t get used to this, if for some reason the comments start to explode I most likely won’t reply to everything.
**Vaguely attached to the points of this article is the absurdity of how quickly that great song went down without a ripple. Which points to the fickleness of music ministers. There was some controversy over the song because for the music video’s open casting call only white people showed up. And for the uninformed, when you are making one of those things it is on a shoe string budget, hence open casting. You put on screen whoever shows up. But for a song that pulls heavily from Revelation the charge of racism went out because there were no minorities in the video. It got pulled from youtube and has since fallen out of rotation on the radio and in churches. No one thought to consider the actual contend and quality of the song. It just wasn’t popular anymore and leaders were scared. But I am willing to wager, if a random person in a church was asked if they knew the story surrounding the song, they wouldn’t have a clue. A handful of uptight, pharisees would know, and would howl high dudgeon if the song were sung; but God forbid we upset some pharisees.