Like I said yesterday, I’ve done a few congregational visits lately talking about evangelism, church growth, congregational redevelopment, etc. And, just about every time, someone asks the music question. For decades we’ve been having conflict in the church over what kind of music is appropriate or “best” for Sunday worship. Some love the organ music with all it’s overtones as it fills the room. It’s true, a great organist can lead us to a place of inspiration and awe. Most of us don’t hear organ music outside of the church sanctuary (they’re not typically in movie theaters or roller rinks anymore). So the air moving through the pipes and reeds is a distinctive sound that leads us to sacred space and sacred experience.
But for those not raised the in the church, the organ is an unusual instrument that may be experienced with curiosity, but more often with a reaction similar to hearing bagpipes … great for communicating across the hills of Scotland, not so great in my backyard. (an aside to my husband … this is in no way a comment on whether or not I support you taking bagpipe lessons).
Music is important in our Presbyterian worship … and as we challenge ourselves to move beyond our intellectual approach to faith, music is even more important. Music derives from our hearts and souls, it reaches into the deep chasms of our spiritual longing, it not only fills that emptiness, but it expresses our deepest praise. Just as with words, there’s a denotation and a connotation… what a word means and how a word feels (or is heard) … music can be exultation to one and boredom to another. Or, when talking about drums in the sanctuary, can be a rhythmic pulse of our faith, or an offensive statement of anti-establisment. So, the debate often moves quickly from civil conversation to “worship wars” … members stake their claim … and gather a band of members with them … and it divides congregations.
“Does the kind of music make a difference in whether or not we attract new members?” That’s the question I get. And I answer something like this … the style of music doesn’t matter nearly as much as it’s authenticity and whether or not it’s the “heart language” of the people … both the people in the congregation and the new people you’re welcoming into your community. Worship needs to be in the language of the people — a good Reformed concept (thanks Martin Luther); we need to remember that “language” is a broad enough term to include style of music (again, thanks to Martin Luther for exemplifying how to give popular pub songs new words.)
There are a few things that I think we need to keep in mind when choosing worship music style: 1) is it an authentic expression of the faith of the community, not just in the lyrics of a song, but in the style of the music? 2) is it performed with excellence (well rehearsed and with the full passion and energy of the performer)? and 3) will it connect to new Christians in your midst in a way that leads them to an authentic expression of their love and praise of Christ?
Some congregations opt for two or three different worship services with different styles. Others agree to have a “blended” style of both contemporary and traditional Christian music. The approach I like best is one in which all members of the congregation (and even some new “visitors”) are asked to take part in the worship service by leading the congregation or providing worship music that is done in the style which best fits their own personal “heart” language … jazz, classical, pop, rock, even hip hop can all be styles of music that connect with the heart and soul of a worshipper … it’s that authentic expression that best communicates faith and love and devotion to new members of a community.