Monday, February 10, 2014

Changing Church Music

It seems like we spend a lot of time talking about what to do about the music in church. When I did my stint as music director at a small church, I’ll say that I thought it was hugely important. I aimed for newer songs and always put a slower song right before the sermon, so people would be ready to listen. I had this idea that we could change our music and our attendance would increase. Well, our attendance did increase during that time, but it had nothing to do with the music. If anything, the people who came would’ve liked different music than the stuff I was giving them.

Our thinking can get really messed up. We start saying things like, “If it will draw in more people, we can put up with music we don’t really care for.” It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with having newer music, or older music, or whatever kind of music. We run into a problem when we start making assumptions about what other people want. “If we want young people, we’ll have to have contemporary music,” we say. But is that true? I know of people younger than me that enjoy music that is older than me. And I know people older than me that like contemporary music.

But look at television shows like American Idol and The Voice. What is it that makes these shows popular? The music they use isn’t limited to the most popular time periods or genres. Instead, they have a wide variety of music styles from different time periods. The most important factor with these shows is the quality of the performances. If someone who doesn’t sing well gets on American Idol, they’ll get laughed at, but they don’t stay on the show very long. On The Voice, they don’t put anyone on who can’t sing.

Consider Psalm 33:3, “Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.” There are a couple of things to notice here. One, God wants us to “play skillfully.” Good music for worship is music that the musicians have practiced. Another thing to notice is that God wants a new song. But don’t assume that means the contemporary style of music. If you read the rest of the Psalm, you see that the new song the psalmist sings is the oldest story of all, the story of creation. A new song comes from the creativity God has given the musician.

Look to the musicians. What is it that they know how to play? What is it that they enjoy enough to practice? What have they created in their hearts? I don’t know that we’ll ever find a style of music that draws people in. Most people are looking for something other than music, but music is important to put us in an attitude of worship. What we don’t want is for people to suffer through the music service. We especially don’t want the musicians to suffer through the music. If they don’t like the music they’re playing, they won’t practice, and if they don’t practice, everyone suffers.

While church musicians have a responsibility to follow the music director, they are also artists in their own right. Ask them to sing or play too much stuff that they don’t enjoy and they’ll quit. That makes me think that what we ought to be doing is looking at the musical talent God has placed in the church and using what we’ve got. If we’ve got a lot of singers, have a choir. If four or five, then a praise team might be the thing. If we’ve got people who can play strings, then an orchestra might be the way to go. Brass? How about a brass band? Guitars? Find a way to use them. The style of music and the tempo of the music may be driven by what the musicians can accomplish. But that’s okay. As long as it is skillfully done, people will like it.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Joseph Gregory says - I like what your saying here. Don't assume, and play to your strengths. The quality of the musical performance is important yes, and so is the quality of the sermon. Look to the person giving that sermon. Does he or she deliver it with conviction. Is the message coming across, and if not, then clarify in ones own words. The sermon must be relatable to our modern times. Examples must be given to match the old lessons with the new.