In the past several week I have read three interesting blog posts about worship.
- The first was from theologian James K.A. Smith with An Open Letter to Praise Bands
- The second was from Tony Jones guest posting at PoMoMusings on the next 100 years
- The third was from Tara Burke over at Relevant Magazine on A Not-so-joyful Noise
James has three suggestions for worship bands including the band leaders not praying so much between songs. Tony thinks that public prayers should be eschewed all together – especially the written prayers of the pastor. Tara, as a musician herself, is trying to find the balance when the band hits an off note and keeping her focus on the actually worship and not on the stage performance.
The reason that I have taken special notice of this conversation is because I am in a bit of a transition. My whole life I have been in churches that utilize contemporary rock-n-roll style worship or contemporary praise for the music at the weekend public services. I was very comfortable lifting my hands, jumping up and down, and singing at the top of my lungs with my head thrown back and my eyes closed. I now serve in a congregation that sings hymns with a big choir and an even bigger pipe organ.
WELL – recently a group of us have been commissioned to launch an emergent gathering this fall in West LA. It is coming together so well and everyone seems to be on the same page … in every area except one: music. You can tell that this is the one area where some fear and trepidation is present. “What will our music be like? What kind of style will we use?” Since the music we traditionally have in the sunday service is so different than what we listen to in our cars … where does that leave us?
Luckily we have gifted musicians who love the Lord and I’m sure that they will navigate this just fine – plus they love Gungor so I am optimistic.
However, after reading these well written and thoughtful blogs I had three thoughts in my head:
- How bad is it that both James and Tara have to mention the center-of-attention behavior of the band? It dawns on me, before I stick up for ‘worship teams’ in general – maybe I have not seen how bad it is out there and that I myself would be put-off (or horrified) at the spectacle they are referencing.
- Is this situation inflamed by an epistemology employed by evangelical and charismatic churches? I don’t know how else to say it but …. if you think that you are singing to God (vs. about God) and the God is actually listening to you and evaluating what is going on, then are you more critical of both the sour-notes and distracting ‘self’ behavior or overly elaborate performances?
- If the band is there to facilitate my /our worship and connecting with God, then keeping the songs simple and somewhat familiar is a better way to facilitate a group to be in unison and not distracted. We are able to ‘enter in’ to a ‘spirit of worship’. But then people circle back and are critical that the songs are simple, repeat too much, and grow stale with constant use.
It seems to me that there is a lot being assumed when we talk about worship music. We all sort of know that worship is an all-week whole-life expression – we just sort of take a short cut in our language and talk about church music as worship.