Rick Warren once said something to the effect of, if you want to change cultures - become a musician. Music is extremely powerful. It has the ability to, in one fell swoop, to provoke thought, action, and emotion.
When we talk about our worship offering as a group, the tendency is to say "it's just music", as if, for some reason, it is less important than anything else we can offer God. Yet, I see the power of music in our congregation. I see how it moves people, I see how people leave with it and rely on it during the week, I see how it causes people to contemplate God.
Our modern attitude towards music (in many churches) is that it is OK to half a$$ our way through our music worship offering. The consequence is that many churches have sloppy music and poor mixes for their worship offering. I have to wonder: does this work against us when it comes to reaching people?
The poles are unified: we are not a Christian nation. Less than 40% of our population attend church, of any kind. Start doing the math of ratio of people attending Christian churches vs the total population in almost any demographic, and you'll find that Christianity is practiced by almost 30% of the population. It has been this way for 30 years or more, and the number of Christians are shrinking.
Back in the early 80s, and certainly through the 90s, it was seen that if a Church wants to increase its fruitfulness, our musical worship offering to God is the place to start. Certainly, the churches that have taken this to heart and send up a top notch worship offering that is relevant to the demographic around it are virtually the only churches that grow today. Sadly, these churches are in the minority in many parts of the US.
Do we discount the importance of our music worship offering to God?
I'm not totally sure what you are saying here. Can you explain more?
You know, I kind of get what he's saying...
But it doesn't seem to hold true when the hymn melody is completely changed.
To reply to you, Cory, and Stevo -
Songs which work well in their native surroundings (simple 4-line hymn for outdoor Wesley meetings, for instance) need adaptations of various sorts as they travel around to different cultures (in location and in time-era). Some songs have great "stretchability" -- for instance, the Appalachian hymn still has a lot of coin in the US and UK; both the church and indigenous music styles have kept the basic form alive. The later Gospel hymns (think "When the Roll is called Up Yonder") feature rhythms which resemble march or polka, both despised in this generation. You cannot adapt them without gutting them, or perhaps slowing them down; and even then... picture any current song which relies on contemporary imagery (say, a reference to the Twin Towers or Yellowstone Park). Such a song may make a splash, but will not likely last.
As for instrumentation, I am fond of theorizing about why certain tonalities get popular. Many societies seem to have the need for some sort of bagpipe -- a reedy sound with a long tone. We find such things not just in Scotland, but in the writing of medieval church music, in the Near East and India, lots of places. To me, it seems the power chord of the electric guitar fulfills this need in modern Western society. I may be all wet; but I'm curious as to what other people think about the reasons for musical tonalities, figures, rhythms, etc. (why is "ONE-and-two-AND-three-and-FOUR-and" so intensely popular over, it seems, the whole world?) A great rhythm, but why?
So in other words, if a song is going to survive, it needs a bit of tweaking. Some more than others. Right?
If my assessment is correct, it it worth pointing out that most songs change over the years. Both secular and sacred. I used to have a collection of hymn books, some were extremely old (before my grandparent's time, and those weren't really books). It was interesting to see the different arrangements over the years and then play them..
When I used to play piano in an orchestra, it was fun to play around with various arrangements of the same song to see what we would actually end up doing.
"Play skillfully on an instrument..." Specific statements about applying principles of quality to one's work are not common in Scripture, but the idea of wholehearted service sure is!
I see a contradiction in our whole society about Quality. On one hand, we practically idolize extreme sports and other activities which tax body and mind as far as you can stretch and beyond. The records for practically everything have been broken in recent years, due to patient, rigorous and exacting discipline towards some sort of task -- jumping over barrels, making money quickly, sending a spacecraft to Mars. I could not have a computer like the one on which I type and send messages carelessly, without spotless, dustless rooms where people examine and build things of microscopic size and perfect quality.
Yet we also have a "two out of three ain't bad" philosophy which is great for baseball but not too good when applied to aspects of living where we ought to aim for the highest and not be satisfied with less. We put in time at a job, but not heart. We waste the precious resources of the earth, too lazy to divide our trash and put it in the right bin. We are too lazy and self-absorbed to keep our own families together. We seem not to realize the difference between music produced for back-porch fiddle fests and to lead other people, both friends and strangers, in worshiping God.
"Well, they're just amateurs." Probably every worship leader on this site was once a stumbling, stuttering beginner, who may or may not have had a little more talent than average. Jesus gave us a parable of talents (and the word was borrowed directly from Scripture for use in English) to illustrate God's pleasure with using your abilities well and not being stifled by embarassment with them or a bad attitude. Yet I've heard plenty of people defend their lack of interest in practicing or educating themselves about their instrument or voice. "I never touched an instrument, then God gave me this ability. Why should I try to perfect by myself what He has done already?" I have heard this not once, but many times -- intentional laziness, philosophical laziness, backed up with Scripture!
I think we do need discernment between a Pharasaic perfectionism that puts down the person who doesn't measure up to a certain expectation. We certainly don't need more "professional Christians", the kind that sent Mark Twain and a million others off into a world of atheism. And if we're going to do music "right", we have to do a lot of soul-searching and humble cooperation. If seven people have determined to hold a higher standard, they had better consult each other on what the standard is to be, for aim for perfection will produce conflicts that, like the quality, had been previously ignored.
Is it just music? That's what those who sold their souls to produce Muzak believed. May those with talent see the purpose in what they do, and do a good thing by bringing beautiful music into this dry earth.
I do believe that every church group has the ability to put forward an excellent worship offering to God. I do also believe that from church to church, this is going to look somewhat different.
I have seen churches attempt to do full bands when really, they just need a simple acoustic player because the rest of the band sucks and shows no real dedication to their craft, (bad). I have seen churches that have lousy bands, but the musicians are dedicated and improve greatly over time (good). I have seen churches that have really talented musicians but then, for whatever reason, apply all kinds of silly rules and regulations on their skills (bad).
This goes way beyond music too and into every other facet of our worship offering to God. It is destructive and horrible.
I definately believe it makes all the difference as to how your church will grow. But it takes a good balance of all things. Even a great music ministry, a great preaching ministry but nothing for the children will stunt your church growth. Balance is the key. Many churches focus on one aspect and neglect another.
Our worship team (as a band) has not progressed much in the past few years since I stepped out as well as a few other great musicians. But the band continues to play to the best of their ability. Yet our church has managed to continue to grow. Not by leaps and bounds but it hasn't gone backwards at least.
You're right! Music does have a powerful effect on people. There is nothing else in the world that can immediately take a person back on time to particular time or event in his/her life like a song. And Praise and Worship especially can invoke powerful feelings in a congregation, if played properly that is. As a worship leadder, I have always believed in the saying: "Strive for excellence" when we practice. I expect my members to all play to the best of their ability. I don't expect them to play beyond what they are capable of, just to be their best. When we all do this, our praise and worship service soars. The people are transported into the throneroom of God, and that is what I feel God has called me to do. If every worship leader and team member felt that way, people would be drawn to churches to hear the music and in turn would hear God's message.