December 15, 2014

What Style People Sing on Sunday (Part 4)

I felt like this one deserved its own post (even a short one) because, at its core, the debate about style lies at the heart of the so-called “worship wars.” 

Style, believe it or not, is only a secondary influence to engagement; its influence depends more on the culture in which the style is placed. It’s not a “neutral” like theology generally is, but we must also be careful not to overstate its influence by equating it with “excellence” or “planning.” Like I said before, if you like the music, if it strikes a chord within your soul, you will probably sing. If you chose a church, chances are you chose it, in part, because of the style you like anyway. Put another way: the style you choose will make singing more NATURAL (or if you prefer, comfortable). 

But as time rolls on, style matters less and less to, for example, millennials, who instead value the authenticity or the excellence in which it is led. Translation: they prefer a church where they perceive that the worship team or choir or leaders a) like what they’re doing and love the people they’re serving (authenticity), and b) know how to do what they’re doing and care about doing it well (excellence and intentionality). They don’t especially care (as a group) what the tunes themselves are; diversity of expression matters to them.

However, even if you value, say, traditional music more than contemporary or hip hop or whatever (whichever is your “soul language”), that doesn’t prevent you from singing it when it’s presented in your worship gathering. Style is an expression OUT of culture, rather than a requirement for singing, but while it helps us to sing what we love, it also will help us when we sing what OTHERS love. In other words, the wars have never been about worship. It’s such a terrible name. Maybe “style wars” or “preference wars” or even “culture wars” - maybe - but “worship wars” they are not. A “worship war” is an oxymoron; love of neighbor implies the ability to love one another in spite of preferences or styles, and true love of another often means learning to sing their songs. If you are warring about worship style, you are not responding to God’s mercy, which means it is not worship (Rom 12:1); you are instead responding to your own baggage. 

The worship wars still exist because young and old alike still say that the style of the song is more important to them than the people who are singing it.

It’s not like this everywhere. I know lots of people who prefer traditional music, but who champion the contemporary music though it’s not their preference. I also know plenty of other people who love modern music, but also have learned already to value the old hymns. 

If you find yourself in a church “at war” over music style, you are responsible for starting the healing process. If you’re all about contemporary music, learn some old hymns alongside those who love them (go to the traditional service sometimes). Learn the stories behind them from those who have been singing them all their lives. Ask about Wesley and Sandell and Luther and why they wrote what they did. Ask those beside you which hymn is their favorite and why. ... OR ... If you’re all about traditional hymns, the same is true; learn the contemporary music alongside those who love it (go to the contemporary or modern service). Sing some Houghton and Crowder and Jobe and Fraser and Gungor and All Sons & Daughters. Ask them why this music speaks so strongly to them. Listen to their stories. Sing with them.

You have no idea what a gift this will be.

For them. For you. For your community.

Next time: what actually does help people sing …


Scott Toren said...

Another good post Chris. I've always found worship style to be an interesting conversation to have, and one that people tend to get very defensive about very quickly. I definitely appreciate and enjoy contemporary music, but I also really enjoy singing the classic hymns, especially around Christmas time. One of the biggest issues for me tends to surround the worship team itself.

Recently I was a regular attender at a church that does "concert" style worship. To begin with I enjoyed the fun, big crowd atmosphere. But as time wore on I began to notice more and more that the worship leader seemed to be the focus of the worship rather than the corporate experience. I think there is a difference between performing and leading worship, and more and more churches that shift to this "concert style" focus more on performing than they do on leading. I think that's more difficult to do with some of the old hymns and so finds itself more present in contemporary worship.

I always felt you did an excellent job of performing when you were performing and leading when it was time to lead. I generally don't have a huge preference towards contemporary or traditional one way or the other. But when acting in the role of worship leader, the focus should be on leading worship rather than performing and making oneself the star.

Chris Logan said...

Definitely agree with you Scott. A worship leader is there to help people engage God, which I'll be writing about more in the next few posts.

I would say that many traditional churches have the same problem as many contemporary or modern ones with the "star player" attitude, but it's generally directed towards the organist or the choir rather than the "worship leader." I think that hero worship is almost a staple of our culture - we want to recognize talent, which is something good, but we tend to go overboard with it and attribute those gifts only to the person and not to the Creator of that person.