Lesson 8: Music

A worship praise bandOne of the big topics in church circles is whether we should use “contemporary” music and liturgies. My ministry was pretty old-fashioned in that area. However, my sons-in-law have both “contemporary” and traditional services, so I have had over a decade of observing both from the audience. That experience convinces me that we shall see more and more “modern” music. I prefer “modern” instead of “contemporary” to express music people are using rather than music from the past.

I myself listen to classical music most of the day, every day. However, I find I am a dinosaur. I especially understand that when I examine the arguments advanced for not using “modern” music, arguments usually made by those over 65.

The last argument to have any weight for me was that people do not participate, but rather become spectators at performances. It is true these do not rival the old hymn sings, but again the only ones who remember these are over 65. Lately I have noticed all sorts of marvelous participation: bodily movement, dancing with children, smiles, hand clapping, and much more emotional involvement. As for these being performances, we forget that, for centuries, the liturgy being championed by traditionalists was performed by a priest for a silent congregation.

Negative criticism also judges this modern music as “bad music,” claiming the church should always be using the best of every medium. When I suggest our primary mission is not cultural and “good” music is a matter of taste not quality, I am vehemently attacked, usually again by people over 65. I would still insist regardless of ones opinion about quality,
it is evident that the music is appreciated by younger people. Very few of them attend concerts of classical music, unless dragged by their grandparents. And the young people are found in modern liturgical services.

Another criticism questions the quality of the theology. “Good theology” is just as suspect as “good music” in our time. Scholars find theology is based on your experience. For example, my circle is pretty much Christianity as seen through German Lutheran eyes. That does not make it “good.” And quite frankly, old hymns are not known for their theology. Consider that a redundant theme in many Psalms is “Remember I am a good guy, Lord, and kill my enemies.”

It is true that the people’s liturgy sets standards just as canon and creed do. But that liturgy can be set to all kinds of music. My sons-in-law certainly do.

Regardless of this debate, I notice these “modern” services are the ones most new members and young families attend. This is especially obvious with African Americans and Latinos. I usually worship modern myself so I can be with children and grandchildren. And I enjoy the creativity I find. Lay people write new music, dance, and play their instruments.

I certainly hope the music of the future church will be “modern.” If we do not move in that direction, we shall be even more a church with aging congregations. We shall fulfill our mission of taking the Gospel to the nations when we appreciate what new members bring to us as well as what we offer them.

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  1. Derek Halverson says:

    I have memories of singing in my hometown church. Most of us would mumble through whatever was selected that week. But our demographics tilted towards the septuagenarians, and some like my grandfather had apparently had enough of squinting to attempt to make out the words.

    However every so often a hymn like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” would come along, and the church would fill with the rumble of aged voices joining the song and the rest of us tended to kick it up a notch as well. Despite being much “newer” I think “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry” would also elicit such a response. I rather hope and wouldn’t be surprised to find that those stick around.

    Generally I prefer a contemporary service though. A lot of those songs are great for singing along to, though not all of them. However as mentioned above “contemporary” Christian music has a style to it and it isn’t the same as the sort of music coming out now.

    On that note, I wonder if I’m getting out of touch, or if there aren’t Christian bands charting as much as I recall from the late 90s early 00s. Maybe Casting Crowns are hanging on.

    I suppose there’s always country music, and the odd reference from other bands like Owl City. I’ll hope that Christian parents aren’t discouraging their youth from developing musical talents for fear of where that might lead (I’m try to resist that knee jerk reaction myself).

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