Friday, December 7, 2007

Worship Music, or Music Worship?

Worship Matters By Bob Kauflin, PDI Ministries & the PDI Worship Band

When you say the word "worship," what comes to your mind? Whatever it is, it's likely to be very different from what comes to the minds of millions of other Christians across the globe. That's why, when trying to identify the non-negotiable of worship, it's important to begin by clarifying what true worship is not. This should help us begin to sort out truth from trends, and our preferences from what really matters. So let's get started!

Worship is not a musical style

I spent some time recently with a well-respected leader in the body of Christ who believes that contemporary music is incompatible with worship, and that to use such music in worship is to commit sin. How did we meet? He was a principal speaker at a conference I was attending. To be more precise, I was leading worship at the conference, along with a worship team that included singers, keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. Needless to say, in expressing our praise to God, we were primarily using contemporary musical styles.
That might have been an uncomfortable few days, but we actually had some wonderful, sincere, fruitful conversations. This man gave me at least two reasons why he believes contemporary music is unacceptable in worship. First, its associations with secular culture render it unusable. Second, its use violates Psalm 33:3 ("play skillfully, and shout for joy") since, in his view, it takes no skill to play contemporary music. Here are my responses. His first argument raises the whole issue of musical style in worship. We know that worship is commanded by God. It is to be about God and for God. So, if some musical styles are bad for worship, which ones are best? Which musical styles does God like the most? Bach? Black Gospel? Folk Music? Chant? Ska?
In addition, we can ask - Which time period in the history of music has God preferred? For example, is God stuck on 16th century European styles? Were all the styles leading up to that time incomplete? Does he regret all musical advances since then? Is musical diversity and branching out a mistake? In the alternative, will we learn one day that, all along, God really wanted us to worship to a Javanese Gamelan orchestra, or a troupe of Central African drummers, or some other non-western music that doesn't use a 12-tone scale? What a shock it would be to get to heaven and find out that God is, in fact, a huge fan of Country Western worship music!
I trust that you understand my point. Worship of the true and living God cannot be confined to a certain musical style or time period. In fact, most (if not all) arguments about which music is best for the worship of God are products of a particular culture or preference, not biblical discernment. This leads to his second point. Does skill matter? Of course it does. But every instrument and every style of music can be played well or played badly. It takes less skill to play Middle C on a piano than on a French horn. The rudiments of folk guitar come more easily than the rudiments of classical guitar. But this does not mean that folk music cannot be played skillfully, or that French horn always takes more ability to play than piano. Every instrument and every piece of music can be played with a high degree of skill, a low degree of skill, or no skill at all. The same is true for specific compositions. There's good and bad film music, reggae, and pop, but it's unwise to compare music across genres. There are no biblical grounds for saying that classical is always better (or more appropriate for worship) than pop. Nor is it accurate to say that contemporary worship music is always better (or always worse) than hymns. You might as well, as they say, compare apples to oranges. Musical categories are too vast, and genres are too different in their use of musical elements, to make such sweeping comparisons. Having said that, it's certainly true that some styles are not well-suited to certain times of worship. I cannot imagine, for example, using a fast, rock-oriented, aggressive-sounding song in a context calling for deep repentance and humility before God. So, although musical style can help or hinder worship at any particular point during a worship service, worship itself is never synonymous with a specific musical style. As Donald Hustad writes so wisely in True Worship: Reclaiming the Wonder & Majesty (Carol Stream, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998, p. 185): "We must be sure that the music we use for worship doesn't become the music we worship." I hope you are recognizing why it is so important to grasp what worship is not. We'll continue this vital discussion.

P.S. To help illustrate my point about musical preferences, here are links to three versions of a worship song by Mark Altrogge called The Highest Glory. These three versions are very different from one another, yet they are the same song - the same words, the same melodic flow, the same chords (well, some of the same chords), and the same intent. With one or two exceptions, I happen to know every person appearing on these recordings. Each one participated in these projects out of a desire to bring glory and honor to God. For them, the process of arranging and recording these songs was truly an act of worship. Now, I can't imagine anyone liking all three versions exactly the same, or finding each version equally appealing for a worship context. But I'm not about to declare that one version is more like "real worship" than another. And I certainly don't know which one God likes best. After a concert or speaking engagement I enjoy talking with members of the audience. Most of the time I listen to intelligent and thoughtful comments and field questions from earnest people looking for honest answers. Without fail, there is one question in particular which always seems to surface: "Charlie, are there people in Nashville who are into contemporary Christian music for the ministry, or is everybody in it for the money?" In my opinion, attempting to answer this question without examining the subtext beneath it is a trap that can only lead to cynicism and gossip. Let's avoid that. The more difficult approach involves thinking through the implications of the question, and requires time and a little work, something I trust that CM readers understand and appreciate, so let's dive in. What do the words mean? First off, ministry is service. To minister is to serve. This is the best of the simple definitions available. Ministry is about serving the needy (Mt. 25:31-46) and using our Spirit-given gifts for the benefit of others (1 Peter 4:10). Ministry is doing or saying something that will be of good advantage to others. Every business or calling is a ministry so long as it provides some act of service that is of benefit to others. Next, does "in it for the money" mean that you have no other reason for doing something than to get selfishly wealthy? Or can it also mean that you're a steward of good music which you offer to your community in exchange for the means of exchange-money-which you then reinvest in your community? Secondly, if you are "into contemporary Christian music for the ministry" does that mean that you require zero funding? Many of you starving artists saving up for a new guitar or keyboard are thinking, "You've got to be kidding, it takes some serious funding!" And you're right, it does. The ultimate question we should ask is this: Does any ministry place anyone beyond the constraints and conventions of the culture in which they are attempting to minister? No. Jesus clearly understood this (Mk. 12:16) as did Paul (2 Thess. 3:8). So should we.
Ministry ought to take place wherever God's people are. This means everywhere and everything, from the youth group to the Fortune 500 company. The issue is not a struggle between money and ministry. It's whether we will choose to serve ourselves, or serve God and others wherever God puts us, with however much money he puts in our pocket. This is always the struggle and the one that makes people question the integrity of the Christian's interface with commerce. Here's what I've learned: When the sole purpose of any organizational system or enterprise (no matter how "Christian" it first appears) becomes the promotion of economic activity, without regard for God and his creation (people included), the wants of a few will eclipse the needs of many. This is what you and I must guard against most of all. Christians are about-should be about-the needs of the many, and it's this mission that should define your work and your interface with money and business. I hope this helps readers to see that Christian musicians do not have to make money and success the bottom-line in order to interface with business and minister to the musical and spiritual needs of the church and the watching world. Ministry, compensation, and profit are not incompatible ideas. However, their compatibility is directly tied to the preparedness and readiness of God's musical people to take on the challenge of living in a complex and fallen world. As we interface with the world's systems of thinking and doing, each of us who profess to be students and followers of Jesus must ask ourselves this question: To what or to whom have I given my trust, allegiance, affections and worship?

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