Someone posted an interesting article on Facebook recently entitled "Why Men Have Stopped Singing in Church." (it can be found here) It outlined the fascinating way church music has evolved from a time when only designated priests and cantors were allowed to sing while the congregation stood quietly through the advent of printed hymnals and resulting burst of corporate singing.
However, the current trend is one that grieves my heart. So many churches are circling back to the beginning, where the congregation stands mostly (or even, in some cases, sits) while excellent musicians blare loud, radio-quality music for a designated time period and call it worship.
To my mind, however, it's not.
Don't get me wrong. . .when I lead worship, I lean HEAVILY on modern music. . .personal favorites are Jesus Culture, Bethel, Chris Tomlin, etc. So I'm not complaining about the music being 'too modern.' Not by a long shot!
Nor am I suggesting that music should be any particular genre. One of the most beautiful aspects of the body of Christ is its diversity, which is often displayed in various musical traditions. All of which are valid and all of which can be fulfilling, awesome vehicles of worship.
What I'm talking about is the idea that worship is becoming a time of performance rather than a time of intimate connection with God. And it breaks my heart.
The author of the article I mentioned above thinks that it's largely down to the fact that we moved from a collection of about 250 regularly sung hymns to over 250,000 potential songs ready to be flashed onto the screens each Sunday. And I am so inclined to agree.
If the congregation doesn't know the songs that the worship leader chooses, or doesn't know them well, one of two things happens. Either they fix their eyes on the screen and stumble along with the melody or they give up altogether and just listen. Either way, they're not free to lose themselves in the song and enter into a private moment with Jesus.
So they stand, watching. Or sit. Disconnected.
Neither of which is okay to me.
I've been a contemporary choir director, worship team member, worship leader, and director of worship in both the UK and America. I've seen a LOT of different philosophies and practices. Some were heavy on smoke and lights and performance. Some were simpler and a little more traditional.
The best worship situations were those in which the leader's primary goal was to facilitate a connection between the individual congregation members and God. . .and then slip into the background. By carefully choosing a singable key and enough very familiar songs and then gently inviting the congregation to sing, consider the words and focus on the Person to whom they were singing, this was largely achieved.
But if we have five new songs and a full (albeit awesome!) musical performance each Sunday, we shut out the possibility of anyone doing anything but watching.
And if I know anything, I know that worship isn't that.
(NOTE: Lest anyone think that I don't like new songs. . .I LOVE to introduce current music. But I never introduce more than one song on a Sunday (then sing that song for a few weeks in a row until it is well known and can be then slipped into the regular rotation) and use other places to introduce new music (as special music during communion, for example, or at evening services, retreats, men's breakfasts, special one off worship services, etc.).
(photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net and can be found here)