(Note: this is part 2 of a post I started here.)
Now that I’ve talked about church, I want to begin looking at the worship service. There are typically two main parts to evangelical worship services: singing and a sermon. I’ll talk a bit about each.
Music in Worship Services: Worship or Concert?
Mention the term “worship” and the first thing many people will think of is music. In fact, the phrase “worship music” is used often. However, this phrase is a bit frustrating to me because typically what people are referring to is what could be called “praise music”. Hymns can offer more depth, but what is most popular today (after the “worship wars” circa the turn of the millennium) is contemporary praise choruses. (Older people often refer to this music as choruses because of the repeated “chorus” as opposed to hymn which usually contain several stanzas which are not repeated.) But worship is much more than merely singing praises. I once described worship as a life style. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what all worship entails, but I do know that there is a lot more to it and many ways to worship God in addition to merely singing to him. Worship is a whole topic worth exploring itself, but once again, I will forgo that venture in order to stay focused on praise music.
Don mentions a recent service he attended, and says “I loved it more for the music than the worship.” What is the difference between worship music and a concert? Can’t we enjoy worship music? Does it negate the worship if we’re enjoying the music too much? Do we have to sing praise music we don’t enjoy in order to worship God?
One thought which just occurred to me is how traditionally, the music portion of a protestant service was primarily to be congregational singing. However this seems to have changed with the coming of contemporary music. The need for a band and subsequent dependance on (hopefully) talented musicians has turned praise music into more of a concert. Yes, the intention may be for the congregation to sing, but the same is true of many concerts; this doesn’t negate that the musical performance is a concert.
My impression is that many people make or want to make some sort of significant distinction between worship music and a concert in their mind. In their minds it is bad if the music portion of the service becomes a “concert”. But I want to suggest that the distinction isn’t so easy to make and that having the music part of a service be more or less a concert isn’t bad, at least not in the way people tend to think. I believe what people are usually getting at is whether the focus of the music is on God or not. I would agree that it a good distinction to make. But is it always so easy to make? I would say that music which acknowledges God’s role in the center of our lives is worship (it doesn’t even have to be praise). It doesn’t matter when or where this happens. So a group of musicians can perform in what would be considered a concert setting and be worshiping. Put succinctly, this would be a concert which is also worship—just as many activities in our lives are an expression of worship when we keep God in the center. (How explicitly does God need to be in the lyrics in order for the music to be worship?)
The general definition of concert is simply a public musical performance. This would include “worship services”. Now it is true that the focus should be on God, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a concert. And I don’t think it is bad if the musicians and the congregation enjoy the music! I think God actually wants us to worship him in a way we enjoy, and to enjoy him. So let’s move beyond some of these misconceptions of what the music portion of a worship service is.
(I’ll continue discussing worship music in part 3.)