Music in Worship Services: What Genre?
The last point I made in part 2 brings me to the next. If God wants us to worship him in a way that we enjoy, then when we use music to worship it makes sense for us to use music which we like. But… not everyone listens to or likes the same music, right? In our culture today, there are more options and a wider array of genres than ever—virtually anything conceivable. In a traditional church setting, where there is often anywhere from 50 to 5000 people, not every musical style can be represented. You can’t even come close to representing the breadth of music in our culture. So what is a church to do? I don’t know that most have even considered the question, they are simply moving along with the trends. But that has been church’s answer: we’ll do what ever is most popular among the most people—cater to the majority. And the majority in this case doesn’t represent the culture at large, but just the majority of the demographic of the church, which in the white churches I’m familiar with tends to be reasonably conservative families (meaning people approximately 30-60 in the primary target demographic). And this all stems in part from our philosophy of church and disciple-making, which has traditionally been to attempt to build great worship service and programs in order to draw people in, and then somehow or another they’ll become disciples. (Though most churches have some sort of discipleship program, the truth is I believe we’re actually foggy on that last point. If honest, I believe many church leaders recognize these aren’t very effective, at least not as we wish they would be.)
Allow me to make some personal reflections. I love music. I’m actually a musician. For years I hoped to make a career of music either by playing or through audio and production. I actually spent a couple of years trying to launch an alternative rock worship band. So in many ways it’s baffling to me that I’m not normally “into” praise music. At one point, back in youth group and for a few years after, I was. (I remember how there was a spirit of praise/worship at the time which led into praise music’s popularity.) But what I used to feel dried up to the point I was no longer “into” praise music. (Interestingly, the one place that was somewhat of an exception since then is the campus ministry when I returned to college years later. While the performance of the music wasn’t superb compared to what I’ve been exposed to, for whatever reason I actually felt like singing.)
For years I struggled to understand why I wasn’t feeling “into” “worship” (praise music). I’ve wondered if there was something wrong with me spiritually. I’m sure there are some who believe that can be the only answer. That could be the case, but I think there are other alternatives. One of the biggest possibilities I’ve considered is that I just don’t really like the style of music. The “contemporary” in the description of the most popular form of worship music presently doesn’t just mean the music is relevant, it actually refers to a specific genre of music, “adult contemporary“. A couple of the main genres which comprise “contemporary” music are easy listening and soft rock. These also happen to be genres which I’d virtually never listen to myself. Perhaps it’s my creative, artistic instincts. I’m always looking for something new, fresh, creative, and often cutting edge. “Contemporary” music (and pop music in general) tend to be the antithesis of this: safe, tried, familiar… and music which makes me want to gag. (I should mention that what I’ve heard in churches—and the churches I’ve attended probably have unusually good worship, er, praise teams—haven’t been nearly as bad as what is popular on Christian radio.) Interestingly, this type of music seems to be most popular among those in their latter twenties into perhaps their forties or fifties—which also happens to be the age range of most parents, the group which churches seems to focus on the most (as mentioned).
Another idea I’ve had more recently is that I just don’t enjoy singing as much as I do playing an instrument or running audio. Unfortunately (and a slight criticism I’ve had), the church I’ve most recently attended didn’t allow any opportunity to play in the main worship service (they had a professional band). I considered more than once bringing my guitar into the service and playing along, but I figured it probably wouldn’t work out too well, and I never heard back from the worship leader when I asked about getting chord charts of the songs they play.
So I identified with Don saying that he doesn’t connect to God through singing. It seems ironic that while I am a musician, the spiritual pathway having to do with praise is at the bottom of my list.
Some people would say that worship isn’t about feelings, it’s something we’re supposed to do whether we feel “into” it or not. And actually I agree, at least in a certain way. But I think part of the problem is how people expect us to enjoy contemporary praise music. In which case, if you aren’t “into” the music, it seems like something is wrong (because it makes is seem like we’re not into worship). But perhaps it’s not you (or me). Perhaps we’re not into the music rather than not being into God.
In part 4, I plan to discuss how our approach to worship music may be the biggest factor in church segregation. Until then, you might be interested in some of the other things I’ve written about worship.