How we use music to segregate within the local church

Diverse picture of hands holding

How we use music to segregate our church meeting.

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First of all, the rules for this post. (ominous sounding eh?)

Rule: 1  This post is not about racial equality, race issues in general.

Rule: 2 This post is not about singling out any culture or race.

Rule: 3  This post is from an American point of view

So what about Stryper?   Probably one of the most renowned Christian Rock Bands from the 80s till today.

A bit of HX

For me, the music was among other bands that I listened to at a critical time in my Christian journey.  Other bands I liked were Bride, Guardian and Degarmo and Key.   There are many more, but those are the more well-known bands.    So that is a sample of my favorite Christian music from back in the day.  Even though I was playing praise and worship from the likes of Ron Kenoly in church, in my room or car, those were the tapes I played constantly.  I still remember playing Bride for my youth pastor and he just shook his head.  I guess head banging may not have been his thing?  My thing?  Absolutely.

But that’s me.  I can actually swing from Christian metal to Bluegrass in one blog sitting.  What about you?  What Godly music do you like?  So you have a favorite?  Do you like everything?  You do?  Including Stryper?  It can get uncomfortable to think that there is more Christian music out there that others like.  Why don’t they like what we like?  Shouldn’t we all listen to the same Christian music?  Of course not.   We are all created differently and our musical likes and dislikes can vary immensely.

As recent as a few years ago, I visited a church, one where I got a massive migrane from their blue light banks.  Someone asked me how I enjoyed the service.  I mentioned my pan with the stage light. She mentioned that the worship isn’t for everyone, and directed me to ear plugs. I did see the earplugs, but the volume of well-mixed church meeting music has never bothered me.  But certainly those with hearing issues, headache issues or other auditorial issues, yep, loud music can be a hindrance.   er response was that the church had mitigated issues like mine by providing earplugs for worship.  Did that make any sense?  Didn’t then, doesn’t now.   That blog post was the whole reason for this and other posts.   So what about our corporate worship, is it for everyone?  We need to address questions like this in the modern church, openly.

Can I come to church with you?  I hope you’d say, ‘Absolutely!.’  But will your church band play some metal for me? What about some bluegrass?

 

Probably not, but maybe your church is like this Finnish Heavy Metal Church.  I can only hope.

What does your church play for music?  In the American church, the choices are wide open. There are hymnals and at the other ends of the spectrum is music like the above video, church metal.   “Now wait a minute,” you say? “Church Metal?!” Yes, Church Metal.

But I’d bet your church isn’t into metal.  What they actually play for the church meeting may depend on a large set of factors.

So how do we choose our corporate or congregational worship music?  Here are some ways, but not all for sure.

 

The Latest K-Love top 10

People like their car music.  Remember mine?    But I’m sure other people listen to stuff on K-Love, which may have a tad of issue sliding in “To Hell With the Devil.”  But hey, if the K-Love top 10 is Christ-centered Biblically Theologically sound music, then I’m all for it. But should we choose that for corporate worship?

Worship Leader chooses it

I still remember sitting in church trying to sing the songs that were on the screen.  I didn’t really recognize most of it.  The lyrics were spread along the musical timeline in a way that seemed difficult to sing with.  To me, it was like nails on a chalkboard.  Several songs were more like religious prose dropped on top of rhythms without thought given to flow.  I’d say they were all Christian, but some didn’t make any theological sense.  Either way, it was a chore to try and sing with them.  I never found out if they were personally written by the worship director, or not but someone tried to write that music.

Congregational Requests

I alluded to this earlier, but some churches sing what everyone likes.  After all, you want to keep people happy right?  Or do you?  Is that what is coined ‘Consumer Christianity?’  We as a worship team/group should do what we can to please the people in corporate worship, right? Probably not, since that is giving the sheep the Shepherds Crook.  Consumer Christianity is rampant in today’s American culture.  Do something someone doesn’t like, boom, they are off to the next restaurant, I mean church. Wrong attitude.

Is there anything sinister or inherently wrong about playing a song in church someone wanted to hear?  Not really.   Is it how we should approach corporate worship in a church meeting?  Does that make the worship band more of a ‘bar band without the tip?’

It’s What We’ve always played

Generations come and go, decades come and go, and we refuse to review and grow in corporate worship, or even our faith for that matter.  After all, the world is going to Hell in a handbasket anyway, why should we change what we do in our local church, we are the chosen few right?  So regarding worship, that church down the road is such and such type because they play ‘x’ type of music.  That’s the way they’ve always been.

 

Worship

According to Jesus: John 4:23-24  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

In Isaiah 12:5 “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.

In Psalms 95:1-6 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

It’s pretty clear just from a few verses, our intent when we worship should be to worship the one true God, I AM.

 

So what about corporate worship.  Before we answer that question, we have to look at one more Jesus reference.

Matthew 28: 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

It’s the ‘All Nations’ we want to zero in on.   With the current modern church in America, we have a lot of religious diversity.  We have this church that has this group, this church over here has this group, and that one over there has another group and so on.  And often, historically, our American church has differed in music just as it does in the makeup of the congregations.  Is it the American culture and musical genres that has influenced our local church worship?  Have we taken our corporate worship style lead from the world?

Squirrel Rant —  Allow me to borrow that objection in your mind and yell at myself for a minute.   Here goes.  “Now wait a minute, aren’t congregational makeups largely a matter of location.  We have city churches that have city folk, the suburbs have another congregant makeup, and the country churches, well we all know what they have.  So, that’s the reason for the congregant makeup right? ” And that’s what gives us our corporate worship style, right?  And to some degree, I would agree that by default, across America we have built our local churches based on location.  Because given the choice, I’d be hard-pressed to drive an hour to church if I can find Jesus a little closer.  :}

 

I’m going to revisit Stryper one more time (at least)- Labels

Labels What were/are called who like that type of music, “Headbangers” Which is different than “The Headbangers“, that’s a wrestling team.   We all dreamed of wearing bright spandex, 8-inch plats, and hair flying in the wind long enough to hit the person on the third row.    But those who performed hip-hop, maybe they were called rappers. The labels that were in secular music, we all know them.  What about George Jones, well he was a country music singers. I for one wasn’t a huge rap fan.  It wasn’t my thing, so I leaned more towards rock and metal.  I just liked it.  So when I finally found Christian Rock/Metal, I was set.   But there were a few RUN-DMC songs I liked.  I just didn’t spend any money on their albums.

So what does Stryper have anything to do with corporate or congregational worship.   If it was up to me, a whole lot.  But God in his infinite wisdom chose not to give me a worship leader position in my teen years.  And that is a blessing for all.  But enough self-depreciation, if Stryper showed up to do a show at my church, I suspect there would be 5.8% of people left at noon.

I’ll never forget when our band sang at a gospel sing.  We had a rhythm and blues lead guitarist, blues and rock electric guitarist, a metal bass guitarist, and myself a southern gospel drummer.  Talk about diversity. We were the last people to play.  By the end, most people in the seats had dispersed, but we had three elderly gentlemen sitting on the front row.  I’ll never forget, they tapped their feet the whole time.  I’m sure people left because of the late part of the day. That had to be it. :}

So what does this have to do with corporate church worship?  A question we should ask is, how has the progression and diverse American music impacted both what we play in our churches but the makeup of our churches.  Do we have “hip hop”, rock, country – insert genre – churches?

 

Is there anything wrong with playing music people can connect to?

That is the question.  Music is one of the most powerful expressions in humanity.  Music can be very personal for people.  Music can give us messages of life or death.  Music can give us messages of hope or hopelessness.   Like the ole’ country joke; ‘what do you get when you play a country song backward?  You get your dog, truck, and wife back.’  I know I know, not all country music is hopeless.

When I first found Christian rock music and even today, when I invest in Christian music, I’ll research the band looking, for one thing, a message that points to God either in the band’s bio or the words of the song, hopefully in both. Because there is a lot of music then and today that alleges a Christian message, but is lacking in sound theological doctrine and is sometimes outright secular.  Like when we all thought Evanescense was a Christian band, finding their way into Bible book stores.

 

Should we play songs that everyone can connect with?  That’s a good question;  A better question is should we play songs that enable people to connect to God.   If so, then what is the approach we need?  Here are some thoughts.

We should come to a church meeting to worship.  We need to have an attitude of worship.  We as a corporate congregation need to humble ourselves together before God and say, if we worship, we worship to glorify God.  Worship should not be to edify the body first but to glorify God.  Maybe we sit in quiet waiting on God, maybe we play the same song four times praising God, maybe we just worship first. – Which means, my thoughts about the song choice has nothing to do with my attitude of worshiping God in a collective way that honors Him.-

So then what?  Should we play a diverse set of music that reaches everyone including anyone who walks in the door?  Or should we look across the seats and settle on this type of music because of who sits there?  Still the wrong question.  We as Americans have had a tendency to sit and consume church.  But our thoughts on worship should be to glorify God.  Sunday worship should be the icing on the -weeks- cake, not the entire cake of our -weeks- worship.

A silly proposition.  What if we had five people in our congregation; one a metalhead, one country, one who likes hip hop, one who likes progressive modern seeker-friendly songs and one who really digs hymnals.  How do we choose that song list?   Well there’s the obvious, and then there’s what I propose is the alternative;  Rethink our worship entirely.  Music is powerful, and anointed worship is when we are in a place that becomes about God, and not the song. -Idols even.-   Worship God, let go of ourselves.  Now don’t get me wrong, we can play songs, music in a way that is harsh to the ears, rhythmically deficient, and so on.   I’m not proposing lowering the quality but rethinking the purpose thereby the substance of our corporate worship.

 

Final thoughts.

Is there anything wrong with playing worship songs that people can connect with?  A better question is; shouldn’t we focus on the act of corporate worship with humility, and let the song choice be a distant sixth place?  After all, Jesus tells us to worship God, our attitude of worship should be our first consideration.  And that takes constantly refocusing ourselves beyond ourselves.

Is it possible to segregate a church using music, it sure is.   If I had a church and hired Stryper to do the worship, I’m probably going to lose some folks.  Even if I have Michael Sweet do Amazing Grace, Stryper circa 1980 may be too much spandex and makeup for some.

Do some church folk leave a church because they don’t like the music, they sure do.  Do we all come to church and like a good song, sure.  But shouldn’t we rethink our worship constantly to make sure we are not inhibiting everyone – All Nations if you will- with connecting with God? Absolutely.  But as a good friend of mine told me, that requires working past our humanity.

 


About the Author:  Steven Davis is a drummer, recovering social worker, overcooked preachers kid, bible school dropout.

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