I am not a trained sociologist, though I play one at home as a father. I am constantly analyzing trends and the origination of certain behaviors and offering solutions. Thankfully, as a Christian father, sociology can be summarized simply by the study of sinful patterns; patterns that can be easily studied and analyzed.
As a pastor, I also have the opportunity to study trends and patterns in the local church. Church life is messy, and with it comes messy patterns and behaviors that only Jesus can undo. But I am not only a student of my congregation, I also enjoy studying modern church trends. In such cases, my studies will lack the gravitas found in well-funded research teams. Still, I am comforted by the fact that every sociologist is biased. He may have correct numbers, but what he does with the numbers is based on his presuppositions. How he phrases the questions determines what responses he will receive.
I set this background to emphasize that my conclusions are not flawless but grounded in my personal, ecclesiastical, and societal concerns. With this in mind, let me make the following assertion: “Churches that segregate musically are bound to segregate corporately.” I have seen it happen again and again, but beyond the anecdotal evidence, the rationale of modern trends seem to affirm that proposition. Let me flesh out my concerns with a few questions and affirmations:
First, why do we assume that children and teens need a different kind of music than adults? Why do we think that “praise and worship” provide something for young folks and not for older saints? We attempt to accommodate the tastes of Christians in different stages of life, but what are we actually accomplishing? Are we merely perpetuating society’s self-centeredness? Is ecclesiastical music shaped to fit particular tastes and styles?
Second, I have noticed that every church that has a modern flavor differs from other churches that offer modern musical flavors. So to say, “I like contemporary music,” leads to another question: “What kind?” Is Amy Grant “old” contemporary? Is Michael W. Smith “old” contemporary? Is Hillsong music “new” contemporary? We must keep in mind that we are dealing with a span of 20-30 years here.
Third, we have abandoned Psalm-shaped music. I am not advocating exclusive psalmody, but I am saying that when we abandon the regular singing of psalms, we lose gospel creativity to compose biblical hymns. Historically, psalm-centered churches produced psalm-like hymns.
Fourth, as our children continue to grow in evangelical churches where music is dispersed according to age and style, how will they and their aging parents ever come to a proper understanding of the role of music in the Church? Will they ever be able to sit together to sing? Will the college bound son ever wish to come to dad’s church during summer breaks and genuinely enjoy singing praises to God? Or will he merely tolerate it, as a kind gesture to his Fanny Crosby-loving parents?
Fifth, have we considered the consequences of dividing our services into contemporary and traditional? Are we making it easier for older saints to bless younger saints, or are we making it harder? How are we stressing unity when our churches naturally divide over musical styles? Can we fulfill Paul’s exhortations to eat and drink together?a
Sixth, is contemporary music as a category truly contemporary? “Shine, Jesus, Shine” appears archaic to modern worship services. While new musical compositions can be admirable things, many churches only use music composed by their musical team. What happens for visitors who are long-time Christians? What happens when people from diverse contemporary churches visit a church that writes their own contemporary melodies? Are the contemporary going to feel divorced from their fellow contemporary music lovers?
Seventh, does the predominant hunger for the new ever get old? In other words, what happens when millennials raise their own children who think their parents’ music is as old as an MP3 player? What happens when the world turns against the modern?
Eighth, are we teaching through our music that music divides rather than unites? Are we teaching our children that what we sing is what we like and we like only what we sing?
Ninth, will our children leave us when they find us to be evangelically irrelevant to them? Are we setting the stage for their departure by granting their generation musical style privilege?
Finally, what role does the Bible play in our church music? Does tradition provide any help in our consideration of what we should sing? Can we merely discard 1,900 years of church music for the new? Are we a better generation than our faithful forefathers who gave their lives for the gospel? Do we follow in the train of the latest trend, or the Davidic train that offered us divinely-inspired music? Does our inspiration in modern composition stem from cultural romantic tales or the gospel romance of Ruth and Boaz? Is our church music bringing our families closer together, or is it separating us? Can your 18-year-old say, “Dad, let’s sing together?” If not, is that a good thing?
We all claim our music is praise-worthy, but can our music be God-worthy if God’s people are not singing a new song together?
- I am fully aware of functional/practical building issues, but here I am referring to churches that can easily accommodate everyone in one service (back)