Lately I’ve been noticing a bit of a trend: the likelihood of having a meaningful, Holy Spirit filled time of communal worship seems to be intertwined with the quality of the music being played that day. I know that that is somewhat of a controversial statement; please save your stones, I’m just thinking out loud here 😉 (winky face makes everything better…)
Here are some disclaimers:
1. I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit always moves when the music is good, or that the Holy Spirit never moves when it’s sub-par. After all, what are “good” or “sub-par” but subjective descriptions of an abstract quality?
2. I acknowledge that there is a difference between “liking the music” and it being “worship”.
One of the things that I think the Church has realized is dangerous is the “worship was good today”/”worship wasn’t very good today” line of thinking. Often, when people say stuff like this, they are using the terms “music” and “worship” interchangeably which, as has been said on pretty much every other worship leader blog out there, is not really the case.
Worship is a choice. The level of engagement in the act of worship (which, when it comes to music is referring to the act of praising/adoring God – which IS an expression of worship) is something that every individual is responsible for… or to say it another way: the level of engagement in the act of worship is something that YOU are responsible for. The music is simply one of the mediums that we use to contextualize the act of communal worship. Again, I’m not saying anything new, I just want you to know that I am on board with popular thinking here.
Now, with those disclaimers out of the way, let me go back to my original statement: lately it seems that the likelihood of having a meaningful, Holy Spirit filled time of communal worship seems to be intertwined with the quality of the music being played.
It recently has seemed that the times of worship that we’ve had as a church that have been most alive, impacting, healing, heart-softening, God-centering and kingdom-forming (moar adjectives!) have coincided with the times that the band has been made up of my most solid players who have brought their A game. These are the weeks that I get the most positive feedback about how meaningful the time of singing was.
Maybe this is a coincidence and there is no correlation. Maybe people are just confusing the emotions that come from enjoying good music for the experience of communing with the divine.
Or maybe enjoying good music and communing with the divine aren’t that different. Maybe this is exactly the way it is meant to be. Perhaps God intended music to be the wings that his Spirit is carried on in those communal times. After all, one of the effects (or affects as would be the case here) of music/art in the worship service is to soften the hardened heart to open to the divine whispers; to willingly turn our gaze to God in joy and surrender. If that is the collective desire of a church during a time of singing, then is it any surprise that the awareness of God’s presence would be more tangible? And is it that much of a stretch to think that excellence in music would accomplish this better than mediocrity in music?
Excellence. It can be such an alienating word. It is a word I have tried so hard to run from because of the damaging abuses that seem to go along with it.
As I’ve said before, I used to go to a church that valued excellence as a virtue so much that after every service everyone would immediately gather to talk about what could be improved on for the next service. Don’t get me wrong, we should always be seeking to do better, and no matter what your skill level, there is always room to grow when it comes to expressing the mysterious vastness of God; but the dark side of this practice was that it created an environment where nothing was ever good enough and eventually even the pro musicians got burned out and felt like “what was the point”.
In our pursuit for higher heights it’s important to remember that we will never shed the inevitability of plain human error.
Because of that experience I decided that the church was not the place for excellence based on skill, but on other virtues: humility, sincerity, teamwork, etc. I attempted to open the door as wide as possible for as many to come and share their passions with the church. There was a lot of good that came from that, and a lot of people were given opportunities that they would never get were it not for a community/folk emphasis on expression.
It takes more than good music to bring about meaningful worship experiences… sin, pride, distraction can still hinder. And meaningful worship can happen when music is crap… the worshipers heart, expectancy, sincerity (as well as the Spirit) can overcome all obstacles. But to say that it doesn’t matter or that it isn’t a major factor just doesn’t seem to be consistent with the nature of music/art, or my experience. There does seem to be a correlation and it kinda has me rethinking some of my previous “folk art” philosophies. I still value the “everybody can do it” mentality, but I’m wondering if “everybody can do it” has to mean “everybody can do it in this arena”. I know that this is probably really remedial for some people who have already realized this, and you’re probably reading this saying, “duh” (do people still say that?). But you have to understand that over the last while I’ve really pushed against the idea of “extreme professionalism” in church. And what I mean by that is churches who raise their standards beyond what they are actually capable of and close the door to the development and expression of their own people (think of churches that turn away perfectly capable volunteer musicians in favour of hiring outside “pros” every week). There is something to be said for using what you got.
But maybe I’ve pushed too hard and found myself too far over from the “holy balance”… #Justsaying.
And yes, I just hash tagged a blog post. I also hash tag emails. #dealwithit.