Here’s an unrelated question? But, if you are honest, you’ve got to admit it. There are times when you sit on the platform and someone is singing just before you preach and you wonder if they stepped on a nail or were trying to hit a note out of their range. When are lay singers going to quit trying to do the vocal gymnastics they hear the professional singers doing in the studio? I get weary of hearing untrained singers trying to do what those with vocal coaches, incredible producers, ten takes and state of the art equipment can do. I have no problem with people singing with tracks, some folks still call it canned music. It’s better than an out of tune piano. I just wish they would leave the high Cs and the other stuff to the pros.
It reminds me of a revival I attended with Vance Havner. To say that the music was awful would be an understatement. It was pathetic. No one sang on pitch. It seems that every singer took literally the exhortation, “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” What one singer did sounded more like two cats with their tails tied together and thrown over some clothes line.
After this went on for a few minutes, I must confess, I started watching Dr. Havner. I was so agitated and irritated by the lack of preparation, I was having a hard time sitting still. Havner was sitting on the platform. He had his head bowed and eyes closed. In my mind I could hear him praying, “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!” I’ll tell you how bad it was. It reminded me of the old Jerry Clower story of the Coon hunters. I was praying for someone to shoot up here amongst us, one of us has got to have some relief.
After thirty minutes of this painful experience and lacking anything to dull the pain, it was time for the special music. The Minister of Music turned to Dr. Havner and said, “Dr. Havner, does the music have you ready to preach yet?” Havner lifted his head and said, “NO!” Haven’t we all been in that kind of service? Haven’t we all wondered why we were there?
Since this whole worship issue started (by the way, it’s been around a long, long time -since before any of us were born), Boomers and other generations thought, the way to solve this problem was to establish a contemporary service. Contemporary meaning: more upbeat, more relevant, more cutting edge. The church needed to bring in a band, praise team, and started singing every new chorus we could find.
I like all of that. I’m for it. I think using people who are gifted and talented is the way to go. You’ll never see me complaining about a band. I grew up on Rock n’ Roll. I just pray the band has tuned up before they start playing. Been there and done that!
Can I be honest, a band and a praise team has nothing to do with a service being contemporary. If the band is average (or worse) and the praise team looks like death sucking a lemon, it’s still boring. It can be just as boring as someone blowing the dust out of a pipe organ at 95 decibels. You can be singing “Shout to the Lord” and make it sound like someone running their nails across a chalkboard.
Let’s think about another thing churches have done to make worship contemporary. We did away with the bulletin. People could no longer follow the line up and see who’s up to bat next. It’s more spiritual to keep them guessing. We’ve all made the mistake of thinking because we did away with the order of service in the bulletin we were contemporary and cutting edge. Of course, we replaced the order of service with the words to all the songs printed on little sheets of colored paper. Now we use big projection screens and Power Point – the way David would have done it if he had been blessed with electricity.
We’ve also made the mistake of being so worldly in our thinking that we assume a sensory experience is a spiritual experience. We are so ignorant of what Biblical worship is, we’ve bought the lie that God does his deepest work in the shallowest part of our being, our emotions. Worship is about connecting with God, not our tear ducts. You can cry over “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or any other sentimental song, but it doesn’t mean you’ve been in the presence of God. We’ve let society define inspirational music. We’ve confused sentiments and feelings with worship.
Let’s go back to that traditional thing for a moment. The trouble with those who espouse the traditional line is that nothing ever changes. Like the Amish, they are stuck in another century. As it was in the beginning, so shall it ever be, forever and ever, amen. I’ve heard people say, “We’ve just grown mellow with the passing of time.” We need to remember that fruit gets mellow before it goes bad.
I remember being in my home church for a revival. Every night for four nights, we sang the same hymns. I asked the minister of music about it. He said, “I don’t want people to have to think when they come to church.” God forbid that we would use our mind in worship. Of course, much of what is called worship is mindless.
Some churches sing the ‘Doxology’ every week to start or end the service. Can it be that we do something for so long, the same way, that in the end, we are no longer even thinking about what we are doing? Is it possible that we have churches, Ministers of Music and Pastors who are in a rut? Could the people in the pew be in a rut? Sure they are. They’ve been sitting in the same seat since Moses was a baby.
We’ve done one thing the enemies of Christ could never do. We’ve become successful in making Jesus boring. We drag out the songs like a funeral dirge. We spend more time making announcements about cake bakes and garage sales than we do in prayer. The piano is out of tune, but nobody notices. Why? Our hearts are out of tune. Like the children of Israel, some folks come to church and multiply offerings but their hearts go on sinning. Worship is supposed to be an encounter with God that changes you. Most of the folks I see leaving churches don’t look like they’ve had a life changing encounter with God. They look like they’ve just been to the proctologist.
A traditionalist can demand that we sing “Take Time to be Holy” but at the same time, want the service to end at 12 o’clock sharp. They may want the King James, but they don’t like it when the preacher employs King James words like “whoremonger.” There are those who fight for tradition. They want that old time, hell fire and damnation preaching. They don’t feel like they’ve been to church unless they’ve heard, “Turn or burn.”
Typically, these kind of churches are heavy on preaching to people who aren’t there. The pastor is encouraged to “preach the Word” which can be translated, we want a give “’em hell preacher!” They like for the preacher to attack the sinners and ignore the sins of the saints. Jesus said as much about repentance to the church as He did to the sinners he encountered. The music is heavy on singing about heaven, but no one in the crowd is really interested in getting sinners saved.
My mother-in-law is a member of another denomination. She was watching one of our worship services recently and she said to my wife, “This is so foreign to me. I’m used to seeing this kind of music with special groups but not every week.” In their discussion my wife said, “We sing the old stuff. We sing songs older than the ones your church sings. Some of ours date back to the time of David. Yours are only 300 years old.” Who’s contemporary now? What Boomers view as traditional, the GenX crowd views as traditional. Ah, that moving target of worship.
Don’t you know someone in the crowd had a cow when Martin Luther baptized bar tunes and turned them into church songs? While the words have given us a great hymn of the church, the tune would have been familiar to the drunkards of the day. It’s all a matter of perspective isn’t it?
We’re not through yet. We will continue in the next issue
©2002 MCC This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use.
Reproduction for any other purpose is goverened by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.