I've just had lunch with a friend whose leadership in church music is quite different from mine. He has served churches as a full-time musician, as a part-timer, and in a volunteer capacity. I have often said that I have served two large churches because I am not talented enough to serve a small church. Keith (let's call my friend Keith) is talented enough to serve small churches, and would make an excellent music leader in a large church as well.
He is currently in a church now as a lay participant, which he used to serve as a staff member. In that earlier period, he introduced contemporary music into the services- under the leadership of the church board. He has been away, and is now back in a different capacity, and said to me over lunch, "once that change [to a contemporary service] is made, there is no turning back."
This from a man who appreciates contemporary music, and whose ideal musical setting he describes as "blended." Keith has history in this church, and is hardly a "baby with the bath" kind of guy. But he has come up against the juggernaut of style-driven, revelevance-seeking music decisions. That is, the juggernaut of contemporary services.
Not "contemporary music" mind you. Contemporary services. To be clear, in this case the objection is not to the musical selection, but the musical limitation that comes with a self-described contemporary service. And it sounds like the church in question is pretty sincere and rigorous about what is contemporary. The copyright date drives the music placed before the congregation. "Contemporary classics" from the 1990's do not factor into the services, even as nostalgia pieces. Turn of the millenium songs do not pass muster. The calendar does not turn back farther than five years, in this place.
Once down that road, it seems, there is no turning back.
I'm struck with the importance of turning back. Of looking back. Of welcoming what came before. Of learning from my elders, my forebears, my ancestors in faith and practice. I won't sing everything that has survived the test of time ... may sing very little of it, in fact, given its sheer volume. But how could I ignore it? How could I thrive today without the inherited riches of yesterday?
Once down that road there is no turning back. But by turning back, I hope by God's grace to better navigate the road ahead. Unlike driving, in which all that is behind disappears in the rear-view mirror, in this thing of congregational song we can bring all that beauty along with us as we move on down the road. So, why wouldn't we?