Monday, June 7, 2010

No turning back, no turning back

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?


Claire said...

I just planned and led my first worship service (in public) last week. This past Sunday was my first attempt at "officially" leading worship, a it was "youth Sunday", and apparently, at 39 years old, I still qualify! Ha! I used quite a mix of songs, including Amazing Grace (quite an oldie), Ancient of Days (dating back to when you were in charge of the Contemporary Service at BBC in 1992), a couple of songs from 2006 were the most recent songs we played. Despite my contemporary leanings, I couldn't see limiting myself to songs from the last 5 years, nor from the hymnal alone. God has ordained many different kinds of music, and inspired so many creative people through the years. He is honored by psalms, hymns AND spiritual songs, when sung in the spirit of worship. Now as for those country and western folks . . .


jaigner said...

Limiting ourselves to a strict selection of contemporary is symptomatic of another, deeper problem in the Church. We have no use for the history and tradition of Christian belief. Many seem to live as if Christ lived in the 1990s. We read the Bible that way, pray that way, go about corporate worship that way.

We're forfeiting quite a lot, in my opinion.

Chuck King said...

Forfeiture. There is a good word for reflection. I'll have to muse on that and write.

And it's true, we are enjoined to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Our guide to their use is "the Word of Christ" and the "fullness of the Spirit." Our attitude is thankfulness. Our expectation is participation of all the gathered in assembly.

bp said...

At the same time, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater in the other direction, either. Scripture doesn't command us to "sing unto the Lord an old song", and just because a song was written in the last five years doesn't mean it, too, can't be meaningful, tasteful, and full of spiritual and theological content.

I appreciate not losing sight of great music written in the past. But I would at least grant that the possibility *does* exist for a church to have a good, God-honoring music program, using nothing but recent songs.

Chuck King said...

True and true. There is quite a bit of new song that has rich content and is eminently singable. We use some of that even where I live and work! And I'll grant the possibility of a God-honoring program that stays in the most recent 5 years. I'll even go so far as to say that some churches would be greatly enriched if they threw out some of the "bad old songs" (and there are plenty of those, from all generations) and stuck with the "great new songs."

But my concerrn is for both the baby and the bath. Regardless of which is the old and which the new. Why limit ourselves to only the most recent, and lose a connection to the church through the ages? And why cut ourselves off from the winds of the Spirit in our day? Churches err at both ends, and churches at each end are also likewise, to some degree, impoverished. We can do better.

So my lament for "Keith's" church situation is that someone who helped introduce new (contemporary) song ended up losing that "cloud of witnesses" connection. And if he, then surely people in the congregation as well.