Church Temper Tantrums Over Worship and Music Placed in Context

Now, don’t get me wrong.  When I say the “church” I am not speaking of any one church in particular.  Yet, I am more or less speaking of the church in a universal sense.

The African American church and many other church traditions are living in enormous fear of losing its tradition to newer brands and styles of music.  Some are horrified at how closely much of this music sounds like secular music.  The beat, rhythm, style of music is nothing like it used to be.  The music is no longer centered around the I, IV, and V chord pattern of music.  Music has become far more complex with an assortment of sounds, theoretical complexities, etc. “It’s just too entertainment oriented, too much technology, leaving behind the old values”, I’ve heard along the way.

True enough, the church music scene is far more advanced than what it used to be.  Looking for a church musician is not really that simple anymore.  Now, we look for musicians, or at least I do, who are technologically advanced enough to impact their sound beyond their piano mode.  Before, we just wanted someone who could read and play the piano.  Now, we need someone who can play the keyboard and make it sound like fifty instruments are in the house.  We need someone who can arrange, write, and create, sometimes on the spot.

So, there are segments of people that sit in congregations bewildered and perplexed about what has happened to sacred worship. They are worried about not educating people of the hymnody of the church, as though this knowledge is essential to Christian salvation and faith.  In addition to losing hymnody of the church, we are not recalling enough of those songs that got us through difficult times, some would say, such as music of Thomas Dorsey, Andre Crouch, James Cleveland, Walter Hawkins and so many others.

So, many are saddened and in some cases angered that worship has actually grown beyond the past fifty years of music and liturgy.  “What about us and what we want” you may hear from these disgruntled but sincere worshippers.  “That music doesn’t do anything for me” they’ll confess.  Other than trying to create more balanced God experiences, I’m not sure what the response could be to these statements.  Yet, one response I will not have is one of panic.

Here is the reason why I don’t panic when there are some in the church who are outraged at what is happening musically and litrugically.

1. The church is always suspicious of new things.  When the church is suspicious of things, they will beat it down, destroy it and kick it out as though anything new is almost always Satanic.  It’s almost as if there is an 11th commandment, “thou shalt not do anything new, try anything new or discover anything for doing so is an abandonment of the souls, traditions and individuals that have personally contributed to our life.”  As a result, we forget that God is moving beyond and outside of older experiences and has not decided to stop saving people because of their musical and liturgical preferences and locations.  Therefore, many churches are at a standstill because they’ve become incapacitated to meet God in newer places and in newer ways and as a result, no one is interested in worshipping in those settings, where routine is the order of the day and there is no fresh encounter with the Holy Spirit.

2. Further, the church has forgotten that it was just as negative about Dorsey, Crouch, Cleveland and any other artists that have come on the scene.  Kirk Franklyn began a new revolution around sacred music that was immediately banned by many pastors and worship leaders from their church.  Today, Kirk Franklyn is all over the place, albeit old now, because it has been discovered, some twenty years later, that his music can actually be a resource as opposed to a distraction.  The church eventually comes around. The church often runs behind the wind of the spirit, instead of running with it and as a result it arrives late to what God has already done.  By the time that it shows up on the scene, the world has left that once occupied place and the church begins to run behind the world as to say, “hey, we are playing your type of music now, come join us.”  However, the world’s needs, sociological scenarios and political locations have changed and we are behind because of our fear to serve the present age and adjust worship methods to meet them.

3. Lastly, I don’t panic when folk are outraged about the newer day and its nuances because the past is definitely overrated.  Forcing me to live in an era that is not mine and does not speak to my needs is nothing short of oppressive and terroristic to me spiritually.  I too have a song to sing, a story to tell and a victory to shout about in my own voice and in the voice of my generation.

I hear so much of how we need to get back to the good ole days.  I’ve actually sat in meetings where there were litanies of how parents used to pick up children in the neighborhood for church, how fathers played baseball with sons in the park and how young girls were taught to dress.  Yet, those are just some of the stories, quite frankly.  As I remember it, some of those same days in the past were not so good.  For example, in the 80s, we witnessed one of the biggest drug wars the world had ever seen.  Thousands of people, children, many of whom should have been in Sunday School and church were being killed on the street, overdosing, prostituting and being traumatized by the crack epidemic.  I also remember AIDS at an all time high.  I also remember the fear and threat of nuclear war.  The only thing that has helped these delimmas has been, the future.  It was the future that held promise, possibilities, and solutions.  Seemingly, we have become stuck on the past and most unfriendly to the future.  For this reason, I can’t pay the church too much attention when it kicks and screams about moving forward.  If I do so, then I will submit to negativity and delay forward progress and engage in a ministry of merely accommodating comfort and ultimately someone will miss out on this gospel train.  If it is a gospel train, then it must not get stuck at one station before reaching its destination.

If we really like hymns, maybe we should revisit some of them, like, “We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion, we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”  This was a hymn of a church in motion, in movement.  It was not about marching around the church building, or around the block.  It was about marching toward Jerusalem, the city of God.  It was about not being afriad to, as the hymnologist Brian Wren says, “step from the past and leave behind our disappointments, guilt and grieving.”

Moving toward the future is not the same as forgetting.  It is building upon what was, brick by brick.  Insead of being religiously glutonous, like chickens whose bellies are alread full but still wanting feed from the others, our veteran Christians now need to see themselves as missionaries to a world desparate to know Christ.  Following Christ has a component of giving up things that are valuable to us…or else following will always be compromised.

“Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor. The man went away sad, because he had much.”  But, Jesus kept on toward the cross in between temper tantrums from on-lookers, temple priests and legalists.

He never stopped until he reached his destination, neither must we.


~ by bkevinsmalls on January 8, 2014.

One Response to “Church Temper Tantrums Over Worship and Music Placed in Context”

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