Tuesday, November 30, 2010

on my mind - Old VS New, Young VS. Old-er.

Everyone has heard the classic complaint:

'I just couldn't worship, it was like a concert! What has happen to the old way where everyone sings together? Now the music is too loud. The lights are too flashy. I don't like the worship leader's skinny jeans. It's not even worship anymore . . . ' ect, ect, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I reckon we are stuck at an interesting point in the timeline of worship music and style.

It seems to me like this - once, we worshiped from a set of hymns. 

We came together, sang the words of old favorites out of hymnals, while Mrs Jones, the local music teacher played the piano. Sometimes, when old Mrs Jones' knee was playing up, Mrs Davis would play instead, on her ancient Yamaha Electone electric organ.

No one minded. They took what they could get. It wasn't creative, but it was comfortable, and it worked.

At the youth camps, one hip young leader would bring his guitar, and they'd all sit around the campfire singing choruses and having a grand old time larking about dipping cubes of bread into the cheese fondue, before heading off for a nice cup of cocoa and bed.
Rock music was dangerous, and in church, was downright sinful.
This was how my parents grew up. Not that long ago, really. Only 40 years or so.
(According to Ancestry.com, a generation is around 30 years)

Then, change was in the air.

With the advent of MTV, tapes and the Sony Walkman taking over from record players, more and more bands putting out more and more music, home stereos and VCR's getting cheaper, and more radio shows playing new music, the atmosphere changed.

People were spoiled for choice. There was so much good stuff out there rather than just taking what they could get, people got picky. They could now carefully sort through and choose exactly what they like. There became a higher demand for quality, for creativity and most of all, for personal expression.

So into church came the guitars. After much conversation (actually, probably violent argument and impassioned debate) with church eldership and leaders, in came the drums. Modern music with guitars and drums needs a more sophisticated sound system, so after much penny pinching, that came in too.

Now, it was wonderful. Each church choose it's own songs. They were creatively expressing themselves through music! Because now there was worship bands, not just Mrs Jones and Mrs Davis, whole piles of musicians and singers got a chance to express themselves in worship.

But it didn't end there. Enter, the digital revolution! 

The CD. The Mp3. The iPod. Fast internet downloads.
Hundreds of new bands exploding into our computers and out through our speakers into our thirsty eardrums. No longer were we listeners of music - we became true consumers.
Eating through huge piles of music, and spitting it out at the other end, never really appreciating the art and effort that had gone into it.
With Protools, Sonar, and Logic, we could turn our home computer into a recording studio.
With MySpace, we could put our music online and have it available to the entire universe in just seconds.

So if went even further. Music had become such a vital and important part of people's lives, that they chose churches by what music they played. They couldn't even go for a jog with out taking 30 gigs of their favourite tunes with them. It became so ungainly running worship bands and building huge worship teams that every church had to hire a music pastor, just to keep it all running.

The sound systems got even bigger and fancier, to handle more complexity. The bands got better. Songs were written by the millions. Worship leaders became millionare rockstar types, as they sold thousands and thousands of records, toured whole countries and gathered fans like mad.
Concert style lighting became the norm, as people demanded better production standards, and a more engaging experience. Churches began to stream live on the internet, so that Alaskan Eskimos can choose to attend Texas' Lakewood church and hear Israel Houghton lead worship this sunday, if they so desire.

All that, in my parents lifetime alone. Crazy. Utterly mental.

So, back to the beginning. The complaint. 'Is it even worship anymore?'

Yes. I think it is.

Yes, it's true, hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe millions of people miss the point, and that's a great pity.

But all of the worship teams I know are led by a genuine heart to WORSHIP GOD. Sure, we have a lot to focus on, weekly arranging and writing songs, defining our churches' style, managing budgets, managing and inspiring huge teams, trying to remain current and professional in our production standard, but at the heart of it is a hunger to get CLOSER TO GOD.

If we lose that hunger, and if we start slipping into the nightmare of the production and the music being the most important thing, then we are done for. Sadly, this happens all too often.

But we need to keep pressing forward on this journey of exploration, in the western world at least.
We have to meet people WHERE THEY ARE. An 18 year old kid is going to laugh at Mrs Jones, and the old church singing hymns. He's going to laugh at our 90's worship songs and bad hair.
But if he walks into a church, and is hit with a wall of passionate sound, a great atmosphere, well written, well played, interesting music, and a room full of friendly people passionate about God in 2010, he might stick around to ask a few questions. He might accept the invite to a life group that week.

And so if I was to summerize (probably not how you are meant to spell that), I would say this:
The Christian church worships the same God, now, yesterday, tomorrow, in 1963, 1930, 1980 and so on. The style doesn't matter. The heart does.

If you are a one who doesn't like the 'new' style, talk to your pastor and worship leaders. Let them know you concerns. But don't criticize them just because you don't like that style. After all, there are dozen of churches to choose from. Why attend one you don't like? But take the time to understand the heart of the leaders. Take the time to hear from them what they are all about. You may hate the music, but love the leader's heart. You can support them, even if you have to wear earplugs to church.
We do this stuff to try and reach our city with Gods' message of hope, love and grace.

and that is a thinking type thought that i have been thinking of with my thinking brain thing.



  1. I love you Benny, and I quite like your thinking-type brainish device.

    Note - summarize if you are american, or summarise if you are me. Which you're not.

    Love Jo

  2. I like your thinking brain thing. It thinks brainy things.

  3. Wow Ben your awesome!! It's so true I have gone through the phase where I have mumbled under my breath..How ever I felt the Lord Pull me up and 'say'..."Are you here to worship me or worship the music"? and "How much, time and prayer have I seen you put in behind the scenes to bring the word"?. My reply was "To worship you Lord", and "Yes I understand no one knows my heart and the prep taken to bring a message". Sorry about it Lord xxxx So I try my best to come to church with the right attitude, and if I have to I dig deep to get into the "flow"...Bless you guys heaps Ben and thanks for taking time to sit down and teach on Worship....(Psssst are a undercover preacher??).