Monday, December 8, 2008

Music Influences

Just been listening to some different styles of worship music today....

Worship genre has always been a bit of an issue for me... I rarely like most stuff musically. This poses a bit of a challenge being on a worship team. It certainly has forced me to grow in many ways....

For this blog I want to reflect on some of our "boundaries" in what is appropriate and inappropriate styles of music for corporate worship.

I think my biggest influence growing up (and even still) is much heavier music. Growing up I listened to a lot of grunge/alternative and some metal, and the last 10 years I've listened to a lot of prog rock. I've always wanted to bring this influence to worship, but have found very few opportunities because there is a lot of unspoken (and some spoken) opposition to this, especially in a church environment. (I'm certain ppl who like rap are in the same boat).

I've been listening to some Hillsong United today, (realizing that a lot of Biola's worship is from them) and I envy them... I can sense a clear influence of emo / indie styles, and can see how they've avoided falling strictly into those influences, but still utilizing them. I wish I could do this w/ my musical influences!

Its weird how we have these "traditions" of sorts of how we define boundaries for "acceptable" corporate worship styles... For more contemporary churches, the goal is something more like Hillsong, for more emerging churches, Hillsong United. I can respect qualities in both, but I'm not sure where these come from. I mean, why is it that almost everyone in the congregation reacts at a song that is pushing the edges of "acceptable", when certainly there is hardly consensus among their individual musical preferences? Where do these "notions" come from?

We could also try to define worship in a Biblical way first.... something like "music that stirs the body to a heart of reverential, authentic, fearful, and submissive worship of God as a community". (This is very much shooting from the hip). But even with that sort of definition, we really aren't setting up any boundaries for genre.

I'm sure cultural values play a roll here, but even those are more ambiguous than some might at first think. For example, we could make the point that genre could be distracting. But I can speak from personal experience that if your desire is to worship God, you can get over it. In fact I've heard many times that people being exposed to worship music "outside of their comfort zone" was actually a growing experience. The first few times I was at a black gospel worship service, I was very uncomfortable and turned off. But as I started to develop an appreciation for it (both for the musical skill and the great passion that the music stirred), I've found it to be one of my favorite genres of worship music.

I think a good case can be made that one important boundary is the emotions that the music stirs up. Some genres naturally stir up anger, which really doesn't have a place in a corporate worship experience. Awe, love, praise, joy, humility, even sorrow all have a place I think, because these are all right responses to God. This doesn't necessarily exclude a genre of music as worship, but it definitely limits some genres more than others.

Another good boundary is the degree of performance. Prog rock is very technical music, and having a 10m long instrumental in the middle of a worship set may be stepping across the line of watching the musicians and worshiping God. But this certainly does not mean worship music must be simple: in fact, I've seen several examples of Latin, jazz, and gospel worship sets that were very technical, but still maintained a very real worshipful environment.

I can appreciate that another boundary for some is something that has the widest appeal, something that positively affects the greatest percentage of the body. The problem here is that, often this criteria only produces bland music. I also think that there is a good place for taking people a bit outside of their comfort zones. After all, if we only want to worship God corporately when we are comfortable, could this not reflect a similar attitude in our spiritual lives? I don't think there is a necessary correlation here, but definitely a point worthy of some reflection. After all, how many Sunday mornings are already uncomfortably bland and comfortable?

I'm not sure if I've really come up with any conclusions, more just rambled a lot in this blog.... but I think at the very least, as worship leaders we need to strive to pursue excellence. After all, we are attempting to lead part of God's church in the very important act of offering praise to Him. Music is a tool, a medium, and the worship that flows through it must come from a genuine heart of worship that is already present. This means we need to pursue authenticity in our own lives of worship, but also excellence in wielding the tool of music.

The reality is our culture is saturated with media in all forms, and perhaps that is the reason that we respond so half heartedly to "bland" worship. Its a delicate balance, because its important to teach a true biblical heart of worship, but also use music to stir people's emotions to a point of worship. I'm not entirely sure what this looks like, but I suspect that challenging some of our assumptions about worship music and challenging people's comfort zones (in moderation) can help, at least they've helped me. Certainly finding a place where we can express worship to God through a wide variety of music is a good thing too. God is the source of diversity in our creation, and I doubt that he ever planned for there to be only one, exclusive form of response in musical worship.

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