Monday, February 9, 2015
I grew up in the 70's and 80's, and the only type of music I heard in the church was from the old Cokesbury Hymnal, or that little green paperback book with the image of the pearly gates on the front. My only experience with "contemporary" Christian music was "Kum ba yah," (Gag. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little) or the songs we sang during VBS at the various little country churches in my small town.
Fast forward 40 something years, and I've grown up. I've also changed careers. A little over 15 years ago, God called me to hang up my carpenter's toolbelt and step out into a career as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. So, for the last 15 years I've been struggling with the fact that God must have an insane sense of humor because I just don't fit the mold. I've written about that before in a previous blog, but today it comes up again. For the first two years I was in the ministry, I played the game. If I was on the clock, I was in a sport coat and/or tie...clean shaven...clean cut...overly passive...southern gospel on the truck radio...all of the things that society had told me a pastor was supposed to be...
...only I was being a fake...
...That's not who I was...
So, one morning God and I had a long heart to heart, and my end of the conversation went something like this: "Ok, I will give the rest of my life to doing what you want me to do...I'll shepherd your people...I'll listen to their broken hearts...I'll do all I can to help them heal...I'll lead them in worship...I'll visit them when they're sick and bury them when they die...but this suit and tie, gospel quartet, no goatee thing just isn't me. You created me the way you did for a reason, and I feel that to be this new thing for you I have to deny your creation. So I'll do it, but I have to be me." I felt that, at that moment, God gave the proverbial nod. Which brings me back to the conversation from this week.
When it comes to worship, the Coke and Pepsi wars of the 80's look like a preschool dance. Folks can get vicious when they feel their preferred style is being threatened. The gist of the article that sparked the conversation from this week was really just about why people don't seem to sing in church anymore. That launched a barrage of accusations about repeat choruses, unfamiliar songs, and CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) in general. I get it. Really, I do. Folks don't sing what they don't know. However, in my experiences as a worship leader for the last 15 years, all of which, with the exception of the last 4 have been in a traditional, rural to high church setting, folks don't sing what they do know either. Not everyone. Not much. Not with passion.
I get that some of the CCM today is weak. Some of it has little theology. Some of it does depend on repeat choruses to just fill time. I get that. But not all of it. Is CCM a show? That was one of the points brought up in the conversation this week. Sure, sometimes and in some places. But do the cadets at West Point really need 23,500 pipes in the Cadet Chapel?
I'm not writing to defend CCM, even though that is the atmosphere in which I can feel more worshipful, personally. I'm writing to make this statement...if you're engaging in a conversation about one style or another being better, and that you just can't worship unless there are 4 verses and a refrain in the hymnbook or lyrics projected on a screen...just go ahead and admit that when you go to worship, you're really not going to worship God... You're going to worship your preference for worship. We all do it. Myself included. But, Geez Louise, let's just call a spade a spade. The worship wars that have been raging for the last few decades have zero...squat...nada...to do with God. The whole thing is about us, and about what we want.
I'm convinced that God really doesn't care whether or not we're holding hymnals or looking at a screen, but instead that we have come into the presence of the Holy One with open and repentant hearts, seeking to lift up holy hands to the Creator of the entire universe...and I'll bet that God is ok (I can't speak for God) with either type of music as long as it's part of a person's genuine attempt to connect with the One true God and praise the Almighty.
Now, that being said, if you can connect with your Creator through the old revival hymns, or high church anthems, do it...with my blessings...hold your hymnals in your hand, close your eyes, and give it all you have. I just ask the same respect for the fact that I can connect with my Creator through the vibrations of the strings on a Fender Strat,
This will probably spark a firestorm, but the bottom line is that when we reduce worship of the Triune God into battles over this type of music or that, I truly believe we grieve the Holy Spirit. Now, where did I put that book of Psalms I was going to chant?