The Best of Times
These days it is hard not to hear about the challenges facing the church. News of Christian infighting, forced terminations, and worship disputes often dominate church news sites, and it seems we are bombarded by those who tell us that the church’s music is losing all sense of quality. Others tell us that the church’s music is no longer relevant and that some styles are superior while asserting that some music should assume a lesser place in the church’s worship.
At this Thanksgiving season, it seems only appropriate to reflect on what’s right about the church’s music – to express gratitude for what is and for the privilege of serving in this particular time in history. In short, I think it might be helpful to talk about why this is a good time to be a music and worship leader.
- What is unique and special about this slice of history?
- How might God be working in these days to create a bright and hopeful future?
- What might our role be in this re-forming of the church’s music?
My hunch is that most of us are so deep in the trenches of ministry, buried in music preparations, or overwhelmed with administrative responsibilities that we’ve not spent time reflecting on these days in which we live. Let me share with you some of the evidence that I think supports the premise that this is an important time to serve the church.
For starters, in all the areas that support music ministry, we have more church music and resources than most of us ever dreamed possible. I suspect most of us today have trouble getting through the stacks of new materials, and we run out of ways to organize it.
In part this abundance of resources comes because we now have access to the creativity not only of local resources but a full world of materials. An internet search can be overwhelming because good music is being written and published in every style imaginable, and never before have so many new hymns and congregational songs been produced.
I believe we have never had the quality and passion that are being seen in much of today’s congregational music, and it is as close to us as our computer or phone. While in the past, access to new music was months, years, or decades away, today we can hear a new song and sing it with the congregation the next week.
Furthermore, we’ve never had so many electronic instruments, such sophisticated sound equipment, sample sounds, and possibilities of utilizing them. In most of our churches, we can easily have the piano, organ, synthesizer, guitars, wind instruments, strings, and percussion on any given Sunday. We live in a time when we can create almost any type of musical sound that we want, given the resources that are readily available.
So what does such ready access to materials, instruments, sounds, readings, liturgical materials, and more mean for our worship? What are we to do with the sometimes “too many” materials available? Consider the following suggestions:
- Be diligent in searching for just the right song for the occasion, place in the service, mood, or liturgical movement.
- Don’t settle for only what you know. Learning new music has never been easier – very little music can’t be found somewhere on-line. With scores and recordings so easily accessible, we have few excuses for not learning new songs.
- Depend on recommendations from others that you trust – colleagues, journals, workshops, and websites (like Creator’s, for instance). Avoid using only the newest materials. Trust the vetting process that the worship world of the internet can offer you.
- Resist the temptation to be overwhelmed.
- Offer a wide array of world-wide materials to your congregation. With all that is available, resist settling for music that only fits one style or genre.
- Be creative with instrumentation. Explore new instruments and ensembles and vary the instrumental accompaniment.
- Reach out to your congregation to find the untapped potential. Probably many people in your congregation can add to the local flavor of your congregation’s worship.
- Consider how the new advances and availability of technology such as tracks, loops, videos, lighting, etc. can enhance your congregation’s worship experience.
In this first article in this series, we have acknowledged the abundance of materials that are available in our field and discussed ways in which we might more affectively utilize these rich resources. Music and worship ministry is dependent on effective materials, and we are fortunate to lead in a historical time when choices are many and easily accessible. In future posts we will discuss other aspects of music and worship that affirm that we are indeed ministering in an abundant period – congregant interest in worship, flexible worship options, diversity of positions, and much more.
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