Sunday, November 04, 2012

Praise of Man vs. Praise of God in Music

These past two Sundays I have been to two different churches.  I'm constantly making observations about what seems right and what just provokes that sense of "this isn't quite right, but it's not exactly wrong, either."  The very fact that I wrestle with the question impedes my worship during the singing time.

Mind you, I come from a background where music was a rich part of my heritage. My dad sang and directed church choirs. I sang solos as a child (Daddy was a  pastor) and later joined youth choirs.
At the same time, though in a scholastic setting, I performed in piano recitals and competition. 

The emphasis both at church and school was excellence. In a Christian school, we were taught that God gave us gifts and we should practice them and use them for His glory. I agree; however, I know my heart and I heard from the mouths of many of my musically talented peers, that we really wanted to win competitions and be recognized for our excellence. 

That "insider knowledge" has always "rubbed me the wrong way."

Let me explain the scenarios of the past two weeks. At the first church, there was  a children's choir.
They sang a song about the coming of Jesus as a baby, and how  He came to be the savior of the world. I completely agree; that's biblical truth being sung.  There was also a woman playing flute; she wasn't too bad, though her flute squeaked in the higher registers. My husband said it was out of tune (he has a better ear than I do for pitch).  

The woman's playing was not excellent and I sat there trying not to judge, but to enjoy. However, I was waiting to cringe on the high notes. And cringe I did.

With the children's song, it was sweet and they enunciated well and no one overpowered anyone else (as children are wont to do).  But I noticed how many parents and grandparents had their videocameras running. Okay, so I get that cute kids make for cute videos, cute keepsakes.  But I ask you, as I ask myself, what message does it send to our kids--and to God--when we run videocameras during worship services? How about when we clap when the song (performance?) is over?  Are we clapping for the praise of the kids? For the praise of the flutist?

This Sunday I attended a church where I've been a few times before.  Every single time I have felt I was at a concert. The leader on guitar is a talented musician, instrumentally and vocally.  The band
is good.  But  each time I visited, I looked around and saw very few people wholeheartedly singing because they didn't really know the words, or because the band leader kept changing things up in a way that I (can't speak for others) had to concentrate too hard. I was afraid of "singing out" at a point when the leader had abruptly halted for dramatic effect between lines. I would much rather sing a hymn or song that is so familiar that I can abandon the self-consciousness and simply plunge into the worship of Jesus.  When I stand there with eyes open staring at an overhead screen and think, "Wow, great words, but the tune is hard to catch on to, "  or "Great voice, but too high for the average Joe  to sing," then I feel like I'm a spectator, not a participant. 

What's the proper thing to do when one wants to enter worship through singing, but is impeded by the leader's style?  I am not saying the style of worship has to be "my cup of tea" every week, but when it
makes me wonder "who are we worshiping, anyway?"  I wonder if I need to say something, keep silent and do my best to focus on the Lord, or go a church where the musicians are both excellent and God-focused, and where no one takes videos.  I am okay with clapping when one is really enthusiastic, but not to clap--and certainly not to give a standing ovation to every performance!--unless the excellence merits it. Even then, I  am not at peace about whether it's right.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you need to go to a traditional church as opposed to the modern hand clapping back slapping guitars and drums places that are designed to reel people in within their comfort zones.

Susan Kane said...

Oh, I so know what you are saying! When the band becomes more important than leading the church in worship, there is a deep seed of a problem.

Have you ever heard "I'm coming back to the heart of worship"?

Pearl said...

Too many people, I think, see music not as a chance to include others in the spirit but as a "performance".

We've got the same problem with The Star Spangled Banner. Remember when crowds actually sang along with that?!


Laurie said...

I hear your frustration! Music is a hot topic in the church when there are so many interpretations of how singing and praise should sound. (I wonder what God hears and thinks!) Yet even amidst the differences, I’m thankful that praises do sound forth!

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth;
Sing the glory of His name;
 Make His praise glorious. Psalm 66:1,2

Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
Whose name is the Lord, and exult before Him. Psalm 68:4

O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord,
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. Psalm 95:1,2

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
 Come before Him with joyful singing. Psalm 100:1,2

"Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him .
Let the Amen sound from His people again, 
Gladly forever adore Him." (Neander)

“And I know sacred ears will listen
And holy hands reach out to touch
How can I keep myself from singing!
Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia!” (Mullins)