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.