Church Guitar 101
by Bernard McDonagh
3. In the unnecessary conflict between FORM & FUNCTION and BEAUTY & GRACE the enemy of all is the Prevailing Wind: APATHY & NEGLECT
INTRO: PICKUP NOTES
In the first ‘Church GUITAR’ article we looked at the background of the GUITAR in church life. The second article looked into making a difference in Church life and culture in the here and now. In this third and final article I hope to draw some conclusions about all of it, and to focus on some critical areas for our own music ministries and careers into the future. God willing it’s time to move forward, though we may be sailing into the strong headwind of prevailing trends, which look to me like: 1) at worst - pure apathy, or 2) at best - ‘business-as-usual’. No doubt there are the exceptions, but nonetheless I think we’ll need all hands on deck!
In these articles there has been no intention on my part to promote any kind of exclusivism, or elitist attitude towards brothers and sisters whose musical talent may be modest. Nor do I wish to criticize those willing souls who step in to help when there’s a shortage of musicians in a church. What I have said before and say again now is that anyone actively serving in music ministry needs to be serious about it as a bare minimum requirement. They may not necessarily be paid professionals but they must be serious, and will hopefully be dedicated and passionate about music and ministry. I cringe at the thought of laziness in any ministry!
Let’s also remove the tag ‘professional’ from what it doesn’t mean, which is ‘better in every way’. Some people earn a living playing music and have quite modest talents, but they are ‘professional’ because that’s their job, or career. You may have wondered as I have, how on earth some of these people get a recording contract or a gig, but good luck to them! It’s also possible to be a good musician or singer without playing on the club scene. There are good people dedicated to church music who earn a living by teaching, session work, the occasional gig, or combinations of these things. There’s no intention to insult the paid musicians and singers out there. I seek only to bring some additional perspective.
SING A TIRED OLD SONG UNTO THE LORD?
Looking at the big picture, I have always felt that if God has gifted us and set us on the course of a calling in music (admittedly that’s a big “if”), then effort and dedication to this calling should be our proper response. My own sense of logic compels me to reach only one conclusion about music ministry and it is this: if we are serious about answering our calling it will inevitably lead to an outworking of creativity and originality in what we do. We are not all the same member of the Body of Christ are we? We each have differing roles, yet so much cloning is evident in Christian ministry, including music ministry. I would love to see creative and original things happening in Church music. Perhaps the mostly functional role music serves now in the Church is the reason for the abundance of the more run-of-the-mill, elevator-music brands, and the reason anything else would struggle to be heard.
In Matthew 6 v 1-8 Jesus talks about the prayer routines and rituals of some who seek God in prayer but who really only demonstrate pride, arrogance and/or ignorance of God’s ways. Verse 7 talks about the prayers of the ‘heathens’ or ‘pagans’ who think simply doing something repeatedly is a formula for ‘success’ or ‘results’ (the Holy Grails of our time?). They think they’ll be heard because of the quantity of their words! The Lord says this type of prayer is vain and is destined to be utterly fruitless. I can’t help but wonder if similar attitudes could be embedded unknowingly in other areas of our own faith; areas such as worship...
Clearly coming to God in prayer is not simply a matter of saying lots of words, and bringing our favourite formula to the situation! The scripture passage reveals that prayer offered in religious pride or repetitive ritual is abhorrent. I suggest to you that worship would surely be no different. Would it not be similarly vain to bring the same sort of presumption and casual formula-following to worship? If we did, don’t expect any other outcome than what Jesus pronounced for the misguided prayer-warriors! It will basically be a waste-of-time!
Our prayers must be sincere, and they don’t need to be fancy. Similarly our worship has to be genuine but it does not need perfect music or sublime skill. Theoretically we could worship Him in the congregation with awful music. As long as our hearts are right and we are worshipping in truth then it’s “ok”, and in many places around the world this is no doubt the case each and every day! It is a blessing that He welcomes us without perfection as a pre-requisite, yet it could also become an excuse for not bothering to be serious about anything.
In Psalm 33 God commands us to “play skilfully”. We know He deserves our most dedicated and diligent efforts in all things anyway, and we pursue this in areas such as prayer, ministry, evangelism, and fellowship. Yet worship is not a fringe area of faith and practise for us as Christians, is it? Our music ministries surely require at least the level of dedication we know God expects in other areas of our life and faith! Why pursue holiness on one hand, but live with half-heartedness and/or poor music on the other? Why would such a false dichotomy be acceptable? Well, leadership must be accountable here. If those leading us don’t understand, or don’t care, it follows that neither will their flock and the musicians will be feeling pretty discouraged and become disengaged before too long. That may sound familiar...
Frankly speaking, when the dust settles I see only superficial levels of the musical art in our churches, and large parts of the Church have a musical culture that looks quite lazy to me. Church music is almost entirely ‘middle-of-the-road’; nice and safe but going nowhere in particular. This may not matter to some, but it should. It may in part be due to a lack of teaching because in many cases there are fine musicians on hand, including the paid pros mentioned earlier. Perhaps there is concern about offending people, and we’ll discuss this later. It’s also possible that a tasteless church music culture has been so ingrained into our thinking that even the musicians feel vaguely content with their tame backing-band roles.
I know there are all kinds of mitigating factors for poor musical standards. Things like: a) God’s grace covers our inadequacies, b) It’s the heart that matters, not talent, c) People who are willing and needed should be given a chance to serve, d) Music is not the most important thing, etc. While such things may be true, they cannot become a foundation for some sort of monument to honour the status quo! It’s time to improve, and to move forward as God allows. If a musical calling and vocation is not needed for church music ministry, then why not also let anyone preach or teach if they’d like to as well? After all, it’s ok to have a ministry ‘hobby’ isn’t it?!! (If your church does allow any member to preach then you’re excused!)
Apart from the fact that it’s got to be sad to be making poor music, we should care about these things because the different elements of our music, the compositions, instrumentation, arrangements, etc. all to some degree affect the nature and substance of our worship, and worship is a serious thing. In the longer term these areas of worship and church life are directly involved in the shaping of a generation of Christians. Looking at the even bigger picture, slowly but surely Christian culture itself becomes shallow and impoverished.
GUITAR SOLO: Making Fresh Arrangements
If things weren’t working out well in daily life we would recognize the need for some change; some re-organization. Things like work arrangements, meetings, holiday plans, etc. all need to be changed from time to time. If something does need to be changed we don’t think twice about it, because without those changes it’s obvious to us that nothing will ever work. In the same way, we may need to make changes to the way we go about our ministries. The scripture says to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13v5), and we know what this means. We understand the concept of searching deep within ourselves, correcting wrong attitudes, feelings, and habits we may have, and checking to see if our hearts are really and truly ‘right’ in His sight. (We need Gods help even to do this, because the “ways of a man are right in his own eyes...” Prov. 16v2.)
This self-examination process should be applied to our music ministries too, and while it is God who gives the increase, we still have to sow the seed! We should practise the GUITAR (or whatever) at home with dedication, and rehearse together with commitment. We should pray together, and seek to rededicate ourselves continually in a life of worship. With prayer (faith) and effort (works - faith in action) our music departments will become creative, exciting, and blessed places to be. The alternative isn’t worth mentioning, much less being a part of.
SOLO # 2: Keeping Arrangements Fresh
While the discussion so far has been focused on the poor standards that exist in many places, it’s also true that there are many (usually) big and “successful” churches in different parts of the world with massive music departments, best-selling worship CDs, and programs galore that are known the world over. Hats off to them for all their efforts and for their achievements. They are receiving their reward for the work that has undoubtedly gone into what they do. That kind of fruit in such quantity is impossible to ignore. Whether we enjoy that kind of flavour is another matter, and there’s no doubt a massive amount of music is being produced for mass consumption. I suggest you enjoy the best and ignore the rest!
There are also many smaller replicas of these churches the world over, and lots of following-in-the-footsteps of pioneering others. This is necessary to some degree as we all need teaching on things like structures, planning, the running of programmes, etc. and even in the practical steps of music-making in worship, i.e. how do we do this or that. There is obviously a difference though between learning from others and imitating them to the level of becoming a carbon-copy or exact clone. So then learning from others is fine, but it cannot be fine to have no identity of our own as members of the Body of Christ. Again let me say that in my view genuine creativity and originality (nothing gimmicky please) are really the fruits or evidence of us genuinely going forward in our calling, and I think they are fruits to be most admired.
It may sound awful to suggest anything other than complete admiration for the “success” of some churches, and I hope you know I’m not looking to find fault. I am in the business of following my conscience and of seeking the genuine and the true (Philippians 4 v 8-9). What I would respectfully say to anyone involved in churches with big programmes or success stories is not to simply set a course for more of the exact same thing and switch to auto pilot for the rest of the journey. It would be so easy to do this, and to some extent may have already happened. The formula may have worked so far, but please don’t slip into a rut or become ‘asleep-at-the-wheel’ dear brethren; or worse still, be driven by a business mentality of “it’s time for a new product” for some Christian worship marketplace! That’s got to be a contradiction in terms, and close to being an abomination. It’s worship we’re talking about here, and worship should never be a business. We must strive always to keep it genuine and keep it real, to keep it fresh and keep it pure.
BIGGER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER, OR MORE BLESSED
It may be time to re-examine First Corinthians 12 again in the context of our worship and music ministries. Even on the structural level of our Creative Ministry departments the diversity within the Body of Christ and the uniqueness of our own special relationships with God should be reflected.
“For the body is not one member, but many.” (1 Cor. 12 v 14)
If our focus becomes other Christians, their churches, their music and culture I think it’s inevitable that cloning will occur. If this happens in our ministries then our music will be as tasteless and lifeless as any other form of imitation, and our ministries will likely produce “wood, hay and stubble” (1 Corinthians 3v10-16). Furthermore the Body of Christ just won’t be functioning as intended! I would even suggest to you that this originality or uniqueness in our ministries is important if we are to be actually worshipping in “truth”. More on this later...
Keep in mind things like localized structures are man-made and were not written in stone up on Mount Sinai! We may need to alter them and shouldn’t hesitate to do so when the need is there. The possibilities for variation and freshness in our music are virtually limitless through varying the instrumentation and creativity within the arrangement of the music itself. In the second article I presented a case for having small groups, where the inherent level of improvisation it provides for is exciting and full of as-yet unseen potential. However the larger ensembles have their own charm as well, and there’s definitely a place for both big and small groups; as indeed there is a time to dance before The LORD (Psalm 150v4) and a time to kneel (Psalm 95v6). What we don’t need is the same thing week after week after week...
If everything was always the same it would have to have an adverse effect on our worship, and on our local church culture as a whole. It would be quite easy for big churches to reduce the numbers of musicians for a change, but impossible for a small church to add musicians that are simply not there. One way to add some variety for smaller churches would be to arrange for visiting music ministry teams to come in and bring the music for the worship. We’re quite used to visiting speakers, so why not visiting worship teams too? In this way a small church could keep its musicians rested and allow for the possibility of fresh worship experiences. The small-group format of that church would retain its appeal too, as the smaller churches would enjoy returning to the breathing space and more intimate worship experiences that they’re accustomed to.
I’m certain that what we do ultimately goes beyond the here and now, even with seemingly temporal things like how many musicians we use or the arrangement for a song. In one sense a musical arrangement doesn’t really matter because it’s not as important as doctrine for example. However, in the sense that it reveals a lot about who we really are it is important. It can say a lot about our Christian culture, and could reveal whether we’re serious about worship, or not! It can reveal whether we are making sincere efforts or merely going through the motions, playing and worshipping on autopilot.
I’m sure each church does have its own autopilot mechanisms; we may or may not have recognized them. They come into play when we rely upon the familiar and comfortable rather than striving to keep things continually fresh. Now of course structures are important; we need those to build on, but shouldn’t rely on them to guide our every move. I think we are too often guilty of relying on these patterns, formulas, well-worn habits, and the resulting ‘comfort zones’ instead of praying and thinking about what we do. We have probably all heard of the proverbial ‘comfort zones’ in regard to various other areas of life and faith, but what about in our worship? I believe there are most definitely comfort zones in our music departments, and it follows that there will of course be comfort zones in our worship as well!
GUITAR SOLO: It Starts Right Here
The time for prayer and action corporately and individually is always now, and the goal is to be true to our calling and to God’s design. The goal is not to become slicker copies of church ‘X’ or church ‘Y’, or even individual ‘x’ or ‘y’. By prayer, and by listening to God for the answers, we can find our unique place as music ministries within the Body of Christ. We need to follow where the Spirit leads us as we wait upon the Lord each day personally and corporately; purposefully opening up our hearts and ourselves each week to the Lord in our rehearsals, meetings, services, and prayer gatherings, etc. I think we would find pleasant surprises and growth evident when we take stock with each new year that comes around.
On an individual level, we GUITAR players have to quit playing on autopilot too; quit using the same old licks, chord voicings, and rhythms, etc. Think we’re pretty good? We should think again! Even individually we can be relying on ‘structures’ or things we have learned long ago, instead of thinking about moving forward as God allows. We’ve got to stay ‘in-the-moment’ as we play, worshipping the Lord on our instruments by way of our efforts and attitudes, and in our music by way of the preparation and dedication we have placed into the music itself.
“IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH” NOT IN THIS NUMBER, THAT FORMAT, THIS WAY OR THAT…
At the end of article number two we concluded it was all about worship. Beyond the quest for balance between form and functionality and the making of beautiful music, lies this ultimate aim of everything in our lives. Furthermore, all our service to Him and to His body the Church will only have any value if we have love at the core of what we do (1 Corinthians 13). We also need faith in our hearts for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb 11v6). There’s no doubt that at times we will need the aspect of faith described in Romans 14 with regard to matters of conscience. We must be convinced what we are doing is pure, and that it’s right for us. Without this inner conviction of faith the “winds of doctrine” (Ephesians 4v14), which fuel the apathy or even hostility of some within the Church toward creative ministries, could completely blow us off course or derail us; and of course without love it’s ALL worthless...
I have for a long time held the view that there are no musical or structural requirements from God in terms of the style of music, numbers of musicians, or any other technical thing. As I have said in several other articles those areas are cultural in nature, and not things that God delivers commandments on. There are scriptural commands about music, but these are not about what style to play; they are about our attitudes and mindset. There is a teaching pattern in scripture that would lead us to be serious about worship, and lead us to be serious and bold about music and creative ministry. It just so happens that the largest book in the bible is the book of Psalms! Poetry, language, music... God is interested? It looks that way!
Psalm 33 is but one great example of scriptural admonition to go ‘all out’ in our music for The Lord. The God who created all the amazing and complex diversity in the world is not the one who places restrictions and limitations on the music of His creatively-gifted children! On the contrary He says in many places to be dedicated and skilful in what we do, and He encourages diversity! Thank God for the wonderful and beautiful language of music! It’s a profound and beautiful thing He has given us, and it’s appropriate we use it for the profound and beautiful purpose of worship.
Hold on to your hairpiece now but despite having just said that, the fact is that music is actually not essential for us to worship God at all! We don’t technically need any music, though naturally we would find it strange today without music. We could survive without music and certainly still worship God without it. There is only one thing about any form of worship directed towards the true and living God that is essential. It needs to be:
“...in spirit and in truth.” (John 4v20-24)
These are deep words, deserving our attention and every effort in examining its meaning*. For now, I’d like to respectfully offer a paraphrase of my own which hopefully may be of help:
‘...from the heart, and rooted in Christ’.
Music as worship (the artistic) and for worship (the functional) is both fitting and worthy, but it’s only one aspect of the whole picture. Worship has never been, is not now, and never will be about just whatever it is we do when we gather on Sunday or any other day as a church. Although our worship rituals (services, sacraments, etc.) are certainly included in this all-encompassing word from Jesus, ultimately we must surely know that ‘worship’ is the way we live the whole of our lives (Romans 12v1-2). The whole of our lives “in spirit and truth”? Hmm, now there’s a thought... As musicians, ministers, and in fact as Christians we need to investigate this much further.
(* A note on ‘spirit’: I offered a paraphrase for “in spirit and truth”, of ‘from the heart and rooted in Christ’. An expanded translation might be: a) ‘completely genuine and utterly sincere’, and b) ‘rooted in and coming from the biblical truth of Christ’. It’s possible you embrace a single meaning for this, this being that the “in spirit” part refers only to the ‘new birth’, or being ‘born again’, as outlined in John chapter 3. That we must be born again is clear, and there is ample reason to believe this is what Jesus refers to. He is, after all, talking to a Samaritan woman whose people placed emphasis on external rituals, locations, history, and culture itself as the ‘how-to’ in approaching God. In this passage Jesus is clearly teaching that God is Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit. He is directing us away from the external or religious things and leading us to an internal ‘spiritual’ worship.
We are spiritually dead outside of Christ, and thus we need to be “born again” – this is absolutely clear, yes. Yet even this is not enough, as Jesus then adds “and in truth”... How do we worship “in truth”? Correct doctrine? Without a relationship with God through faith and the new (spiritual) birth none of us “can enter the kingdom of heaven” (John 3v5), much less take part in it with acts or offerings of “worship”. This leads me to think that the “in spirit” part of the couplet indicates our continuing personal sincerity beyond the point of the new birth because it is forever coupled with the “and in truth”; i.e. “in spirit” also indicates this worship being from the heart and sincere, and in a moment-by-moment way refers to ongoing spirituality where the “truth” is vital to us and how/why we do things. It would also suggest having the “truth” of correct doctrine alone is insufficient, as it’s the heart that matters to God.)
GUITAR SOLO: Humble Hearts and Level Heads
Fellow GUITARists and musicians, we may have more chops than the local butcher, but without our heart being right and without love as our motivation we will be little more than noise-makers - literally! Ultimately our worship ministries themselves will become worthless (i.e. “wood, hay, stubble…”). I‘ve seen displays and “look at me” stuff from musicians (and ministers!) and it has really turned me off, but I’ve put it down to inexperience and immaturity. We all need grace don’t we? I’ve had to watch my own motives carefully too, as there have been times when the music was perhaps in danger of becoming too ‘important’. We have got to make sure our own motives are not impure.
All of this does not mean music is worthless and unimportant. All things considered, the case to excel on our instruments is overwhelming, but the case for humility and Christ-likeness is even stronger. If pride is guiding our endeavours I think we’ll be worshipping in the ‘flesh’ rather than “in spirit”, and it’s unlikely that our music is going to be a blessing; though of course God can do anything! There’s no room for pride, showing off, casual laziness, or any other insincerity. Again, none of this means we shouldn’t play well and yet, that said, we don’t want our music to be worthless. I wonder how many of us would have thought about the musical side, even the instrumental side, of our worship being “in spirit and in truth”.
WHATSOEVER THINGS ARE TRUE…
We may disagree on exact interpretations of “in spirit”, but the shades of meaning I suggest are not unbiblical or strange, so I hope we can move on in this discussion as we now have another area to think about, which is of course the “and in truth” part. Could there now be any “truth” problem in our worship to consider? Even apart from the possibility of doctrinal errors, I believe the answer is a definite yes, there could be!
1) Masks and Insincerity: This phrase “and in truth” refers no doubt to Jesus Christ: to Christ-centred doctrine, and His revelation according to the scriptures. In my view the “truth” part of the worship couplet has shades of meaning, just as the “in spirit” part does. There’s firstly the matter of our ongoing honesty and sincerity before Him. For example, are we worshipping the Lord in truth if we are imitating another person or church? Secondly, how could we be true worshippers if we are just trying to impress people with our music or church structures and programmes? I can’t imagine either of these situations as worship ‘in truth’, because such things would indicate a lack of inner honesty. In such cases I’d like to assume that it’s an honest mistake, but surely worshipping ‘in truth’ has to mean being completely true to God in terms of who we really are! I wonder, if we have forgotten or overlooked this aspect of truth?
2) Fear: I touched on the “fear of offending people” earlier. Something I have seen a lot in churches is the fear of offending the non-musical, and/or the ‘culturally sensitive’ among us. This fear can and does determine musical choices in worship. I’m referring to both our music itself being somehow culturally difficult for some people, and also to our unique local church music or culture as a whole being difficult. By this I mean that all Christians in their various places and/or denominations have certain ways of doing things, and some just can’t understand or accept any way but the way they know even though other ways may be completely valid. These things can pressure Christian musicians into ‘keeping the peace’ by making ‘light’ or ‘reduced fat’ music! We seek to compromise (in a good way) but fall short of even our own expectations for our music.
Of course there is a place for avoiding offence to our brothers and sisters. However, the easily offended person has to grow up eventually! Sooner or later, the other side of what I call God’s ‘Romans 14 coin’ will need to be addressed! By living without fear, and making music of substance, those higher values we are endeavouring to demonstrate could be adopted by the easily-offended person, rather than their over-sensitive disposition being perpetuated by a lack of exposure to better things. Some teaching will be needed here...
3) Limitations and Legalism: I see another ‘truth’ problem when music is reduced to a sort of caricature of itself. In addition to cultural offences, Christians often seem just plain wary or even afraid of music. Despite music being a language of worship in its own right, many are afraid to let the music shine through in their worship services. This is not to say music is everything, but it’s not nothing either. We treat it as if it were a dangerous animal: kept on a very short leash, ever-ready to be locked away should it ever get too exciting or beyond our control (i.e. our short-term plan for the service). God forbid that the anointing should be allowed to fall on the musicians! We may never get to preach that hour-long sermon! We may not be able to feel in control of what is happening in “our church”! The announcements might have to be cut short too, and maybe the anointing might be so powerful we’ll have that revival we’re praying for, but looking for in very defined and narrow terms. We might not appreciate God doing something wonderful if we are not wholly involved, or in charge of it…
Despite the scriptural examples of the anointing being on musicians, and localized experience of this to varying degrees, the musicians in every church I have ever been part of or been to as a visitor are usually kept quite subdued. I’m not advocating pointless musical excess or ugly displays of pride, but if music alone is a form of worship (surely there can be no doubt about this, look at the Psalms!) then being afraid to let the music flow under the anointing in our times of worship is sad; even disobedient in fact! Thank God if your church has taken the shackles off and the anointing is amazing. Generally speaking though, I believe most of us are missing out on incredible things due to fear, and/or ignorance.
I have seen it many times in churches everywhere: the music is stunted and malformed like a bonsai tree, and is really more an imitation of music than music because it’s unable to grow to its full stature. Of course some people think that bonsai trees are beautiful. They can have giant trees reduced to fit into their little houses and gardens! Similarly, music is often reduced to being a tool to fill in the uncomfortable gaps in our services. The functional side of music is all we find, and music exists as a backing track to help people feel nice and comfortable. I think this background noise might actually be sending us to sleep though! Sadly, the creative and expressive side of music is rare in the Church, yet this is the kind of music that the Psalms refers too! This creative and bold music is the “worship”!
True music is usually too deep, too difficult, and too far away from the interests of modern church culture. The musicians and singers may feel strongly about it and long to experience more of God through this ministry they have been blessed with, but usually (that’s no exaggeration) their search for opportunity and place within the church of their choosing is not entertained beyond the functional needs for the weekend church service. Other things like everything else (!) are always more important, or more in focus than ‘worship’! On a relevant note (pardon the pun), it always makes me cringe when we have those little 5-10 minute “worship” times before a meeting. It just feels so half-baked and insincere, though it could be just in my own mind - the hearts of all concerned may be perfectly true.
I want to believe the best about my brothers and sisters in Christ and always look to find grace, but are we making any ‘true’ music (i.e. “in spirit and truth”) in our churches today? There are all sorts of ceilings and walls and a lot of uncomfortable cultural baggage. Even the big internationally known churches putting out their best-selling worship CD’s have music that to my ear is lukewarm. I don’t say the people are lukewarm, but for me most of the music just does not register on any creative scale significantly, or resonate as something beautiful or deep in the musical art-form. It is what it is and many like it, and there’s no problem with that; we all have different tastes musically. For me though it’s not something I can listen to or embrace as music because it’s not from the creative, artistic stream. Rather it’s coming from the purely functional stream, where music is a backing track for use in the service as a whole. Does music have a functional role to play? Yes it does of course, but that shouldn’t be the only role it has in church; as I hope I have outlined by now over many articles!
GUITAR SOLO: If Things Are Not True What Are They?
None of these things are said to condemn or find fault with anyone, or said just for the sake of criticizing. I am not ‘throwing stones’ at anyone, which is in fact a criticism I have levelled at others who seem opposed to creative ministries on principle! They allow just those little ‘music-is-functional only’ concessions that serve their own purposes and needs. No, the highlighting of things here is only to encourage a proper and right response. As a first step I believe it’s time to search our hearts and scrutinize the production values in our own music; each of us individually, and corporately as a fellowship of believers.
1) Re: ‘Masks and Insincerity’ - To me, worshipping in spirit “and in truth” has to mean the sincere and original; the uniquely us. The copycat following of formulas is possibly helpful in some way on an administrative level, but completely inappropriate for our personal or corporate worship. When we attend seminars or worship conferences we may indeed find much in the way of helpful ‘how-to’ ideas; i.e. how to run our departments, and such like. However, on an individual level God’s gifts and callings are unique to each one. What fits here or there in the Body of Christ doesn’t necessarily fit the same way anywhere else. As has been already said, we are not all the same part of the body! Each individual church needs to be true to itself, and to build its own unique local culture with regards to fellowship, outreach and ministry, and of course to worship. The imitation of things that work elsewhere is a mistake, and likely comes from a lack of knowledge or expertise we feel duty bound to rectify. Why not do what others are ‘successfully’ doing? It seems like a reasonable course of action, but in my view it will become a problem if we seek to worship in truth.
Following formulas and imitating others could also indicate a diminished view we may have of our own unique importance to God. God loves each one of us! He surely wants to hear our own special songs of worship, not the exact duplication of what others have said and done already. How do you think the church music so popular now got to the place where it is being copied and perpetuated? By in the first place being something original, different, and unique of course! There’s nothing wrong with getting advice from others or enjoying their unique ministries. However the way forward cannot be copying someone else, even though we may find some good ideas and learn many things from them.
2) Re: ‘Fear’ - Despite coming a long way there is still much confusion about art and music in the Church, and in my view a lot more teaching is needed about cultural issues in general. Specifically with regard to music, Christians need to know that music is not only a functional thing, it is a creative thing. Therefore, as it involves human hearts and minds, the conflicts that seem to spring so easily among people for all sorts of reasons will inevitably arise as musical differences as well. Church leaders MUST teach the biblical freedoms we are given in Christ, and address cultural issues! Christians called to music ministries of every sort need all of our confidence and support, and we the GUITAR players and musicians need to lead the way in acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness.
3) Re: ‘Limitations and Legalism’ - As to the restricting of music to bonsai-like caricatures of itself, the extent of this problem is the same as it is in popular culture generally, which is all-pervasive and almost total! The beautiful language of music is reduced to clichés, formulas, and routines. As Christian GUITAR players and musicians we need to carefully explore and reveal the language of music in the measure we can achieve and in ways our congregations can appreciate; and we need to start now. With teaching and patient demonstration even a hardened sceptic could grow to understand and appreciate what we’re doing and why. With God “all things are possible”!
There’s no question that the wide-ranging issues being raised here in this discussion are difficult to address. They would require a great deal of time, patience and effort to be addressed even in part – should you bother, or even be interested! There would no doubt be some who would not want anything to change, and some who want to change everything! Would we accept a Pastor who never prepared his sermons, or prayed about what he was doing, was lazy and not concerned about the needs of the flock? Probably not (!), yet we had better be sure our own attitudes as church musicians and music ministers aren’t the same! If we aren’t interested in improving as musicians and going deeper as worshippers, and if we’re not truly interested in God being at the heart of our music, then we should quit pretending to be music ministers and do something else. Seriously...
As always, let me say these things are my own views, written here to present issues I believe to be important. It is my hope that these words will help to spark some discussion, honest evaluation, and prayer. This article, as always, is intended only to “provoke” the reader to “love and good works” in the spirit of Hebrews 10v24. May God bless each and every one of you. Thank you for reading.
© 2010, by Bernard McDonagh