Friday, February 27, 2015

Ain't Life Funny?

Last Sunday Marilyn and I journeyed to Kissimmee to hear our dear friend Wayne Cook preach at FUMC. We attended the traditional service at 11 am, and for the first time in a very long time I got to sing some traditional hymns out of a traditional hymnal. As often happens in the wilderness known as Carl's brain, this led to some very random thoughts this week concerning church music. Most of you are aware that I worked in churches for nearly 30 years (until 2007) and for the last 8 years have attended a large, contemporary church here in Tampa. Lately the choices that have been made concerning music in worship there have irritated me (especially on Christmas Eve), and pondering those thoughts led to this...

From my earliest memories of attending church services the hymns that we sang tended to be...well to be honest, ancient! In the 1970s most mainstream churches seemed committed to not singing any congregational music composed after 1900. During my early years in youth ministry I remember trying to slide in some camp/youth group songs sung with guitar on various occasions, but it was like pulling teeth- a painful process. As the years passed and my calling took me different places that seldom seemed to vary. It was at FUMC-Kissimmee in the mid-90s where Andrew Lewis first introduced me (and that church) to a new wave of contemporary praise music. These were songs that became staples of our youth worship; the congregation could handle the new stuff about once a month. As with many, many churches we created a special service (in the Fellowship Hall, because it wasn't REAL church!) for people who enjoyed the new style. It seemed that Andrew, myself and a few others were constantly pushing to get more contemporary music in worship, and Pastor John Willis was supportive, but it was never an easy discussion to have with the church elders. The music continued to be at least 100 years old for the most part. Then just when we were making some headway, Pastor Willis was moved and The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named showed up and did away with ALL contemporary praise music. Except for Youth Sunday. And on Youth Sunday we blew their doors off...

Marilyn, Will & I then moved to Chicagoland, where the worship got more traditional and the hymns got even older! My suggestions of more modern songs were met with concerns that we were "dumbing down" worship just so people would like it more. Never did understand that argument. But all over the rest of the country worship was changing. New music was being used, appreciated and was offering new spiritual connections for many worshippers. By the time we arrived in Tampa in 2001, contemporary worships services were all the rage. Praise bands, praise choirs, microphone singers and current music dominated the landscape. And I loved it. No longer was I a lone voice in the wilderness crying out for songs that were not over 100 years old. Progress had come to some mainstream churches.

All of which brings me back to my frustration with music in worship at the church we attend now. There is no longer a need to cajole and campaign for more up-to-date tunes. You see here's the thing about's so ironic! For the last several months it has jumped off the big screens at me that we are singing almost no songs written before 2012. Don't get me wrong, some of these new songs are great. My frustrations lies in the fact that we are throwing out centuries of important church music, including some great contemporary stuff from all the way back in (GASP!) the 1990s. And it's not just that. When new songs are introduced every week, the congregation never really learns to be comfortable singing any of them. It becomes more performance than worship. It's left me feeling that limiting our worship music to songs composed after 2012 is no better than the days when were were only singing songs from the 1800s. Either way we are missing out on songs that God has given composers to share with the world and the church.

I know that I am asking for everything. I love contemporary music, but I want to sing hymns as well. People might say that I want to have my cake and eat it too. Those people are probably right. But here's the thing. As Jon Lovitz once said in a Lothar of the Hill People sketch on SNL, "That analogy vexes me. If I had cake, why would I not eat it?"  I DO want it all, because there is so much music, new and old, that sings God's praises- and I don't wanna' miss a thing! I'll get over this new frustration, just as I always got past the old ones, because in the end worship is all about Jesus- not about my musical tastes. But still I have to admit that every now and then I think about how I would lead worship (and not just music) if I were in charge. That's a rant for another day...

Because of Jesus,

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