Thinking Out Loud

August 2, 2018

Breaking the Repetition Factor in Worship

A few days ago, our friends at Flagrant Regard posted this question at Worship Leader’s Collective:

 

Does anyone else feel the 7/11 treatment of songs (7 words, 11x in a row) can get a bit taxing if you’re standing, have ADHD or just want to sing worship songs that render its message in 4 minutes or thereabouts?
 
We took the nearly 8-minute version of Elevation Band’s great song ‘Resurrecting’ and rejigged it down to a comfortable 5 minutes (example below). Anyone else doing the same or feel the need to?”

We asked if we run this larger response for readers here at Thinking Out Loud.


Hey there. It’s the Original Poster (Flagrant Regard) here. So, after reading the many responses to the question asked above, the first thing I’d like to say is thank you all for taking the time to answer/reflect. Much appreciated!

I think from the many responses, the idea of the worship leader/team having to cut back on a Hillsong/Bethel/Elevation song’s length during worship time seems to be out of sync with the modern worship trends and not a favorable action with the majority here.

You know, if it were just young people in your services who are into the whole Bethel/Hillsong/Elevation Worship thing that has come to dominate the ‘industry’ of worship music in this century, I’d be like, “Yeah, that’s fine. Don’t cut back on your song lengths and repetition of choruses.”

But the church is made of many parts and many peoples. People who give a fig about older hymns, people who don’t. People who like songs from the 90’s and 00’s, people who don’t. People who like to sing and people who’d rather read the lyrics on the overhead projections and just ‘soak’ while the worship band does their shtick.

What bothered me in this thread was how some of the reasons for not wanting to trim some songs (in attempts to accommodate many people’s comfort-levels in the church body) came across as rather snobbish or selfish even. And musical snobbishness is a reflection of worship leadership that is more concerned with elevating one’s self or one’s musical agenda rather than attempting to meet many people where their at in an oft-diverse congregational body. We are taught in Scripture to ‘be all things to all men’. One good way to do this, as a worship leader, is to not just play the music YOU dig or get into. To honour one another above yourselves is sometimes playing that old hymn for those 10 or 11 folks there who would so much appreciate the effort that you’d take to do so. Maybe play only 1 longish song with multiple layers/choruses and then play others from the 90’s or the 00’s even that are less repetitive. Not everyone in the congregation is ‘bent’ toward meditative worship music that constantly refrains things for up to 8 or 9 minutes. This does not make them less spiritual than you. This does not make them less deserving of your respect or outreach or occasional accommodating their comfort-levels.

What’s wrong with a balance of song styles/lengths to reach a whole congregation and not just the Bethelites/Hillsongians among the crowd?

Listen to how much of your ‘SELF’ came out in your responses to the question.
“Gets ME into a meditative state”

“Sometimes it takes a little time and repetition for ME to really set aside MY day …”

“I THINK they can stand for 25 minutes once a week”

So it’s about you is it?

And then some of the reasoning for playing longer songs had me going, “Uh, really?”

“Why don’t we feel the same way when Scripture gets repetitive? Psalm 136 is a good example. … I wonder if we can’t stand as long because we just don’t want to. We like things our way because we feel entitled to things being done our way.”

“people who complain about repetitive lyrics, ask them if they like the Hallelujah Chorus”

“that whole idiotic 7/11 thing is what many of the prominent reformed guys use to smear the entirety of the charismatic church, while still being fine with the eternally repetitive ways that the angels are projected to be worshiping God in heaven.”

1. Psalm 136. Reminds me of my Roman Catholic days. You know, where every Sunday you’re made to say the same prayers over and over again in a ‘call and response’ fashion till it became lip service. Who warned us against ‘repeated prayers’ because of their inherent nature to disengage us from reality and make us think we’re doing something spiritual when we’re not? (Matthew 6:7)

Not saying that this Psalm isn’t wonderful. But I was able to read it aloud comfortably in under 2 MINUTES – TWO MINUTES folks … Not eight.

2. The Hallelujah Chorus … is not a congregational piece. It’s a highly designed performance piece. Doesn’t fit in with Sunday mornings now does it? Silly example.

3. People of a certain age (you’ll get their friends, trust me) will be sore. Yes, the ‘whole of Israel’ (hyperbolically speaking) was there for the reading of the Decalogue in Nehemiah, but Israel would not be telling a crippled old widow, “Stand up, you lazy serf. We’re worshipping God here.” Unless you believe in a God who would expect that, our role is to accommodate the suffering and struggling in our midst. People struggle with attention spans when they’re very young and very old and long, repetitive songs DO NOT ASSIST in their attempts to become more spiritual!

4. The angels in heaven … are in heaven. They are angels and not humans. They praise God because they are self-aware in a way that you and I could never comprehend (in this life) and feel compelled to worship our Mighty God in ways that you and I could never fathom.

Not all raise their hands in praise. Are they less worshipful? Not all have a singing voice, is it right to compel them to sing or hear things over and over again that do not centre their minds on God, say, the way a well-worded sermon does?

My wife was right yesterday when she noted that the modern worship service seems to be moving in this direction: its structure is being dictated by the worship music or leadership … not the pastor, not the preaching, not the theology, not the disciplining efforts.

She was right, I began to conclude. Is it because the whole ‘paid worship pastor’ thing (which is rather new in the history of the modern church) forces the worship pastors to ‘earn their salt’ by making sure they’re ‘performing’ to expectations? That their singing long enough songs … playing extended musical sets?

I wonder how many of those here in favour of the longer songs and longer sets are the same people who start looking at their watches when the pastor begins to go ‘overtime’ with his message? If you’ve ever done that … do you see the duplicity you’ve just found yourself chewing on?

I guess what it all comes down to is this:

Who are you serving? Why are you serving? How could your serving best meet the variety of souls that have to listen to you for 25 minutes or so? Old music is not bad. I used to be one of those ‘hymn haters’ … “Why can’t they do the new stuff here? They’re such FUDDY-DUDDIES!” But that was because my agenda was to make them – the less ‘with it’ folks – get with the program. Yeah, that’s what Christianity is about – making the people bow to YOUR preferences.

Christian worship leading is not about fulfilling YOUR preferences. It is about ‘being all things to all men/women’ and ‘honouring another above yourselves’ VIA YOUR GIFTINGS.

So before next Sunday, think about your congregation – the blue hairs, the young, the middle aged, the smart/the not so smart, the attentive, the less talented, the seeking … are you doing everything in your power (in the Spirit’s power, rather) to lead them closer to the Throne by meeting them where their at by way of the many songs available to you from the many glorious eras of Christian song that are wonderful as well and often succinct in their message/presentation?

Worship the Lord with your love and humble-heart, and love others with your various giftings. Play well and professionally of course. But love others – as many others as you can – with your gifts.

That is the true Worship Leader’s calling.

Advertisements

August 22, 2017

Church Life: Special Music

In a majority of the middle part of the last century, a feature of Evangelical church services was “the special musical number” or “special music” or if the church didn’t print a bulletin for the entire audience, what the platform party often logged as simply “the special.”

While this wasn’t to imply that the remaining musical elements of the service were not special, it denoted a featured musical selection — often occurring just before the message — that would be sung by

  • a female soloist
  • a male soloist
  • a women’s duet
  • a men’s duet
  • a mixed duet
  • a mixed trio
  • a ladies trio
  • an instrumental number without vocals

etc., though usually it was a female soloist, who, in what would now be seen as an interruption to the flow of the service, would often be introduced by name. “And now Mrs. Faffolfink, the wife our beloved organist Henry, will come to favor us with a special musical number.” This was followed by silence, with the men on the platform party standing as the female soloist made her way to the microphone. (We’ll have to discuss ‘platform party’ another time.)

While the song in question might be anything out of the hymnbook, these were usually taken from a range of suitable songs from the genre called “Sacred Music” designed chiefly for this use, compositions often not possible for the congregation to sing because of (a) vocal range, (b) vocal complexity such as key changes, and (c) interpretive pauses and rhythm breaks. These often required greater skill on the part of the accompanist as well.

A well known example of this might be “The Holy City” which is often sung at Easter, though two out of its three sections seem to owe more to the book of Revelation. “The Stranger of Galilee” and “Master the Tempest is Raging” are two other well-known examples of the type of piece. Sometimes the church choir would join in further into the piece. (The quality of the performance varied depending on the capability of soloists in your congregation.)

By the mid-1970s commercial Christian radio stations were well-established all over the US, and broad exposure to a range of songs gave birth to the Christian music soundtrack industry. More popular songs were often available on cassette from as many as ten different companies. Some were based on the actual recording studio tracks of the original; some were quickly-recorded copies; and some of both kinds were offered in different key signatures (vocal ranges.) Either way, they afforded the singer the possibility of having an entire orchestra at his or her disposal, and later gave way to CDs and even accompaniment DVDs with the soundtrack synchronized to a projected visual background.

Today in the modern Evangelical church, this part of the service has vanished along with the scripture reading and the pastoral prayer. If a megachurch has a featured music item, it’s entirely likely to be borrowed from the Billboard charts of secular hits, performed with the full worship band.

This means there is an entire genre of Christian music which is vanishing with it. This isn’t a loss musically — some of those soloists were simply showing off their skills — as it is lyrically. The three songs named above were narrative, which means they were instructional. They taught us, every bit as much as the sermon did; and were equally rooted in scripture texts. The audience was in a listening mode, more prepared to be receptive. Early church historians will still despair over the passive nature of listening to a solo, but I believe the teaching that was imparted through the songs was worth the 3-4 minutes needed.

My personal belief is that this worship service element will return, albeit in a slightly different form, as congregations grow tired of standing to do little more than listen to pieces they can’t sing anyway because of vocal range or unfamiliarity. This may be taking place already in some churches.

We’ll be better served when that happens.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.