(Stick with me. I go somewhere at the end.)
I am the Director of Music at our church. Part of that job includes choosing music for our services. We are a diverse Pentecostal church, diverse in age, shade of skin, nation of origin, rural/metro mindset, denomination of childhood, etc. Since music is a very cultural thing, basically that means I can never make everyone happy. Sometimes I can make some people happy. I do try to draw us into a mindset of praise and worship, away from the distractions of life to a place where we can focus our attention on God.
I’ve spent much of the day combing through music in an effort to add a few songs to our repertoire. I have a list as long as my arm of songs I’ve jotted down at different times to check out later. Today I tackled part of that list.
Some of those songs on that list are old songs, either choruses or hymns. The old hymns are very effective for us, so I perk up when I hear one I have neglected to integrate. There are other old choruses that I also want to put in. Our young folks don’t necessarily have to know they’re old, and the elders will appreciate it. 😊
But today I was looking for something more contemporary to add to the mix, so I combed through tons of the new music that has most recently been put out.
There are several things I have to consider musically, as we are a congregation who still sings en masse and doesn’t just watch the folks on the platform sing. (There is also no smoke, and we leave the house lights fully up. That’s another topic for another day.)
The range must be about an octave or less or we lose folks. For example, “Shout to the Lord” was a great song, but only about 3 people could sing all the notes, so we never sang it at Newark UPC. Things have gotten better in this area, but there are a few that still hit the rubbish bin for unreachable range.
We don’t have 3 electric and 2 bass guitars. In fact we don’t have any guitars. (We have a banjo that gets played when it fits the musical style, which I think is really cool. Who else has a banjo? We also have violin, cello, French horn, clarinet, and Hammond organ.) So some of the anthems or songs with a heavy beat just sound all wrong with our instrumentation. Some songs sound great with a full band and a stadium of thousands of voices that just won’t work with our Sunday 170. So they get scrapped too.
A lot of the songs released recently have a syncopated beat. I guess songwriters think it sounds old-fashioned to write songs that have words on actual beats. But when you have a congregation of people without sheet music in front of them, and if they had sheet music they couldn’t read it well enough for it to do anything but cause confusion, there has to be some kind of easily attainable pattern where the words fit the beat, the offbeat, the sometimes beat… They have to hit SOMETHING. But many of the songs sung today would require several rehearsals and lots of whiteboard instruction to teach the people where the words go. Not happening. Moving on.
But the thing that gets me most, (as they say in Oklahoma, it gets in my craw. What is a craw, anyway?), makes me scrap more songs than anything, is that so many of the songs put out lately are about a moment of pleasure. Let me elaborate. It seems the purpose of the song is to create an atmosphere where we feel really great in God’s presence for a while, a heaven-on-earth moment that tickles our fancy. It seems we’ve moved from Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs to Jesus-come-make-me-feel-good songs. I heard one person liken these song to what it would sound like if we were trying to get a small kitten to enter a room. The focus is totally first-person, totally me and I. I want… I need… If there is a “You” it is about “You can do this thing for me.”
Jesus is my Savior. He is worthy of all my worship. He doesn’t need to do anything more for me. I owe Him all. I want to focus on the cross, heaven, how He loves me, how I love Him, how amazing He is, His holiness, His grace, surrendering my will to Him… I do not require of Him that He come down and make me feel great. It so happens that often in the process of worshiping and praising Him He DOES make me feel great. It would be okay for an occasional song or two to have this theme. They’re not new; they can be found going way back if you look. But we’re talking way more than “an occasional song” here. Way more.
It makes me wonder if the problem isn’t actually just our songs but goes far deeper than that. Songs usually come as a reflection of what is going on in our culture, in our churches, in our hearts. Have we become so shallow that all we want is a spiritual high? A moment with a lover that we then toss aside for the rest of the week until we come back next Sunday and do it again? Dear God, if that is the case, forgive us. Help us not forgo the ongoing relationship for a momentary joy. Help us not trade the progressive discipleship for an event in time. Forgive us for forgetting your Amazing Grace. Help us to Surrender All, to remember Oh, How I Love Jesus, to rejoice in the Blessed Assurance that It Is Well With My Soul. Bring us back to being Near the Cross, The Old Rugged Cross. We know that Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and indeed, How Great Thou Art!