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Worship styles

I’ve chatted with a couple of Baptist pastors in the past few days and cautiously mentioned worship styles.  I got a reaction both times.  It’s just a matter of style, Bro. Steve, so don’t get all judgmental.

Well, okay, style.  Pipe down.  Different strokes.  Got it.

But with all due charity, may I ask a question: What is worship without the hearty participation of the congregation?

Seemingly a lifetime ago when I was leading congregational worship, my goal was to get everybody so involved in the music that they forgot about everything else for a while.  Some things work for that, and some don’t.  For example, it doesn’t work if people are sitting down.  That’s why music leaders usually ask people to stand when they sing.  It makes them stop passing notes, fiddling around, and going to sleep.  And they sing.

It also doesn’t work — even if they’re standing — if the music is too performance-oriented and not participation-oriented.  In the church I attend, there’s a marked increase in participation when the selection is a quality hymn known to all.  One of the characteristics of a good hymn is simplicity.  The melody, rhythm, and lyrics are straightforward and easy for a large congregation to come together on.  This is true even when it’s an upbeat song such as When the Saints Go Marching In and the church lady on the piano gets in the Spirit and starts adding a lot of syncopation and hot licks.  The crowd stays together, and out of that unity comes a feeling of joining together under the power of God.  Kids today would say it rocks.  And it does.  It builds that moment when all the hearts and minds are together around the object of our worship and enjoying the whole experience.

steppenwolfBut if the music is really designed for a soloist or small group, the feel of it doesn’t invite participation.  Somehow, a message seems to emanate from the musicians: We play, we sing, you stand there till it’s over and then clap.

And when that happens, participation stops, and in my view, so does worship.  I’m not trying to be judgmental about it, and I can accept that there are some settings where you could sing the lyrics of Amazing Grace to the tune of Born to be Wild and the people would get down on that to the glory of God.  I’m just waiting to see that really and truly happen with music like that.  Seriously.  And when it does, I’ll publish a retraction right here at A View from the Altar, and I’ll fire all of my guns at once and explode into space.  Check back daily.

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