I’m afraid I might have started something…
Back in May I posted some reflections on the current state of evangelical worship. You may have read it.
It had a picture of a worship band on stage. It had a dramatic title. I shared my observations and concerns. And it went everywhere.
Here’s how I intended it: as a loving word of caution from the inside the movement. Here’s how some people received it: “the sky is falling!”
I’ve been a card-carrying member of the “integrating contemporary music into traditional contexts” scene since I was thrown in front of a small Episcopal congregation at the age of 13. I’ve been labeled “the contemporary guy” (even though I love hymns and classical music) or “the guitar player” (even though I can also play piano) for as long as I can remember. I kept a file at my previous church of the angry emails and letters I received (especially in the early years) of the pointed/personal criticism that got directed towards me because I was pushing the envelope.
But I’ve seen how, over time, peace can appear, defenses can be dropped, genres and copyright dates can become less important, and instrumentation can become less of an altar on which to die. Consistently exalting Jesus, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year, has a way of putting music in its proper place, thus cooling down the heated conversations.
So it was with that heart that I offered some concerns, observations, and questions for those of us in the “contemporary” scene. From the inside, from a guy who has some battle scars from the war, and from someone who’s experienced the labels and been guilty of the labeling at times too.
Some people got what I was saying.
But all that some people could see was the picture of the worship band on stage. And the dramatic title. And they surmised that I was throwing rocks at the “contemporary” scene, that I was writing the post from behind my personal harpsichord while practicing sweater knitting, and that the subtitle of my post should have been “let’s go back to Gregorian chant”.
That wasn’t what I was saying.
So now I look with interest and some concern on a shift (that I perceive) in some corners of the worship blogosphere which errs too much towards the “this is good, and this is bad, and what is bad is really bad” line of thinking. I know these kinds of things have been swirling around since long before I ever added my voice to the mix, but in the event that my post has contributed to any sort of free-for-all of criticism, I apologize.
I see the pictures of the worship bands, the dramatic titles, and I think “oh no, not another one”.
I see the traditional camps sharing the articles saying “Ah ha! I told you so!” and I think “that’s tragic”.
I see the contemporary camps fighting the articles saying “This is nonsense!” and I tend to agree.
I don’t regret offering my concerns like I did several months ago. If I had to do it over again I’d probably say the same things. And I think it’s good to have tough conversations, ask deep questions, and say difficult things. Loving words of caution can be lifesavers.
But what’s not good is a new crop of content that runs the risk of perpetuating division and instigating the wrong kinds of conversations. Some things should be talked about with a mentor or a brother, not posted online for the whole world to see. Some instincts we have should not be delineated into firm principles for others to live by.
The goal should be building-up, not tearing-down. The goal should pushing one another on to exalting Jesus better, more clearly, and more consistently. Focusing on the means ad nauseam will make us into dogs chasing our tail. Focusing on the ends of seeing and savoring Jesus more clearly will help us all grow.
So here’s to progress in our conversations, charity towards one another, an embrace of a variety of expressions, and a Christ-centeredness in our worship regardless of the context.