The Sky Is Falling! OK, Maybe Not

1I’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.

7 thoughts on “The Sky Is Falling! OK, Maybe Not

  1. Michael Druckenmiller Sr. November 13, 2014 / 8:45 am

    Jamie… All your posts have been excellent and needful.

    Though I am an oldster at 62 and pretty much totally discounted when it comes to the Worship Platform, I am still a guy who grew up in Jesus during the Jesus Movement of the 70’s and ‘if you can’t feel it… it ain’t rock’.

    But, and it’s a big but, I do have a problem when the only songs sung are frenetic youth oriented such as the faster Hillsong United and Jesus Culture.

    When we do slow it down the lyrics just don’t seem quite right or are too tricky to worship with abandonment.

    When we never really transition into Worship…

    So, I for one, have *really* appreciated your posts.

    Don’t get me wrong I use a lot of rather loud and raucous music to blow the cobwebs out. 🙂

    I just have a problem with some of what is used inside the church when we are supposed to be concentrating on Jesus.

    Though I would love to have a congregation do Songs from the Open Door vol Three “Holy” which starts with something akin to a Gregorian Chant and then transitions into something reminiscent to a Yes Songs. 🙂

    But, I can sing Holy is the Lord with it with total abandonment….

  2. Johnny November 13, 2014 / 10:49 am

    The issue isn’t musical style so much as it is what is being said and the assumptions and behaviors behind that. God commands reverence and godly fear in order for worship to be acceptable. That can be offered in a myriad of musical styles.

    • Jamie Brown November 13, 2014 / 11:49 am

      Thanks, Johnny. I hear what you’re saying. One quick thought: I’m always nervous saying “God commands (insert any requirement other than Jesus’ covering here) for worship to be acceptable”.

      • johnnydrummer November 14, 2014 / 9:19 am

        I understand. I’m referring to Hebrews–“Let us serve the Lord acceptably with reverence and Godly fear…” That pretty much guides what we do at our parish. Those elements must account everything else–“rejoice with trembling” as the Psalm puts it!

  3. Ben Bowman November 14, 2014 / 10:52 am

    Jamie,
    My name is Ben Bowman. We met once years ago on a random Sunday morning at Falls Church, but I don’t expect you’ll remember me. I’m a fellow worship pastor and Anglican. Have been for a long time.
    I just want to encourage you that I think you’re going about this in the right way. And by “this” I mean navigating the stormy waters of being a worship pastor that lives primarily in the intersection between “contemporary” and “traditional” (I wish we could do away with those labels for our church music…). I’ve lived there for a long time myself and I I know it’s not easy. But keep doing what you’re doing. Stay at the table. Live in the tension and pray for grace to be at peace in the tension – to be a non-anxious presence at the midst of the tension. Be poor in spirit, quick to acknowledge your limitations, shortcomings, and mistakes (as I’ve seen you do on this blog), and speak the truth in love (which I’ve also see you do on this blog). And keep your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.
    I’ve been appreciating your blog for some time now. Well done!
    Grace and Peace,
    Ben

  4. Ben Bowman November 14, 2014 / 10:55 am

    Jamie,
    My name is Ben Bowman. We met once years ago on a random Sunday morning at Falls Church, but I don’t expect you’ll remember me. I’m a fellow worship pastor and Anglican. Have been for a long time.
    I just want to encourage you that I think you’re going about this in the right way. And by “this” I mean navigating the stormy waters of being a worship pastor that lives primarily in the intersection between “contemporary” and “traditional” (I wish we could do away with those labels for our church music…). I’ve lived there for a long time myself and I I know it’s not easy. But keep doing what you’re doing. Stay at the table. Live in the tension and pray for grace to be at peace in the tension – to be a non-anxious presence at the midst of the tension. Be poor in spirit, quick to acknowledge your limitations, shortcomings, and mistakes (as I’ve seen you do on this blog), and speak the truth in love (which I’ve also see you do on this blog). And keep your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.
    I’ve been appreciating your blog for some time now. Well done!
    Grace and Peace,
    Ben

  5. Ben Bowman November 14, 2014 / 10:56 am

    Sorry for the double post… Browser foul-up.

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