Ten years ago, I was fighting the “guitars in the worship service” battle with my church. Of course, the battle wasn’t really just about guitars. At its core, the battle was much more about worship styles than instrumentation. Granted, battles of this nature were already raging among transitioning churches around the country for years before, but many churches tend to move into transition behind the curve, and my church was among that group. Fortunately for those of my generation, the most intense part of the conflict had already been waged over a decade earlier by people like my friend, Gerrit Gustafson, who was apart of the original creative team of Integrity Music. It was those individuals in that time period that faced the heaviest resistance to God’s movement, giving people like me a better opportunity to be heard. I continually felt impressed to challenge the mindset of congregants (which, as a teenager, most assuredly came across as youthful insolence and rebellion.) During that time, as many churches were still clinging to their hymnbooks and organs, I hoped that I, along with many others in my generation, could convey the fact that the instrumentation during a service shouldn’t matter, neither should the style of song in which a worship song is packaged. What truly matters is that people come into the presence of God with a worshipful spirit and that “songs, hymns, and spiritual songs” are offered “in Spirit and in Truth.” This is what God desires, and it’s what we should desire as well.
I’ve recently felt an ironic twist in the narrative, however. In the recent months, I’ve felt these same questions being posed to me by God. Am I so caught up in a “contemporary” worship mindset, that I’ve started to unhealthily cling to elements of a contemporary service that don’t hold any sort of vital role in true worship? Have I begun to assume certain instruments are crucial to a “good worship service” when in fact; these instruments are inconsequential to whether true worship is actually taking place? I feel like we’ve, once again, begun to assume some things are formulaic in our offering of worship.
Acoustic guitar + plus electric guitar + plus electric bass guitar + plus drums= good worship.
The bottom line is, if we say that worship styles shouldn’t matter, and if we say that worship instrumentation doesn’t matter, then wouldn’t worship in “spirit and in truth” be just as likely to happen at the tiny Episcopal church down the street as it would at the massive ultra-contemporary church across town?
Maybe we should rethink what is vital in our worship service. Maybe we should once again be willing to strip everything down to the bare essentials in order to burn away the dross. Maybe we should pay a little more attention to the heart behind the action. We should all know by now that formulas just don’t work.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
My brother and I went to see Fran Healy at the Belcourt Theatre this past Tuesday, one of my favorite places in the city. It was rather nostalgic for me since I’ve been listening to the band Travis for over twelve years. What a great experience it was. Fran really took the time to document his own personal history through his songwriting, as well as some of his experiences living in Scotland. I think I often forget how moving personal experiences can be when conveying an art form. Sometimes I feel jaded to anything autobiographical, especially in an age of Twitter messages, Myspace profiles, and Facebook surveys. Everything just feels so disingenuous. But to really experience, even for a moment, an authentic and personal narrative through a song is something to be treasured. I was fortunate enough to encounter it on Tuesday in that beautiful old theatre.