Michael Spencer delivers a crushing blow to the solar plexus of twenty-something worship leaders everywhere in a piece that had me alternating between howls of derisive laughter and outright head-nodding anger. Check out “” if for no other reason than to bond with another “came to Jesus during the ’70s” blogger. Any guy who references Yohann Anderson’s quirky “Songs & Creations” songbook knows that of which he speaks.
This was in the early 1970s. There was something just beginning out there in evangelicalism. It was an awareness of the youth culture that had defined the sixties. For some time, our church fought that youth culture, with its long hair and rock music, but now, something had changed. There was the beginnings of seeing the wisdom of allowing that same youth culture to have an influence in the youth ministry of the church.
Now there were youth musicals that used contemporary music, played by bands with drums and guitars. It was OK to have long hair and dress like the rest of your school as long as you were still part of the youth group. You could be “cool” and be a “Jesus person.” On those Sunday nights, you could see the beginnings of that youth culture, that “Jesus Movement” as we called it, beginning to come into the church.
How did it get in the door? How did those drums and guitars get into the sanctuary? How did those songs that WE liked but our parents didn’t like get into the service? The leadership of the church said it was OK as long as it kept the young people interested in church.
Sound familiar? It should. It was the beginning of a way of thinking that has the adults in your church being told to do the hand motions to the latest Third Day songs.
Owie. Michael, I’ll be looking for you in the pew again on Sunday. From what I can tell, you’re out doing field research and must’ve dropped in unexpectedly last weekend.
I play a drum kit (not a staple of the Robert Shaw Chorale last time I checked) in the worship band at my church and I can vouch for everything that Michael says. I may very well be part of the problem.
Toward the end, he tosses out this grenade:
The results at the majority of smaller churches are chilling when compared to the competent, decently organized worship of a few decades ago. Unprofessional behavior. Ridiculous casual approaches to God. A performance mentality that puts some of the worst people in the church up front solely because they have the ego to want to sing. Stupid yammering between songs. Endless repetition. Too much music. Music that is too loud. Music simply being TOO IMPORTANT. Taking up too much time and too much energy. Too much depending on musicians. The endless addition of new songs off the radio and from CDs hardly anyone has heard and many will never be able to use in worship. Technical glitches galore. (What I have sat through with the projection of words on a screen has long passed comic. It’s torturous. It’s insane. And yet we put up with it.) What has happened to the worship of the average small church in the last 5-10 years is nothing less than a plague and I know I can’t be the only one who feels it.
I feel your pain, Michael. I’m the drummer and I’m telling people we need to rein it in a little, but the response is basically the same as MC5’s oft-quoted (and unrepeatable) admonition that includes mothers, jams, and kicking. Nor do I ever advise anyone to base their worship “stylings” off anything that would appeal to Eddie Vedder or Lars Ulrich.
Yeah, I’ve been there—and in many ways am still there. I was once a part of a Vineyard church that had glorious worship times that mixed Christ-centered modern worship music with the great hymns of the Faith. When a new worship leader took over, it was off to the races on arrangements. It was all too fast, too loud, and too in your face. I was 38 years old and thinking, These kids today and their rock worship music…
In other words, I feel like I could have written the InternetMonk’s cautionary tale myself.
I do have a little addition to his insights, though. He goes on to say the following:
Can someone do something?
Yes, church leaders need to do something. They need to understand what is happening, and they need to stop it from happening. Allowing the cause of “keeping the young people/young families interested” to run a church is a dereliction of leadership. Someone get a grip.
Pastors and elders: Get some spine! Have a session or a meeting and speak clearly to this. Don’t hand your worship leadership over to anyone who isn’t willing to accept a vision that includes everyone and to work closely with you to have a competent, intergenerational, Christ-centered worship service within boundaries that you choose. If it looks like a bad excuse for a concert, and if the older members can’t join in, there’s something wrong. Stop it now.
Here’s where I pull out the old “you can’t go home again” problem with this advice.
Part of Michael’s contention is that once you had real worship leaders schooled in actually reading music and directing choirs. I knew people who had degrees in such a thing as Church Music. A quick look around, though, shows those people to have vanished into the ether. Where did they go? Answer: Church’s killed their careers, but not necessarily in the way the Monk contends. Guitar slinging teens raised on Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill didn’t put the choir director out of business, the paradigm shift in paying church staff did.
I got my degree in Christian Education right at the time that churches decided to stop paying folks like Christian Education Directors and Music Directors. That fifty-year old guy who could read an E. Power Biggs organ chart and knew the difference between a soprano (not Tony) and an alto (not a saxophone) was told he could keep his job so long as he didn’t expect to get paid for it anymore. The new spirit was that of volunteerism. (In my case, my alma mater read the handwriting on the wall and rechristened my old department “Spiritual Formation.” As far as I can recall, Director of Spiritual Formation was what those bearded Haight-Ashbury types who lived in Big Sur and spent most of their day in a hot tub called themselves. And we all know how they got paid.)
Anyway…this is about music and how it went from paid professionals to guys ten rungs below youth pastor—and salaryless, too.
Let’s face facts. The great composer of high church music, Johann Sebastian Bach, was able to add “To the Glory of God” to the end of every one of his great compositions because someone was paying him to write them. He didn’t have to take another job to feed his twenty children. But as today’s churches decided that it wasn’t worth paying a professional, educated music director, so went the quality of music. They wanted free and they got exactly what free pays for.
Today a few megachurches do pay young guys fresh out of college (or not) who grew up listening to their dads’ Ramones records. But the Church on the Corner doesn’t and therein lies the problem. Guitars didn’t kill old fashioned worship music, cheapness did. I would venture to guess that the majority of small churches don’t even pay for the rights to sing the Top 40 worship songs they dredge up off the radio, much less consider paying for the quality and professionalism a real music director can bring.
And one last thing…
Rock music put guitars, bass, and drums into the churches, but as the limited pool of musically-inclined people began to flock to those instruments, there was left a dearth of professionally-trained pianists, organists, vocalists, and orchestral performers—the very folks we formerly saw every Sunday morning. Today, most non-megachurches have maybe one or at most two folks who are trained on a classical instrument—and that number’s not getting larger. I hate to think it’s Pandora’s box once more, but it certainly seems that they may never pass this way again as long as garage bands playing rock on Saturdays are on stage in our churches on Sunday.
Now there’s a real downgrade issue for you.