Can you worship even when the music stinks?

microphone

Not all churches are blessed to have world-class musicians or top-of-the-line sound equipment, or talented people running the board. But, within Christian discussions on worship, it seems like there’s an expectation that all churches should.

People can’t engage with hymns. They want “simple” and they, apparently, also want really big sound. Our church has a terrific group of musicians leading our congregation in their praise, so I totally get this. When people are giving it their all and the quality is phenomenal, it’s a really great thing to be a part of.

But let me ask you something: can you worship even when the music “stinks”?

This weekend we were visiting a Baptist church in a small town here in Ontario. The atmosphere was fascinating. This is the kind of church where you stand when the pastor enters the sanctuary and wait for him to leave before you make for the exit. The opening processional was handled on an electric organ. The songs were sung by five people (including the pastor) accompanied only by a piano. And they were all songs in keys in which man was never meant to sing.

They weren’t setting the world on fire with their talents. But you know what was cool?

People were singing their hearts out to Jesus in this church.

I saw more than a few people with hands raised (did I mention they were Baptist?). Their hearts were engaged. They were in it to win it.

I have to wonder, is this something we’ve forgotten in the age of the high-tech mega-church?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t all be pursuing excellence to the degree of ability God has given us, but have we lost the ability to be engaged in worship even when we aren’t particularly into the style, when there’s only a piano and a couple of singers, or when the special is a bit off-key?

I know a lot of folks who, if you put them into that kind of setting, would be so distracted they won’t know what to do. I know others who it wouldn’t be phased at all. And I’ve gotta say, the ones who wouldn’t be phased tend to be the more spiritually mature people I know.

They get that worship through song isn’t about what we like necessarily, but about the object of the people’s affection. So you can sing a song that makes you feel like you’re going through puberty a second time because it’s not about whether or not your voice is going to crack. It’s about Jesus and His glory, not our preferences.

How can we do a heart check on this? Here are a couple of options:

1. If you attend a church with high-end music, try to visit a small town church on your next vacation. The music won’t be as good as you’re used to, I can almost guarantee it. But watch how you respond; ask the Holy Spirit to test your heart and see what He does in response.

2. If you’re a worship leader, arrange for a ridiculously streamlined morning of worship. Seriously, pull a Bob Kauflin. Do one guy and a piano or guitar. And then check your inbox. You’ll have a better sense of where people are at by the number of complaints you receive.

Worship isn’t about style or preference, it’s about God. You can worship even when you think the music kind of stinks if you keep that in mind.

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  • Kim Shay

    Love this, Aaron. I played the piano last night with a group which included a violin, guitar, bass, and drums. I was wondering why I was needed. I couldn’t hear my own playing let alone anyone else’s voice. The closing song was done with just an acoustic guitar. It was such a relief.

  • yaddamaster

    In the last five years I’d say I’ve experienced more humbling and awe-inducing moves of God in crappy worship services than in all the services I’ve been to in my mega-church.
    Lights, smoke machines, five guitars + keyboard + drums + rhythm track == a great performance. Not much else. I’m about done with it all.

  • Jaclyn

    I disagree with your statement that “people can’t engage with hymns.” Or were you being tongue-in-cheek? I have grown up with contemporary music and choruses, but much of it lacks the depth and meaning of the traditional hymns. I often wish my church had more of a mixture of both. I have a hard time worshiping when I feel like the singers are performing a concert, not leading praise, but I also try to not let it distract me from MY personal responsibility to worship.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Tongue firmly in cheek :)

  • Matthew

    I have zero issue with style. My issues come with the quality of the music, or lack thereof. As a trained musician, small things being consistently off are a major source of distraction for me. If the drummer is trying to speed the band up to the correct tempo with no avail, I notice. If the lead acoustic guitar is playing in 4 when they should be playing in 3…. and the rest of the band is trying to get him in 3…. and he won’t budge…. it grates on me. And that distraction makes it very difficult for me to worship.

    Not that that’s a good thing…. it most certainly isn’t. But it’s there, nevertheless.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      I totally get that; poor execution definitely can be jarring.

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  • Matthew Zipfel

    You have deliberately used the word “stinks” in the title and then chosen descriptions which aren’t really about anything that “stinks” but is just about not matching people’s chosen/preferred styles.

    People do have preferred styles. People are “turned on or off” by different styles and can find it difficult to worship in one, where someone else may find it the only way to worship.

    There is a massive difference also between corporate worship and personal worship. And it’s finding the lowest common acceptable denominator.

    So, for a lot of churches, the standard/preferred setup would be to have an acoustic guitar (amped), a couple of backing singers, a bass, a keyboard and a drummer.

    More traditional churches may just have a piano or organ (or both).

    Some may have just an acoustic guitar.

    It’s okay to have any of these, as long as it’s realised that the worship styles made available will restrict/enable worship along those methods within the church environment.

    However, we are Christians and we are made to worship God throughout the week, not just on Sundays. Therefore, worship doesn’t just include music and it’s not all about the corporate worship – it’s about personal worship, having a heart for God in the way you do it.

    So – what am I saying? I think I’m saying – A style that isn’t to everyone’s tastes is different to something being played/sung badly. Having someone shouting at the top of their voices in a church sanctuary where people are praying quietly and reverently is inherently difficult for everyone in that sanctuary to be worshipping successfully. Screaming children during a matins service would be similar.

    Having someone shouting at a youth worship conference – wouldn’t be noticed.
    Having children screaming during an all age family service – would be widely accepted.

    I think this post is being overly generalistic about something which can’t be generalised.

  • Matthew Zipfel

    “Worship isn’t about style or preference, it’s about God.”

    Actually – it’s about both.

    Worship always has to have someone it’s done to, otherwise there’s no point.

    However, the way you do it makes all the difference.

    We each have different gifts, because we are all different.

    We each have different preferred styles – if our preferred style is used we will be more engaged, more focussed and more willing.

    Our learning styles are highly linked to our preferred worship styles.

    ( http://www.vark-learn.com/english/page.asp?p=categories – for information on learning styles)

    Just because something doesn’t match your preferred worship style, doesn’t mean it “stinks” though.

    I do agree, you should try to experience all types of worship style, and you should appreciate that there is no one worship style that suits everyone, nor is there a single worship song that suits everyone.

    Our churches have to try to offer the best they can, the more styles the better. None are “wrong” – all are valid. But depending upon your congregation, or the congregation you want to attract, it may be better to spend more effort on a particular style to keep them coming/entice them to come, just because it’s more natural and enticing for them, rather than them having to make an effort to enjoy it.

    This is all the more prevalent for outreach churches – ones where they are aiming to “make disciples” as we have been commanded to as our great commission. You can’t make disciples if the person you are “trying to convert” finds the service “unbearable, off-putting, intolerable”.

    Sorry, I’ve written quite a lot – but it’s triggered quite a reaction in me and I hope none of it is taken as offence, as I don’t intend it that way. Just I’m a bit passionate about it, as our church maintains a large diversity of worship styles for the many reasons I’ve posted above. I enjoy many, but I do have preferred styles and know others that have different preferred styles.

    • modvd

      I may be splitting hairs here, but you mention that there are worship styles and songs that may suit/not suit everyone. Shouldn’t our worship be in a manner that “suits” God? I’ve been in big churches with amazing musicians and have appreciated their ability to play music. I currently attend a small, semi-rural church where the musicianship is not great, but the musicians that play have an amazing heart.

      I’ve learned that the music part of worship for me is only a small fraction. Music in church usually takes about 20 or so minutes. That’s a tiny fraction of the 10,000 or so minutes in a week! Getting distracted by ability or song choice is not what God would want from me. Even if the music leader is not putting forth his/her all, shouldn’t I?

      THis is in no way a disagreement, just a triggering of thoughts for me! Thanks for the discussion!

      • Matthew Zipfel

        Our worship is and should be always directed to God and for His glory.

        Worship is an individual thing though, so if someone wants to worship God to the maximum that they can, then they need to find a way of doing it that allows them to do so.

        There is no single correct way to worship God. Some may find painting a far more worshipful and spiritual way to worship God than through singing. Some may find dance more worshipful.

        Do you see where I’m coming from?

        So bearing that in mind, if worship styles can detract from how much you are able to worship, so can irks from particular worship styles.

        We, as worship leaders, can often be criticised and are often given guidance from each other that we should aim to sing within vocal ranges that give the ability for most singers to be able to enjoy it (for ladies between e.g. middle C to +1 octave E).

        If the PA gives feedback during the song, then this detracts from the worship.

        If someone plays out of time/in the wrong key/plays a few wrong notes – it can all detract from the worship – i.e. “it stinks”.

        Even if it’s all done with the most worshipful heart…if it clouds your ability as a member of the congregation to be able to worship to your fullest, then it can not help.

        We strive for our best, and that’s the main thing.

        We should aim to meet as many people’s needs as we can, and we should always take account of feedback.

        I think what I’m getting at is a response to this sentence: “Getting distracted by ability or song choice is not what God would want from me.” I don’t think we have that ability to not be distracted. We have styles that suit us best, because we are all different.

        We can certainly ask God to help us not be distracted but perhaps it would not allow you still to give as much in your worship or devotion as if you were able to worship in your preferred style.

      • Matthew Zipfel

        PS – I worship for far more than 20 minutes a week. I sing along (and worship) to worship songs in my car during my 1.5hrs commute per day usually, so it makes up a much larger portion of my week.

        • modvd

          Amen! My point is just that SO much divisiveness comes out of the 20 minute portion of a church service that is dedicated to singing, and unfortunately for so many people is the beginning and end of “worship.”

  • modvd

    My question would be, what would that church do if a new person was hired to play music and changed their style? Would they be as receptive as you were? I think that in our world, we have been duped into believing that one way is right and the other wrong. Worship should first be about my extravagant outpouring of love and recognition of God. Music is but a mere tool in that outpouring.

  • Kelly

    I was the only person running the sound ministry at our church for thirteen years recently. God let me teach myself the intricacies of proper sound reinforcemnt (as the proper name of sound is referred to) by purchasing the Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook (the bible of sound), then memorizing and utilizing every aspect. Thereafter, (amoung other things) I purchased numerous Christian C.D.s and played them in between services. I spent hours setting up and tearing down, all unpaid. God blessed me with this knowledge and I credit it all to Him! The very BEST sound is a balanced sound that glorifies Him and ministers to the congreagation. Nobody that says “good sound can be produced on mediocre equipment by an uneducated sound person knows anything about sound reinforcement. That said, the MOST important componernt of Godly sound is the Worship Team! No matter how good the sound person is, if good sound is not coming off of the stage, no amount of sound reinforcement can make it Godly. Always remember, the purpose of worship is to GLORIFY GOD!!

  • Ros Barrett

    That was great. love your suggestions. You may enjoy reading some things I’ve written on similar topics: http://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/09/05/oh-for-a-humble-attitude-to-church-especially-the-music/