Music and Renewal… interesting bedfellows?

I know I haven’t had much to write about recently, but a post and a challenge from Rector Rich has had me thinking about the very little part of Christian Sunday Mornings that has been my “thing” for half my lifetime.

The Sunday singing, the sung worship, the time of worship, the hymns and psalms, or whatever you may choose to call it assuming you’re in my middle-class Protestant neck of the woods, is a source of huge discomfort and argument within churches and yet seems to have little immediate impact on those who view it from outside.

I play for weddings at Aldridge Parish Church now and again, and am stunned (or not) to discover myself playing two of the same five or six hymns for nearly all of them.

It’s quite crazy; but not as crazy as insisting that every single wedding has different songs. Many of the people coming into church aren’t familiar with the environment, unsure of the protocols they pick hymns which they remember (often from school) and liked at the time. The songs are a community and comfort activity, and they serve a higher purpose in giving the Best Man one last time to check he has the rings.

No-one expects each and every couple to come up with unique selections of songs for their wedding. In fact the couples who do are often from a church background or have strong church influences from one or both sets of parents.

Enough about music.

Renewal is a thing that is often talked about and rarely defined in my limited experience. If you ask Christian scholars what it means, you may receive a range of responses. I would like to think most people see it as a tangible and extra-ordinary demonstration of God’s power at work in a community or church which brings out more fruits of the Spirit, more engagement with God and consequently a rise in those coming to know God for the first time, or returning to a faith they had abandoned. Those who already know God know him better, and enjoy a deeper understanding of their creator and their faith.

How does the music we play in church affect renewal, and can it be a help or a hindrance? Do we, in fact, hold the power in our hands for good or bad?

Our Rector Rich (see link above) sometimes quotes a report which found that churches with drum kits grow and thrive. The idea that all growing churches somehow acquire drum kits through divine providence is clearly nuts, and the opposite is no more logical. It’s not so simple as cause-effect, but I would agree that drum kits and growth are symptoms of the same process.

So long as the worship music in church is relevant to the people (not the leaders) and they are comfortable singing it, it’s doing its job. The role of worship leader, band leader, precentor or whatever is clear – lead the worship through the medium of communal singing. If it’s reaching people’s hearts through the lyrics, that’s great but frankly I believe that God would happily use “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” to touch lives if that was what got sung.

In short, the choice and annointing and freshness of our worship is an illusion. Those things exist, but not so much as qualities as consequences. A good worship leader will use the familiar and the unfamiliar, the sacred and ordinary, the Vicky Beeching, the Graham Kendrick, the New English Hymnal and (shockingly) even the Psalms.

Yes, the ones in the Bible. You can’t seriously tell me our worship is out of date if you’re still reading poetry that’s over two and a half millennia in print, and even then only a translation from the original.

Play and sing the stuff people want, and mix in a little extra of what they don’t know. Write your own for goodness’ sake and give it a whirl. It’s got to have a decent vocal range so nobody gets strained, relatively simple and catchy rhythms, a nice harmony that the cocky or talented can have a bash at and above all it’s got to be about praising and loving our creator – God – rather than whether the drums are too loud or we need a new organ or the robed choir is a distraction. That’s not what matters.

So the question of music and renewal is not something we need to waste too much thinking on. So long as you’re not in the way of people’s private and communal devotions, there’s little you can do to stop God achieving whatever he needs to be done. Sometimes you’re going to be led by God’s Spirit to be musical wallpaper to a greater plan; and even then, you’re walking the path meant for you.

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