Discipleship Thru Music (And The Old Musical War Ground)
So I believe several bloggers have been hitting on the same topic recently. I have about 30-40 articles ready for publishing in my dashboard, and Daniel Mount broke out the time to write about it. So I’ll go ahead and piggy back it. And expand it. I’ll start with my experience and Ecclesiastic perspective.
I enjoy southern gospel. When you grow up around it, it just seems to fit. But I went on to other things, and have since come back to listening to it. I’ve explained before about my glorious re-discovery of the genre. But I’ve been trying to weigh and compare music in their theology. If you’re wanting, “Preaching, blood, and intellectual depth” in my music (like me), it’s hard for me to look past the resurgence of Christian Rap & Hip Hop.
Yeah, I said it. Maybe not all Rap & Hip Hop artists, but specifically Lecrae, Shai Linne, Tedashi, Trip Lee, and a select others. I think what makes it so compelling is that it’s for the urban context, and it’s still some of the most articulate and Gospel-centered music I’ve ever heard in my life. They lived lives of gang-bangers in homes without fathers. And Christ changed them. They know their context. Not much difference, in southern gospel artists knowing their context and singing to it. But back on point.
I think as far as congregational singing, this debate has been going on for a while. The P&W I’m familiar with is simple melodies, chords, and hooks, with simple words for the most part. I don’t like the lights dimmed. I don’t like the fog machine. But I like voices in praise. And I like choirs. I like congregational singing. I love hymns. Most hymns will never get old. But P&W, in my experience, is not that difficult. And I think that’s exactly the reason we sing it. We can worship to “He’d Still Been God” or “What We Needed”. But I don’t think 90% of our congregations would keep up. Maybe some handclaps and head nods.
I do like complex music. And I think complex music is God-glorifying in the Church. But complex is not for everyone congregationally, all the time. When I think of Southern Gospel, I think of 4 men and suits, singing, and the audience barely moves. It’s ministry, but it’s entertainment. I mean, I like it. I’ve had great Worship moments. Others don’t. When I’ve seen Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman or Michael W. Smith in concert, it’s actually a Worship service. Everyone is on their feet singing, as if it was a newly founded Church. It’s simple. The words are easy to sing. Some of them are cheesy. Some of them are deep. But the same would go for any genre. And there is very rich stuff in southern gospel. I have big plans for ministry. And I am currently a minister in a Church. I’m screening songs now in anticipation of a new endeavor and our song list has gone such as this (there are more, and this is roughly the “slower”or mid-tempo stuff):
- Mighty To Save
- Hallelujah, You Are Worthy (Brooklyn Tab)
- Open Our Eyes, Lord
- Our God Is Greater
- Oh, How He Loves Us
- It Is Well
- I Must Tell Jesus
- Your Love Never Fails
- There’s Something About That Name
- My Jesus, I Love Thee
- He Is Here
- Jesus, We Just Want To Thank You
- From The Inside Out
- God On The Mountain
- Made To Live For You (Brooklyn Tab)
- Be Thou My Vision
- I Surrender All
- Jesus, I Love You (Brooklyn Tab)
- I’d Rather Have Jesus
- How Great Is Our God
- Surely The Presence of the Lord
- At The Cross
- I Could Sing Of Your Love
- I Will Praise Him
- Jesus Paid It All
Now keep in mind, this is not a complete list. But this is a list where most (if not all) the songs are generally easy for a congregation to sing, no matter the spiritual level. Half of the songs are found in a “hymnal”, and half of the songs would be usually referenced in a P&W setting. Also keep in mind at our Church, we have a younger age group living in the Bible belt. Half of them were raised or have sufficient familiarity with Church and know many hymns, but haven’t been engaged in Church post high school, maybe as we have. The other half has never really encountered any Christian music and has listened to Eminem, Tupac, Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam (can’t blame them for that one), John Mayer, and ‘NSYNC their whole lives, and the only Christian song they decently know is “Amazing Grace”. I’m not even stretching the truth. And guess, what…?…most of those songs listed also have their roots in “Hymns” or “Southern Gospel”. Why? Because it’s the south, and many are also “Country Music” fans. (Remember, this is a bunch of young believers, some apostates, and some who are still searching or un-repentant living in the Bible Belt).
Now, I’m not into split services, with one featuring contemporary and the other featuring traditional. I think compromising that issue is mostly irrelevant, or worse. You are a collective body. And you sing “old” stuff anyways, for the older, more traditional crowds (that’s the theory, anyways). They keep the Church afloat financially. You give the new group of Believers something they would be more into musically, and introduce them to Hymns and Southern Gospel and make clear that God’s favorite style is none of it. He is to be glorified, period. But you do it in ONE service.
By comparison, from the list above, most of the hymns are deeply rooted in theology and Scripture. About half of the P&W is deeply rooted in theology and Scripture. The other half is relatively simple…but it stays narrowed and focused, keying in on a specific theme. That is for the new believers. Discipleship can take place in music also. And that is even worth considering when selecting the music. The purpose is to walk with them in the deeper waters of Biblical truth, even in what we sing. The mature Christians recognize the “baby Christians” and want and seek to help them grow spiritually. If that meant singing “Jesus Loves Me” for every service for 3 months, then that’s what we’d do. And the more mature Christians should also not be neglected. While they are soaking away into “It Is Well” or “I’d Rather Have Jesus” or “At The Cross”, the “baby Christians” are trying to connect to it and it begins to stretch their hearts and minds, causing them to ask questions, and begin to let the words become deeply rooted in their lives.
And the reality is we don’t want to stop singing “Jesus Loves Me” songs. Because it resonates to every age at the deepest of levels, even in its simplicity. And if we have to do so, that means there are new Believers…always in our congregation. Most southern gospel songs are story songs. You could argue that a lot of P&W is more closely linked to Hymns in that regard. But that’s the bridge. You don’t always need to separate genres in Church. (maybe in your iTunes selections). We need the rich and deep and wide. And we need a little shallow sometimes, as new Believers begin to jump in. And some will have to wade in. I can’t teach the 5 points of the Substitutionary Atonement to someone who’s been saved two days, after living a life of prostitution. She has probably never experienced the love of the Father. So go to that, settle in…let it focus…in a simple melody and chorus with simple words, detailing how much the Father loves her. I can always be reminded in the simplicity of a love song, how much God loves me and sent Jesus to save me. Is that not enough for a two or three minute song?
As I said earlier, this is my personal experience and my hypothesis for the context and culture in which I’ve lived and the ministry I’ve been involved with and continue to get my hands dirty in. This won’t be the same for everyone. Every town is different. Every community is different. Some of your Churches have been around over 100 years. Some have been around less than 10 years. Help disciple others, even in music. I did notice this on Southern Gospel Blog, a comment by a fellow pastor, Don Ricks. This sums it for me in a sense. It may not sum it up for you. But I think we can find valuable middle ground.
As a pastor, I’ve dealt with the “old versus new” for almost a decade. In my current church we strived in the beginning (we are a six year old congregation) to blend the music. My son, the praise and worship leader, spent hours upon hours in prayer preparing for the service
Want to know what we discovered? The ones who were the most vocal in being against anything newer than the 1940′s would sit in their pews, cross their arms and take the attitude of “bless me. I dare you”. So, Marc attempted to placate them by doing a predominance of hymns. The result was these people still sat refusing to praise God.
My conclusion is, people who are fixated on “me or my” generally are not interested in worship regardless of the genre of the song being played. It is not a matter of the era of the song but the condition of the heart.
Also, my experience and philosophy. Don’t let others’ influence steal your perspective.
***Found this little gem of an old friend of mine, Rick Coram, speaking at Woodstock Baptist Church, home of Dr. Johnny Hunt.