Every church has a musical center. No music ensemble, no matter how talented, can do every type of music equally well. Even if they could, we would drive our church's crazy without a canon of familiar songs and some predictability in style. It's hard to have vibrant worship without a musical center.
But on the flip side, it's all to easy for a center to become the glue. There are boomer churches where the glue that holds people together is a soft rock, easy listening, "contemporary" sound. There are new churches with plenty of young people where the thing that holds everyone together is an identifiably hip look, hip taste, and hip sound. And there are, no doubt, traditional churches with graying membership where the adhesive is a uniform appreciation for Fanny Crosby played methodically on a Hammond organ. There's nothing wrong with having a discernible style to your worship. Most churches do. But the glue ought to be the gospel.
Harold Best says it, well, best:
[In] a culture of addiction (and music can be a form of addiction), we must dissociate ourselves from music as the primary social glue in the secular world and spiritual glue in the ecclesiastical world. We must realize that, if we are to be a biblical church, not simply a culturally relevant church, we must discount such heavy dependence on our limited and provincialized inventory of works and get down to the business of depending on the power of the Word and the force of the unleashed gospel. We must look to the Spirit, not to our humanly contrived proxies, as the only Paraclete. (151)
Best is not arguing against new musical styles. What he's doing is pointing out one of our most likely idols. If your church is primarily known as the bluegrass church or the indie rock church or the classical music church (or, for that matter, the homeschool church or the social justice church), you run the risk of building a body of believers whose faith is first of all in something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God. "Risk" is the operative word. It's not automatic. Our churches can get known for all sorts of things. The PR is not always in our control. But if your church is mainly known for its style of music, and the people who come all mention the band's swag, then you ought to at least ask the question: what is really the glue holding us together?
Once that question is squarely and fairly faced then, Best argues, let the music flow rich and free.
As I have said before, then, but only then, and by all means, let the music come. Traditional, contemporary, avant-garde, ethnic, jazz, rock and chant–name it and pour your heart and mind into it. Rejoice in it. Dance with David in it. Let Taize ring the changes on the glory of God, and let "Jesus Loves Me" done in a thousand styles become everybody's invocation and benediction. Let the emotions roll and the endorphins break their dikes. But for Jesus Christ's sake, let's get music back where it belongs–as a lisping sign and not a glittering cause, as the response to a commandment and not just a set of tools for influencing people. (Unceasing Worship, 151)
It doesn't matter your tastes, your skills, or your context: church music will always be a marvelous servant and a cruel master.
This article was originally posted here.