Quality Music ≠ Quality Worship
Quality church music does not equal quality worship!
My mother called me the other day and related a story of friend’s visit to a new church in the area. It was the usual commentary until my mother dropped this bomb of a question: What is a smoke machine?
I was not sure if this was a grand non-sequitur or if it somehow related to our topic of conversation.
I probed for specifics and I was saddened to confirm that the smoke machine question involved a thick haze shadowing over the congregation as the musicians hit their chords.
The smoke was accompanied by elevated decibels in what, I am sure, was a masterful performance of church music, and the account of the entirety of the church visit was tinted because of what happened when the music was playing.
My friends, we have created a church culture that can only be described as disheartening. We are teaching people through our deliberate actions that the quality of the church music equals the quality of their worship experience.
They’ve even created an industry around this.
When You Don’t Sound Good Enough
I subscribe to many newsletters from Church music pastors. I like to stay up on trends. Tucked deeply into a recommendation list was this gem:
Designed totally to poke your church music insecurities and to remind you that you, sir or madame, are not good enough. Spiritually speaking, it resounds this awful message: Your offering of worship to God is not good enough.
It is not full enough.
It is not orchestrated enough.
It is not enough.
The (recent and truncated) History of the Myth
My Christian experience only allows me to trace this trend back to a couple of years before I was born. The Vineyard and Hosanna church music movement of the late 1970’s took congregational singing to an entirely different level.
Before the time you could purchase recorded music in the Christian bookstore there was nothing to compare your music to. Other than conferences or one-off Sunday’s on vacation, church-goers didn’t know their church music could be any different.
The cassette tapes came and the comparison began.
I personally experienced a dramatic shift when my parents visited the Brownsville, Florida revival in 1995. My Father came home raving about one thing: the music. And he brought proof! A newly minted CD! A few Sundays and songbook purchases later I witnessed the very first ecclesiastical music evolution in my small church.
The myth was never spoken of, but it echoed off the concrete walls: “The better music you have, the better your worship will be.”
Later I encountered the myth in full force when I went away for ministry preparation. The entire fine arts program at my little Christian college was geared to enhancing the church music experience. Better sound, better lights, better songs. All of it was aimed at one thing: a better worship experience.
It’s not just about the music
More recently the talks about sound quality have been augmented to include “worship atmosphere.” This now includes lights, stage presence, lyric projection systems, moving backgrounds, and…smoke machines.
I went to a church planting boot camp and heard a lengthy conversation on the need to titillate all five senses. They were particularly working on elevating the smell of worship (I think they got as far as having fresh baked bread every Sunday).
These explorations continue to be underpinned by an unmentioned, yet forceful philosophy. The better we make the experience appear the more it looks like our worship is successful.
There are even code words for the philosophy, special phrases that nod to its existence but skirt around bluntly saying it. Examples include:
- The church should be the most creative place on earth - because God is the source of creativity.
- Christians should offer their very best to God - anything less is just not acceptable.
- Creating an atmosphere that allows people to “enter in” will enable the Holy Spirit to have his way
A quick critique:
If the church should be the most creative place on earth then why are churches just copying each other? We, by definition, can’t offer our best to God. We are complete sinners and only able to worship God because of his presence. He determines the “quality” of our offering. Not us (see Cain and Abel). Finally, the Holy Spirit does not need our permission or “atmosphere creating” abilities. He is the HOLY SPIRIT! God can do as he wishes. It is our privilege to just be able to gather together in song and word.
Worship in Spirit and in Truth!
Dear church music leader, this message is for you: Your offering is enough if it is your offering. God does not care if your guitar sounds thin. The sinful people in the pews might, but God doesn’t.
God’s concern for your church music offering is that it is your worship is in spirit and in truth - it's only a bonus if it is in tune!
This isn’t an excuse to just show up unprepared and unmotivated. Give your best - the first fruits of your musical offerings. Offer to God and to the congregation all you can. That means you should be prepared. That means you should be doing your best to hone the skills God gave you. That in itself is an act of worship!
What you don’t need to do is listen to some marketing nonsense that is trying to sell you “The Anointing in a Box” (NOW with MORE Pathos! Guaranteed!). Avoid the temptation to take a shortcut to something that ultimately does not matter. What matters, for eternity, is that you worshiped God, on stage, with your musical abilities, in spirit, and in truth AND that you led others in doing the exact same thing.