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Question 6 (Does Music Style Matter?)

A look into the history of music, the diversity of music in the church, music in craftsmanship, and what worship arts is all about

Psalm 150 says,

“Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.”

             As I read this Psalm, I noticed that God’s qualities haven’t changed while some instruments have. Has anyone seen a lyre? Or heard a pipe being played in a recent Sunday service? Instruments, like music styles, come and go. Back in David’s time and place, the lyre was a popular instrument. But fast-forward in time, move further south, and lyres, timbrels, and harps become Djembes and Koras to a congregation in Africa. Pipe organs made their debut in the Middle ages and have slowly been replaced in popularity by pianos. Around the 1550s hymns came into play and are still being used. The invention of the microphone completely changed the music landscape; from the 1950s on, full choirs and orchestras were no longer needed for an all-encompassing sound.

            The point? Music is always changing. It might be changing slowly in our eyes, but it changes nonetheless, and with it, our church music styles change too. With all the variety, I am convinced there is no style or instrument that is innately more worshipful than another. Of course, because of the culture, upbringing and time we live in, some styles will help us worship better than others. But to say that one style is better? What are the odds that throughout all of time and distance, your small, recent sample of music style and instrumentation is ‘the right one?’ Out of all the people who worshiped before us in different nations and countries, somehow their styles were wrong and yours is right? That just wouldn’t make sense.

            When reading through Psalms, it can be easy to forget most chapters are songs. While Psalms 150 gives us examples of common instruments back in their day, there’s no musical instruction written down; there’s no melody, key, instrumental, or beats per minute for us to follow. Apparently the most important thing for the Israelites to remember were the lyrics. The same is true for us. If our song lyrics don’t glorify the Lord, are unbiblical, and are proclaiming lies instead of truth, singing the song is not worship. But playing the song in a different music style? Still worship.

            Does this mean God doesn’t care about how we play music? Not exactly. In the Exodus 26-27, God gave extremely specific instructions on how the tabernacle was built, including the type of cloth, the ability of the worker, even the color of the materials! He commanded it be beautiful, quality craftsmanship; after all, that was where His presence was dwelling. Now we are the temple of God and we are where His presence dwells; it’s no longer a physical building or tent but a people we call the church. I think He still cares about the craftsmanship of our creative mediums (like art and music), much like He cared about the craftsmanship of the tabernacle.

            So where does all this leave a worship arts leader? It leaves us with trying to decide what will best help our specific church worship. That might mean we should mix it up every so often to remind everyone it’s not the style of music we’re worshiping, and that might mean we should stick with what the congregation enjoys, or else the music once again becomes an inhibitor and distraction to worship. It leaves us with listening to feedback and using our member’s talents wisely. It would be impossible to please everyone by playing their favorite worship songs all the time; music is such a creative medium that variety among people’s preferences will always be there. But that’s okay.

In the end, all the glory and honor and praise and focus go to God. That’s the point of worship arts; music is just a conduit.

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            Speaking of the end, this is my last week and my last blog as PEFC’s worship arts intern. It’s been an honor to be able to serve my church and do something I love. I’m incredibly grateful for those who have encouraged, taught, or otherwise influenced me to do my best in this position. It’s been an absolute joy to here your voices every Sunday, and I pray you’ll continue to praise God with even more fervor while I’m off at college.

In Christ,