Today’s Church Music Scene:
Contemporary or Contaminated
During graduate school, my Music Theory professor made this statement: “What you hear today in the music of the world, you will hear in the church within twenty years.”
Think about that statement as you listen to the music in local churches today. More importantly, think about the music of today’s world, and then picture this music in the church within twenty years.
Where are we now in church music? And tell me, where are we going?
As a former minister of music, and now as an owner / teacher in a school of music, I believe the trends that have developed in church music support my professor’s statement.
For example, two months ago my wife and I visited a nearby local church, which has three morning services. We arrived early for the second service and entered as the praise band was playing the offertory at the end of the first service. We could have heard the same music at a Bourbon Street jazz club.
We left that church before the second service began and drove to a church where we thought, at least by name and denomination, we would find a more traditional service. Again we arrived early. At this church, a drummer with electric drums and a pianist with a synthesizer were playing the Blues. This continued for about ten minutes, and then the other members of the “orchestra” entered, joining the Blues one at a time. Finally, the choir came in and physically joined the “swing and sway” as the tempo and volume increased.
After the pastor presented the Call to Worship and prayed, the choir sang a beautiful, recently written anthem, which they performed excellently. Then came the “praise time,” for which we stood 25 minutes, and 40% of the congregation sang and swayed to chorus after chorus, none of which I had ever heard. As I stood, I wondered if the other 60% of the congregation felt as I felt … left out, a stranger in the worship experience. And furthermore, this church publicly declared in the service and stated in their worship folder that visitors and guests were warmly welcomed.
Is this typical? Is this where we are in church music today? With sadness, I believe it is. Because of our ministry of teaching, we visit many local churches. It seems that most are the same, whether associated with a denomination or independent of one. Church music mimics and often exceeds the musical sounds of the world.
I am calling concerned and thinking Christians to action! We should not accept this style of music and worship without prayerfully and kindly letting our concerns, desires, and thoughts be known to our pastors, worship leaders (as ministers of music are now called), lay leaders, and those at the helm of our denominations. We may face careless responses, such as: “This is the way we are going. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else!” But regardless, we should let our concerns and desires be known.
Many church leaders believe this is the only type of music that will reach people. I really wonder about that. Where will we be in the future if we are fed a steady diet of this style of music and worship?
Please hear me, I’m not advocating that we discard all things contemporary. There is nothing wrong with a good, quality contemporary song. Just because the song was written recently doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it. But there has also been much good, quality music written earlier than recently, and it shouldn’t be discarded either, simply because it isn’t current.
My wife’s recent experience with one of her piano students is worth repeating. During a lesson with this fine student (who is faithful in her church youth and music programs), my wife recommended some piano arrangements she thought would contribute to the church’s music ministry. As my wife mentioned songs like Count Your Blessings, Showers of Blessings, He Touched Me, and Glorify Thy Name, the student confessed that she didn’t know the songs. How sad that, in many churches, we are not taught the standard hymns and gospel songs that have such meaning. We all need to know good, quality church music, whether old or new.
Many Christian radio and television networks and stations also have embraced this style of worship. I am thankful that some have not. My experience tells me that the music and programming on radio and television will eventually find its way into the local church. Could it be that broadcasters and even music writers and publishers bear part of the responsibility for what is happening today in church music?
A few days ago, I watched a telecast on a well-known Christian television network. A “prophet” was there with his band. With his style on the piano, plus the rhythm and sounds of the band and choir, I saw intelligent and educated people moved to a trance-like state by the power of the music. There was little, if any, Biblical content in the 35 to 40-minute segment I watched.
Tell me, where are we going?
My heart is broken when I see an emphasis on style and method, rather than Biblical teaching in church ministries and certainly in music programs.
I fear that, rather than being contemporary, we are being contaminated.
“Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”
1 Corinthians 14:7 & 8
– J. LaVerne Smith
Verne and his wife, Jeannie, have great experience and talent in the field of music. For many years Verne was a minister of music in churches. They also have traveled doing music programs in churches and special meetings across the country.
Verne joined BBN as the manager of our radio station in the Tampa, FL area. We often play some of Jeannie’s piano renditions on BBN. He and Jeannie were a blessing to many as they ministered in churches sharing the ministry of BBN. They have left BBN and have opened a school of music in Clermont, FL to share their God given talents and philosophy of quality music.