Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Music Matters: An Important Question

A Question My Church Must Answer

Let me tell you a little bit about my church, Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa; then maybe you will understand the issues I have been dealing with that are at the root of this blog and those that will follow for the next couple of weeks. I am going to be dealing with one of the most divisive issues in the church in the last 20 years, one that still rages in many Christian circles. I am dealing with it every week at Southern Hills.

Southern Hills is a church that has nearly 300 in attendance on a normal weekend. That’s pretty small in most parts of the country, but among Iowa Southern Baptists, it makes us a mega-church. At our 8:30 AM service, we have a band and Praise team that leads us in contemporary worship. It is not “rock and roll” church by a long shot, but we sing newer songs in a more modern style. That service usually has around 150 to 175 people. Our 11:00 AM service is very traditional. We have a pianist and a organist and a man in a suit waving his arms – a traditional Southern Baptist worship style. This service usually has between 100 and 125 in attendance.

This two-services/two-styles program has been going on for a long time. When they started two services, they both had a blended style. Then, gradually, the early service went contemporary and the later service became more traditional.

The present reality is that I am not the pastor of a church, but of two churches (perhaps 3 or 4) that meet in the same place. When you have two services with two styles, you tend to develop into two churches. These two churches get along pretty well most of the time, but it is clear that they have different outlooks and viewpoints on many issues.

Now, we are considering the future of the church and our building needs. On our current acreage, using SBC “rules-of-thumb” (which are usually pretty accurate) we figure that the maximum church we can have on this site is about 750 to 800 in average attendance. So, we have been designing a site plan that has a sanctuary that can fit 800 people and provide education space for about 600. Then, we worked backwards to develop a plan to get us from where we are to where we need to be.

A Little Imagination

So, go on a journey with me – a journey of imagination. It is ten years (or twelve or fifteen) down the road and Southern Hills is about to move into its final building. We have a beautiful new sanctuary that seats (sleeps?) 800. It is our first service and everyone is excited as we enter the modern, spacious, technologically advanced and breathtakingly beautiful building (since this is my imagination, we are debt-free as well!). Overwhelmed by awe at what God has done in providing for us, we find our places for worship. And then the music starts and my daydream becomes a nightmare.

We are all together in one service – what kind of music will we sing? Will we please the traditionalists among us and sing only the old standard hymns from crisp new hymnals, accompanied by the piano and organ. Or will there be a praise band with drums and guitars with a praise team harmonizing modern music with an electronic keyboard? Or perhaps we will, by then, have followed many in the “rock-n-roll church” movement and an old codger like me will need earplugs. Maybe we will try to please everyone with a blended service that gives everyone a little of what they like and a lot of what they don’t.

Facts are facts. Right now, we have two services with two styles that attempt to serve everyone’s tastes. If we are all going to worship in one building at one time, we have to share one style. We cannot avoid this.

I believe there is an important question that my church must face as we plan and look toward the future. It is not an easy question, but it must be decided.

The Question

In the future, should Southern Hills Baptist Church try to be one church worshipping together, or should be a smorgasbord of churches that meet together in one place?

A smorgasbord is an older name for a buffet. I remember the first time I ate at a smorgasbord. I was a high school student on a youth group trip and we stopped for a meal at one. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There was something for everyone. There were salads and vegetables, which I walked past to get to the meats and sweets and breads and delicacies galore. I ate till I was sick. The great thing about a smorgasbord is that each person can get whatever they want. I don’t have to like what you like. In the Miller home, you get your choice of eating what momma fixed or fasting. At a smorgasbord, you have lots of options.

So, should our church be like a family dinner where we serve one dish to everyone or like a smorgasbord where everyone can get what they want? It is not an easy question.

Our church can decide to be one church with one style and unite everyone together into one service. But, if we do that, we will have to pick a style and people will have to come together to compromise and sacrifice for unity. Or we can be a smorgasbord. One church in town has four Sunday morning services. The 8:00 AM service is traditional, then each of the following three services gets a little more contemporary. Traditional to blended to contemporary to rock-n-roll. Something for everyone.

The Blogs Ahead

I am going to blog about this subject for the foreseeable future. I preached on this for 5 or 6 weeks at Southern Hills and it is going to take me a while to put it on paper. Frankly, I have no idea if anyone is reading this blog anyway. But I want to try to answer the question of whether certain musical styles are more pleasing to God and whether we should try to give everyone what they want.

There will be four distinct sections to this blog series. After finishing the introduction in my next blog, I am going to begin exploring what the Bible says about music from Genesis to Revelation (in overview, of course). I believe there are two key themes that run throughout music in the Bible.

Then, we will examine “Music Matters” – biblical principles of music drawn from our study.

We will then deal with “Music Myths” – the issues I have been confronted with in my ministry that are based on false premises and lack biblical support.

Finally, when all that is done, I will deal with the original question – should a church like mine try to be one church with one style, or should we be a smorgasbord of churches that meet in the same place?

In the meantime, I hope any unfortunate readers will consider the issue for themselves and deal seriously with the scriptures.

According to studies, music is the driving force in churches today. People do not choose churches for preaching or doctrine or denomination, but for music. “I want contemporary worship.” “I want to sing hymns.” Music is what drives the church today (like it or not – and I don’t). It is also what drives the church to division. Many churches have experienced unrest, even splits, as they have changed their musical styles.

Our key verse is Ephesians 5:19, which describes someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. Those experiencing the fullness of the Spirit will be “addressing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with all your heart to the Lord.”

Music is a gift of God given to humanity to aid us in giving Him the glory he deserves. It is a shame that in many churches, the blessing has become a curse. Rather than uniting the people of God in His presence, music has divided us into schisms. It should not be.

As I told my people when I preached this, my goal is to offend everyone a little. I will not take sides with the traditionalists or against them. My purpose is to try to give a biblical perspective on music and ask you to bring every thought captive to Christ. We need to think biblically on this subject, not according to our desires or preferences.

Of course, the comment section is open for interaction.


Todd Bacon said...

I look forward to reading more. Admittedly, I find the style of worship music I dig to be of too much importance.

The whole phenomenom of driving all the way across town, passing up other assemblies of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to make it to the one where we are "most comfortable" or "most well-fed" has been irking me of late.

I wonder how it would look if true believers were to fellowship with the body closest to their abode, rather than looking for that "perfect church" that looks like the exact plate of desired goodies one can pick up from the smorgasbord, you know, no peas or butterbeans.

Dave Miller said...

Is it significant that when we talk about finding a church, we call it shopping?