Even though I’m a church musician, and I believe in the offertory gifts of music in worship and the power of congregational singing, today I want to talk a bit about the importance of silence in worship.
Most people are uncomfortable with silence. In the car, we turn on the radio or talk on the phone; when we get home we turn on the tv and have the news running in the background as we cook dinner; we plug in our mp3 players as we run or workout; and many people, myself included, have ambient noise machines running as they sleep. Even at church, many congregations have their musicians play short, generic ditties at specific points in the service when the worship leaders need to move from one place to another, or they’ll play soft music during the time allotted for “silent prayer”.
The problem with constantly surrounding ourselves with sounds is that it doesn’t ever give our minds the chance to take a breath, relax, and hear God’s voice. There are many reasons why we should have more silence in our lives, and in our worship; here are five.Read More »
I know a lot of atheists, partly because my undergrad was spent at an anti-Christian college, or what Nashville would call “the mission field”. In my experience, the vast majority of the atheists I know used to be Christian but renounced the church for specific reasons.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that most of their reasons for renouncing their faith are often based on misconceptions stemming from a limited view of Christianity, often extrapolating their own personal experiences to the church at large, and often coming from a belief that faith and science, belief and reason, are mutually exclusive.
The Atlantic had this write-up of a Christian honestly asking a simple question of young atheists: Describe your journey to unbelief. These are conversations the church ought to have more of. Not only is it fascinating, but what we do with the answers will determine the future of the church. Here’s their profile of the young atheist:
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“Abide with Me” is one of the best-loved English hymns of the past 150 years, and was inspired by Luke 24:29, where the disciples meet but do not recognize the resurrected Jesus. “Abide with us,” they ask him, “for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”
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Traditional church: On a normal Sunday, you walk into church and have a seat, you might greet your neighbors, and then right on time, the pastor stands up and runs through some announcements, and then sits back down as the organist or the pianist starts playing. Everyone sits silently for the next several minutes, until it’s finally over and you can all stand up and start the service.
“Relaxed” traditional church: You come into church a few minutes before the start of service, chatting with your friends, and you barely notice the background music of the organist/pianist. You laugh and joke around as you find seats, and conversation fills the sanctuary; you could barely hear the music even if you wanted to pay attention. When the music is finished, the pastor stands up and starts the service.
Contemporary church: Dressed in ripped jeans and a t-shirt that you wore when you painted your living room last summer, you gather in the sanctuary or chapel, laughing and joking with your friends. No one really settles down when the music leader comes out and redirects the rowdiness toward some amped up music with guitar and a drum set. You sing a few songs (or a “set”), then the pastor comes out and starts the service.
Let me ask you: What do all of these worship styles have in common?
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The Methodist church where we attended from when I was a baby up until just before confirmation used the hymn Shalom to You, UMH #666, as a benediction for many, many years. At the close of service, the pastor would give his spoken benediction, and then the words to this would be projected onto the wall, and we would all reach across the aisles to grab the hands of our neighbors while the organist played the introduction. We would all look around at each other, a church family, and we became closer to each other in our Christian journey together as we sang,
Shalom to you now, shalom, my friends.
May God’s full mercies bless you, my friends.
In all your living and through your loving,
Christ be your shalom. Christ be your shalom.
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There’s only so much Christian radio I can take at a time. So much of the music is simplistic, most of them using the same four chords over and over again, and the melodies are beyond predictable… there are times when a song’s intro will start, and it could be any one of five or six songs that I know that all sound nearly exactly the same. And don’t get me started on the messages. Occasionally there’ll be a song with a good message, but many just have overly simplified versions of feel-good pop theology, aka the Joel Osteen method, set to a simple poppy tune. And when tacky music is set to questionable messages, it makes me cringe like nails on a chalkboard.
One of the stations interviews people about why they listen, and the common answers are that that it’s safe for their kids to listen to, and that it makes them feel good as they drive to work or school. Sure, compared to the normal radio, it has less profanity and more positive messages, but that’s not really a high bar that we’ve set for Christian music. In fact, I think we should be expecting, and demanding, much more from Christian music.
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