10 Signs Our Musical Worship Might Be Man-Centered
[I posted this top 10 list, with no comments, on social media a few days ago. A few friends requested I expand with some comments. Here you go.]
We would all agree the musical portion of our Lord's Day worship is vital. And I’m fairly certain none of us want our musical worship to be man-centered; but rather we desire to fully magnify the glories of Christ. Unfortunately, despite our best intentions, we often end up glorifying humans in our musical worship instead of glorifying Jesus. The list below is not exhaustive, for sure. Hopefully, it will assist us in reflection and perhaps even repentance, if needed.
It might be helpful to know a little about my past and personal preferences. I can't pretend as though I’m not influenced and biased by both.
Music has always been a big part of my Christian experience. Growing-up in a church that sang southern gospel music almost exclusively, I was spiritually affected by the music featured at those Saturday night singings, revivals, and camp meetings. The Spirit used that music and those vocal bands, among other means, to point my feet towards pastoral ministry. Afterwards, I went to a Christian University where we were instructed that certain styles and genres of music were sensual, "worldly", and should be considered contraband in the life of a believer. This extra-Biblical curriculum was further pronounced, with massive proof-texts, in the first pastoral ministry that I was a part. I quickly became a "musical-style disciple." Nearly 12 years ago, the Lord graciously opened the eyes of my heart and brought me to repentance. You see, I too, had constrained others' consciences by teaching that musical style and genre were moral/immoral, right/wrong issues. It’s a sobering reminder of how easy it is to see something in the Bible that you desperately want to see, even if it’s not there. The temptation to isogete the Text instead of exegeting It, is a real and present struggle!
Speed ahead to my current ministry. As I mentioned, the previous church in which I served had a plethora of fences erected about musical style. While the current ministry to which the Lord brought us, had none. But even in this place, without the every-growing, man-made standards about musical styles and genre, I have noticed the same proclivity (albeit on the other side of the spectrum) that our hearts have to continue to highlight humans and their gifts, instead of glorifying God for His grace.
"It’s a sobering reminder of how easy it is to see something in the Bible that you desperately want to see, even if it’s not there. The temptation to isogete the Text instead of exegeting It, is a real and present struggle!"
A quick word about my preferences: I prefer the musical worship on Lord's Day to be reverent (I realize there's subjectivity in that term), simple, traditional, and conservative. In addition, I like singing old hymns, primarily, with a few current hymns peppered in the setlist. But again, those are Brian Fuller's preferences. They represent my taste buds for musical worship on Sundays. Honestly, on many Lord's Days with our church family, the musical worship doesn't satisfy my musical taste buds perfectly. And, that's ok. It's how I believe it should be.
So, without any further ado, here are "10 signs our musical worship might be man-centered." Drum roll, please... wait, sorry, that will offend some of you unnecessarily. Let's just go with a very bright, "ta-da!" 😀
1) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we ever say, “the worship team is killing it this morning.” To be fair, a number of people who say, “the worship team is killing it this morning” are giving current expression to something akin to “good job” or maybe even a crass form of “amen.” But, the compliment becomes problematic when it reveals an unhealthy focus on the performance of a half-dozen vocalists and instrumentalists rather than the gathered church worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness and in Spirit and in truth. We should probably say "the worship team is killing it" much less.
2) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we create an extra-biblical, man-made, doctrine about styles and genres of music. (Yep,“the noise in the camp” passage is an example.) This mostly applies to a camp within Christianity known as “fundamentalism.” I’m speaking of the cultural brand of fundamentalism rather than the historical, original version.* I’m not referring here to individual preferences or tastes of genres and styles of music. We all have those. This man-centered approach to worship music goes beyond showing deference for preference. It codifies certain stylistic musical elements as “worldly,” or “godly.” The notes, progressions, timing, and even the breathiness of the vocalists are crisply placed in moral drawers of right or wrong. This amounts to a modern-day, moralistic miming of the Pharisees. They too, mossed over God’s moral law with man-made commandments. “They teach for doctrine the commandments of men.” For the sake of the gospel, we should stop turning our personal preferences into precepts.
3) Our musical worship might be man-centered if most of the lyrics in our worship music are filled with “meisms.” One of the impressions I have nearly every time I read the Psalms is how God-centered they are. And even though they are chocked-full with every flavor of personal emotion, still, they keep beckoning, “let us come and worship the LORD together.” Much of current contemporary worship music trends the other direction. A large portion of the words of many of these songs are about ME. My feelings. My needs. My fears. My future. My Jesus. My heart. (You get the idea.) I suggest a step in a better direction would be for us to search for Theocentric (God-centered) lyrics over anthropocentric (human-centered) words. Our musical worship liturgy would then reflect more of the first Christian hymnal (the Psalms) and less of our therapeutic, all-about-me, culture. If you are a leader in your church, maybe read through all the lyrics for the song set your church will affirm together this Sunday. Are they more about me or the Master?
I suggest a step in a better direction would be for us to search for Theocentric (God-centered) lyrics over anthropocentric (human-centered) words
4) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we make too big of a deal about mood lighting, and flashy projection. I love the lyrics projected during Sunday worship. (If they are progressed on time!) It gets people’s heads out of the hymnal, helps them project their voices, and, I would argue that it also contributes to singing in “one voice” better than singing parts (“potts” in New England 😂). But, there is the real possibility of too much of a good thing. Projection art and fonts that are so “lit” that they distract worshippers from the words they are affirming, have the potential of distracting the focus away from our Great God and His perfect Word. In addition, when all the bright spotlights are on the band, while the other worshippers are in the dark, the result can easily produce a performance, concert-flavor to the worship gathering. I don't want to violate point #2 and create a man-made standard here. So to be clear, the Scriptures are silent about lighting, projection, and even fog machines! (Except for a few prophetic passages!) I do believe however, that this potential distraction calls for discernment and intentionality from those who lead our musical worship in order to avoid our worship gatherings from becoming concerts. (Concerts are great, BTW....just not for Lord's Day worship!)
Question: “What is the most important instrument at the Sunday meeting?” Answer: “The voices of the congregation.”
5) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we choose music (on Sundays) primarily on the basis of what will be attractive to unbelievers and the unchurched. I need to be clear in making the distinction between the Lord’s Day gathering on Sundays from other venues where music may be tailored to the audience and to the particular setting. There are obviously ministries and events where music could and should be employed to attract. With that said, I don’t think we can establish from the Scriptures a pattern for planning any portion of the Sunday gathering to be attractional to unbelievers and the unchurched. The seventh chapter of I Corinthians is somewhat counter-intuitive by instructing believers that intelligible, ordered, edifying and Spirit-empowered worship will be used of the Lord to open-up the hearts of unbelievers. Paul is evidently teaching that the regulative worship of God’s people on the Lord’s Day is a more powerful evangelistic tool than choosing relevant songs and styles that would be attractive to the unsaved and unchurched.
6) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we place a premium on the sound of the band over the loud, vibrant singing of the church. I’m not sure where I heard this question first. But I like it, a lot. Question: “What is the most important instrument at the Sunday meeting?” Answer: “The voices of the congregation.” This is no rant against adequate rehearsals by a worship team, praise band, ensemble, choir, etc. Please continue to rehearse! But it’s the affirmation that the congregation’s hearty participation in the singing should be the pragmatic or functional goal instead of the sound of the worship team. “…that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:6)
7) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we ever host and/or attend conferences that are all about a “worldly“ style of music and how that listening to our tribe’s style of music is the only, truly, “holy” worship. You may be surprised such caucuses actually convene. They do. And, I would argue these conferences further isolate and divide the Body of Christ over issues that are neither fundamental nor foundational. Styles of music are given top tier, “first importance” status at these convocations. Further, when the attendees leave these locker-room huddles, they often become zealots for a conservative musical style, as well as brandish a militant attitude towards their brothers and sisters who see it differently.
8 ) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we ever host and/or attend conferences that are all about the band’s sound and how we can better leverage technology in worship. There’s always the other side, isn’t there? Conversely, we can be consumed with learning the best techniques and technologies, imagining that if we master them, our musical worship will be five-star each Sunday. Musically, and by way of presentation, we may attain our goal. I had a brother comment to me not too long ago, that at his previous church, he would ask new people he met at the church, “do you attend the early show or late show on Sunday mornings?” I think the question here is, can we attend conferences and trainings that tool us with additional techniques and technologies without inferring that just by getting the techno formula right, we will have produced spiritual and true worship.
I had a brother comment to me not too long ago, that at his previous church, he would ask new people he met at the church, “do you attend the early show or late show on Sunday mornings?”
9) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we use foolish statements like “let’s get our worship on.” This little statement has become a somewhat modern-day, call-to-worship for some. The problem of course is when we begin leaning primarily on the music, band and vocalists to awaken 'that worship feeling.' Worship is a loving and awed response to the person and work of the Lord rather than a behavior we perform.
10) Our musical worship might be man-centered if we choose our Sunday set-list by what’s most popular on K-LOVE. This is mostly sarcastic. Also, you gotta have 10 “ways” on a “top ten list,” right? Honestly, I hadn’t heard of K-LOVE until about seven years ago. To be candid, I’m no fan. Mostly because I find the lyrics banal and shallow. And, if I’m going to listen to pop music with romantic lyrics, I would just as well enjoy my oldies station and think about my Bride! The problems with taking your set list from the top contemporary songs on K-LOVE are multiple: (1) many of these songs are written by unbelievers who want the vocalists they write them for, to make everyone a lot of money. 2) Closely connected, because most of these songs are written by non-theologians (or worse, unbelievers), many of them can be weak doctrinally, or even heretical. 3) Lastly, almost all of the songs on K-LOVE are not written for congregations to sing together. They are written to be performed by an amazingly gifted vocalist(s). But, as one of my dear sisters from our church recently said, “I still blast K-LOVE in my car!” Precisely!
The list could and should be longer.
But, these 10 were sufficiently convicting to my own heart for now.
*I’m referring to the current, cultural brand of fundamentalism (1970's-Present), not to be confused with the historical heroes, (1900’s-1960’s) who “earnestly contended for the faith, once delivered to the saints.”