There’s a relatively common thing I hear in conservative Christian circles … that is, that choosing a church based on music is not good (rather, it should be chosen based on the teaching).
I think there’s a lack of clarity in the way it’s talked about, however … and perhaps an unintended implication.
If you have disagreements or comments, feel free to join the discussion. I’m not perfect nor infallible and I make many mistakes and logical errors. These are simply my thoughts as I think. Yes, I have thoughts when I think; shocking! 😉 Other people’s analysis is good, as I want to understand this issue well, and not just try to make other people think the way I think.
Please note that I am talking about visitors to a church, not someone who has already committed to a church. If you are committed to a church and you come across what you believe to be issues, you can’t simply leave; you’re committed to the church and should really strive to biblically address the issues. This isn’t like a retail store where you simply take your money elsewhere if you dislike something.
Choosing Based on Style: No
We shouldn’t choose a church based on the style of music. That really isn’t a good idea, unless everything else is basically equal, I guess. Why? Well, style isn’t that important, ultimately. There are some aspects that tend to be lumped into style that probably are valid reasons, though … like volume. If it’s painful … maybe it’s not a good idea to go. 😉 However, if it’s a choice between solid teaching and traditional music and weak teaching and contemporary music, and you prefer contemporary music … well, there’s pretty clear biblical support for a church needing to have good teaching. There’s not a whole lot of biblical support for needing to have contemporary music.
Other Things Meant by “Music”
But is style really all there is to it? We typically will refer to “music” in a church and really mean the entire time of corporate worship that relates to music. If I say, “I didn’t really like the music,” that could be for a lot of reasons, and it doesn’t have to mean “I really didn’t like the style of music.”
What do I mean? Here are some examples of areas that I think are very important, based on biblical principles.
- Are the songs good? Do they have good words? Do they teach? Are they accessible? If all you sing are, for example, “revival” hymns that are generally fairly shallow and evangelistic … that’s a problem. We’re supposed to encourage each other with our songs.
- Is there “life” in the entire service, not just the sermon? Music tends to be 30-50%+ of the service, it seems. If a church seems dead and lifeless in half of a Sunday morning service, is that not a valid reason for perhaps not desiring to attend that church? Sure, it’s “the music” … but what is really meant is that the people are not worshiping God with the music. “Dead” and “lifeless” does equal “nobody is raising their hand or jumping up and down!” However, you can generally tell when people just aren’t … into something, excited about it, or moved by it. Aside from music, other parts of the service as well – does it feel like people are just going through the motions when communion happens, or baptisms, or Scripture reading, or corporate prayers…? The church is not primarily there to disburse information through a sermon. The church is there to encourage, to exhort, and convict… to fellowship, to celebrate, to grow in relationship with Christ… to partake in the ordinances (baptism, communion). The sermon is part, and an important part, but it’s not the only thing the church is to be doing, and thus not the only valid reason for choosing to attend or not attend a given church.
- Are the music leaders actually leading and encouraging or just performing? If music/singing is 30 to 50% of a service, the music leader makes a big impression. If the music leader appears to simply be performing music in front of the congregation, and not actually leading by worshiping and encouraging others to worship with him… that, to me, is a valid reason to wonder about the church. It would be very difficult to come to a church and try to worship God during the music time (as well as the rest of the service) when the leader doesn’t seem terribly interested in doing so.
- Is the music leader engaged or seem bored/apathetic? Making worship of God seem dull … is … a sin. Bold words, yes… but think about it. If you are talking to someone about the gospel and you are listless, unexcited, lifeless, and apathetic… what is the impression you are making? Uh, not a good one. If you lead a congregation in a listless, unexcited, impersonal, and apathetic way … what’s the impression you’re giving of worshiping God? Not a good one. There are different personalities, and we have work to do on ourselves, etc… but we should never make it seem like worshiping God in song is dull. It’s not. It should be moving, encouraging, “exciting,” convicting, it should magnify God and cause us to be more humble. If the music in the church – i.e., the leading of it – makes it seem like singing to God or about God is dull, that is, I think, a valid reason for wondering if it’s a good church to attend.
- Does the music leader seem to truly care? We wouldn’t listen to a preacher, no matter how deep, profound, or logical his sermon is, who gave off the impression that he doesn’t really care about the content he is preaching about. If the song leader gives off that impression, how is that any different? It’s the same content (hopefully): the gospel. If, at any time, I come across as thought I don’t care about the gospel, there’s a big problem; how much more so for a church’s music leader to do so while ostensibly leading the congregation in worship through this gospel?
- Is there a commitment by any accompanying musicians to encouraging the congregation to participate? This likely means a time commitment; i.e., rehearsal. If things sound … bad … or disjointed, or simply does not go smoothly, it can be a detriment to encouraging the congregation to participate. If it does not improve and steps are not taken to try to improve it … then I would start wondering about what the deal is with the music. I realize most churches have amateur musicians, of course; mine does, too. That doesn’t mean we simply “slack off” and have the attitude of “well, it doesn’t matter… I mean, it’s just for church.” Seriously; the musicians are taking part in encouraging the congregation to worship a holy, loving, just, righteous, almighty God. The attitude and approach we take to music in the church, and how we define excellence, is a fairly big fundamental concept to get right, and seems like a fair reason to consider going elsewhere.
There are perhaps some others that I could go through, but enough negativity for now. 😉
There do seem to be some valid concerns that can be raised about a church apart from the sermon that would drive me to consider visiting other churches (assuming, as I noted, that I am “looking” for a church). I disagree with the perhaps unconsciously believed idea that the primary reason one should attend a church is the sermon. Is music the primary reason? Absolutely not. Is it an invalid reason altogether? No… nor are the other things the church is supposed to be doing. Church seem cold, lifeless, and just going through the motions? That’s not good. Church seem like it’s teaching in the sermon is shallow and weak? Not good. Music seem shallow or even contains wrong theology? Not good. No commitment to fellowship, to encouragement and exhortation? Not good.
There are a lot of what appear to me to be biblical reasons for evaluating a church’s … health.
I realize this is all from a sort of “consumer” perspective; that is, I didn’t talk about evaluating how you might serve in a church.