Communal Music

I am pastoring a young churchplant right now here in Baguio, and we are diverse in age, status, and ethnicity. One of the challenges we have is music. What music should we use in church. A couple of decades ago, a large percentage of Evangelical churches in the Philippines suddenly turned over their music to a worship team made up of high school and college youth. This was a pretty painful experience— listening and watching church youth try to mimic their favorite Hillsong videos right down to the enunciation and body movements. I recall being in a seminary class and having students speak derisively of those old fashioned churches that still hold onto hymns because their parents still prefer them. My response was to be kind to their parents because their own tastes are likely to be mocked by their own chuldren. Well, today that has happened with the new generation commonly rejecting the “Praise & Worship” style of the seminary students 10 to 15 years ago.

Around that same time (10 years ago or so)  I recall reading a book on worship music styles describing 6 major styles (six in the area that the writer lived at least). One of the styles was called “Blended” or the mixing of musical genres. The writer spoke rather negatively of that, much in line with others such as Rick Warren who believed that growth (or at least church health) comes from, in part, consistency of style and tone.

None of this suggests what music we should focus on today. But then I was reminded of what my church back in the US (our sending church) has done. While their format has changed over the years. The last time I was there, they had three services. Service A utilized Country Gospel (and a bit of Christian Bluegrass). Service B utilized  Contemporary Christian (perhaps a bit more from the folk tradition than some versions of CC). Service C utilized Hymns. What does this tell me? One thing it could tell me is that different people like different things, so the church sought to keep them all happy. That is probably true, and perhaps it is the prime motivation. But I felt that I saw something different that is key.


Hear me out here.

Service A.  The church is in a part of the US where country and bluegrass are BIG. The service, with the focus on this style, then connects the church to the community.

Service B.  This particular service is called the “Family Service.” Musically, one can see why. It’s focus on a folkish contemporary Christian results in a style of music that is pretty accessible to a wide range of ages. The style connects generations.

Service C.  The church has a large number of people who find hymns inspirational. While some people see them as old-timey (and certainly some have long passed their sell-by date), the new generation of Christians seem to be open to hymns more than the previous one… especially if the tunes are reworked a bit, with unnecessary bridges or choruses added in. In fact, hymns are my 21 year old’s preferred style. But to me, hymns connect to history. The church is not a 20 year old phenomenon, it is a 2000 year phenomenon. Hymns, in a small way, connect us to our history— remembering and honoring those who have gone before us.

So what do we do in Baguio? We are a church plant of around 40 people who all meet together in one main worship service per week. We don’t have the option of having three different services— music tailored to each group. So do we chose music that is inoffensive to the majority— music that is mildly pleasant, or maybe pleasantly mild?

My thought right now is to focus on connections. Separate genres for separate groups in a church, undermines the connection ideal a bit, I think. Instead, we must recognized that corporate worship is for worshiping God, but also for making connections. If it was simply about worship, we could give tailored individualized playlists that people can plug into their ears as the walk around… singing along if they want. But for corporate worship, we are connecting with each other in our worship.

As such, we should find ways to choose music that:

  • Connects to the community. There should be music that is accessible to those in the surrounding culture.
  • Connects to the generations within the church. There should be music that everyone can, on some level, appreciate.
  • Connects to our history. Our music can, at least at times, draw us to generations of the faithful before us.
  • (Adding a fourth) Connects to our diversity. The church is made up of great ethnic diversity. Our local church certainly is… and if yours isn’t, why is that? As such, music should also honor that diversity, reminding us that John’s vision of (perhaps) ideal worship starting in Revelation 7:9 is first identified by the unity within its extreme diversity, and the diversity within its extreme unity.

I really don’t think that these four areas can be handled with one single musical genre. As such, I believe we do need to embrace a sort of blended worship. A major complaint regarding blended styles in worship services is that it tends to result in a lot of different groups all being relatively unhappy. That seems a valid concern. But connection doesn’t happen simply by mixing together different styles of songs. It must be an intentionally educative process. Singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” followed by “Mahal na Mahal Kita Panginoon” doesn’t automatically get people to recognize that the church of the early Protestant movement in Germany is connected to the modern evangelical church in the Philippines. The connection must be identified, and integrated into the music worship experience.

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