Musical Variety Part Three
Posted by Peter on May 3, 2012 Categories: Music
In the previous two posts, I’ve been making the case for musical variety in our Sunday gatherings. Such variety helps us to...
• Respond rightly to God and the gospel (with seriousness and celebration).
• Be rooted in Christian history, benefitting from the songs and insight of the saints of old.
• Be relevant to our culture, speaking the musical language of our day.
• Avoid a culture of entertainment, so Christ-likeness trumps our preferences,
• Serve God’s diverse people.
However, it’s time for a disclaimer! You could read all this and draw the conclusion that each and every church family should pursue an ever-increasing number of musical styles and genres - anything goes! (and must do so).
This is clearly impractical.
So what musical genres or moods should we be pursuing here at Christ Church? How do we decide what works and is useful? Well, partly with reference to what I’ve already said - there should be some variety, it should allow for a breadth of ‘right emotional responses’ to God - awe, reverence, joy... etc. For example, if all of our music is faddish, transient and shallow, we may embrace a spirit of celebration but are unlikely to develop any deep-seated convictions about the awesome and holy God who has given us cause for such deep celebration by his remarkable incarnation, death and resurrection.
But beyond this lies a further question. Why do we instinctively know that some musical styles just won’t work in our setting?
Why is it, for example, that we don’t have a great burgeoning of rap and hip-hop at Christ Church Fulwood? After all doesn’t such music have a unique contribution to make? (undoubtedly). And isn’t rap, unlike many other forms of contemporary music, profoundly content driven? (absolutely). But we instinctively know this is not the best idea, but why? The answer lies in two simple ideas. Personality and Authenticity.
In order to draw any of the unique benefits a particular style of music brings, it must be able to be played and sung with authenticity. Otherwise the unique contribution of that music is negated because it just seems ridiculous. A much better place to start when working out which music will serve our church well is to ask, ‘What gifts has God given us as a Church‘? Working this way around will help us to use, value, develop and train those musicians God has placed among us, and to avoid musical blind alleys which are doomed to failure because they lack authenticity. That doesn’t mean we never push the boundaries, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue variety (for all the reasons given), but we must do so within the limits of ‘who we are’ as a church.
As an aide, this definitely doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reach out with the gospel to those who are very different to us (absolutely we should!). And, yes, there may be some musical implications here. I understand and applaud the instinct to change a church’s music to appeal to non-Christians who are not yet part of the church family. Remember though that stretching things too far will only result in inauthentic music, which everyone can see through. It’s worth saying, too, that (at its worst) this kind of thinking leads to far too much trust being placed in music to do the job of drawing people to Christ. Instead, we must earnestly pray for the work of the Holy Spirit, preach the gospel faithfully and with passion, and use the gifts we have to make authentic music with some variety.
Lastly then, you might wonder how we’re trying to put this into practice here at Fulwood? What balance are we trying to strike to serve the priorities and ideas in these three posts?
The following might help you make some sense of the changes and developments you’ll see at Fulwood.
We want to...
• Pursue ‘undistracting excellence' as far as we possibly can. Such excellence serves all of the other priorities as attention is drawn to Christ and to the content of our songs rather than an impending musical train-wreck. Much is therefore expected of our musicians in the way of preparation, rehearsal, practice and prayer. We unapologetically seek to use only gifted and humble musicians who have a heart for the Lord.
• Start with the question ‘what musical gifts has God placed here'? This has lead to an increase in the use of choral music in recent times.
• (following on from the above) Implement our vision for a four-fold music ministry consisting of 1. Contemporary Music Group, 2. PA Ministry, 3. Core Choir, 4. Orchestra... all serving the church throughout the year.
• Pursue each musical style properly and unapologetically. Often church music gravitates toward a ‘safe' middle ground where everything sounds pretty well the same. This means you effectively lose all the benefits of variety! For example, our contemporary music should be truly contemporary.
• Use the right instruments for the right job. Hence our grand piano is now only used for choral and orchestral music, while we use our new keyboard week-to-week in our contemporary bands.
• Develop a diverse music ministry team, firmly united around the gospel. The music leadership team and I now oversee around 70-80 musicians who serve in youth contemporary bands, adult contemporary bands, our core choir, and our PA ministry.
If you’re part of the church family at Christ Church I would be delighted to talk more with you about this; if you have questions, concerns, or you’re inspired to be involved, do be in touch.