I spent a good portion of last week at Olmsted Manor (a United Methodist retreat center just outside of Kane, Pennsylvania). I was there for the purpose of facilitating a 4-day workshop on the subject of creating new worship experiences in church settings where there are already well-established services of worship. About 40 people were present for the workshop. Most of the people were over the age of 50, and most were United Methodist by denomination (although there were a few Lutherans and Presbyterians in the mix). All but a couple of the participants were non-clergy.
The dialogue in the workshop was rich in its content and vibrant in its spirit. It made me remember how much I love discussing liturgical matters with people who are passionate about worship.
One of my first orders of business was to articulate my reluctance to employ adjectives like “traditional” and “contemporary” when describing worship, since so much of what we call “contemporary” these days is not really all that new. Likewise, so much of what we call “traditional” only goes back a century or so. The flippant and imprecise usage of such adjectives simply bears witness to the poverty of nomenclature with which we struggle in our conversations about worship.
Not surprisingly, the issue that generated the most conversation at the workshop was the issue of music.
Just in case you might be interested, the following is a list of convictions that I shared with the workshop participants. This list represents some of my most deeply held beliefs concerning the development of music ministry in newer worship events. As you might imagine, this list generated a great deal of conversation in the workshop.
Some Personal Convictions
Concerning the Development and Implementation
of the Music Ministry for a New Worship Experience
Eric Park (June 2007)
1. Church musicians emerge from strange places. Sometimes they are to be found in congregations. Other times, they are found in bar bands, coffee houses, and high school orchestras. In other words, look everywhere.
(The question most frequently asked by those beginning a new worship experience is this: “Where can I find good musicians?” There is no reliable and succinct answer to that question. The “right” musicians are normally found over time, at the serendipitous intersection of prayerful searching, word of mouth, and creative networking with area musicians.)
2. Musicians committed to excellence tend to draw other musicians with a similar commitment.
(When a quality musician is in place, he/she may become the instrument through which the Spirit attracts other musicians.)
3. The best ministry of music will build an artistic bridge between that which is considered “traditional” and that which is considered “contemporary.”
(Too often, a church’s music ministry operates with an “either/or” mentality—the music, in other words, must be EITHER traditional OR contemporary. Newer worship experiences must find ways to resist such a restrictive mentality, so that ancient hymns might find new expression, and so that the best of the contemporary praise choruses might be given a rich liturgical environment in which to resonate.)
4. The best ministry of music will maintain both high energy and artistic elegance.
(If we read the Psalms holistically, we are compelled to come to the conclusion that worship music must have about it BOTH the energy of loud, clashing cymbals and the artistic elegance of the lyre. God, after all, deserves both moods—energetic praise and elegant adoration.)
5. The best ministry of music will lead the congregation into both vibrant celebration and quiet attentiveness.
(God deserves loud songs of praise. But God also deserves the kind of stillness in which God’s presence might be discerned and encountered.)
6. The best ministry of music will place the focus, not upon the personality of the musicians, but upon the majesty and mystery of God.
(It is important that the musicians, and all leaders of worship, see themselves as servants of the Word and not stars of the show. This distinction helps one to understand the difference between music as an offering and music as a performance.)
7. Lyrics are important and deserve careful attention.
(Not all songs that mention “God” are appropriate for every worship setting. It is best when musicians place before the worshiping congregation lyrics that have about them both theological and artistic integrity.)
8. Music tends to inspire passionate opinions. Prepare for the various reactions to newer musical expressions, and be patient.
(No portion of worship generates more heated debate than the ministry of music. Helping a congregation through these issues is hard but important work.)
9. Music touches places in the soul that the spoken word cannot reach.
(The journey toward excellence in music ministry, then, is well worth the struggle.)
10. Music can become either a liturgical enhancement or a liturgical distraction.
(We will not always land on the right side of this distinction. But we must always be aware of it.)