Raising our voices in praise to the Lord is a constant throughout scripture, so music in churches certainly has precedent as to why it holds such a high place in many of our gatherings. Out of the many aspects of singing praises together the expression of unity which we share in our Salvation has been on my mind recently and I wanted to share my thoughts on why changing music is an important part of expressing our unity.
I think there are a couple of approaches to music in church which undermine the expression of unity. These issues typically arise because they do not focus on serving the congregation and because they stray from the congregation’s purpose.
Because another congregation does it that way...
Visiting other churches and getting ideas on different ways to do (or not to do) times of praise in your church can be really helpful. But what is good for one church may not be good for your church. While we all must be careful that what we do is founded in good theology, each congregation is unique and we should embrace that. I would go as far to say that we should nurture that uniqueness where it is right.
Choosing music for outsiders
Choosing music because people outside the congregation will like it can be very enticing, because it does aline with the purpose of proclaiming Christ’s victory and being welcoming to outsiders. But it misses the point of sung praise being for God’s good pleasure, not for the outside world. Instead let people join the congregation and as the congregation changes let the music change with it.
Do not hold too tightly to the past
Some hymns have aged well, while others now mean something completely different in today’s English, compared to the language in which they first appeared. Even musically many hymns require a bit of reworking to be played comfortably on a guitar, for example, an instrument many European hymn composers did not have in mind when they wrote their arrangements.
Although the lyrics, the melodies and the harmonisations are all a part of the heritage of protestant churches, the very concept of a single “correct” version of any of these hymns is a fantasy. Resisting changes in taste, practicalities and language in your church gathering is a path towards raising barriers to outsiders, an act we must not do. There is no need to throw away the past, but it requires care and maintenance otherwise it loses its usefulness in our meetings.
Change in small steps
Therefore the kind of change I’m talking about is small but regular alterations. A new song on the rotation, new harmonies or instrumental lines and fixing tech issues are all examples of smaller changes. All of these smaller changes can amount to a big change if we think in slices of years at a time. But we need to work in small steps, because we need to keep in step with the congregation.
Praise in the present
As congregations change, so too should their music and singing. This change is normal and shouldn’t be feared, but it is also a change driven by the congregation. Even though each individual member of a gathering has different tastes, they also share a rich collection of cultural and historic preferences.
It is with this unique and ever changing blend that we as congregations should join together in our singing of praises to God.
Sam Gillespie is a composer, programmer and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales.Sam Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html