How I Got Over Church Music I Don't Like (and other style-elements)
Buy Erik Stenbakken
I attend church that for over a decade has prided itself in its contemporary music - but I've never been a fan of it. I deal with it because we do have a very welcoming and evangelistic church base. I like the latter and shrug off the parts I don't like. Except one time. One time it was too much. So I wrote a letter to the pastor about it. He was not a fan of the music that week either and asked if he could forward it to a few key leaders, sans my name. Within an hour I had a call or two from folks who knew it was me, basically agreeing with me. Then a message from the music leader rolled in: Would I meet with him personally? You bet I would. I had a few things to say that didn't make it into the email! So we met, and I listened. And I didn't say any of those other things. In fact, as I listened, really heard him. I knew that no matter how "out of hand" the music had been in my mind, I had been out of line. He explained that even he didn't like the music that week. But most of all, why had I not come directly to him in the first place? I apologized both in person and in writing. About a year later, he left the church. I've never forgotten that.
Fast forward six or seven years, and my wife was a music leader at the same church. And then it came full circle: we began getting complaints about her music, forwarded courtesy of the new pastor. She didn't have enough instruments. No guitars. Why did she have to include a hymn? And the final thing that sent me over the other edge: one of her team members was criticized for not smiling enough while singing. Seriously? Fortunately, I was on the phone with the person who brought this up. I kindly but firmly stopped him and said simply: "Don't go there. Just do not." What he didn't know was that the singer leading worship was going through a divorce right then - not smiling indeed. My wife's team held together for another two years until she too felt it was time to move on.
We had been away from our home church for nearly three months and just returned this week. There was a new music team leading, singing songs I didn't know or particularly love. Just as I was about to roll my eyes, I caught two other folks in my same row: one had her hands up and eyes closed in praise. The other was crying gently, moved by something in the music. Bam. It hit home: this is not about me. This is not about my taste at all. This is about reaching people, other people. Folks who hear differently than I do are moved by things that don't move me. It's about praise and worship. When I remember that, elements of style that don't appeal me lose their rough edges because it's not all about me. And it never was.
Here are a few recommendations for pastors & other leaders that I have learned from my own experience:
- Don't be a conduit for criticism. It's unwise, and it's unbiblical. If someone has a gripe, encourage them to go right to the source and say it or offer to go with them. Chances are, the complaint will die right there. If it's serious, follow Matt. 18: 15-17 (although a difference in taste is seldom a sin).
- Take a few moments and talk to and listen to the worship leaders. What's going on with their lives? Where are they coming from when they plan the music? What kind of work goes into their preparation (hint: more than you may expect).
- Remember that our society is flooded with sights and sounds of professional musicians with massive marketing and show productions, and we think "that's who singers are." When we see the three lonely singers on stage without the lasers and smoke or staging, we feel a bit let down, even if only subconsciously. Those comparisons are not fair; especially as Heaven judges it.
- Thank your worship leaders often. The volume of criticism they get is depressing. Remember, they're not (usually) paid to do this; it's an offering of time and effort that is too frequently repaid with complaints and little else
- Remind your paritioners that there is a wide range of tastes in their church. We tend to move in circles that think like we do so we begin assuming everyone thinks as we do. So why would anyone present a style so unpalatable? (hint: not everyone dislikes it).