Do you ever have a Sunday when the church music stinks? In your opinion, at least? Well, that’s the way it should be from time to time.
Even though I love singing old hymns, there have been Sundays when I’ve prayed to God that the friend I invited will come next week instead. I’m afraid that if he comes on this particular Sunday, when we’ll be singing out of the hymnal, he’ll think we’re stuck in 1952. I worry his suspicion will be confirmed that the church is out of touch with current reality. I know it’s foolish, but that’s how I feel at times.
However, I must also consider how my brothers and sisters in their 70s and 80s must feel. Perhaps they’re concerned that if they invite their senior friends to worship, it might be that crew of youngsters wailing away on the electric guitars again. Perhaps they are concerned it will confirm to their friends that the church only values and listens to young people.
The reality is, there should be music that bores you stiff or drives you nuts. This is because we’re a people of all sorts. We’re young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural, classy and redneck, snazzy and down-to-earth. This is the church of Jesus Christ in all its glory.
In Ephesians 2, Paul talks about the formerly hostile Jews and gentiles being made into one new body by the blood of Christ. Jesus destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. He fashioned the Jews and gentiles into fellow citizens, even becoming members of one household. That’s close quarters!
When we consider the cultural challenges these two groups had to work together on, we often think of circumcision or food sacrificed to idols. Do you think that musical preference was also a challenge? I imagine so! Do you think that those who were formerly pagan Ephesians felt like their ears bled when hearing the lyre? Or perhaps the Jews could have done without the Roman tuba blaring away.
If they were anything like us today, I imagine that, as these cultures mashed together into the church of Jesus Christ, there were some real challenges, including musical preferences. However, Jesus was at the centre. He was their focus, their life and their king. And so they learned to love one another and became this “new body” together. I’m sure they learned to put up with—and maybe even love—the music that formerly drew their ire.
In light of this, I firmly believe that we should not have churches that stick only to the hymnal. What about the newer, pop-rocky, Top-40 type of music that connects with the musical tastes of many—particularly the youth—in our churches? Can we make room for music that sounds more like One Republic but resonates with the heart language of some as they connect with Jesus?
I also firmly believe that we should not have churches that sing only contemporary worship songs. What about the tried, tested and true hymns that speak the heart language of many, particularly our seniors? What about these glorious old tunes full of robust theology that still remind so many of God’s faithfulness stretching through the ages?
Going back to my fear about my buddy coming to worship for the first time on a Sunday full of hymns: If he thinks we’re a little old school and out of touch, that’s okay. What matters most in the church of Jesus Christ? Is it that we entertain or stroke each desire? Or are we inviting people into a church that is a community of many loved and valued people? I hope it’s the latter. I’m not simply an individual. I am a member of one body, and one member among many.
Does some church music rankle you? It should.
Following five years with the Kingsfield-Clinton church plant in southwestern Ontario, Ryan Jantzi now pastors the nearby Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, where he’s fascinated with exploring the interplay between traditional church and new expressions of mission.