I've been enjoying my time off thus far. I've watched television, listened to music, and made Allie breakfast this morning. Good start to the break, This morning I started watching some of the videos from my Digital All Access Pass that I bought from Passion 2011. In the middle of the second one, I started having some thoughts about what was actually occurring. I was watching a worship session, watching others worship to new music that they had just learned. It seemed strange, possibly for one of the first times, that I was watching others worship God. A little weird right? Many readers might take this opportunity to move to the next logical step. The step might be that this is entertainment instead of worship and it's just wrong by principle(and hence why I am watching it and feeling strange) but hear me clearly: they are wrong, uninformed, and overly critical.
I immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was in a place where their feelings made sense. But something felt odd to me still, so I went to YouTube. You know what I found? A whole bunch of videos, posted online, of people worshipping in traditional settings. To traditional hymns. To an organ, sometimes a choir, and whole bunch of awful sounding tones. I mean, really, a lot of it was bad. Very bad.
So I thought, if the contemporary music model is so "wrong" because it allows itself very easily to be recorded and placed in a position where someone might watch it later for, perhaps, entertainment value, why in the world are these churches recording these hymns? There is almost nothing about it that is pleasing to the ear. The camera angles are such that you can rarely see anything of consequence. Why put this on YouTube?
As I struggled with this question, I considered different things: maybe they're trying to advertise their church. Maybe they're trying to pay homage to the old hymns. Maybe they just discovered that you can put things on YouTube and so they decided to try it. Any of these could be right.
But one significant difference stuck out: energy. The Passion videos had energy. I could feel it sitting here on the couch. The traditional videos didn't.
When I lead others in worship, and I tend to do a lot of that, I can tell by the middle of the first song whether or not the energy of the room is anything that can be worked with. I very much believe that though the Spirit is always present, sometimes it manifests itself in ways that are easier seen than other times.
As I sit in Goodson Chapel for worship during the day at Duke, sometimes I feel it, and sometimes I don't.
Over the past four years or so I have tried to experiment in ways that will make my methods of leading more effective. The ways I interact with the musicians, the way transitions are planned, the way the text of songs interacts with other parts of the service, all of this matters.
And I think that is where the contemporary music movement has hit a nail on the head. They discovered a way to be effective. Many of the songs are still used in appropriate times in worship. Many of the songs resemble good musicianship in the layout, form, and overall direction. And because they used a style of music that allows people to really move to and feel within themselves, they reached an inner part of the body and spirit that truly sings. Good music, no matter what the style, does this...but simplistic forms tend to resonate with our inner souls more.
There is a reason that slave songs sounded the way they did.
There is a reason that today's African American Gospel music borrows many themes and styles from old slave songs.
My argument is that I see the contemporary music movement doing and borrowing the same things. That's why, in the mostly-Caucasian world, it tends to invoke more energy in the room. When you hear a worship leader say, "I felt like they were really getting into it." I think this is the principle they are referring to.
Like it or not, in 2011, the traditional services and traditional worship styles of old do not carry the energy. Some may say this can't be true, and I might agree that this is a sad reality, but it is nonetheless a reality. At least I see it like this.
Keeping this in mind, my ultimate question is this: if the Spirit is always present and presumably the Spirit doesn't care what style of music is played, why does it manifest itself inside of this type of music more? How much of that depends on the musicianship of those leading? Do others experience the Spirit in different ways? If yes(most likely), does that manifest itself in ways that speak loudly (and tangibly)?
How do we know?