|Posted on August 29, 2016 at 10:15 AM|
Adventures in Church Tourism
Issue 1 (8/29/16)
After 40 years of ministering in churches in almost every conceivable role, from worship pastor to senior pastor to church planter, to education, youth and discipleship, my wife and I finally have a break to explore what others are doing in ministry in Sunday mornings. In light of this unique opportunity, I thought we might make observations of how things have changed since the 70s. It also occurred to us to share those comments with others. So here goes...
First, The Preaching May Actually Show Improvement.
There seems to be a lot of talent out there for public speaking in general. I am hearing more good preaching than I used to hear. There is more creativity. Preachers are not afraid to use object lessons, videos, testimonies, drama, etc. to set up a point or two. So, bravo to my ecclesiastical edifiers. Keep it up.
Second, Church Music is, By and Large, in Trouble.
The quality is very low in comparison to the 70s. Here is why...
Age Discrimination - Churches want young worship pastors, ministers of music, whatever they call them. This usually means an experienced and often highly trained church musician is kicked to the curb. Then they are replaced by...
Amateurish, Unqualified, Inexperienced CHEAP LABOR! - Oh yeah, I said it out loud. The decline in church music is a function of economic expedience. I recently discovered that one denomination's recommendation for senior pastor salaries in medium size churches was in the $80K range (even with a parsonage thrown in, occasionally). That figure is hard to defend when the same medium size churches are running off good full time musicians (called by God, anointed and gifted) and replacing them with part-timers or volunteers.
This reminds me of why so many of my friends in music evangelism were driven off the road a decade or two ago: preaching evangelists did not want to share the offering. It might be noted that the "death of revival meetings" parallels decline of good revival music. The old revivalists of another generation used to require good "soul stirring" music before they preached. They tried to get the best music leadership they could find. Maybe they had something there. I had a pastor in one of our churches years ago that sacrificed raises for himself over several years to get more pay for his staff. I heard of a pastor a few years ago in southern Texas that, upon arrival on the field of service, immediately demanded the church pay him and his entire ministerial staff the same amount. Wow! When did you Last hear of such dedication and obvious sincerity. What an example!
Oh, I know someone reading this may say, "the important thing is to just make a joyful noise." Pardon my bluntness, but that is just NOT true. I refer you to Chenaniah, King David's "Master of Song" in 1st Chronicles 15 and to 2nd Chronicles 5:13-14. In that latter passage we see a VERY elaborate worship experience that was planned, prepared and performed by the BEST Israel had in the musical arts. The result was "GLORY." God deserves our best (more on this in future blogs). I give a lot of leeway to small, undermanned churches that can hardly afford a part-time bi-vocational pastor. They do what they can. However, our medium and large churches can do far better. It is kinda' difficult to find glory in bad notes, bad mixes, bad tones, etc. (Hint: God created the human voice and ear for better!) Which brings me to...
Lowered Expectations - When untrained, inexperienced and uncalled people get a stranglehold on a church music ministry, they lower the bar. Why? They have to bring everything down to their level of competence. I have seen good volunteer musicians frustrated to the point of giving up on Christian music because they are kept under the thumb of such poor leadership. We are losing our best musicians to the world. This leads us to a sad reality...
Harmony is Dying - Those beautiful, rich parts that made songs so inspiring are becoming rare. I have heard whole choirs singing unison (badly, I'm afraid) all the time. I have heard what would be considered the current best in worship bands with either only one singer or a group that sings bad unison, bad harmony or harmony that is futile, because they cannot be heard. One of the premier innovative contemporary churches that I visited had seven singers on stage and I could only hear the lead. What's up with that? When did vocal harmony get banished from Christian music?
On the bright side, we visited a medium size church yesterday that had a small choir (12 or so) that sang a beautiful arrangement with good four-part harmony. I wanted to stand up a cheer! The singers were not pros. They were not even exceptional amateurs, but they had one thing going for them: a trained, called, anointed and talented professional director that still knows how to make volunteers sound like something (Kudos to director Marty Thomas at Oakdale Baptist in Rock Hill, SC). May God multiply his kind.
The death of harmony is odd when you consider the popularity of a cappella vocal groups like Pentatonix. I am also aware that choral directors in schools are doing some great work with students despite unappreciative budgeting by very short-sighted, uninformed administrative types. My question is… where are these kids in the churches. Oh, I forgot. We destroyed our youth choirs decades ago. Seriously, that may be the biggest failure of all that explains the decline of church music. I remember in the 1990s having to completely rethink how I did youth choir. We had success with those “outside the box” approaches. Sadly, almost none of my musical colleagues were willing to go to the trouble. They saw youth and even children’s choirs as a bother that did not deserve their time and attention. They put laymen in charge of those and let them decline and die.
There is more, much more.
However, for now I will leave you to think on the demise of Christian music. In the future I will “hold forth” on possible strategies to reverse the trend. Now is the time to get busy reminding people what they lost. That is what Encore is all about.