Friday, October 28, 2005

New worship, original God

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Amos 5:21 I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
       I cannot stand your assemblies.

 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
       I will not accept them.
       Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, [b]
       I will have no regard for them.

 23 Away with the noise of your songs!
       I will not listen to the music of your harps.

 24 But let justice roll on like a river,
       righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Fellow worship drummer Dan has found inspiration in a new essay from Michael Spencer.

Spencer, probably better known as iMonk, rails on one of his favorite whipping horses, big churches and new music. Spencer is not so critical of new music as he is concerned about its influence on the "Church on the Corner." He rightfully notes not every church has skilled modern musicians to pull off the pop/rock sounds of modern worship music.

To boil it down, Spencer wonders where the organist, pianist, and church choir went in the small church.

Dan joins Spencer with concern for how some "new worship" churches go too far, falling into that trap Spencer fears where young, immature worship leaders lead congregations to perform the hand signals to the latest Third Day song. Dan correctly points out that few churches actually employ worship leaders these days, instead relying on the best available acoustic guitarist to volunteer his or her services.

Dan was raised on Larry Norman, so he has his perspective. I was raised on Bill Gaither and the church hymnal. When I was a kid, Larry Norman was the pied piper leading the Church astray. When my parents attended my church for the first five years in its existence, we had to convince my father the new Vineyard songs we sang were ghost written by "Spike" Gaither.

My father was not amused. He couldn't complain about the "heathen" beat, though, since his eldest son was the drummer.

When we first started we had a guitarist/worship leader, a pianist (my mother), and an organist. Then I was asked to join on drums and, I suppose from Spencer's point of view, it all went downhill from there. I wasn't just a drummer. I was a funky drummer, and, in my immaturity, thought nothing of employing beat displacement, active bass drum licks, and linear, non-traditional patterns to songs that were otherwise written to be funk-free.

To the white suburbanites in our congregation, I was mostly viewed as the "special" young man who attempted to make a contribution in spite of my disabilities.

We were definitely that "Church on the Corner," though. We met in hotels and leased space in an industrial park until finally constructing our own building in 1995. OK, maybe not that "Church on the Corner," but certainly that "Church With the Continental Breakfast" or the "Church Next To the Chemical Mixing Station."

For the first five years we ranged anywhere between 75 to 125 (mostly) warm bodies, depending on what was splitting the church that week. The one thing that unified us was a commitment to worship -- seriously worship, not to make the rafters ring. Unlike other "new worship" churches, the opening "praise" tune was lightly regarded as we all anxiously awaited the deep, sober expressions of the final worship songs.

Sometimes it would be a new one, like "Change My Heart Oh God." Sometimes it would be "How Great Thou Art." It didn't really matter. It wasn't the music we played that made it special, it was the intent of our hearts to worship God together. We specifically chose songs for this segment of worship that expressed His infinite value and our need to recognize it. It was the focus of our church and, if I can say so without being labeled a heretic, the real draw for newcomers.

It is now 16 years into the church plant. We have our own building, three services, three worship leaders, and our sound system no longer requires a weekly exorcism. We count about 600 among our regular Sunday attendance. We have three keyboardists, four lead guitarists, five acoustic/rhythm guitarists, eight backup singers, three bassists, seven drummers/percussionists.

We've yet to identify that killer alto sax player who can hit the high note, but we're still seeking God for that blessing.

What hasn't changed is our agenda. We are not interested in ringing rafters. We are only interested in honoring and exalting God in our worship, with music, with the teaching and preaching of God's word, with the proclamation of the essential Gospel, in our ministry to each other and the World, in our obedience. No hand motions and nary a Third Day song here.

I'm not quite sure how other "new worship" churches have been led to confuse "new worship" with "a total break from original intent." It is not a new way to worship God, because there is only one way, and that starts in your heart. The notes may change -- the volume is definitely increased -- but the method of worshipping God has never been altered.

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