Worship Collective Discusses: Worship Music – Why Music?

Finally. We’re talking worship music. One would think that with the word “Worship” in our name that we would be at the forefront of the worship music conversation, right? While we mostly concern ourselves with the interweaving of artistry and faith, worship music is a topic we’ve wanted to discuss but have pushed off due to an ever present dread over the genre. I attribute this to the fact that the opinions are vast, expansive, amorphous and slippery on the subject matter. There’s no way to address the state of  worship music in one post, but there is a way to break this down into three different questions:

Why do most churches use music in their services?

What is the goal of worship music?

How important is performance and aesthetics? 

Think about them before you go further. What do you think? Your answers (and mine) will/should overlap. 

Why do most churches use music in their services? 

Here’s a good place to start. Why music? Why has this artform been so integral in the liturgies of orthodox and evangelical churches alike? And for so long!? Why not anything else, like visual art, photography, or what have you? I posed this question to a few of my musician friends who I thought could provide insight. Here was a response that I thought was interesting:

 

“…I would say a deeper reason is that song/poetry seems to be the preeminent way of expressing human emotion.  As far as I know, all cultures throughout human history have had some form of singing. And in the case of Christianity, in many ways it is its own culture.  It has its own worldview, a specific vision of what the universe is about: namely, humanity becoming reconciled to God through his Son.”

 

All cultures throughout history have had music. Interesting. There must be something about this artform that is communal and unifying. But one could argue that lots of artforms are communal. Look at theatre or film.  The audience plays a big role in both of those forms and require some sort of community effort just like music does. So what distinction does music have that the church has grabbed a hold of?

Consider this:

I recently watched the documentary Alive Inside, about which a man seeks to give the gift of music to many dementia and alzheimers patients.  What he found is that while these patients’ brains were deteriorating, music had an effect on awakening memory and emotion. (It’s a fantastic film, and you should see it. Check it out on Netflix.)

But isn’t this true of those who do not carry these illnesses? If I played a song that played during your high school days, would you not immediately recall some specific memories of that time? Has a song ever reminded you of a trip? A relationship? A feeling? Music has the innate ability to stick with us and help the brain recount memories. Which is another reason why music is often used, as a quasi-teaching method.

Some lessons, ideas, themes, have been communicated most effectively through song. I’m going to throw out a few lines to prove my point. See if the song doesn’t immediately play in your head.

Times they are a changin,

Let It be,

Fight the power,

Baby you’re a firework,

See what I mean? I had to throw Katy Perry in there because shes too good to not. The point being that perhaps you don’t know every lyric to these songs, but you were able to think of at least one of these songs based solely on one line that speaks the message of the song.

Churches, then, capitalize on the strong emotive nature of music, and its ability to implement itself in the brains of its congregates. They simply find that singing and playing music is a natural response to hearing, understanding, and learning the gospel.  The songs also serve to teach certain doctrines and theologies that help drive home the emotional impact of the truths.

“Whatever my lot /  thou hath taught me to say / It is well with my soul”

“I once was lost, but now am found / was blind, but now I see”

“From life’s first cry, to final breathe / Jesus commands my destiny”

I literally rattled these off the top of my head. It’s helpful to use the songs, and the accompanying emotions attached to the songs to grab hold of the implications of the teaching.

So why music? It’s an aid. It’s a tool. It communicates a message. It communicates a feeling.  It’s a device by which the church uses to help its congregates encounter God.  This. This is key. This is why music.

 

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