I was a guitarist for several worship bands at a conservative Evangelical congregation in the past. My frustrations with cliques within the congregation or seemingly half-hearted involvement by fellow bandmates provoked me to try and create my own spin on the songs. Oftentimes I would add some light distortion or come up with some kind of melodic lead riff to create a different feel for the songs. But sometimes my idea of what would sound good did not always align with what the band leaders had in mind, as would happen with any band discussing creative direction. Aside from this, my aggressive style of playing had proven to be quite abrasive for some of the more conservative members of the church. This often led to me being ousted from the bands or politely brushed off from any involvement in church music whatsoever.
While the feeling of rejection was a giant slice of humble pie, it certainly allowed for me to re-evaluate and reflect on my attitude towards music in church. Was I doing it specifically to worship God, or was I involving myself just to play guitar and feel good about myself up on stage?
My family and I spent a few months church-shopping after deciding to try someplace new. As a musician, one of the things I noticed as a spectator in the pews was every time I saw a contemporary worship band I was never fully present in the moment of worship. I was always observing the performance, the instruments, the actions of the persons on stage, the flashy video screens, yet I was never giving my entire self into a state of reverence. I felt like I was becoming the hard-nosed critic who picked apart everything and, due to my past experiences, became increasingly bitter and jealous towards the musicians on stage. I wanted to be up there playing but I did not deserve it. And here I was at every contemporary Sunday service I attended, wallowing in my self-pity in a sea of raised hands and singing voices.
After reflecting on the issue for some time, I came to the realization it’s not about me.
It led me to ask myself the million-dollar question….what is worship? And does how we worship matter?
This was one of the many things that pushed me towards traditional Christianity. I grew tired of looking for validation from others who did not share the same musical tastes as I had. I grew tired of the desire to feel stimulated at church when all it did was make me feel jealous of the ones who were up on stage praising and entertaining. If I could have that same amount of stimulation by going to a local rock show, then how does the church set itself apart?
Some churches have two separate Sunday services, traditional and contemporary. The problem I find with having both traditional and contemporary services is it, more often than not, segregates the younger generations from the older and creates an environment of ageism. Admittedly, I have been guilty of ageism myself. I remember performing with my friend’s metal band at a church-held benefit concert. A couple elderly members complained to me afterwards about our performance being too loud and obnoxious. I knew the devil’s music was pretty foreign to them and they’ve probably never been to a rock concert in their lives, so I automatically dismissed them for being crotchety, old-fashioned and out of touch with the younger generations. However, the rotten attitude I displayed to them could easily be mimicked in a contemporary worship setting as well.
I’ve been to a few modernist church services where the pastor prided himself by saying, “We’re not like those uptight, legalistic religious folk with sticks up their butts! Unlike those old fossils, we’ll make you feel welcome here!” This is where I find the bigotry goes both ways. While traditionalists may have developed a bad reputation of being obsessed with legalism, modernists have also developed a complete disrespect towards their historical roots. Nobody likes to be told, “If you don’t like it here, go somewhere else!” This applies to both parties.
I’ve heard the argument that the church needs to rejuvenate itself into modernism to win everyone, especially young people, back into the pews. If this is the case, is church really about appealing to the masses with attractive music and stimulating environments? Christianity has always been known to be counter-cultural. If being in communion with one another involves gathering and connecting with believers of all age groups, chances are learning to connect with everybody takes a tremendous amount of effort to communicate, relate with one another and create an environment accommodating for all stages of life. Even reaching out to people who are broken in spirit so they might know about the love of Christ has never been known to be ‘cool’, ‘trendy’ or even contemporary.
As an avid fan of rock and metal, one of my biggest dreams was to start up a contemporary Christian worship band with a heavy and aggressive sound. I still aspire to do it one day, however I do not believe it to be appropriate for a Sunday morning church service. I don’t want my personal biased tastes in music to intimidate or hinder anyone who only wants to come and connect with God. I have to bear in mind, corporate worship is all about uniting with the Body of Christ in full adoration and not about worshiptainment.
After all, it’s not about me.