An honest evaluation of the characteristics of commercial pop music clearly reveals that it’s not appropriate for liturgy. At least, it will be clear to Christians who understand the proper function and purpose of corporate worship in the first place.
Pop music isn’t written with any eye toward beauty, nor is it carefully crafted to set a text. It’s simply created to pander to the lowest common denominator, so that people feel good and buy it. Pop music in worship is exploitative, as it is meant to capture people’s emotions and pass them off as authentic spiritual connection. It teaches that worship isn’t about discipline of prayer, but to feel happy, jesusy feelings while consuming a performance.
Additionally, pop music isn’t written for large groups to successfully sing together, it’s written to feature soloists and small ensembles of electronically-enhanced instruments. That fact alone should be enough. Liturgical music is supposed to be sung prayer. Unfortunately, in almost all Christian traditions, these pop ditties have replaced a treasury of beautiful and eminently singable chants and hymns collected over the centuries. What a loss, all because we’ve forgotten the difference between sacred and profane. What passes for sacred music now isn’t the work of a people set apart, it’s just entertainment for lukewarm masses.
This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, but in the past two generations we have witnessed a complete loss of the sacred/profane distinction. When my parents were growing up in the 60s, they happily listened to the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Lovin’ Spoonful at home, and happily sang sacred music at church. The disconnect was in it’s infancy during this time, but it’s hadn’t really taken hold yet. It’s here now. The light folk-style dreck (My friend, a boomer himself, calls them “dumb boomer ditties.”) has given way to rock concerts of epic proportion. That can be a fun time, I suppose, but it isn’t worship.
Today, it seems almost offensive to suggest that people shouldn’t get to hear their favorite genre of music at church. Proof of this will likely be found in the comments this post generates here and on social media. Instead of clear definition between “home” music and church music, as was once tacitly accepted, the church has taught its people that their entertainment preferences are inalienable rights in liturgy. And God’s people are all the poorer for this concession.
Pop music has silenced and starved the church. It has turned congregations into audiences, participants into consumers.
Church, you have to teach your people this instead of catering to what they want. Just like small children need an authority to deny them things they crave, like sugary snacks and excessive screen time, the church needs to firmly say, “No. This isn’t good for you. Here’s why…”
Perhaps the first step should be a move away from a “worship service” toward the historic liturgy of the church. The rock concert interrupted with a sermon cannot grow a healthy church, and gets the whole purpose wrong. Like I said last week, it’s a discipline, not a fun experience. Yes, such a change will run a lot of people off. Good. That’s fine. They didn’t know what they were signing up for, anyway.
Once the church cuts the fat and returns to a liturgical pattern of Word and Sacrament, it will become more clear how the cover band showcase of pop worship doesn’t fit.
Let’s get started on this, shall we?
Let’s make liturgy a time of sung prayer again, instead of a time for jesusy entertainment.
flickr, creative commons 2.0