Last week we began examining musical style in worship. Here’s a quick review:
- Music in and of itself is neither good nor evil;
- Lyrics in and of themselves may or may not be Christian or non-Christian;
- Ultimately, it is the heart of the musician that determines whether a song is Christian or not.
So what makes musical style so controversial? There are a host of spiritual issues we could examine here, but today we’re going to focus on the connection between culture and music. Culture is a very broad term with as many definitions and understandings as we have people reading this, but one thing we will all agree on is that a part of culture is musical style. Culture is not defined by geography, race, or location, (though each of those is a part of culture) anymore than it is defined by music.
From a global standpoint, we will all admit that music will be different in churches in South Africa, China, Brazil, England, and Greenville, North Carolina. We would not expect it to be the same across each of those areas and we would not be offended (or should not be offended) by the music found in a church in China when we visit China. We should also recognize that music in a church in Greenville, North Carolina is probably somewhat different than music found in the back hills of West Virginia, the urban churches of New York City, or on the beaches of Honolulu, Hawaii.
And we’re all pretty comfortable with that because it makes sense and is easy to understand in terms of geography. But when issues arise in our own church it becomes a more personal issue and harder to resolve. Why is that?
Outside of the obvious answer of sin, pride, and selfishness that we all struggle with this side of Heaven is the basic fact that it is very difficult it identify “American music” culturally. One of the by-products of America’s economic success is the emergence of different sub-cultures. We play out in a minor way every Sunday morning in churches across our country the cultural clashes that have risen up for centuries in cities, states, and neighborhoods. Back in the 19th and 20th Centuries there were issues of language, traditions, and religions that caused problems between people groups. Our country, because of its diversity, has always struggled with these issues – issues because we identify ourselves as German Americans, African Americans, Americans with an Irish-Catholic heritage, or coming from China town or Small Italy. Conflicts arose as a result of a clash of cultures. While it doesn’t make it right, this has been a reality for years in areas outside of music.
But American sub-cultures have continued to increase since WWII. Economic prosperity has led to more money in our country than at any other point in history, and where there’s money there’s a desire to spend it and obtain it. As a result we now have multiple sub-cultures under one roof – even where we do not have evidence of “blended families”. How? Based on age. Think about it. We have entire companies who depend on the money generated by selling to one age group – we have teens, pre-teens, tweens, kids, toddlers, and babies who have their own clothing styles, food, literature, TV shows, games, and, yes, music – in short, their own culture. Combine that with the fact that since WWII the average life expectancy has continued to rise, so now we have a greater diversity of ages who are present in any one family at any given time. And we all go to the same church.
How did the church respond? We developed programs for different people groups (cultures) within our churches. We have pastors who specialize in youth ministry, others who focus on senior adults, some who are children’s pastors, and others who focus solely on music, drama, or the arts. I know of one church here in Greenville that has paid staff positions with the following titles: Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children’s Pastor, Music Minister, Children’s Music Minister, and Minister of Youth Music!
Is it any on wonder this is conflict between these age groups? Each one has been led to think that they deserve to have their needs met because they have someone who specifically can meet them. And if there isn’t, well, just use our money to create a position that will!
Is any of this diversity wrong? Absolutely not! Is it wrong for us to create positions in our churches to reach different people groups? No. Even in the NT we learn that Paul’s ministry was to the Gentiles while Peter’s primary ministry was to the Jews. The issues arising from different cultures in church go back to the Church’s very birth.
The problem lies in defining ourselves by our cultural differences and not our unity in the Spirit.
So where does that leave us in 2011 at our church? That’s something we’ll look at next week.
Cross posted on I Respond to Jesus