gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, worship

a culture of COMPLAINING!

listen friends, i promise that i tried….i tried for several days now to keep my mouth shut in response to these blogs and articles about the assertion that NO ONE sings (worships) in church anymore. and, guess why?

well, according to Why They Don’t Sing Anymoreand this one called Are We Headed For A Crash?it’s because the worship leader and the worship ministry are too performative/showy/up-front/rock-star-ish/and whatever other distractive adjective you can think of. 

for whatever reason, in my 20 years of leading worship in various different contexts – mainline churches, pentecostal and charismatic churches, evangelical churches, university chapel services, black churches, rural white churches, asian american churches, affluent white suburban churches, mega churches, multi-ethnic/cultural churches, worship conferences, funeral services, wedding ceremonies – i’ve found that people tend to feel the freedom and power to lay claim over the musical elements more readily than other aspects of the service. we all feel a particular ownership, authority, and confidence as to what music we believe resonates with the soul, and thus with everyone else. i guess as someone who has the opportunity to both preach/speak and lead worship on a regular basis, i’m particularly keen to the imbalance of “feedback” worship pastors/leaders receive from sunday to sunday versus the preacher or “word-bearer.” as someone who has served in so many different contexts, reading these broad stroked critiques on a topic as huge as musical worship, but offered through such a narrow and particular ethnic/traditional lens are hard to receive and take seriously. 

so, here are my quick thoughts on how we can move forward (on a topic of conversation i could’ve sworn was SO 2003), but i digress:

1) i’d love to read more blogs and thoughts on the failings of musical worship from folks who actually serve and lead churches and teams in this capacity on a week to week basis. 

2) i’d love to read disclaimers on the front end of these blogs/articles that begin with something like: *these observations are meant for ______church and _____church, of which i have personally attended. i also acknowledge that the lens from which i make these critiques come through a particular ethnic, socio-economic, ecclesial tradition, and cultural lens. in other words, just state the obvious. and, don’t generalize. 

3) there are thousands of churches. thank the lord?? i mean….THOUSANDS. there are many traditions that represent those churches as well. if classical hymns, or organs, or string quartets, or chorales, or rock bands, or indy/folky groups, or shouting, or dancing, or gospel choirs are what enable and move you to worship, then GO FIND THAT! you need to worship. we were all created to worship. there’s nothing worse than staying unhappy where we’re at and murmuring about how we can’t seem to open our mouths to utter a sound of praise. perhaps, even more importantly, we need to sincerely ask ourselves these questions: could the act of redirecting my inability to participate onto someone else or some ideal have anything to do with me? is it really someone else’s fault as to why i can’t offer god some praise?

4) most worship leaders work hard. being creatively wired by nature, worship leaders are usually also sensitive people who don’t try to annoy or distract the congregation on purpose or intentionally. have you ever gone up to them and said “thank you” as you would to the preacher? did you know that many worship leaders don’t get paid as much as other pastors or staff? did you know that there’s a required class on homiletics (preaching/public speaking/oration) in seminary that basically teach the substantive and the performative elements of preaching, but there’s usually no classes on leading musical worship? did you know that most churches hire worship leaders for their musical skill more than their pastoral skill? did you know that in many churches, the worship leader is not considered a pastor? did you know that most worship leader positions don’t require a seminary degree or ministerial credentialing? 

we sure do expect a lot out of them given this reality…

and finally,

5) worship ought to be your response to who god is and all that god has done in your life DESPITE your circumstances and who’s in front of you or behind you, who’s chasing you down or who’s affirming you, in death and in life, in fullness and in the margins! the psalms are a great example of this. when we become a people who know what it is to be desperate for the presence, the hand and the face of God, no amount of distraction will keep us from praising and opening our mouths to sing! worshipers know this – it’s in spirit and in truth!

in the end, i wonder if we’re too comfortable. we have too many options. many of us aren’t desperate enough in life to know that the culmination of our worship doesn’t happen on sundays…it can’t just happen on sundays, because life happens everyday.

i thank god for the people who offer their time and lives to this ministry of music, in every context – who serve week after week, put themselves out there, mess up their lyrics, play a wrong note, voice cracking, serving while sick – all while hoping and praying that god will touch somebody through their offering and gift of music. for the naysayers, critique all you want, but know that for the worshiper, those words will fall on deaf ears unless you bear that burden week after week alongside us. ~ selah

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8 thoughts on “a culture of COMPLAINING!

  1. Debbie on said:

    Good thoughts; thank you for sharing. Please accept this suggestion in the positive spirit in which it is intended. Please give God respect by capitalizing his name. If you can capitalize DEPEND for emphasis, surely you can capitalize His name in love and respect.

  2. Debbie on said:

    Sorry, it wasn’t depend, it was DESPITE.

  3. gailsongbantum on said:

    Debbie- I hear you and receive the intent in which you offer the suggestion. I agree with you in general, but given that I’ve intentionally chosen to write in all lower case throughout my blog (except all caps to emphasize something and in this reply to you ;)), I’ve thought through the implications of all the words I would be lower casing… God already knows the love, honor and respect I have. This was merely a stylistic choice when I started my blog. But, I totally hear you.

  4. Kollin Baer on said:

    Gail – very enjoyable and helpful post. (My positive remarks may in some part be to the fact that I am currently listening to ‘The Bends’ by Radiohead on vinyl — haha kidding – I loved the post!) In all seriousness, thank you for your thoughts. I’m a worship leader for a new contemporary campus of an FUMC church. I have also held the same position in a Baptist church. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much my new congregation has offered words of encouragement after the service. So much in fact that I am starting to wonder when the criticism is going to come haha, but I suppose that is a good problem to have. Point number 4 that you made really resonated with me. I recently finished my first year in seminary at Duke Divinity, and agree completely with you about the lack of training in these programs. I strongly believe I was hired based on my Bachelors in Music degree over anything else, but the church has been very good about allowing me to express other calls in my life, specifically the call to preach, which I will be able to do three times this summer.

    There have been a few times over the past few years in which I would have to remind a complainer that worship is simply defined being in communion with God, which can be accessed with an electric guitar, a hymn, or even with the clapping of hands for all I care! The modern worship pastor is definitely under public scrutiny in a way the pastor or preacher is not. My theory is based largely on consumerism. Music is a product, and most people enjoy buying music (which is of course ruined by spotify – along with the concept of ‘the album’ of course). But in large part, people get to decide what records or iTunes singles they purchase, and from this culture of consumerism comes an idea of ownership over the music we purchase, the music we like. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I feel like I have more ownership over “August and Everything After” by the Counting Crows, or R.E.M’s “Out of Time,” than anyone else on the planet, just because I have been listening to those records since I was 9 years old. So when I go to a church, and connect with the music and worship, I feel like I am in control, based on so many of those records of similar sound that I MADE THE DECISION TO BUY! In contrast, no one has ownership over a sermon. Not many people get stoked to get on the internet and purchase a solid sermon series like we do with records. The thirst simply isn’t there! It is my contention that it is music’s inherit ‘product’ nature in the culture of consumerism that allows modern worship to fall prey to the all to common scrutiny that you identified so well in your original post.

    Just wanted to continue the conversation a bit, not monopolize it. Hope to hear back!

    in Christ,

    -Kollin Baer

    • kollin- you’re definitely hitting on good stuff there…i am also convinced that there’s something about participation vs. reception. most often, folks don’t think of the spoken word (preaching, teaching, announcements, etc) as participatory, but the musical element usually is. there’s something about the invitation to participate – to offer a part of ourselves – which perhaps emboldens one to feel the need to determine how that offering is given and what it is that we will choose to give. i do think that it’s interesting to contrast “participatory” worship vs. a special song offering sung/played in service or the preaching of the word…diversity of flavors and styles are much more acceptable and we tend to be more gracious when we’re privileged to merely receive. we wouldn’t dare tell the soloist or preacher that their voice was too screechy or that it was boring or that they messed up or ask why they had to pace the stage so much when they preached or complain that their hands were too distracting…one may think those things but…

      which also takes me to the reality that music is profoundly connected to one’s soul and tied to the deepest places of our emotions. many people have said that music is the language of the soul. we can be “cultured” and knowledgable and have a breadth of understanding all kinds of music, but when we find ourselves in desperate spaces, everything in us wants to cry out from the depths. this is why (depending on what the diversity and cultural makeup of the church is – ethnic, socio-economic, generational, etc. ) i believe we struggle so much in the area of musical worship. you gather more than 10 people in a room, and you’re probably going to find 10 different stories, backgrounds, affinities, and passions. so, when the rubber meets the road, folks just want to belt something out or hear something in their soul language or heart language…there’s not a lot of grace for difference.

      this is where i believe that the church and all who follow jesus, must continually pursue and be open to a fresh song, love the people more than your preference, and cultivate a desire for transformation in our own hearts on the regular! to be a reconciled people is to constantly be marked and moved by the stories of those around us. jesus was ALWAYS for the other.

      and finally, my prayer is that we will all be able to find the freedom to sing and participate wherever we’re at – not because we have to, but because we can. if we find ourselves breathing today, then everything in us was meant to give god praise.

  5. I am one of those people who has been critical of the contemporary worship movement and have written extensively about some of the problems I have seen. I have also offered lots of positive steps to make things better on my own blog Not For Itching Ears

    My perspective flows from being a lead pastor for 10 plus years, a church planter and leading worship in various capacities for over 25 years on staff at large churches and in smaller church plants. I am also a full-time secular musician. So I get everything you are talking about, and I have said all those same things, and I agree with a lot of what you are saying.

    At the same time, I have also been one of the led ones. Those who gather to worship and are led by a worship leader, team, or band. I have been to over 40 churches in the past 7 years and have observed worship in a variety of settings. I have studied church history and have wrestled with very difficult issues on this topic. I’m invested in this topic.

    Wherever I go, I always observe the congregation during the singing time. What I always see is that people are not singing. Sure the singers are singing, and those that love to sing are singing, (We could put a tune to the Yellow Pages and the singers in the congregation would be nailing the harmonies by the chorus!) But the majority of the congregation isn’t. Those who are singing are often mumbling the words out of respect for the Lord, but not because they are “worshipping”.

    When I was a young worship leader, I placed the blame squarely on the congregation. They were in the flesh and just didn’t get it! But now, I am older and wiser, and I realize that isn’t true. It could be that the model for leading worship that the church has universally embraced is flawed. That possibility should at least be on the table to discuss.

    I think the true measure of how effective a worship service is, should not be how excited and involved the congregation is during the singing time. That is usually how we evaluate it. Instead, we should measure our effectiveness on how well the congregation is living for Christ outside the service. How is our “worship” helping the congregation live for Christ at the jobs, homes and basketball games?

    I could go on and about this, but I don’t want to hijack this post.

    Come visit us over at Notforitchingears.com and I hope you will find a balanced and fair dialogue about worship.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. I’m glad you opened your mouth :). I appreciated this post!

    “I’ve found that people tend to feel the freedom and power to lay claim over the musical elements more readily than other aspects of the service”… So true. And difficult for a worship leader to navigate.

    Thanks for sharing!

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