Why I Didn’t Sing When I Visited Your Church

"Most of them seemed to have been written with the band in mind more than the congregation. What I mean is that they were unpredictable and often went beyond my vocal range and ability." Challies

5861 reads

There are 16 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

News for Challies: They probably don't care that you didn't sing. It's not about that anymore.

TylerR's picture

Editor

1. Why I Don't Care What You Do When You Visit My Church

2. 10 Reasons Why I Don't Like Your Silly Click-Bait Headlines

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Why so harsh? He's got some good points in the post, some of which would apply just as well to traditional music as contemporary. Can't really see any problem with the title either.

My point earlier is that many of these churches stopped caring about congregational singing a long time ago. It's all about the stage performance... the congregation's job is to take it in and provide the drama of a live audience.

TylerR's picture

Editor

My argument isn't with Challies' content. It's with the deliberately slick, cheap, Facebook-like way he formulated his article and the headline.

I have my RSS feed set to view perhaps 100 conservative Christian blogs. It has become very trendy to make stupid, click-bait headlines. I suppose it was inevitable. I just hate them. I know it's not particularly fair to the author, but he did write the dumb headline. It's a personal pet-peeve.

Perhaps the dumbest I've seen recently lately was from Reformation21, entitled, "A Pastoral Letter to Myself (In the Case That I Fall)." It begins with, "Dear Self . . ." All that's missing is the Lifetime movie accompaniment, written by Nicholas Sparks.

Challies also wrote the article as though he was directly addressing the reader, as if he actually went to my church. This is a cheap writer's ploy. It disgusts me. Everybody is doing this now. I suppose it's trendy. I suspect he is doing this to get website traffic amidst steep competition.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Click bait or not, he makes a great point and starts to get to the real issues that we ought to be discussing about music in the church. He even discusses the basic purpose of church music, and notes why it's bad if the tune is irregular, why it's bad if you cannot figure out the lyrics, and why it's bad when the "band" is louder than the congregation will sing, and the like.

Plenty of room, too, for irregular meter and loudness when it's the choir or special music or such.  But if the purpose of congregational singing is to impart God's word to God's people and prepare them to meet with Him, we need to figure out how that is accomplished.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

But if the purpose of congregational singing is to impart God's word to God's people and prepare them to meet with Him, we need to figure out how that is accomplished.

I answer - it is accomplished with fog machines and strobe lights. Duh.   

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

....and I'm pretty sure it involves laser light shows that cut the band to bits due to a technical snafu, too, as the guitarrist turns the volume up to 11 for that extra boost and the drummer goes up in smoke.....

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Richard Brunt's picture

I probably shouldn't comment on this because I sure I am in the minority (even at SharperIron).  Tyler, you objected to the trendy  "deliberately slick, cheap, Facebook-like way he formulated his article and the headline".  I object to any Christian music that is deliberately slick, cheap, and in my onion just plain worldly.  Yes, I know I haven't heard the music but from the way he described it  I would definitely call it worldly.  I can remember when Christians would sing their heart out in church services. No, there wasn't much of a beat, and once in a while the pianist missed a note but people sang from the heart.  No entertainment just worship.  

Richard E Brunt

TylerR's picture

Editor

I, too, object to the kind of "worship" he described. More of a performance than corporate worship. At our church, the song-leader got completely lost on Sunday and stood there, confused and perplexed as we sang the entire song without him. When it was finished, we all laughed together. I hear what you're saying!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The "professionalism" dimension calls for balance... and I do find it a difficult question. On the one hand, you have the conspicuous pursuit of excellence in the Tabernacle design and construction, David's professional singers, etc. On the other hand you have, as I picture it, small groups of believers in house churches in the first century singing "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" with little skill but great exuberance.

There's something to be said for not wanting to give God what is shoddy and poorly prepared. There's also much to be said for not making worship singing so lofty and professional that it discourages the participation of ordinary folks in the pews.

Maybe one solution is to have both formal and informal times of worship in the life of the congregation. The formal times follow the Davidic tradition of top notch quality and professionalism. The informal are more aimed at "family time" as a body. The former aims to lift everyone involved. The latter aims to connect everyone to eachother. So you have both the transcendent and the immanent in church life. There can be plenty of congregational participation in both, though. The active vs. passive dimension is really a different question completely.

Larry Nelson's picture

"We were...sitting on theatre-style seats."

---------------------------------------------------------

Or is Challies saying that the "theatre-style seats" were in some way detrimental to the act of worship?  (He makes a point of mentioning them, after all.)  If so, I don't get such thinking.

In my 54 years, I've sat on pews, benches, linked pew-chairs, folding chairs, "theatre-style seats," and perhaps some other types of seating during indoor worship services.  Not to mention on rocks, lawn chairs, bleachers, grass, and perhaps some other types of seating during outdoor worship services---at Christian summer camps, for instance.  

Why should the type of seating involved matter? 

Richard Brunt's picture

Aaron, I'm not opposed to professionalism although I would prefer a different word to describe it.  Although I am not necessarily a fan of BJU I would conysider their music professional but not worldly.  I don't think it has to be one or the other. My objection is not that they are being professional but that they are mimicking a very negative part of our culture. 

Richard E Brunt

Bert Perry's picture

It's worth noting that we ought to be careful describing music as "worldly", since Strong's 2886, Kosmikos, doesn't itself mean "sinful".  It only does that in Titus 2:12 when it is described as worldly lusts, and that in contrast to sobriety, righteousness, and Godliness.  In contrast, Hebrews 9:1 uses the same word to refer to an earthly sanctuary, which was of course a good thing in its context in the Mosaic law.  Our cultural use of the term simply does not follow Biblical usage--that should trouble us, no?

Moreover, when we use the term worldly to mean sinful, that leaves the question of what in the music was sinful, and we've also more or less picked a fight instead of contributing to the discussion with a vague accusation.  And in that light, that's what's so refreshing about Challies' comments; he's pointing out how specific things in musical presentation led to music that failed to connect God's Word with God's people and prepare them for a meeting with Him.  

And in that light, there is nothing sinful in doing music well or "professionally"--but it ought to be addressed to the congregation.  Worth noting, by the way, is that truly great singers generally do communicate well with the audience--and hence it's unnerving when one watches a blind man sing like Andrea Bocelli.  He communicates with the audience very differently than did Luciano Pavorotti, for example.  

I think what people are really objecting to when they hear "professional" or "performance" is the desire to say "look at me", to be honest.  It's along the lines of "Say What" and "I can sing higher", spoofing Sandi Patti.  Any music using soloists or small ensembles needs to be concerned about this tendency, really.  "Aren't you impressed with how high I can sing?"  "Aren't you impressed that my amplifier goes up to 11?", and the like.

That's also part of a possible problem with theater seating; it can, along with other factors, reinforce the notion that the congregation is an audience instead of participants in worship.  It does not in itself prove this, but it can be one factor.  I saw a counter-example of this in a church in Kiel, Germany.  It was originally built in the late 1800s as a "cross-formed" church with masonry pillars and vaulted ceilings, but those were removed by the U.S. Army Air Force in 1944.  So the pastors chose to rebuild the roof with narrow steel columns for support, and then re-arrange seating in circles to allow the congregants to have eye contact and participate in worship with each other.  

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

That's also part of a possible problem with theater seating...can, along with other factors, reinforce the notion that the congregation is an audience instead of participants in worship.  It does not in itself prove this, but it can be one factor.  I saw a counter-example of this in a church in Kiel, Germany.  It was originally built in the late 1800s as a "cross-formed" church with masonry pillars and vaulted ceilings, but those were removed by the U.S. Army Air Force in 1944.  So the pastors chose to rebuild the roof with narrow steel columns for support, and then re-arrange seating in circles to allow the congregants to have eye contact and participate in worship with each other.  

If we're talking about the arrangement or configuration of the seating (as in the latter highlight above) that's one thing; if we're simply talking about standard rows of seating (whether pews, chairs, theater-style seats, or whatever) all facing a platform/pulpit, that's another. 

Say you have 20 rows of seats, all facing the same direction, all facing a platform/pulpit.  I'm still at a loss as to why it would make a difference what type or style of seat those rows consist of.

Would it be the association with the word "theater"?  If that's it, then isn't that just another variation of the fallacy of "guilt by association"?

Would it be different if this style/type of seating had somehow instead been (hypothetically) bestowed with the moniker "church-style seating"?

Bert Perry's picture

Theater seats are defined, properly speaking, not by any assocation with vaudeville, movies, or other theater, but rather by the dividers between the seats.  The dividers are there first structurally, but also for the purpose--to hold your drink or popcorn in the movie theater, or to hold your books in a lecture hall.  

The advantage is uniform seating, and there's no chance of the fire marshal citing you for having too many people there when people sit "cheek to cheek" in the pews.  It's obvious when they're overstuffed, because you've generally got to sit on someone's lap. 

Possible difficulties can be encountered when the actual spacing isn't close to physical size, and because the divider limits the freedom of the person in the seat to rotate to interact with people to his sides, or to the front or back.  As such, the structure of theater seats tends to, above and beyond the orientation of the seats, reinforce the notion of attendees as an audience.  There also may be an effect where people act according to what they see/are sitting in, in the same way that people act differently in the parlour vs. in the family room.  The furniture sends a cue of what is expected.

A possible positive side of theater/auditorium style seating is that it could send the message "here is a place for you to take notes on the sermon".   So it's not monolithic, not absolute, but I would say that seating matters.  What are people used to?  How does it help/inhibit interaction?  Can you be there for an hour, etc..? 

But all that is off topic.  :^)  Sorry!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Possible difficulties can be encountered when the actual spacing isn't close to physical size, and because the divider limits the freedom of the person in the seat to rotate to interact with people to his sides, or to the front or back.  As such, the structure of theater seats tends to, above and beyond the orientation of the seats, reinforce the notion of attendees as an audience.  There also may be an effect where people act according to what they see/are sitting in, in the same way that people act differently in the parlour vs. in the family room.  The furniture sends a cue of what is expected.

.....churches of all types (including IFB) somehow manage to get by with theater-style seating.

I'm attending my church's growing, six-month old 2nd site (serving in various roles).  We're meeting in a school with a 500 seat auditorium, which has theater-style seats.  We greet & talk to others around us, shake hands, heartily sing together [I'll bold that, since I take Challies' point to have been that theater-style seating results in passive congregational singing], and enjoy worshipping and fellowshipping as a congregation.  It's unclear to me what might be enhanced in these regards if we were in an auditorium with a different style of seating.