When we were surveying the congregation about adding another service, one of our active young adults made an interesting comment. It was (paraphrased) that “churches that do [contemporary music] have a ridiculous, unbelievable message. The music is a bribe, and we don’t need that.”
Let’s unpack that sentiment. There’s an underlying connection made between worship style and theological content that is disappointing.
First, the speaker recognizes that music is a Good Thing, that it can be used as a reward to entice someone into doing something otherwise undesirable. So far, so good.
Next, there is the widely-held belief that contemporary music is only used by people without theological depth (whatever that may mean to us).
And finally, that we UUs live by the intellect alone – we don’t need that emotional stuff because our mojo is strong and we live in our heads.
Say what? Yes, naturally I agree music is a good thing. It is a different experience than reading, or looking, or even listening to carefully structured words. Music is a language (see previous post). Music can convey emotion without the intermediation of words. Making music together synchronizes the brains and nervous systems of the participants into united intentional action. Music reaches parts of your brain that are inaccessible to words.
And so, would we want worship without music? Indeed, does anyone anywhere worship without music? In the universal quest to experience something transcendent, music is uniquely able to turn off the “monkey mind” and get us there fast. As far as I know, music is universally used as part of worship.
So, why the stigma that “contemporary worship music” is inevitably wedded to shallow theology? Disagree with Rick Warren on whatever you wish, but don’t call him shallow. He thinks hard about his faith and then challenges his congregation to do the same. Among the many worship styles at his church, there is some kicking contemporary music. And of course he is not alone in this. (Conversely, I have heard some incredibly shallow sermons in very traditional worship settings.)
Likewise, may I point out that UUs don’t have any corner on depth. If you’re honest, you must admit you’ve heard some pretty thin sermonizing at some time or another, even from usually reliably wonderful UU preachers. Nobody is “on” all the time, and some ministers have more inherent depth than others. Some don’t ask themselves every week “how can I bring the congregation to a turning point in their lives today?”, and some don’t have it in them to accomplish that even if they do ask it.
Conclusion: traditional worship doesn’t lend a sermon depth any more than contemporary style takes it away. In fact, our traditional and contemporary services feature the exact same sermon every week. Form and content are largely independent of each other.
All this is a way of noting that musical and worship styles have no inherent link to theology. Sorry if I’m shouting the obvious, but the statement I opened with shows that some people still don’t get that.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get back to discussing why contemporary worship style can get the message to people faster.