Responding to An Open Letter to Praise Bands

I came across a blog today titled, ‘An Open Letter to Praise Bands,’ written by James K.A. Smith, a professor at Calvin College. In his blog he lists 3 problems he sees with worship music in churches today, and they are:

  1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.
  2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.
  3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

While I wholeheartedly agree with his statements on worship, there is some refining of them I would like to see, as someone who leads worship. I completely agree with his first statement, you shouldn’t need ear plugs at a church. If the congregation can’t hear themselves it encourages people to become much more focused on themselves than the body around them, who they are there to encourage through their singing (Ephesians 5:19).

The second point I also agree with, but would refine some. Different congregations have different styles of music they prefer to do. Now, with the internet, when you go to most churches today, you’ll typically recognize a couple of the songs, but every church has their own unique gifts and styles, especially in urban contexts. One church I went to did old Gospel songs that I didn’t recognize, but everyone else in the church loved! Another place I’ve been used rap as worship for a couple songs. The other issue I have with this is some of the push back I’ve gotten from elderly people where I serve. Some of the older people will use this as an excuse to not sing some of the songs on a Sunday. I would encourage people to listen to the songs we sing on Sundays outside of Sunday so they can sing along. And finally, introducing a new song can often be difficult for people to grasp, so I will often sing a verse and chorus so people can figure out a song, then repeat it and encourage the congregation to sing along.

Finally, the third point is the one I would most refine. Part of the reason I like to lead from the front so people can see me is so that they can know when their supposed to be singing. It’s always awkward when there’s one person with an especially loud voice who doesn’t know when the next verse starts, so they jump right in then sheepishly look around. Yes, I do want to model what it looks like to worship through music, but I also want to show the congregation when they are supposed to sing along. One of the things that I think is incredible helpful for this issue is to make sure what is being said is focused on God. This can be done by including pertinent Scripture passages during musical interludes, or having someone use that time to praise an attribute of God that the song talks about.

Honestly, it is very hard to not make it about myself and try to use music as a way for me to build myself up, so I pray before every service that I make God’s name great, and pray the same prayer of John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.” I want to model to the congregation what it means to worship, but then apply that worship to my whole life as I conform myself into the image of God’s Son, Jesus.

“You cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God Himself.”

-D.A. Carson

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