Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Singing vs. Preaching


Regarding the previous post "Music on Mars," I want to begin a discussion on the power of music in worship. I am amazed at the power of music to lift our spirits and minds into the presence of God--so much so that music (for good and ill) has become almost synonymous with worship. Is this good or bad? Can singing the Word replace traditionally "preaching" the Word? Do we place too much value on music in our worship, or not enough for the 21st-century mind? Why does music have this power?

17 comments:

Allen Hansen said...

Almost nothing is able to invite the Spirit in as quickly and powerfully as music is.
On the other hand, there is a risk of turning all meetings into nothing more than sing-alongs.
The only way to find a proper balance is through prayerfuly seeking the will of the Lord when planning every service. There might be days when it is appropriate to sing more, whilst the week after one of the members might be in need of hearing more scripture and less singing. All our services should be focused on what we can do to bring our flock closer to Christ.
What kind of music should we use? Nothing that distracts from why we have gathered.
I'm reminded of an old Talmudic Jewish tradition. The question was asked, why are the fruits in Jerusalem not as juicy and tasty as the ones grown upon the plains of Genasereth. Because if they were, the worshippers would go to Jerusalem to enjoy the fruit, not serve the Lord with all their heart.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Allen, interesting thoughts. I especially like the Talmudic bit. One question I would have is, must there be a differentiation between "hearing more scripture" and "singing"? Can't this be accomplished simultaneously, and quite beautifully? Great input...thanks for being the first on my blog!

DWP said...

I definitely agree that music is a powerful element in every worship service. For me, much of the power of music is in the fact that singing songs of worship incorporates the entire being of a person in an act of worship. This act of worship proclaims who God is and/or asks of him in some way. It is, as Robert has noted, akin to preaching in one respect, and - as far as I'm concerned - as close to prayer as praying. In fact, I like to think of worship through song as a corporate act of prayer in our services - an opportunity to ask for God's presence together, to ask for his blessing, and to beg him to change us. This is especially the case when appropriate passages of scripture are used as songs of worship.


Could music replace preaching? Maybe. Should it replace preaching? I don't think so. There is an exhortative aspect to preaching that is difficult to convey in song. I think that worship would especially suffer from the lack of the encouragement and exhortation that flows from the text being handled skillfully in corporate worship.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Dwp, I like the association of music with prayer. I (preacher AND music/worship leader) often encourage the congregation to sing a certain song as a prayer.

Regarding the exhortative quality of preaching, I find a great deal of this in lyrics as well. I was just going over "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," and I'm floored by the exhortative power of those words. What's more, the rhyme and rhythm of lyric tend to stick with and haunt the mind long after the worship gathering.

I really think preaching and singing likely complement and push each other. But I do want to press the power of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs a bit further. I wonder what the balance needs to be in 21st-century worship.

Allen Hansen said...

I should have made that clearer. I meant expounding on scripture. A big danger is that if all we do is sing, then one begins to think about songs rather than the message.
Then again, one entire book of the Bible is songs, well, recitative poems at any rate.

Allen Hansen said...

What should the balance be in the 21st century? The same as in any other. Whatever the spirit prompts. Every congregation is different.

Thomas McKenzie said...

The mark of a true church, according to the Reformers, is the Word rightly preached and the Sacraments duly administered. Neither of these require music.

The Spirit is not invited quickly and powerfully by music. The feeling of spiritual presence may be invoked. But the Spirit is always here, more present than we are, invited or not. And he is especially present in Word and Sacrament. Neither of which, once again, require music.

Music is unnecessary to Christian worship.

That said, music has been a part of Christian worship since the beginning, as it was in Jewish worship. Music is a blessing. Music should be used in worship. But it can not replace worship, neither should it be equated with worship.

It is a wonderful aide to worship, and I deeply respect those who can lead the musical element of worship well. But the power of our faith is in the Holy Spirit.

Music can not replace the preaching of the Word, or the administration of the Sacraments, if a church is to remain faithful to the Gospel.

robert c. pelfrey said...

I agree with Thomas that the Spirit is always here and is not invited more quickly by music. We are the ones who NEED the music, the Spirit just ENJOYS the music!

I also stand staunchly with the Reformers (and Thomas) in the church's worship being the Word rightly preached and sacraments duly administered. However, it is that preaching of the Word that I am after. Is it possible to "rightly preach the Word" in song--e.g. chant, the rhythm of the black Pentecostal experience, the lyrical content of the Mass etc.?

I can't go so far as to say music is "not necessary to Christian worship." I am not aware of any healthy music-less worship in scripture or church tradition. If one is only dealing with strict reason then, no, music is not exactly "necessary" to some sort of textbook definition of worship, maybe like emotion is not necessary for a textbook definition of sex. But I would not want to worship too long without it--music, that is.

However, I've also been in MANY worship services in which the music was bland and lifeless and seemed more of a detriment than a help to worship. What of that?

Lance said...

As in every other aspect of your realtionship with God, the balance between sung and preached Word is entirely a personal matter. For me, music is much more moving than preaching. You have to find the balance within yourself. Perhaps God makes us this way for a reason. In my job I am in a truck by myself for six or seven hours a day listening to music. Christian or not, music is a much bigger part of my life than speaking. For others who are in closer contact with others on a daily basis, preaching may mean more. Either way, both have an essential place in worship.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Lance is hitting on one of my reasons for this line of inquiry. I know so many people--it seems the bulk of younger generations--who "get more out of" and, certainly, better remember hymns and songs than sermons. In my own Methodist tradition, the Wesleys recognized this in the 18th century, which was why they took such care to compose and compile hymns to teach doctrine and the Word.

Will Cotton said...

As a preacher-musician, I am tempted to become the Ken Medema style preacher who uses his music to preach. But he does that as a concert artist, not as a preacher. In other words, preaching flavors his concert work. If he did that every Sunday in the same church, people would tire of him. The expectations of Sunday morning for the preacher to "herald the good news" is very real, so music becomes a great way to do that on occasion. I also like to sing a chorus or verse of a hymn to involve the congregation with me. If I am honest that may do more for people than when I do a sermon in song (I do that about once a year). I guess I am saying that music can flavor the preaching for the pastor, just as preaching flavors Medema's concerts.

I am also reminded of Tony Campolo's gig of African-
American preaching at a Houston event, when he said the preacher starts singing when he/she feels he's losing his/her audience. There were many African-American preachers there and they laughed out loud, admitting having done that. To be fair, anglo preachers just tend to talk louder.

Music does get where spoken words often cannot. It can help involve people in the preaching moment. I don't find it very helpful in the teaching aspect of preaching. As a musician, the temptation to overuse music in preaching can be like the mythical sirens tempting me to my demise. That's overstating it some, but not too much.

Will Cotton

Mitch Wilson said...

Being an United Methodist, I believe that music does have power and is an important element in worship. I can't imagine an United Methodist service without music. For me, it helps to get me to center myself on God and the worship experience. It invites the Spirit into the service and helps to direct our hearts, minds, ears, and spirits/souls to God and worship. However, music must never take the place of the sermon. Music may have a message within its lyrics and be able to stir the soul, but there is nothing like the sermon. The sermon awakens me to God's purpose and will in and for my life and that of the world around me. The sermon calls me to service in both the Church and the world/society. The sermon reveals who God is. The sermon illuminates the mysteries and truths of the Scriptures and Tradition.

robert c. pelfrey said...

I'm sensing a general icing-cake thing here, especially articulated by Will but peeking through the rest. Traditional preaching being the more substantive cake, and songs and hymns being the tasty icing. Too much cake becomes dry and bland, and too much icing becomes thin and rotting. Either extreme loses the balance of the whole.

However, despite what we preachers would like to think, the general trend toward people "getting more out of" the music than the sermons is only growing. I think it merely shows the growing necessity for preachers to craft sermons that are contextually relevant, scripturally faithful, and passionately written and preached. Also, and perhaps even more, it shows the need for hymn- and songwriters to craft songs that are contextually relevant, scripturally faithful, theologically/doctrinally informed, and lyrically excellent. Perhaps the answer isn't to choose, but to do all things better--as to the glory of God!

The question that might arise from this is, when are we pandering for attention and when are we truly being "relevant"?

Emily Suzanne said...

Oh, I'm excited to start reading your blog... I can't wait to read what you write and how you piss people off (well of course AND challenge people in a good way... )
:)

This will be fun!! I'll add you to my blog!!
Are you enjoying Abilene?

Kristin Pink said...

I think it doesn't matter as long as the word is still as significant as it should be and your still loving jesus the same. I love both tactics so I don't think we should argue over it. I love praise music but there is nothing wrong with preaching to others about god too. As long as the message is out it shouldn't matter.

robert c. pelfrey said...

I think Kristin is on to something regarding message. Might it be true that WHAT we say is more important than HOW we say it (within reason, of course)?

Thomas McKenzie said...

The greatest abiding sin of the American church is consumerism.

I don't care what people "get more out of." It is not up to the individual and what he or she likes or doesn't like. The Church forms around Jesus and proclaims Him in Word and Sacrament. I really think the rest is, in my dear friend Robert's words, "icing."

I may have Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day, and there is no music. Kind of sucks, maybe not much fun, but Jesus is lifted up.

On another point:
If you can actually form a sermon into a song, go for it. My guess is that it will either be bad music or a bad sermon, most likely both. There are people who sort of sing their sermons, but these aren't songs. They are more like methods of tonal delivery.

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