Hearing Familiar Words in a Fresh Way

Featuring Bob Kauflin Posted on January 10, 2011

Musical variety enables us to hear the same words with different effect. “Amazing Grace” has a different emotional impact when it's accompanied by a black gospel choir, a large orchestra, a sustained synthesizer chord, or a lone acoustic guitar.

Hymns are especially suited for innovative treatments that help us hearthe words from a new perspective. Moving beyond traditional tunes and arrangements shouldn't bother us too much since most hymns were written without music, and a favorite tune only emerged over time.

At my home church, we regularly reharmonize songs or write original melodies for hymns to help people hear the lyrics in a different way. We alsotry singing songs just like they were sung centuries ago.

Sometimes old is new. Sometimes old is better.

Recognizing God's Heart for All People

Musical variety communicates God's heart for all generations, cultures, and races. We don't use different music because we want to keep everyone happy or because we're aiming for a “blended” service. It's the gospel that blends us together, not music.

As Michael Hamilton reminds us:

It is fruitless to search for a single musical style, or even any blend of musical styles, that can assist all Christians with true worship. The followers of Jesus are a far too diverse group of people—which is exactly as it should be. We need, rather, to welcome any worship music that helps churches produce disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to welcome the experimental creativity that is always searching out new ways of singing the gospel, and banish the fear that grips us when familiar music passes away.

To demonstrate this point one year we used a different style of music every Sunday for an entire month. We called it, “It's Not About the Music.” The first Sunday felt very much like a traditional Presbyterian service. I gave a message on the role of music in congregational worship, followed by theLord's Supper and a benediction. The next Sunday focused on world music,using songs from a variety of cultures. We followed that with Hispanic Sunday,then Bluegrass/Country Sunday with banjo, fiddle, and harmonica. We finished up with a black gospel/R&B/rap Sunday, led by a choir. Although purists might quibble with the authenticity of each style, no one missed the message. Each musical style brought a different emphasis to the praise that God so richly deserves.

I realize that demonstrating musical diversity depends on a number offactors, including the size of your church, the training and talent of your musicians, and your budget. But in our rapidly shrinking world it's even more important that we at least teach on the importance of this diversity. Christ's command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth should inform and shape our theology of musical worship. It's unwise and unbiblical to think that churches in Bolivia, Indonesia, Uganda, and elsewhere must conform to anAmerican's definition of “appropriate” worship music.

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