Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Essay: "Memo to worship bands"

This gent makes the case that the concept of a congregation listening to a few singers and musicians (while not being able to hear themselves) is not in keeping the the Reformation.


Michelle said...

With the word "worship" in your heading, I'll take this opportunity to share that sovereigngracemusic.org has an excellent sale on for the month of Feb. Their Together for the Gospel Live cd (taken from the last conference and released in Dec 08) is just $ 6.00. It is wonderful, theology-rich, inspiring, worshipful music. They are also offering three T4G Live tracks for free MP3 download.

Such a contrast to a youth rally we attended this past Friday night that looked, sounded and felt like a rock concert and left my ears ringing into Saturday.

DJP said...

All in known languages?

Doug Hibbard said...

Wait a minute...you mean copying the world's method of getting down and having a good time might not be how I should be doing church?

And to think I was going to preach from my unicycle this Sunday!

An important thing to remember in the sound room: Sometimes more isn't better. Sometimes, it's just more. (from the 90s remake of Sabrina)

Michelle said...

It sounds all English to me, Dan. Any non-cessationists who may have slipped past the T4G bouncers are indistinguishable.

Michelle said...

Correction: non-cessationists would, of course, have be more than welcome.

RT said...

I don't know if it is "Reformed" or not. I do know it is typically in poor taste, musically insipid and not conducive to congregational participation - and it is remarkably pervasive. A year ago I visited a Christian Missionary Alliance church and - there it was - the mediocre rock band imitation blaring away while my stunned parents and the rest of the graying congregation stood staring at huge video monitors vaguely muttering the banal and repetitive words of the choruses that had been thrust upon them. A month or two later I attended a Roman Catholic christening and - there it was - what simply had to be the same band blaring the same sadly off-key tripe that I had heard at my parents' church. Then, to complete the humiliation I visited my brother's charismatic Episcopal church (don't, if you value your health, even try to imagine such an animal) and - yes - the same annoying band had apparently travelled all the way across country just to ruin my Sunday with its amplified mediocrity. Whatever happened to the Great Hymns of the Church?

I continue to take refuge in my own theologically inadequate Episcopal church-building largely because I simply cannot stand "worship" as it seems to exist in Protestant (not to mention Catholic) churches today. And hymn singing IS important and valuable. A good book on the subject that I am reading - "Wonderful Words of Life." I highly recommend it.

Rachael Starke said...

I participate fairly regularly as a vocalist in our worship team, and we sing a lot of Sovereign Grace, Gettys and reworked hymns (all in the Queen's English, Dan, you rascal!). Our musicians are really skilled, and our music pastor is both really skilled and really thoughtful about having and applying a God-honoring theology of music.

And we are still, some Sundays, IMHO, really, really loud.

You think it's loud in the congregation? Try being two feet away from the drums, and six inches away from the electric guitarist.

But then again, the congregation is almost as loud as the band. And given that our basic philosophy of music is "to proclaim the gospel in our music with as much depth and skill as the preaching", I think that's why. We sing about the gospel first, and then we hear about it, and then we sing about it again.

Which is good.

But my 7 y.o. still occasionally has to cover her ears to muffle things.

Which isn't that good.

Rachael Starke said...

Oh, and for the record, I'm sure that this:

to proclaim the gospel in our music with as much depth and skill as the preaching"

could be read, ahem, many ways. At our particular church, this is our music pastor's way of setting a very, very high standard.

Can't vouch so much for elsewhere. :)

DJP said...

I will say, colorlessly and beyond argument, that the only other congregational voice I can hear in church is my wife's. To me, that's a good thing as far as it goes. It is my favorite voice to hear singing. But is it the only voice I should hear? (Beside the worship team?)

Alert readers will note, I am only noting and asking, not criticizing nor advocating.

threegirldad said...

Whatever happened to the Great Hymns of the Church?

They were boring. And they didn't satisfy modern tastes.

Hadn't you heard???

Susan said...
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Susan said...

Sorry, all, I quickly deleted my comment above because I realized that I made a dumb mistake. I had responded to one of the comments when I realized that I had mistaken the commenter for someone else. Anyway, my favorite quote from the essay was:

"Do not compensate for mediocrity by amping it up to MEDIOCRITY."


mikepettengill said...

Those darn kids and their loud rock music!

No sarcasm intended here...I know, shocking...I wonder if it is a tone thing. When I am in church singing I can here 50%+ of the individual voices.

But, don't forget the corporate worship part...one blissful voice raising together

Kaffinator said...

Bah. If Mr. Stackhouse doesn't like the mix, he should get behind the board instead of whining about it.

Good music: it's hard. God bless the worship teams out there who are trying their best.

P.D. Nelson said...

Bravo regarding the article however I must point out that Mr. Stackhouse is perpetuating a myth regarding Luther creating hymns from drinking songs. For your reading pleasure:

Connie said...

One of the distinctives we first noticed and continue to enjoy today (10 yrs. later) about our church is we are not afraid to sing. By that I mean, most of the people are willing to sing clearly--as well as God has enabled them to--and thoughtfully.

So, since our sanctuary is on the small side, it would make VERY little sense for our musicians to try and 'out sing' us--still, with the current trends in and emphasis on "praise and worship teams/bands" that may well become a legitimate danger.

Connie said...

Dan: "All known languages?" LOL!!!!!!!!!!!! Wish I'd said that! :-)

CR said...

Okay, well, I have to say I love our worship team. So, I'm not bothered. Also, I guess, my voice is terrible. I've tried singing in our Bible studies when there are a few of us, and most of our voices are sad. Hate to say it.

In our Friday meetings, oh, boy, it's even worse.

The reality is, I sing louder when my voice is accompanied by a choir because my pathetic voice doesn't ruin it. So, the fact that I can sing louder from my lungs with a choir in a background helps.

I've also been in churches where there isn't much of choir to speak of but the building is acoustically friendly and there are more people.

The thing to remember is, worship is about the Lord, when there is a good choir like ours, I sing from lungs, but when there isn't a choir, I lower my volume because of my awful voice. In a perfect world, I would sing loudly no matter if there is a choir, but dude, you haven't heard my voice.

(Worse, you haven't heard Pastor's singing when he's accidentally left his mic on)!!!

Carol Jean said...
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Carol Jean said...

Well, the guy is the "Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada," so we should heed what he has to say!

We recently left a church that was experimenting with various worship styles. The hoary-headed saints did not find the louder-than-a-rock-concert worship music amusing, and some threatened to stop tithing until they got the respect they deserved (lovely attitude, I know!). The church ended up offering the screamer service (complete with strobe lights) for the younger set, the all-hymns-all-the-time service for the older-than-dirt set, and a Catholic-style service for those who were missing the mass of their youth. The younger set never more had to rub elbows with the pesky old people and vice versa.

The big problem I've seen with the rock concert services (and I've been to a bunch of them) is that, if you look around, there are many, many people not participating. They are spectators, because it's basically a concert. In addition, many of the songs that are sung are repetitive choruses, repeating the same lines, hypnotically, over and over again. Seems like since we're commanded not to pray that way, we ought to at least think about our worship in that context and question whether it's appropriate (think the bread song: oh ohhhhh, let it rise....)

Susan said...

CR said: "The thing to remember is, worship is about the Lord, when there is a good choir like ours, I sing from lungs, but when there isn't a choir, I lower my volume because of my awful voice. In a perfect world, I would sing loudly no matter if there is a choir, but dude, you haven't heard my voice."

No, no, CR. Breathe and sing from your diaphragm, bro! (Take it from an ex-choir member....)

chrish said...

I might be thick, but it seems Mr Stackhouse's issue is with volume. If this is the case, mentioning the volume to whomever is running the sound board at the back should suffice.

Many people do not realise that what the sound technician (can I mention, tangentially, that I strongly believe those sound folk are serving as well with their own skills? Go thank yours this Sunday) often hears things at a different volume than the rest of the congregation, due to his/her location. Such is the case at my church.

If the worship group is too loud, speak to the sound board and to the worship leader. If it is musical style, you may need to simply get over it. If, however, it is the theology of the song - "great hymns of our faith" included - then it's time to speak to the elders.

Just my two cents. From a worshipper, bass player, and sound tech.

chrish said...

By "get over it," of course, I mean that you should seek to incorporate a variety of musical styles, bearing with each other's tastes. As long as it's just a preference for piano over guitar, I don't see any reason the two cannot co-exist in a Bible-believing, praise-singing church.

CR said...

It is kinda hard to breathe from an internal main organ, huh? I'm as ignorant of biology as I am of music! :=)

Susan said...

Easier than you think.... :)

threegirldad said...

Those darn kids and their loud rock music!

I remember at least a couple of times during my teenage/young adult years when I popped in a classical music CD and cranked it up. Naturally, it only took about 2 seconds for someone to say, "Turn that down! It's too loud!" To which I replied (after turning it down, of course), "If it's too loud, you're too old."

Here's a question for you: do you suppose that the courtesy of "turning it down" ever went the other direction? Three guesses; first two don't count.

If it is musical style, you may need to simply get over it...By "get over it," of course, I mean that you should seek to incorporate a variety of musical styles, bearing with each other's tastes.

Thanks for the clarification. I say that you have it exactly right.

Funny thing, though (or not funny, depending on how you look at it): in my experience, this comment is never made to the people who "just can't stand" those stuffy old hymns. Why is that?

DJP said...

CR - I love everyone on our "worship team," too.

All sorts of people - the writer's point, I think, isn't that the music is too loud, period. It is that when the music and a few singers drown out the effect of corporate singing, it's a "miss."

Al said...

Only slightly off topic, perhaps grace will be shown...

I have often heard or read, as in this article, that Luther took drinking songs and turned the tunes into hymns. I think this is simply a misunderstanding of the musical term “bar form,” which has to do with the number of stanzas in the music and nothing to do with demon likker. I am open to correction here.

One other thing… the author writes as if this was a new phenomena. I attended a Ray Boltz sing fest at a church up in Bangor Maine in the 1990’s. He started it off by asking us if we liked contemporary music. We all yelled “Heck, yeah!” He then yelled back, “Do you like your music loud?!?” Boy, did we; well except for all the elderly folks who had to leave about half way through his performance. Hearing “Thank You” cranked up to Who levels is actually more disturbing than the actual lyrics to that little homage to self-absorption.

Al sends

Solameanie said...

You mean I can't rattle chairs across a concrete floor with Taurus bass pedals? Oh, yeah. I forgot. I'm in church. (smile)

It's funny, because I like rock as a genre. But the older I get, I like it less and less in church. It's hard to get in a worshipful frame of mind when you have multiple Sabian cymbal crashes in your ear.

chrish said...


Oh, I make that comment all the time. Being a youth leader provides me ample opportunity to "inflict" the great hymns on them. :) And, since I love them myself, I take every opportunity I can.

beachbirdie said...

Chrish said If the worship group is too loud, speak to the sound board and to the worship leader.

Many people tried this in our former church over the years, all were told "if you don't like it, maybe you'd like xyz church up the road." The "worship" leader was hired for the purpose of shaking things up, and he sure did. Interesting to note that one of the worship team members did develop hearing issues after about a year. No one connects it to the volume of the band.

The last few months we attended there I simply didn't attend the music portion of the service anymore. I found all manner of excuses NOT to be in the sanctuary during "worship". When I was discussing my purpose-driven problems with the pastor, and the loud music (physically painful to my ears!) came up, I got the above-mentioned invitation to try another church.

Before our worship leader was hired, I was pianist/keyboardist with our worship team. I always had a deep swell of joy when we would start the first song on a Sunday morning; the sound of all the congregation singing to the Lord was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. To all of you who are self-conscious about your voices, I have to tell you that you should not worry. Our worship is to the Lord, and he hears us all beautifully blended when our hearts are honoring Him.

chrish said...


I'm sorry you had that experience. Really and truly, that's a response I would never expect to hear from a pastor who is to tend the flock (so to speak).

I've also encouraged the people who maybe don't sing well to make a joyful noise (clapping in time is a nice sound as well).

DJP said...

(clapping in time is a nice sound as well).

...excluding most white people....

trogdor said...

To me, the issue isn't noise level per se, it's when the music team shifts from worship leaders to performers. Excessive volume is one symptom, of course, but there are other ways to send the message that they're putting on a show for us and wow, aren't they awesome!

My completely unscientific survey shows a strong correlation between performance-instead-of-worship and performance-instead-of-preaching. Which does go with one of the points of the article. Pre-Reformation, church music became performance beyond the common person, and scripture was strictly off-limits to the peons. The Reformers worked to get scripture and music back in the hands of commoners. Now supposed worship leaders put on a show, and so do supposed preachers. I'm not thinking it's a coincidence.

Besides, if you're going to try to be an awesome "worship" band, you're going to fall far short of the standard.

Stefan said...

Sister Carol Jean:

Hey, don't knock Regent College, please. John Stackhouse is a well-published evangelical author, and his professorial chair was previously occupied by J.I. Packer, who taught full-time at Regent College from 1979 until his recent retirement, and is not a Board of Governors' Professor there. Another former faculty member (and now Professor Emeritus) at the same institution is the Old Testament scholar Bruce K. Waltke. (The College also counts Eugene Peterson of The Message among its Emeriti—hey, Frank likes to quote from it sometimes.)

Despite its liberal reputation, Vancouver is actually a pocket of conservative evangelicalism. We are now blessed with two pastors in this city who are in the Gospel Coalition (one at one of the largest small-r reformed churches on the continent [4,000 attendees on weekends], the other at one of the leading churches in the traditionalist Anglican movement), as well as Regent College, a well-attended annual Missons Festival, and many more smaller churches being salt and light in an otherwise desolate spiritual wilderness. (And my dad is bigger than your dad, so there.)

As for the substance of Professor Stackhouse's article, I'm of mixed feelings. I personally have more conservative and restrained (I wouldn't have the hubris to say "refined") tastes than prevail in the contemporary evangelical movement, even among the reformed community. I wouldn't mind a little lower volume in the sound system, but it's all for the praise and glory of God.

Stefan said...

Packer "is not a Board of Governors' Professor" ==> Packer "is now a Board of Governors' Professor."

Sorry, I guess I get peeved when someone writes us off up here because we're not Louisville, Minneapolis, or Sun Valley.

Julie said...


Trying to support your statement that Vancouver "is actually a pocket of conservative evangelicalism" using MissionFest 2009 - with Tony Campolo as the headliner speaker - is making my brain hurt.

Stefan said...


I didn't attend this year, and didn't know Mr. Campolo was the headliner.

Okay, I stand my most of my last comment.

Michelle said...

Funny you should say that, Julie, as it was the youth rally at Vancouver's Missions Fest last Friday night that left my ears ringing into Saturday :).

Missions Fest this year also had a speaker from Reasons to Believe, which puts forth an old-earth theory and denies a literal 6 day creation.

There are land mines all over the place out there, but God has some good guys stationed here, you're right, Stefan!

Stefan said...

One of the organizers of Missions Fest lives in my Mom's building. Little beknownst to me, she was praying for all of us in the building for years, way back when I was a young, rebellious atheist—and God did intervene in my life pretty dramatically during that time.

But I don't think she's the one who chooses the speakers and performers....

Libbie said...

It's drums. Drummers are terrible.


I think the issue is definitely the culture of 'performance'. I blogged about this ages ago, and it simply seems to me that the more we try and fit church into this odd entertainment mode, with a band and sound system, and love songs to Jesus that sound like they've been cribbed from Take That, the more likely it is that we will suffer from the same problems that the world does in those arenas.

FYI, I am deaf in my left ear, and the only reason is spending a long time working in nightclubs and bars with music blaring at stupid decibels, and not wearing earplugs. Anyone who is so uncaring about the health of their flock that they would tell people who mentioned the decibel level to leave, clearly isn't likely to give a monkey's about their spiritual state either.

Julie said...


Sorry, I didn't sound very gracious - had to break off mid-reply. There are a great many wonderful people in Vancouver :0)

And Libby, funny you should mention the decibel level. In a way that's a separate issue from the whole performance model (which I would object to, even if the volumes were lower), but speaking of volume...

One of my three sons is "HoH" - Hard of Hearing. Actually, he has profound hearing loss in one ear, and a moderate to severe loss in his "good" ear. (He has a progressive, sensori-nerual loss, from birth.) You can imagine that I am concerned about preserving the hearing he has left.

And, though sound has to be amplified for him to hear it at all (he wears a hearing aid in his "good" ear), loud noise can still damage the residual hearing.

The volume of the worship team at our former church gave me headaches, and my pleas to the worship team, sound guys, ushers, etc to please turn it down fell on proverbially (?) deaf ears.

I did my research on environmental hearing loss, bought a decibel meter, and made my own observations. My conclusion? If OSHA considered the "worship service" a work place, we'd all be required to wear hearing protection!

And I still got no response.

BTW, I always said I would not leave a church over music, and although that contributed to our 'removal', that was not the sum total of our reasoning.

Honestly, we don't believe we left the church... the church left us.

Carol Jean said...

@ Stephan: No offense was meant. Actually, I just thought "Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor" was a really cool name, having never heard it before.

@ Libbie: You just KNOW performance is an issue when you see what I did today: A church marquee (this church meets in an old movie theater)with this message: "Worship Band Auditions Friday" Blech.

Stefan said...

Carol Jean:

I'm sorry for having gotten my hackles up like that.


I still do feel kind of silly mentioning Missions Fest, if the keynote speaker was Tony Campolo.

DJP said...

I just think it sounds silly to say "Campolo."

I mean, just listen to yourself: Cam PO LO. Cam PO LO.

Carol Jean said...

CamPOLO - Can POMO. Thread hijacked. Going away now.

Libbie said...

Well, if we're doing silly tangents, is it just me that can see Tony Campolo doing Jimmy Durante songs whenever he speaks?

BTW, I think volume is at least related to the performance thing, especially when the performance is by rock/pop band style music. I know that gigantuous organs can make things shake, too, of course. But you don't often find the same sustained time 'sung worship' section in churches that use that sort of musical accompaniment.

Julie said...

I'm not tech-wise enough to know how to make a link in a comment, but there's a humorous but all-to-true commentary on the contemporary worship music experience in an article by a guy named Ken Collins.

I don't know his theology, so you can edit this out if it's way off the mark, but I happened upon this article several months ago.


He's talking about what my pastor calls "7-11 choruses" - 7 words 11 times. (eyes rolling)

Seth said...

I agree with the author about Luther, but didn't reformers like Zwingli and Calvin ban music in church? If we were in keeping with the Reformation, would we be signing at all?

Aaron said...

I used to think that hymns were boring. But after I matured as a Christian and an adult, I began to realize the wonderful theology contained within the hymns. Additionally, they're easy to follow along with even for a poor singer like myself. I stopped listening to anything other than "Christian" music some years back so I enjoy a good Christian band. But there's a time and place for everything and certain forms of singing are just not conducive to corporate worship.