Monday, November 3, 2008

In Stereo on the Radio

Christian Radio. Christian Music. Worship Music. Do you like it? Do you hate it? There are a lot of opinions floating around out there, most of them very strong in nature.

Here are some of my personal thoughts, whatever they are worth. Being a worship leader (although I prefer the term lead worshipper) and a musician of some sort, I have a LOT of thoughts here. Of course they are shaped by my past, so I should fill you in a little on my Personal Music History. Cool. I like that term. When Beth and Frank's School of Worship Music comes into existence, that's one of the classes I'll teach.

I grew up listening to CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). While my friends were jammin' to Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, I liked Amy Grant. No NKOTB for me, please, I loved Michael W. Smith. I appreciated the bible stories sung by Michael Card and deep spiritual essence of Rich Mullins. My parents never put a hard and fast ban on "secular" radio stations or music. I listened to some of it while at friend's houses. How else would I secretly come to love Poison? But I genuinely liked CCM as a kid. Even as a teenager, I gravitated to Christian bands like DC Talk, Guardian, PFR, All Star United, The Waiting and the like. I usually felt a little ignorant when my friends knew all the words to MC Hammer songs at dances, but other than that, I was OK and knew enough of the stuff on the radio(and liked it) to keep from being a total social outcast. I have always liked a wide variety of music. Even Country.

On the worship music side of things, our church sang hymns and worship choruses from the good ol' 70's and 80's. I really liked it. I loved music and to sing in general, so any chance to sing to God was a good thing. I sang solos to "trax" for special music, played piano for the offering, and sang in the choir. My mom led the choir and was the "Worship Coordinator" for a good chunk of my childhood/teenagehood, and she did awesome things in the context of the traditional music the church wanted to do. But I felt like I truly worshipped through music for the first time at a Jr. High winter retreat with my youth group. There was this guy with a guitar...I had never sung to God to a GUITAR before! This pretty much blew my little 7th grade mind. I still vividly remember singing "Step By Step" by Rich Mullins and realizing for the first time how much God loved ME, how he wanted to lead ME, and that I desperately wanted to follow Him. Especially if it meant I could sing to a guitar.

So through the bumps and painful bruises of being an older teenager and college student, where you hate everything you ever loved, I went through periods of disliking CCM for it's "uncoolness" in sound, it's "overproduced fluff," and developed a slight disdain for the Christian music "industry." Yada yada. My sister, who has incredible taste in music, also introduced me to some really great obscure bands inside and outside Christian music, and I did the usual young adult thing of exploring music that I'd previously never had heard much of. I went to concerts and festivals like Cornerstone that made me realize how broad Christian culture was outside of small town Indiana.

I also got the chance to be in worship "bands" for the first time in college. One summer I decided to learn to play guitar because the guy who led worship in one college ministry graduated, and no one else knew how. So for a year, this group of students had to endure my first forays into leading worship accompanied by bad guitar strumming. Never mind that I had years and years of piano under my belt. I HAD to lead with guitar. Most everything was in the key of G, which is an easy key to play guitar in, but a horrible key for me to sing in. I sincerely apologize to anyone in that group. I also started playing with the Campus Crusade band. We were a campus without full time Crusade staff, so we were left to our own devices on how to do worship. We ended up with a mix of some pretty cool new choruses and favorite hymns accompanied by three badly strummed guitars and a couple singers. After a couple years some new and better talent emerged, and we had a real band-like experience. I went back to playing keyboard after realizing I would not be the next great gift to guitar. God gave us BJ, who was an international student from Korea who had a hipper sense of music than the rest of us combined. He brought us all kinds of great new worship music. He had the heart of a true worship leader. I learned so much from him about having an attitude of worship. God also gave us my future husband, Frank. He was an actual music student who had played in actual bands before. He could fill in where ever there was a need-drums, bass, guitar, keys, vocals, clarinet, kazoo- and do it with humility and pretty much kick the rest of our butts musically.

So where was I going with this post? I got way too into Beth's Personal Music History. Anyway, fast forward time. Frank and Beth get married. They enter the real world of work. They enter Crossroads Community Church in Sullivan, Indiana. They realize instantly this is the church for them because they've never been to a church where they have screaming guitar solos in worship. They start playing for Crossroads. They learn a LOT about the limitlessness of worship music- worship can pretty much come in any style and any tempo. They learn a lot about being the best you can as a part of a whole band and dying to self. Frank and Beth form their own Christian band of sorts, Behind Four Walls. They have a lot of fun playing at gigs attended by less than 40 people. They record some of their own music and still have delusions of "making it big" someday. They open for Barlow Girl once. They have a kid and disband. They join the worship band Thirsty. They have a lot of fun playing at gigs with less than 100 people. They play on the same stage on the same day as Sonic Flood. They have another kid and have to leave Thirsty. They think maybe they're supposed to be worship leaders and not rock stars but never seem to find the right position at the right church. Then this couple from Louisiana comes to visit Crossroads and tells them about how they want to plant a church in Terre Haute...

So all of these experiences came to prepare us to be the leaders in worship at HealingPointe Community Church. And to begin with, we were pretty good at doing cool God songs and worship songs. We had the stage act down pat. I would say we were decent entertainers and sometimes pretty good at worship, too. But that's just it. The production of it all still was held above the worship aspect. I would care more about getting the notes and the words right rather than making sure I worshipped. But as we've gone through the ups and downs of starting this church, and as we've grown a lot as Christians, I think both Frank and I have discovered that worshipping God comes first. We both did some extensive study in the Bible about it. We both had to put the entertainer persona on the back burner and realize that no one in our church was going to worship unless we did. And sometimes that means doing uncomfortable things for me like raising my hands when the Holy Spirit prompts me to. I will look goofy in front of others if that's what God wants. I'm there to please Him, not others or myself, and that usually means getting out of my comfort zone. It means not showing off all the time and being simple so that others can sing along with us. Yeah...things like that.

So with all that in mind, when Christian people go bashing Christian music and Christian radio and how worship music all sounds the same and is so trite and horrible, I don't quite understand it. I love a lot of it, but not all of it. With any music, some of it is good, some of it is not, but that's only my opinion. But I figure even the songs I can't stand and the songs I hear played again and again and again and get sick of...those songs may speak to someone about God and draw them closer to Him in some way. So why be a hater? Who am I to say that God's not going to use something just because I don't happen to like the sound or the radio station it's played on? God can use a song or an artist whose intentions are far from Godly. God can use a song with the cheesiest of lyrics and three chords if the heart of the person is to worship Him. God can use a song even if the artist is faking Christianity, cheated on his wife and did drugs the day he wrote it, and makes a billion dollars off of the song anyway. I'm not going to limit God. It all has to do with attitude of the listener. If your intention is to worship and draw close to God, the style of song has absolutely nothing to do with worship. That is still a hard thing to get through MY head, but it's true. If the lyrics honor God and hold fast to what's presented in the Bible, I say, bring it on! Let's worship!


Lisa Joy said...

Thanks for sharing your "Personal Music History"! I found your roots and beginnings to be much the same as my own...although I don't have the talent that you have, so I haven't been able to pursue the performance aspect as much as you. At any rate, it's interesting the journeys we Christians go through on things like this. If someone had told me ten years ago that I'd be attending a church with a liturgical bent, I would have said they were crazy! But here I am...and loving it! I still really enjoy the louder forms of worship (and try to get my "fix" by attending Bethel's chapel every once in awhile), but I'm surprisingly appreciative of a more thoughtful form of corporate worship. Go figure.

katdish said...

First, before I forget to say this: Songs in the key of G are my arch nemesis! A very good friend and talented musician used to fill in for the worship leader when he was out of town. He always asked me to sing with him, which I always did, always with everything in the key of G. I was either struggling to find a decent harmony or peeling myself off the ceiling from singing so high.

I love your attitude about worship. When I was singing at "the big church", whenever I would think to myself "Not this one AGAIN!" I would look out into the congregation and see someone pouring their heart into worshipping God with that song. That's pretty convicting. The type of music at a church can be so very divisive and that's just a shame. God knows when we are worshipping Him authentically -- whether through hymms or contemporary music. I suppose the real question for all of us is: Do we live our lives as a spiritual act of worship? That's something I need to work on...

Pam said...

Let me start off by saying that I LOVE the music we do at our church. That said~we are a Cowboy Church, so guess what? We do CCM too...except in our case it stands for Christian Country Music! Luckily for me, I love country music (Texan-born & raised) & christian music but I know there are some members that would prefer more hymns, some would like more contemporary and those do get mixed in...but seriously- when one of the band members plays an instrument that includes a #3 washtub, a rope, and a hoe, you're gonna get primarily country-sounding music. And I am NOT ridiculing the instrument or player of said instrument in ANY way-I'm just saying..... It sounds almost like a bad redneck joke 'cept it's "you might be in a Cowboy Church if one of the band..." Oh, and I have zero musical talent... but I love music and I like to sing along in church... that's probably why nobody ever sits by me more than once....hmmmm.... [Oh, and did I mention the harmonica player?]

Pam said...

Oops! Got so caught up talking about my PMH (personal music history) that I forgot to say- Great post, Beth. As you can tell, it really got me thinking about how we do worship... thank you.

Max02 said...

Awesome post. It actually sounds a lot like my musical background. I liked this part a lot: "Especially if it meant I could sing to a guitar." Priceless.

Nice Sky Harbor reference by the way.

Leading worship can be many things. It can be beautiful, fulfilling, humbling, scary, exciting, routine, draining, etc. Like I said, it can be lots of things. But I think you hit the nail on the head. Regardless of how many times we've heard the song, genre, or style, if our heart isn't in the right place, it's not worship. It's also relieving to know that worship goes way beyond music.

Anyways, I like listening to the radio. Although I do have to remind myself from time to time that it's not always about my preference of song or music over the Christian talk-radio (ok, ok, it's never about me). I take comfort in the fact that I can always plug in a CD I like.