Appropriate Accompaniment or Dishonoring Distraction

Appropriate for Worship

Alright, so I’ve recently visited a church where I felt that the musical worship aspects were just so-so. But after the service the musicians were jamming and it was out of this world good. So it got me to thinking (that and the Christian Worship class I’m taking this semester):

Is it appropriate to allow skilled musicians to play to their ability within the context of corporate worship?

Is it distracting – as is usually argued – for talented musicians to incorporate various elements of their discipline (Improv or “soloing”, for example)throughout the corporate elements of gathered worship?

Is it a “sin” or simply dishonoring to God to not worship Him with the same skill and craft that one would employ in other contexts outside of the corporate worship setting?

I found this video on youtube to help illustrate the type of musical skill that I’m talking about (plus, I love Bela Fleck and the Flecktones). I think this clip for the most part captures a way of doing musical improv that is more about the song and band rather than the individual members, and that each member is contributing their unique part to create something that is rather phenomenal.

I almost want to go so far as to say there are some trinitarian elements evidenced in their playing together. Notice how the bass player (Victor Wooten – who is phenomenal) and clarinet player (No idea who he is, but he’s really good as well) “dance” together – blending their individual solos into a unified harmony (“Perochoreses” anyone?).

Can musical skill like this be incorporated into Christian, corporate or gathered worship and be Christ-centered, God-exalting and Community-edifying, or is it only distracting?

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5 thoughts on “Appropriate Accompaniment or Dishonoring Distraction

  1. Hey Chris,

    As one who has lead worship before, I have thought about this a lot. My take:

    If skillful musicians are showy and eager for personal attention, it CAN be distracting, but I don’t think there is anything about musical skill ITSELF that is distracting. When used appropriately, musical skill can powerfully lift arouse our affections and lift our attention to God. I have experienced this – times of corporate singing where beautiful music greatly helped me engage with God. In addition, the Psalms have much to say about musical skill and praising God with lots of instrumentation. Just one example:

    Psalm 33:3
    Sing to him a new song; play SKILLFULLY, and shout for joy.

    Also – there are few things as distracting as great lack of skill or mundane, boring, thoughtless, music. For example, when instruments are out of tune, that really distracts me during worship.

    PS – Bela Fleck rocks!

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  2. I’m with Jonathan Edwards on this one. We should do all that we can to stir the affections. Good music does just that. Moreover, as you say, it’s nothing short of sin to truncate our ability when serving God.

    I think that there is any question abou this is a legacy of the mindset of our protestant forebears that were “haunted by the fear that someone somewhere is having fun”. That and the unfortunate anti-aesthetic that was part of the reformation.

    I think that the only time I’d question the exercsie of musical talent is when it makes it difficult for the congregation to participate.

    For the rest, I feel that we need to learn to worship God more richly than in dour words only. There is more to worship than content. We need to learn to enjoy worshipping richly, like God enjoys being worshipped richly.

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  3. If we were to compare preachers to musicians, 98% of the time of a sermon is the preacher’s illustrations, commentary…essentially his “soloing.” If appropriately timed and prepared, illustrations and commentary help the listeners understand the Scripture (maybe 2% of the preacher’s sermon). If poorly done, the preacher’s tangents can be distracting. Likewise, creativity in the music can point people to Christ or distract from Him. As a former music/worship pastor and now a current lead teaching pastor, I see many parallels.

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  4. Great thoughts here guys. My thoughts are running in the direction of regulating worship style and musicianship that is somehow like explaining and guarding against sins of “commission” and sins of “ommission.” (Bear with me for a second.)

    Its far easier to regulate and develop strategies for guarding against sins of “commission” (What you actually do”) than it is against sins of “ommission” (“What you leave undone”). I feel that alot of the reasoning behind heavily guarding against musical talent being expressed in the corporate aspects of worship are so because it is easier to just say, “Don’t do this: solo, improv, whatever” as it may distract others from God (Sin of commission). But we don’t also make the same kind of provision for allowing our corporate worship to embody the full range of musicianship that may be present.

    Don’t hear what I’m not saying: I know that all of this depends on the level of talent present within a congregation. But if you have it gifted musicians who serve and lead your congregation, wouldn’t it also be considered a “sin” (perhaps too strong of a word, but my thesarical vocabulary range is escaping me right now) to NOT employ it during corporate worship (Sin of ommission).

    Thanks for helping me think this through…lets keep it going to the rest of you out there.

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  5. I don’t have much to say – that hasn’t already been said – I am simply thinking Gavin’s thoughts after him. I think the point you make Christ is a good one. It seems that we need to allow the Gifted Artists in our congregations to use them for the benefit of the body and the worship of the Lord. This takes care – which we often take too much of out of fear of the unknown – but I think it would only take a few uncomfortable moments before the musicians who may steel the spotlight will figure out that such self-centeredness in the context of corporate worship (or ever for that matter) is not kosher. It would be really cool to see people stirred by the gifts of their brothers and sisters to worship our Lord!

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