A few years ago I held some biased opinions about the “white heads” of our church. Included in these biased opinions was the belief that these seniors of our congregation were, with a few exceptions, closed-minded to new ideas, especially to new forms of music. This biased opinion was reinforced each time I heard someone ask, “When are we going to sing some old hymns?” I have to admit, this question was occasionally asked by the not-so-white heads as well. Now that I am a member of this prestigious group of white heads (although I prefer to think of myself as “blond”), I am evaluating my youthful biases. Had I been too critical of my elders?In our teen years at a Christian camp, when a friend and I were having a great time playing a “jazzed up” version of an American spiritual, an adult counselor came into the room asking, “Who put the nickel in the juke box?” Did we misunderstand this elder’s intentions? Or did the way he asked the question convey his disapproval? Perhaps he never realized we could have been playing something a lot worse and in an environment quite different than a Christian camp. I’m so glad my friend and I did not allow that judgmental evaluation of our music-making to deter us from our Christian journey, including a growing understanding and use of a variety of Christ-honoring music.
Much of the music I am hearing in church today seems to be light-years from the so-called “nickel in the juke box” music my friend and I were playing at camp. Much of this music can also be found on recorded compact discs, heard on radio stations, at live concerts, and sold in stores. Sometimes in church I’m even expected to sing along with this new style of music by reading the words from a large video screen on the wall. Sometimes I find myself asking, “When are we going to sing some old hymns?” Sometimes I even long for the more sedate “jazzed up, nickel in the jukebox” music of my teen years. But then I recall something I once prayed during the ’60s as a member of a Bible college faculty.
The prayer came out of a period of turmoil on campus over the issue of Christian folk music. Some of the “white heads” on the faculty were voicing much displeasure over a new student-organized folk music group. The displeasure was founded on the opinion that music based on the then “contemporary” style was certainly not appropriate for “legitimate” Christian worship, especially on our evangelical, quasi-fundamental college campus or in its outreach ministries. It seems that some had either forgotten or not considered that much of the “appropriate” music had been birthed in the 19th century and based in part on the popular waltz music of the time. I prayed, “Lord, please never allow me to develop such a closed mind when I’m that age.”
Now I am that age. Yet, I recall events that took place in my teen and young adult years that have provided me with a musical and spiritual foundation that has grounded me during times of change and questioning of worship music styles. My home church provided a worship format that included traditional hymns, 19th century gospel songs, as well as contemporary Christian music. While the contemporary Christian music of the time was not far removed from the 19th century gospel song style, it nevertheless provided a non-traditional expression of our worship experience.
The church also encouraged my personal involvement in musical leadership, as inexperienced as I may have been. Majoring in music at a Bible college and graduate school, I gained a deep appreciation for classical church music. In fact, so much so that my goal in my first full-time church position was to educate the congregation to appreciate the “best” in sacred classical music. Shortly after that I was defending popular Christian folk music on a southern Bible college campus, as well as conducting the college oratorio choir and teaching traditional hymnology.
Perhaps the most valuable insight I’ve gained over the years is the realization that Paul’s encouragement to “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) is intended for the Christian’s best welfare. God has given me a multitude of high moments of God-directed praise and worship, as well as evangelistic outreach, through classical, traditional, and contemporary music, all of which represent Paul’s “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”
Now as a member of the “white head set” I must continue to remember that even as balanced nutrition is important to a healthy physical body, a balanced menu of Christian musical expression is beneficial to a healthy spiritual body. A certain musical style may not be my “favorite,” but it can benefit me spiritually if I open my mind and heart to it.
I recall a transcontinental flight of the not-too-ancient times of in-flight meals. The menu offered me steak, chicken or a fruit plate. My first choice was the steak. When I saw that offering run out at the seat in front of me, I requested the chicken. But I was served the fruit plate, as the chicken had also run out! I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to have the steak or chicken. However, although not my favorite, the fruit proved to be tasty and physically nourishing.
Singing my least favorite style of Christian music may at first be somewhat disappointing to me. But as I keep an open mind and heart, I will very likely be amazed at how God will transform this style into a source of rich spiritual nourishment. More importantly, this style eventually will become one of a multitude of styles by which I can express my God-directed praise and worship.
How delightful and healthy it is to be part of a church that provides a rich variety of musical expression in worship. This variety not only provides us with personal, balanced spiritual growth, but it also provides a church-wide, inter-generational, sociological mix that promotes our oneness in Christ. Together, we may then effectively “ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name” and “worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (Ps. 29:2 niv). We may even find our collective heart “leaping for joy” as we worship Him, praise Him and give thanks to Him in a variety of music styles (Ps. 28:7).
By Roger Wayne Hicks
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org