Most of us openly acknowledge that each congregation is different for a variety of reasons. One of those difference that causes a multitude of problems is also one of the driving sources of conflict when we discuss the topic of worship. This is the element of Style.
Even within a single church body style often varies from ministry to ministry, even beyond the scope of worship. We teach Biblical truths differently from children’s church to youth group to the adult Sunday message. Some of us use PowerPoint; some preach extemporaneously while others read their sermons; drama or video clips might be employed, or they might be considered distracting. You’ve likely heard that the message is more important than methods used to communicate it. As long as your message aligns with Biblical truth, the methods aren’t necessarily of importance. Basically, you can cling to and make use of your own Style so long as you remain true to the Inspiration.
This is important because I believe that we fact the struggle of taking something like worship, applying our own flavor to it, and in doing so we lose the inspiration behind it.
Thanks to the success enjoyed by some popular Christian music artists, it seems that recording a worship album has become a trend that shows no sign of slowing. On my own desk recently, I’ve listened to worship albums by Third Day, Michael W. Smith, and Phillips, Craig & Dean. Other artists dabble in the worship arena as well. Some, though, are losing the inspirational edge in their efforts. What is needed is a look at the Law of Inspiration: Every true rendition of a song honors and reflects the inspiration that birthed the song.
There are many wonderful songs available to the Church today. I remember one pastor I worked with thought we might be able to trim down our worship file to forty or fifty songs in order to provide some consistency, but still allow for enough variety from week to week. A quick count on my computer tells me that I have at least 220 chord charts, and that isn’t all of the songs that I currently pull from. While a smaller sampling sounds good in theory, it doesn’t seem to work in practice.
Of course, not every song in my file will adequately fit in every possible worship situation I might find myself in. One of the marks of an experienced worship leader is the recognition of this truth. For some of us, though, there is the temptation to re-invent or re-create a song so that it fits a different audience or environment then it was written for. Because we understand the Inspiration of a song (its personal application, Biblical truth, etc.), and we want to expose it to our circle of influence, we apply our own Style to it.
I’m not saying this should never be done. Rather, I am cautioning those who do so to be careful not to allow personal enjoyment of a Style to trump the Inspiration that provided the foundation for the song.
One album immediately comes to mind as an example of sucessfully applying the Law of Inspiration. Known around the world for their singers and song-writers, Passion went back to some worship roots to produce the Hymns Ancient and Modern album (2004, Sparrow Records). As someone who grew up in the church but sang few hymns, I was excited for the release of an album that would both deepen that element of worship in my own life, as well as seek to deliver these songs from a contemporary perspective. Though I may not care for the style of a couple tracks, I cannot deny that the Inspiration remains intact.
On the other hand, I have heard first-hand accounts from many that there are some Christian music groups that are losing the inspiring element of many worship songs, though these re-creations fit into the group’s style of presentation. One friend, a younger Christian in a church I served in, told me that he knew the song and even considered it one of his favorit songs of worship, but with this group it was more about performance than worship.
While I believe re-creating songs of old, as the Passion album does, is an excellent means of pulling our heritage and theology out of the storage closets that color projectors have driven our hymnals into, I have to say that I don’t think we should be forcing worship songs out of their intended range of usage. Some songs are meant to be slow and contemplative, even if it can be a stretch to use them that way. Likewise, we cannot always force a more lively number to stand still so we can use it as a transition song (a problematic tendency of my own). Moving back and forth from mainstream congegational worship and ultra-modern youth worship is difficult because the songs are not usually meant to be that interchangeable.
The real answer is to create, not to re-create. If you have the talent and musical know-how to reinvent these pieces, you can take that talent and hone it into a song-writing tool for the niche that you already fit into.
Some Helpful Questions
So what if we want to take the Law of Inspiration to heart and apply it? I have some questions that I think will help you out.
- What is the message of the song? If we change the style or tempo of the song but cannot successfully communicate the message afterwards, it is best to leave it alone.
- Who is the original intended audience of the song? Is the message applicable to both the original audience and the new one? Will the new audience understand the message in the same terms as the old?
- If I were the song writer and I were to hear the re-creation of the song, how would I feel about it?
- Can I better convey this message through a song already written for my audience?
- Is there need for an original song with this same message for my audience?