Worship: don't phone it in.

This is actually adapted from a reply to a comment on this very blog from two years ago.

Today we were talking about what to do for the Fourth of July. There is a huge church here in town that does a patriotic extravaganza. We won’t be attending. Now it’s not because I don’t like patriotic extravaganzas at churches. I don’t, but that’s not why we’ll not be attending. (Before I get letters from Don Wildmon and/or the John Birch society, it’s not that I hate America. It’s that I get queasy when churches mix Christianity with Americanism. You won’t see any American flags in our church sanctuary, on the Fourth of July or any other day. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that transcends nationality, race, and every other division human beings can think up. End of mini-sermon.) No, we won’t be attending because I’ve heard this church choir many times on TV.

And they suck.

Let me clarify: it’s not that I object that the music isn’t being perfectly executed by a top-notch, professional group. It’s that the music is not even done to the level capable of the group in question. I know that even our best is, in God’s eyes, far short of what he actually deserves. We’re not perfect, and nothing we make, including music, will ever be perfect.

I am talking about the practice of just “tossing something off” without any effort to make it sound good, without any effort to do it well. I don’t get phoning in worship. I guess this is related to the “It’s for Jesus so it doesn’t matter” attitude one of the local homeschool moms was trying to teach our children earlier this year. The minister of music at this church in question has the skills at his disposal to teach those people something about music. He certainly has the skills to know that a Western Swing beat does not fit with the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy” (and oh, yes, they did too).

I have the same reaction when musicians don’t practice what they’re going to play in worship. I can’t understand someone slaving away to perfect a concert piece, but when it comes to playing for worship, they don’t practice. A worship service is no time to sight-read a hymn or any other piece of music. Whatever happened to “Give of your best to the Master”?

In Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, Shug Avery said she thought it must tick God off (I’m paraphrasing) whenever someone walks by the color purple and doesn’t notice it. How do you think he feels when people phone in their worship, people who are capable of far better?

Hebrews 12:28-29 says “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” If we are told to offer to God acceptable worship, that means that some worship is unacceptable to God. The verse tells us what kind of worship God finds unacceptable: worship that is not characterized by reverence and/or awe. Phoning it in is not reverent. “It’s for Jesus so it doesn’t matter” is not awe-inspiring.

You’d think people would get that, wouldn’t you?

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About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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2 Responses to Worship: don't phone it in.

  1. GuessWho says:

    Ah, the sight reading conundrum (for good readers). A performance shouldn’t be a sight reading session; but, play or sing through it too much, and you’ll get familiar enough with it to have to actually practice. Just gotta learn to manage this.

    A certain jadedness can set in, the attitude of “these people aren’t listening, Jesus loves me anyway, so I won’t knock myself out.” A student pianist we knew always had the attitude “those dumb voice majors won’t know if I’m getting this right or not.” Well, you know, they certainly picked up that attitude when he performed! Come what may, any performer, conductor, or group must connect with the audience from the start. Communicate with, don’t scream mediocrity at.

    I like to play “And the Monkey Wrapped His Tail Around the Flag Pole” for the 4th!

    levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/otcgi/llscgi60

    [Yes, I’m still on my “technology vacation,” just had to finalize some travel plans and couldn’t resist peekin’ in here. Oh, we’re at itchy-stage apex (emergent beard). OUT.]

  2. GuessWho says:

    OK, put “E. E. Bagley” in the search function of the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection. SHEESH, nuttin’ ever works. Need that technology vacation!

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