January 11, 2016

Save Our Solos: Is there place for a soloist in church?

by Clint Archer

guitar soloI enjoy being challenged to think through why we do what we do in the church worship service. Recently I was asked why our band sometimes plays a brief interlude between songs during which the congregation is silent.

To take it further: isn’t the role of the band to facilitate the whole congregation’s singing? If so, then surely it is never appropriate for a singer to perform a solo, or a musician to play an instrumental piece with no lyrics. And if the band’s role is more pliable than simply providing the tune to which we all sing along, exactly how much leeway is permitted? Why is a vocal or violin solo allowed, but not a ballet dance or a juggling act?

Furnishing a philosophy of ministry that allows some discretion while excluding extremes may prove tricky.

There is no one-size-fits-all rule. If there was, it would be in the Bible! Here are three broad approaches to the church worship service: the too tight regulative principle, the too loose liberty-in-worship approach, and the elder-adjustable elastic tailored-for-each-church view.

When there is no elasticity your garment can prove too tight and restrictive. In this category I’d place the good old regulative principle, which teaches that if an activity is not explicitly mandated or modeled in the Bible, it’s not permitted in a church service. A consistent adherent to the regulative principle prohibits musical instruments besides the congregation’s singing. Presumably the use of hymnals, acoustically sound architecture, and padded pews are exempt from the need to be mentioned in Scripture because they are part of the facility and not the worship act. Sure, why not?

The problem I have with the regulative principle is that it is itself not mentioned in Scripture. (The irony is unavoidable, I’m afraid). The Old Testament worship system was highly regulated—just ask Nadab and Abihu—including the facility, the furnishings, the liturgy, the participants, and every other aspect you can think of. But the freedom from means and method in the New Testament stands in stark contrast.

As Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4, the building and Levitical system was indeed the correct one at the time, but would soon be displaced by the New Covenant way of worshipping, i.e. in spirit and in truth. Period.

Which leads to a second way of deciding what belongs in the service. This looser approach finds even elastic too restrictive, and holds that since there is no restriction in the NT, anything that can be performed as an act of worship by an individual, may also be included in the corporate service for all to witness. This “anything goes” mentality would make a regulated worshipper squirm in his pew if he was permitted to do so.

If you’ve endured a church service (as I have) with interpretive flag dancing to a Bette Midler song, a yo-yo demonstration to Christian rap music, or muscular men ripping up telephone books in the strength of the Lord, then you’ve seen what the regulative principle was designed to prevent.

But surely there’s a middle ground where common sense makes place for a well-timed musical interlude, or even a solo rendition of a beloved hymn, but still effectively keeps flag-wielding ladies in leotards at bay? I believe that maintaining a balanced position lies within the ability and the responsibility of a church’s elders.

The character traits of elders include sober-mindedness, temperance, and respectability. Their job is to know their flock and apply wisdom to what is edifying and worshipful in their context. They recognize what is edgy, in poor taste, provocative, or inappropriate. Yes, this is subjective; but these are men the congregation trusts to be dignified and sober in their judgment and leadership.mime

With all that in mind, the answer I gave to the question “Why does our band play musical interludes while the congregation is silent?” is that the excellence of the music is deemed by our elders to be an edifying act of worship that can be appreciated to the glory of God.

Our band never includes flashy guitar breaks, nor do they have an ostentatious drum solo or any other gratuitous show of talent. We’d be in favor of a tastefully presented vocal solo with edifying words, but we’d draw the line at any extended performance art in the worship service. That’s not to say the hand-bell choir at your church is an abomination to the Lord, nor that the mime skit is necessarily  a sign of a church’s apostasy. But as for me and my eldership, we’d prefer the talent of mimes and their ilk to be seen and not heard, as it were.

I praise God for the elasticity of reason and common sense wisdom; it lets the blood flow in worship but still keeps the wobbly bits under wraps.

Does anyone else share my viewpoint, or am I alone in this?

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • flyslinger2

    A well played instrumental piece, based on a well known hymn or praise and worship song, can elicit as much of a response and usher you into His presence in worship just as much as a choral piece can.

    You think David’s song to God after he slayed Goliath use a soothing, peaceful, worshipful psalm? I doubt it. He was pumped with adrenaline and was charged by God’s power channeled through him. His musical response was a boisterous piece because of the emotions around the event.

    I realize there are taste, style, interpretation, and a host of other attributes to music that make any music worship leader’s head go mushy. I wouldn’t want to try to please the people where I attend musically. I doubt that screaming guitars, driving bass lines, and drum clusters that require a 18 wheeler to move them around are most worshipers idea of sacred music instruments. Just as much, I cringe every time I hear anything presented with a Blue Grass feel. BUT, I do not make a fuss about the volume or style because I understand that there are as many tastes in style and content as there are bodies in the pews.

    We should all approach corporate worship with an attitude of grace and humbleness. We have had a ton of grace heaped on us. We should be able to try to mimic that to others in all aspects of worship-even when a twangy country song reminds us of Jesus love for us!

    • I don’t disagree with you what you’re saying, I’d just be careful about equating David’s possible flamboyance in personal worship with what is appropriate in a NT church service. I don’t think the Psalms need to be performed in the same way they were composed (how would we even know how to do that?) But i agree that a context can be taken into account, especially by the elders in charge of setting the tone of worship in a congregation.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    Not being raised in the church, I am curious what a Sunday morning worship service looked like 100 years ago and if worship was deeper and more participatory. Forgive me, but today it often feels like the worship time is a spectator sport that we obediently stand through. And with that comes guilt and the accusation that our hearts are just not engaged. I also think it’s sad that I often glance around and find that very few people are singing anymore. I don’t know the solution to this, but I think it is something many people are struggling with in the modern church.

    • Jason

      My wife and I had a discussion about musical tastes in a church service, and we both found that we didn’t really care what style of music was used. This, from two people who struggle to suffer the country/pop music when we’re filling up our cars at a gas station.

      What we found we couldn’t handle was music where it did nothing to express our gratitude and awe of God (for instance, when the lyrics are about some unclear concept of love and all the things *we* are doing because of it).

      However, in my life a lot of people with whom I’ve attended services seem to only respond to music with a strong drum beat and exactly the lyrics that leave my wife and I shifting uncomfortably (not to be confused with dancing).

      I suppose an unengaged community could be a sign of too shallow of a service or a community that did not come to worship. You can get the former engaged mentally with deep, meaningful music (though they might not express it outwardly) and the latter with shallow, repetitive stuff that has a strong beat (though only outwardly). I’m not sure if either is going to feel rewarding to a serious worship leader.

    • Gabriel Powell

      I think the solution to a non-singing congregation is simplification. The congregations I’ve known to not be singers are the ones who sit/stand in an environment that is hardly different than a concert–including lights, sounds, volume, etc. Turn up the house lights, turn off the colored/strobe lights, lower the volume, even simplify the instruments, and I’d be wiling to bet there will be more participation in the singing. The music leader will also make a difference by how they introduce songs and how they carry themselves on stage. Do they carry themselves as a performer, or as a music leader?

      • Jane Hildebrand

        Exactly.

    • I believe that the very reason the NT does not regulate how a church should run its service, is because there are different cultures, different periods, and different social aspects that may (and do) influence how a heterogenous NT congregation will worship. The OT assembly was very monolithic: all participants were culturally Jewish and even most were ethnically Jews. But the NT allows for variety of culture as Gentiles were included. So the way people worshipped 100 years ago might be largely irrelevant to how they do today. Frankly, the way they worship in USA is largely irrelevant to the way they worship in China or Egypt or South Africa. But I agree that in Western culture the idea of attending a performance/concert has infected many churches. This is where solo performances are missing the point. The musicians are not performing for an audience, the congregation is worshipping God.

    • KPM

      100 years ago, most churches were liturgical and they followed some time-tested, well established, theologically sound liturgies. So yes, they were much more participatory, and not just in the musical aspects of the service.

      Congregations would corporately confess their sins, corporately hear absolution (whether absolution was announced with faith as a condition depended upon the tradition), corporately recite scripture and the historic creeds of the Christian faith, corporately pray and corporately sing while Gramma Ethel played the organ.

      Some wanted to replace this with a more “Spirit led” approach to worship that exalted spontaneity and emotion above truth. As a result, many churches gave up on the historic model in favor eliciting an emotional response. Some wanted to return to the “simplicity” of the New Testament Church, but they’ve developed their own order of service to replace the historic model.

      This kind of stuff seems to have developed most prominently in America, with our tradition of Revivalism and “experimental religion,” in the sense that the Puritans used the term. Interestingly, America is also the birth place of the most prominent revivalist cults in the world (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc.), and the birth place of Pentacostalism.

      I think that if we replace Gramma Ethel on the organ, with congregant Mike on the guitar, the historical model is pretty sound. When we confess sound doctrine through the ecumenical creeds that have defined orthodoxy for thousands of years, it is difficult for us to drift from orthodoxy in our thinking. When we corporately confess that we are sinners in desperate need of grace, it is difficult to exalt ourselves our think that we have moved beyond daily contrition and repentance. When we hear the words of absolution, we exercise faith that Christ has purchased us with his blood, and we are strengthened to walk in faith for the coming week. When we hear the Word preached, we are reminded of our responsibility under the Law, but also of the good news of the Gospel. When we corporately pray and sing hymns, we feel the unity of the Body of Christ and are directed outside of ourselves to look to Jesus.

      Visit a traditional LCMS or AALC church in your area if you are interested in seeing what a church service used to look like. A “high church” Anglican service would also be instructive.

      • Jane Hildebrand

        I just want to go to the church in Walnut Grove, sing from the hymnal, listen to Reverend Alden and have a church picnic afterwards. 🙂

    • Still Waters

      Why go back only a hundred years? And which musical tradition? There is the solemn a-cappella tradition of hymn lining, where clerk would sing each line of the music before the congregation; or the lively gallery music, where the group of village musicians, comprising a varied mix of fiddles, flutes, and cello or double bass, would sit in the upper gallery and accompany the congregation (this is a delightful modern recreation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOPW-9mSw8Y). The polyphonic a-cappella choirs of high church and university (the King’s College choir is a good modern example) requires more vocal training than the average congregation possesses. Out of that musical illiteracy developed the quaint American tradition of shape singing, spread by itinerate singing masters. The Americans also brought the gospel style, a mixture of camp meeting music and spirituals. My point is, that church music style has never been monolithic, and has always been influenced by the surrounding culture and, in its turn, influenced the surrounding culture.

      • Jane Hildebrand

        I guess my point was that I wonder what Sunday morning worship looked like before giant screens, booming speakers, spot lights and smoke machines. And have we lost something of true worship in the midst of that.

        • Still Waters

          Perhaps it is because I live in a more thinly populated country, where the churches are of necessity smaller because they are more scattered, but of the things you list, I have only seen the first two, and even then not in as many churches as one would think. I don’t like screens, as I think it helps the congregation learn to follow the music by singing from the hymnal, but then again, hymn lining also did not have written music and, indeed, many old hymnals only contain the words and not the music. The booming speakers are a problem – a dear elderly relative sits in the back of his church (one of the few big churches with which I am familiar) with earplugs and can still hear everything. However, I think that is due to ignorance on the part of the soundboard ‘technicians’ – most churches are built to carry sound without any electric enhancement (the church I mentioned is used by the local orchestra because of its acoustics) and thus do not need such a high volume.

          The real reason I find it difficult to sing some new songs isn’t the screen or the speakers – it is, literally, the music. It is something only a musician could recognize, though lay people know something is wrong, but many of the new melodies contain too many repeated notes, or two many melodic leaps, or both, for the average person to keep up. Also, many of these songs are originally written for a solo performer with a trained voice and frequently go too high or too low for the average singer. Add to that that many of these songs don’t follow an easily sung song form. The form is how the melody lines are constructed. Most traditional hymns, for example ‘There is a Fountain’, follow a form like this A, A, B, A. The first and second lines are the same, the third line is different, and the fourth is the same. Easy to catch the tune, and easy to remember for the next time. Some modern songs may follow such a form (good example: In Christ Alone), but in others, the melody rambles, continuously turning unexpected corners and leaving even a trained musician like me slightly bewildered. There are other similar points, but as I said, the problem with lack of participation is a musical problem.

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  • Angel

    I agree with what you are saying Clint. The church should not be a place to perform and show off your skills. The church should not provide a platform for performance. As Iain Murray once said, “Pride is a poison” and we can all be susceptible to it, craving for acceptance, approval and applause by disabusing the church platform and misusing the talents that God has given to us to glorify Him, in order to feed our pride.

    • Right, we are not the audience, God is.

  • Dave O

    Nothing says “look at me and how good I am” like a solo or someone singing over the choir. It is something that definitely has no place in Church worship music.

    • Again, I think my main point is that there may be context in which the congregation can enjoy worshipping God by appreciating the display of a solo worshipper tastefully using their gifts on behalf of the congregation in worship. I’ve heard Jubilant Sykes sing “Mary did you know?” and Phil Webb sing “O Holy Night” in a Christmas service that moved me in worship in a way that just as effective (if not more so!) than if I were also singing along. So it depends on context. That is why God gives elders who know and love the flock (Eph 4:10-12). And why elders need to be “among” the flock (1 Pet 5).

      • Dave O

        This is an excellent point. I’ve played music for 17 years and bring past experiences with people in the conversation since I’ve seen this so many times. The point you make about context is something I never thought of. My experience again has always been someone showboating on every occasion they can rather than using the “tool of a solo” effectively.

      • Ceannasai

        I agree on the whole … yet, having sat through Sykes’ and Webb’s performances myself (and have been so moved), I am frustrated when a worship leader uses the same 12 or so songs, in roughly the same order, in the same musical style, over several years. Because the entire musical portion of the worship service is so controlled and scripted, it feels more like attending a business convention or a symphonic concert, where participants must be absolutely quiet and cannot even clap for a musician who beautifully performs his/her piece. It has less to do with wanting a plaid-shirt/saggy-jeans/”God’s the air I breathe” lyrics style of music; but corporate worship should not sound or feel like a corporation – high on technical perfection, but low on human soul.

        Sadly, our church is so culturally diverse, but rarely – if ever – does the music acknowledge those cultures, even in the interludes.

  • LemonFrost

    Corporate Worship
    I have been to a few corporate church gatherings where I felt more like I was at a concert than a worship service, mainly because there was minimal audience interaction with the worship team. I spoke to a worship leader once and he said it blesses his heart whenever he looks out at the congregation and sees uplifted faces, raised hands, and/or prayerful expressions while the music plays, and it saddens him that he sees such response to the music so rarely. Further, it seems that a great many folks treat the music portion of the church service as mere entertainment, or as simply a prelude that indicates that the sermon is about to be preached, kind of like the way we treat the preview portion of a theater going experience when we go to see a movie. They come into the sanctuary still chatting with their friends, they sit there using their smartphones, or otherwise remain disengaged with what is going on onstage, not realizing that their actions are distracting the attention of their fellow congregants.

    I am fully persuaded that the sole purpose of a worship team is to lead the congregation into a place where our hearts and minds are focused only on the One we worship. Jesus said when two or more are gathered in His Name, He is there in the midst of them; so, when we are united in song, the words we sing become a prayer, and even if we don’t actually sing out loud, we can corporately become fully engaged with the Creator as a result of engaging our minds with the music. So often it happens that the choices made by the worship leader over which pieces to perform on Sunday exactly lines up with what the preacher plans to expound from the pulpit, which is a sign to me about how fully the leadership of the church is relying on the pull of the Holy Spirit as He orchestrates their actions. Solos onstage are not necessarily mere “showing off” but could be seen as divinely orchestrated means by which to bring godly delight to the listener, or even a purposeful spiritual message set to music in concert with the pastoral message.

    The last time I experienced what could be considered loud, boisterous or seemingly inappropriate activity during a church gathering, I simply started praying for understanding as to its purpose in the proceedings. Turns out the fault wasn’t with the performance, but in my own perception of it. We need to pray for our worship team to fulfill their obligations, and then engage with them every bit as much as we pray for our pastors and elders to fulfill theirs, and engage in their wisdom. In this way, we fulfill our own obligations to be one with each other as Jesus is one with the Father.

    • Wise words Lemon.

      • Archepoimen follower

        Clint,
        Certainly, I can agree with much of what Lemon says but, do you actually agree that the sole purpose of Worship team is to focus the congregation on the One we worship? Clearly, He is worthy of our worship yet, the scriptures, Ephesians and Colossians at least, indicate that another function of Worship is horizontal, teaching and admonishing one another.
        This function of Worship is fulfilled in both congregational and individual singing.

        Tim

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  • I have to be honest–church doesn’t help me enter into the presence of God. Sitting in church is highly distracting. There’s the guy who sings off key or the smoker voice lady behind me who can’t sing at all. Then there’s the guy on stage that fumbles through the lyrics because he’s overworked and burning the candle at every end. The lady in front of me is swaying with her hips back and forth and I want to run. Looks like she’s making out with air. it’s weird. And the hand raising..I know it’s biblical, but I see maybe 4 people in church doing it and everyone else is staring up at the front like zombies. We recently left the church we were in (it was an abusive one–hypocritical) but I’ve been to several churches and most of them are super distracting. Either there is too much rock band like music or its all hymns. The stuff in-between is just pure awkwardness. I tend to worship better at home. I’ve found myself questioning all church lately. What’s the point? Besides the worship stuff which obviously doesn’t help me “enter into worship”, there’s all this drama and power struggles and “fellowship” is a bunch of catty women pretending to like you, but as I have found, will later throw you under a bus. No thanks. I found that I feel more closer to God without the church. I get tired of trying to make it work, to be encouraged when there is none and to “enter into the presence” when God is a personal God. I don’t fit in to a church or it’s worship service because God meets me in the quiet and being in a church service is a chaotic, strange mess. That’s my opinion anyway.

    • Jane Hildebrand

      Michelle, I understand what you are saying. However, it is still in that chaotic, strange mess called church that God has called us to serve and love. There will always be people that disappoint us, and I’m sorry about the women who were unkind to you. But it is in that mess that we learn how to forgive, how to be patient and how to trust God to use us in some way with some one to bring Him glory. Maybe it’s thanking the guy on stage who fumbled through the lyrics or asking the smoker lady out for coffee or smiling at the guy who sings off key because God gave him that awful voice. You may find by doing these things you truly enter into the presence of God. Don’t give up!

      • Thanks for the comment. I spent 3 years at a church trying to love. Love is always a sacrifice and I understand that. But despite it all, I didn’t see a whole lot of love coming from anyone else. There was gossip, phoniness, and secrecy. I would walk into the church and everyone would look at the floor. I now know that this was because of all the gossip going on. People gossiped in the name of “prayer requests” and ran and told the pastors everything. I felt controlled and manipulated by the leaders too. I thought they cared about me, but it wasn’t concern. It was control. I couldn’t reconcile the things they said at the pulpit with what was going on in the church. They preached about love all the time, but I was the outcast. I tried. I “killed with kindness”…bought gifts for pastors wives who hated me (for no apparent reason) and tried to strike up friendly conversation with leaders wives. I tried inviting people over for dinner and watched as each invite was rejected. I sat in a bible study with a lot of the leaders wives and realized they were so out of touch with the common woman. The conversation was about how people leave the church or why they don’t come every sunday. One of the wives said “I don’t know how you ever could miss church. I need fellowship”. Another pastor’s wife said something about how sinful people are who don’t go to church and how blind they are. I sat there shaking my head. This from women who treat people like annoyances… How disconnected people get when they get sucked into the church culture…so sucked in they can’t even relate to those who are hurting. There was some unwritten rule that pastors wives/leaders wives and the leaders themselves had to be phony and only show people the good about them. So if you had a problem or need, you were treated as less than. I tried to go back to church and maybe it just takes time. I can’t bring myself to walk back into a church without being completely cynical. My life is short. It’s hard to be apart of a church. It’s more like be a glorified slave (I was one there–I did all their web work and my husband did the A/V computer stuff–it was TOO much). I have a full life without the church–people I know and love are Christians, family who needs us, and friends/relationships that require us to serve. Church feels like a burden I just don’t need right now.

        • I’m grieved that you have been hurt by church. On one hand, some disappointment is inevitable because the church, like every other institution, is populated by sinners. But the church is also God’s ordained institution for obeying him (through the “one anothers” which can’t be done individually). I’d suggest you get some counsel from someone you trust about what to do next, either at that church or another one.

          • Thanks Clint. We left the church. When we left, one pastor called me asking for information on another member, essentially asking me to gossip. He didn’t seem too concerned that we were out the door but was upset about possible information that could damage the church. I refused to gossip and he told me “I don’t want to be a stumbling block for you”. No one ever asked for forgiveness or admitted fault. The entire time I was there, I was made the problem. The church had no problems. It was all me. Anything I brought up to try to help or make the church better was met with “no one else ever says that”. It was so hurtful. I had people who I thought were my friends but now that we left, they shun me. That’s not Christian. That’s elitist and snobby. This is a church that claims it is a bible believing church and from all appearances, it seems biblical. But I know of 2 other families that left with scars. There’s probably more. We were there 3 years and invested my all. I walked away wounded. It’s hard to ever want to go back to any church. Every time I think about it, I feel sick. Churches can be disappointing sure. But unhealthy and abusive churches are horrible. I don’t know if I trust myself to make a good decision regarding church. Maybe that’s the worst part. I no longer trust myself and I fear making the same mistake of embracing a wolf. Thanks for listening. It helps to think through all of this. We left in December and I am not sure how long it takes to heal, but I am not ready yet.

          • John Sanford

            I truly hope you find what you are looking for. Please don’t drag you former church through the mud though. Think about your motivations. What is driving you to do that?

      • John Sanford

        People mess up sometimes with lyrics. An awful voice praising God is beautiful to me. Some people are afraid to sing out because of what people will think.

    • KPM

      It is a difficult place to be where you are. I have been in a similar, though maybe even darker place. You may appreciate this message delivered by Rod Rosenbladt. It’s entitled, “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.”

      https://www.1517legacy.com/rodrosenbladt/2014/02/the-gospel-for-those-broken-by-the-church/

      When I was at a place in my Christian life where I was ready to give up on going to church (about 6-9 months ago), this message was critical in giving me hope.

      I did change churches and church traditions, but I have not given up on church altogether, and Dr. Rosenbladt is one of the primary reasons.

    • John Sanford

      That’s really cruel Michelle. I’m not sure what my fellow church members did to you, but that is just plain nasty. Sorry you were hurt.

      • John Sanford

        People worship in different ways. How can you know what is in the “zombies” hearts?

        • MB

          True. My point wasn’t to rip on people. I personally find worship in a church distracting. I prefer to worship at home. Worship at church is an extroverted thing. If you aren’t extroverted, you find it distracting. I was actually referring to every experience I ever had at church, not just at my last church. Please don’t jump to conclusions about who I am talking about.

      • John Sanford

        The lady “making out with the air”, if it is who I’m thinking about is a very sweet person. I can’t understand how you could say that about her.

        • Don’t believe I was talking to you. But have a nice day. Did I say the name of this former church? No. So therefore I didn’t drag it through the mud. I know everyone wants to think highly of the place but my experience has not been so. I get why you are upset. My point was not to bash anyone. Just simply was stating how I felt. I don’t need you to tell me how to speak of people. If people wanted me to say nice things about them they shouldn’t have acted badly.

          • John Sanford

            I’m not upset. You can speak of people in whatever way you think is right.

          • Lol. I don’t dislike you or people at the church. I am hurt by them and then I am told to be quiet. It’s hurtful. Maybe I shouldn’t leave comments on blogs. I am really trying to move past the hurt. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it but you haven’t dealt with the betrayal. So it’s easy to tell me how to feel. I didn’t even write half of what happened here. I don’t need to. God will judge them for how they abused their roles.

  • 2corten5

    Clint. I agree with you. The worship service should be overseen by the elders from beginning to end. I think a big reason that we have had so much chaos surrounded the worship service is that we have allowed spiritually immature worship leaders and musicians to make the decisions regarding the music. I agree that there isn’t a perfectly prescribed “right way” to hold a worship service. Each congregation is unique in it’s size, it’s demographics, it’s region, it’s building size, acoustic properties, etc. As a former worship leader, I was involved in a weekly planning meeting with the pastors where we went over the readings and sermon topic and found songs that not only enhanced the message but that worked best for that particular service of that particular congregation. Was everyone pleased all of the time? No. That’s never going to happen. But do they trust their leadership? One would hope so.

    • Good point. Trying to please everyone is a recipe for disaster. This is why the elders need to be trustworthy and the congregation needs to et them do their job with joy (Heb 13:17).

  • Dan Trabue

    Overall, I agree with much of what you’re saying. A very good point about churches across the world and across the ages obviously have and will have different cultures and contexts. We shouldn’t expect a church in a small city in Zimbabwe today to appreciate/play only the music from 17th century Germany, that’d be silly! Of course, culture and times will determine the feel of any meeting.

    Two questions, though. Where someone said…

    The church should not be a place to perform and show off your skills. The church should not provide a platform for performance.

    Why not? Does the bible prohibit such a thing? No, of course it doesn’t. Does reason or morality prohibit that kind of thing? No, of course not. I see no reason at all why churches can’t have and enjoy “performances” and “showing off of skills.” Anyone want to try to take that question on? Now, we don’t want to encourage arrogance or an annoying “showing off for showing off…” kind of thing, but showing off for fun? For the joy of digging into a magnificent banjo riff or a thumpin’ drum solo? Why not?

    Our church always encourages music and other input from everyone, so we end up with plodding children solos where mistakes are made and scratchy fiddle playing by a new student (adult or child) and gravelly whispers from a beloved elder sharing a song a capella, and it is ALL such a blessing. Where does God say that this is not a good thing?

    I think letting grace be the measure for music, poetry, dances, joyful or somber additions to church meetings is a great thing and the very heart of the gospel which, of course, brings glory to God.

    The second question I have is about “worship services” in general… where do we get this idea? The Bible speaks of the Church (ie, the people) meeting together regularly, in homes, outdoors, etc and eating, fellowshipping, praying, teaching, but nothing about “worship services…” Is the very idea more of a modern invention than a biblical or rational idea?

    Just some questions to throw out there. Let’s embrace grace, friends! Live and let live is not a bad idea for actions that generally aren’t causing harm.

    Peace,

    Dan Trabue

    • Well, I think the commenter meant that the worship service is always, by definition, about God and offering sacrificial, corporate worship to him. If that can be done by a soloist “showing off” then no, the Bible doesn’t prohibit it. But “showing off” is meant to draw attention to oneself instead of God, is missing the point of why the saints have gathered. At a concert, things are different. But in the worship service, we need to guard against elevating man instead of God. It takes a very mature believer to be alone in the spotlight…to God’s glory.

      • Dan Trabue

        Thanks for your thoughts. A follow up question, though…

        I think the commenter meant that the worship service is always, by
        definition, about God and offering sacrificial, corporate worship to
        him.

        Who defines “worship service…”? That is not, as you know, a biblical term. The NT speaks of the church meeting, of the church eating together, of the church singing and teaching together, but none of that defines a “worship service,” does it? It’s just some various components.

        My point in all this is I worry about legalism in the church, people who have decided – sometimes, I fear rather whimsically – that THIS is right and THAT is wrong and we speak for God when we say that… that kind of approach I fear is legalistic, not grace-filled. Which is not to say that is the case with anyone here – I don’t know anyone here’s circumstances and would not presume to judge, just to be clear. I’m just offering the question and raising the concern for what it’s worth, for discussion if anyone want to discuss it.

        Myself, I’m much more worried about legalism in our modern churches than I am about guitar solos or how someone does a song or a dance. As long as we’re clear it’s about human personal preferences (“We just don’t care so much for that ourselves, but we’re not speaking for God, just our own preferences…”) I’m fine with that – we all have preferences, no harm, no foul.

        Thanks for the thoughts. Peace.

    • Jason

      Certainly, if someone says that a certain behavior is “more godly” than
      another for reasons of personal preference that’s a huge issue.

      However, that doesn’t make all behaviors and activities equal. The goal of
      the church should be to grow and build each other up into the image of
      Christ.

      Us performing before others for the sake of “showing off” does just the opposite. It elevates ourselves while Christ, on the other hand, is the ultimate example of humility.

      Grace is necessary when interacting with other people (and, if we’re honest in our introspection, an even bigger part of dealing with ourselves). However, we shouldn’t be excited when we find some new way to make grace more necessary than it already is (Romans 6:1).

      Certainly, performing arts can have a positive, uplifting affect on others, and in that way “performing” is exactly what we ought to be doing. However, we should be careful to *use* our skills, not simply reveling in them. The Corinthians did just that with their spiritual gifts, and were rebuked for it.

  • Dan Trabue

    If I may follow up with a related question…

    We’d be in favor of a tastefully presented vocal solo with edifying
    words, but we’d draw the line at any extended performance art in the
    worship service.

    But why? If it’s just a matter of personal tastes, that’s fine with me. We don’t generally encourage karaoke music (singing to canned music) because, to our tastes, we don’t find it artful. Other people love that kind of thing. No problem. We’re not making a claim that we hold the right position, just that it’s our position. I am fine with people expressing personal preferences in organizing their special music and other performances, just as long as we distinguish between “We’re just expressing a personal opinion” and “We are speaking for God on this point…” The former allows for grace in disagreement, the latter, not so much.

    One man’s opinion.

    • Yes, to be clear, the reason we’d allow a guitar solo but not a flag dance is personal taste. I recognize that is subjective, but someone has to make a call, and that is one of the roles of an elder: to lead in worship. We know our congregation and our cultural context and our soloists. Hope that clarifies.

      • Dan Trabue

        Yes, thanks.

        I recognize that is subjective, but someone has to make a call, and that is one of the roles of an elder: to lead in worship.

        I’m coming from a more anabaptist/baptist/egalitarian tradition. We believe that the church, collectively works that out together. We don’t find the notion of an elder to “lead in worship” to be present in the Bible or demanded by reason. I, along with other laymembers of the congregation, help lead our meetings, help encourage our special musicians, and our goal is more about inclusion and the joy and grace of sharing common music and fellowship and worshiping God within the context of that grace-filled community, so perhaps it’s just coming from a different tradition that makes some of what you’re saying sound a bit different than what I’m used to.

        God’s peace be with you.

  • Jimmy

    I have not read all the comments but want to participate as a congregant who sometimes is a bit exasperated from the pause in singing to an instrumental interlude.
    First, there is a difference and a place for solo’s…be it vocal or instrumental. Without question gifted musicians to the church have deeply moved me to worship as they use their gift to praise God either singing–see Phil Webb–or instrumentals by an orchestra or just a piano.
    Where possibly the person that posed the question to Clint was coming from was more so from where the congregation is being led to sing and participate in singing great hymns and praise songs…and then…the awkward break in momentum, the joy of singing with my fellow saints is now lost because the worship leader desires to do–tasteful I add–a brief instrumental interlude. So what happens in the congregation. We don’t necessarily continue to worship in singing but we get to watch the worship band “worship”.
    So my point is worship bands…good and sincere ones…sometimes break into personal worship leaving the congregation behind in silence when all we want to do is sing…as Ephesians so beautifully prescribes.
    This is a big problem with today’s worship. It’s not an issue of style or substane but may I say bad timing. It’s like teaching and preaching. There is an ebb and flow that hopefully helps the hearers more effectively hear. I think worship bands—who want no part of the performance side–many times get caught up in their own worship on the platform and sometimes forget us folks in the pews.
    Let their be solo’s of all kinds but where they fit can have a profound effect on the congregation. There needs to be greater wisdom in understanding the difference between the two and how they should be incorporated in the worship service.
    I hope Clint will respond to this concern as well as others. I respectfully say that the elasticity perspective misses the point of the sometimes frustrated congregant who’s worship is interrupted by an ill-timed interlude. Please let us sing for joy form our hearts. we want to worship not watch the band worship!

  • Steve Hardy

    After reading this discussion, I wanted to join in from a different
    perspective, that of a choir member, frequent praise team member, and
    someone who has presented solos, duets, trios, quartet and ensemble
    music for many years. I’ve had the most freedom in choosing what music
    to share with solos, duets and quartets, and the churches where I’ve
    been a member (having been a career military officer, now retired, there
    have been quite a few). I’ve looked at the musical abilities I have as
    something God has given me, and, while always trying to do the best I
    can, my intention is always to honor Him with what I present and the way
    I present it. I spend a good deal of time selecting music, and have
    probably chosen more songs by Michael Card than anyone else because of
    his powerful lyric content and excellent music to support the lyrics
    (check out the words to God’s Own Fool or Immanuel). But, yeah, I’ve
    also done some bluegrass-influenced music, too; can’t help it, I’m one
    of them banjo players. The banjo does seem to bring a lot of smiles,
    but again we’ve picked songs that have strong lyrical content, including
    hymns like Where the Soul of Man Never Dies and songs like Another
    Soldier Down. We’re usually assigned pieces for Christmas and Easter
    presentations and such. I would suggest that a lot of what we’re
    talking about depends on the heart of the musician. Certainly there can
    be a tension or worse because of pride, but I’m pretty comfortable in
    saying most of the folks I know who share music like I do at church are
    doing so because they have something they’d like to share with the
    church that happens to be in musical form.

    Where things get a
    bit muddier is congregational singing and leading as part of our praise
    team. We have an ‘older’ church for the most part, most of whom don’t
    much care for the newer music (to an extent, I’m in both categories,
    certainly the first at 64). Being physically in a position where I can
    observe the congregation during the times we sing, it’s interesting,
    encouraging and disturbing. Our music minister tries to include a mix
    of older and newer music each service, to kinda reach across the
    generations. For a lot of the new music, way too many folks don’t try
    to sing with us, but just stare. And, yeah, that’s pretty awkward;
    that’s the time I feel the most like I’m ‘performing’ and that we’re
    really not helping people sing together. Now, some of those same people
    just stand and watch when we sing Amazing Grace, so it’s fairly evident
    they just aren’t going to sing. So we provide the opportunity for
    corporate singing, and they can choose to participate. I love many of
    the old hymns, they’re so rich in theological content–like Be Thou My
    Vision–but not all of them are–think In the Garden. But there is some
    really good newer music–like In Christ Alone–that will be included in
    the mix of church music for a long time. And there’s some awful music
    being written (why have so many of the current musicians latched on to
    the worst period of rock music–the ‘grunge’ period of the ’90s for
    their music–I have a theory that it’s because much of the contemporary
    music is coming from charismatic writers who use it to create a ‘mood’
    so people can ‘worship’, or whatever they’re doing). So I struggle most
    when we’re leading music that doesn’t encourage those who want to sing
    to do so. I don’t want to ‘perform’, I want to be an encouragement for
    my church family to sing.

    This has been an interesting discussion, as most ‘church music’ ones are these days. Thanks for leading it Clint.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    It’s a cryin’ shame that churches–especially modern Bible churches–feel this need to look and sound as much like the secular world as they can. We’ve become just another venue for pop music and have lost the reverential atmosphere the church once had. Bach has been replaced by christian “artists” whose copyrighted “tunes” and “choruses” we’re all supposed to know. Their publisher’s name is noted on the bottom of the overhead screens. Oh, help us all.

    Even the lyrics lack nobility. What modern composer can write anything approaching, “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.” It gets you right here.

    I sometimes wonder if the devil even uses modern christian music and contemporary worship styles to wear us down and cause us to forget the glory of what once was.

    As Duke Ellington said, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.

  • Still Waters

    Ah, now this is a topic near to my heart. I’ve been a church musician for a couple of decades. Since I was classically trained, my style and my instrumentation are pretty traditional, although I have incorporated different musical traditions as I learn about them. My solos are generally limited to a prelude and an offertory. As a teen, I was exposed to (and swallowed) the teaching that contemporary music was evil. In my quest to discover what the Bible actually has to say about music, I found not only do we have freedom in our musical styles, but the way we do things looks remarkably similar to the way they did things.

    I would say, Pastor Archer, that although the Mosaic law did regulate most things, music wasn’t as closely regulated. They were commanded to make silver trumpets to blow on feast days, but the rest of their musical worship system was developed not by Moses, but by King David, who in conjunction with the Levitical musicians Asaph, Heman, Ethan, and their families (I Chronicles 15:16-22, also chapter 25). Together, they compiled the first hymnal, if you will, The Psalms. To a musician familiar with the markings in a hymnbook, the headings of the Psalms are intriguing, as some of them clearly denote instrumentation (I.e. to the chief musician upon Neginoth or stringed instrument, depending on the translation), while others would seem to be tune names to which the Psalm should be sung. It would seem that they also had musical interludes, denoted by the word Selah in the text. Now, as to having dancing, remember David’s dance before the ark. It is interesting to me that it was Michel, who was a clearly a traditionalist, who got into trouble for criticizing David’s performance. Food for thought 🙂

  • Starrocks923

    I’ve always been of the opinion that Offertories are the perfect place for solo songs and instrumentals. After all, no one is (usually) singing along!

    When I hear a Chris Tomlin or Hillsong song on the radio, I usually switch to one of the other CCM radio stations. But in church, I’ll gladly sing along and praise the Lord with the same song. I’ve always preferred music that praises or glorifies God, but still shows lots of creativity in the process. If you listen to David Crowder Band’s album “Church Music”, you’ll understand what type of “Christian Music” I like.

    In fact, I strongly recommend listening to the entire album in one sitting. The album starts with “Phos Hilaron” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phos_Hilaron ) and goes through a tracklist that includes their famous cover of John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” (If your church sings this song, it’s likely this version of the song as the “Sloppy wet kiss” line was edited to sound more church-friendly.) and even a piano cover of the song “All Around Me” by Flyleaf.

    I love corporate worship and praising God with fellow believers, but I like worshipping God when I’m alone too. 🙂

  • Starrocks923

    Oh, here’s a quick link if anyone wants to know what God thinks of Rock music:

    Couldn’t resist. The “Rock” pun enters my mind every time I hear that song. I mean, “There is no Rock in this world but our God”, right? 🙂

  • tovlogos

    “…or muscular men ripping up telephone books in the strength of the Lord…” Ha Ha.

    One way I can relate to this post is that I have always been enamoured with “beautiful melodies.” That’s where I start — with the melody. Clearly in ancient history The Lord instituted music. There’s something about music that seems to reach the soul — it does mine. Add beautiful words that directly glorify God, and it’s a real blessing. Even songs which do not obviously glorify God, but speak edifyingly, are a pleasure.
    The problem is, a beautiful melody can be used by the devil; and be just as seductive, such as Jahn Lennon’s, “Imagine”, or “God”.

  • vidanuevatx

    I have a three quick comments…besides THANKS for the topic.

    First, too many worship leaders have no conception of how difficult it is for many of their people to worship in the style of music that the worship leader prefers. No matter what style the leader chooses, no matter what styles the leader bans, if it’s a diverse congregation, some members will have tastes that are opposite to those of the leader. A church can either decide to be narrow in its musical styles or can work toward becoming more broad. We can learn to enjoy styles that we once couldn’t stand, but it takes time. If a church decides to change music styles and completely abandon the old style, the church should not condemn those who can’t worship in the new style. Similarly, if a church clings exclusively to an old style, they should not condemn young people or visitors who just can’t worship in that old style.

    A second comment: I’m not normally eager for sacred dance, but I once visited a church where there was a mentally retarded man who danced to the music. His dancing was beautiful, graceful, and as innocent as that of a three-year-old.

    Third comment: If a lot of the people in the congregation aren’t singing, either they haven’t been taught the importance of singing, or the song is too difficult for them, or the song or arrangement is unfamiliar to them, or they just don’t like the song, or they can’t in good faith sing the theology of that song. I think a wise worship leader will strive to find the cause of the problem and then remedy it.

  • Chris Nelson

    The RP still seems by far the most Biblical, starting with Cain and Abel on through the OT. My only caveat would be that while all churches should certainly play many Psalms a week, I mean, how stupid and arrogant to not play from the only inspired hymnal, there is nothing wrong with singing other songs from the Bible or even just putting other scriptures to music. Thinking we can improve upon what God has written just seems, well, once again, arrogant.

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