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19 January 2009

To Beard or Not to Beard

Some interesting things have been going on in my brain the past couple of weeks regarding the styles of music we present during a typical Sunday worship time. How much of what we do is based on my personal preference as the music putter-togetherer? How much is based on what the Holy Spirit says is the perfect music for that day of worship (and would I listen and understand if He said, "Don't do any music that day)? How much is based on the theme of the service? How much is based on the accessibility of music by the wide range of people who come to worship?

I may take those other questions and dissect them at some point, but regarding the last one, we could talk in theory for a long time about the idea that someone's heart being right will enable them to worship no matter what the music is like, but I really don't believe that's true in real life. Some styles of music will be distracting or even annoying to certain groups of people, and some will allow them to genuinely speak/sing words to God.

On a related note, I've grown my beard out. On my chin there's white hair mixed with the regular ol' dark whiskers. I don't know if this is my preferred face style or not; I just try to keep changing periodically so that I won't get used to it a certain way (although I've had the same basic face-hair style for a couple of years). Change is good.

On Sunday morning someone came up to me and said, "I like the beard! You need to keep it. The salt-and-pepper look makes you look distinguished." Later that morning, my nine-year-old daughter (link goes to her blog) said to me, "I don't really like your beard. It makes you look old."

Now, who am I going to believe? Of course, I don't really want to adjust how my face looks to appeal to the masses -- I care what my family (mainly my wife!) thinks, most of all. But if I were going for what is most pleasing to the widest range of people, how should I react?

And so we have our tie-in to music in worship. Over the past few weeks I've had a number of people tell me, "The music this morning really hit home with me," or "I loved the music service on Sunday," but I've also had a couple of people let me know that I've been missing the boat musically over the past few Sundays. In all cases , the people who spoke to me have my respect (and as a result, my ear) because I know that they love Jesus -- a lot. It just shows on them. It also shows in how they present their comments, whether positive or negative. Even the "negative" notes have been encouraging -- they have not come across as complaints. It's been oddly nice, and I've been able to find the wisdom in their words. This is one of the things I love about people who are walking with Christ.

So there's not a real conclusion to this post. Just letting you know that I believe that we should repeatedly ask ourselves why we're doing what we're doing. If the answer turns out to be alarming, change is the first thing we should be doing.

Your thoughts... Is it a negative thing to regularly have an eclectic mix of music within one worship service? Is it distracting or does it give a musical voice to a larger and more diverse group of worshippers?

By the way, if you attend services at Wall Highway and don't particularly love our music, you're probably not going to comment, and that's okay (if you do comment, remember that you're posting to a potential world-wide audience; be gracious). If you meet with Wall Highway and do happen to find worship easy to express within our music, please don't post anything that says, "You do a great job, Dean!" although I sincerely appreciate that God is using me for your edification! I don't want anyone to think for a moment that I'm hunting for compliments.


Tony M said...

Only related to the picture, I wonder why we don't have heavy-metal electric banjos? You know, a banjo with dual-humbucking pickups run through a nice grunge-distortion effect pedal...

Leroy said...

I have found times when "contemporary" music has made it easier for me to focus on worshipping God. Likewise, I've found times when "conservative" music has made it easier for me to focus on worshipping God.

In both cases the common point has been that my heart is prepared to worship God and not focus on the style of music.

To answer your question, it would be naive to think people don't get distracted by the song selection. By addressing all aspects (old and new) of worship and praise songs, I think more people will focus less on their hang-ups and more on worshipping God.

Anonymous said...

BTW...'no' to the beard. :)


Jake Woods said...

Tony, that's so full of win. I'm going to have to try that someday.

Dean, you can't win. Someone will always be at opposition with anything you do, ESPECIALLY when it comes to music. But including both new and old tunes in your music certainly narrows down the number of opponents and allows the maximum people to connect with God through music.

I also find, as leroy said, that sometimes i need to sing "Oh Happy Day!" and sometimes i need to sing "When i Survey..." Sometimes I come on Sundays and the music fits perfectly with what I personally am going through. Sometimes not so much. But what we need to realize is that it's not whether or not we "feel like" singing. Like all forms of worship, It's about recognizing the Creator of the universe for who He is and what He's done.

We need some Stryper added to the Sunday setlist. =)

Anonymous said...

Yellow and Black Attack!!!!

Anonymous said...


If only one person comes to know Jesus - ALL of heaven rejoices, that is All of heaven. I believe that Jesus would have endured the cross for only one person. He so loved us (or only the one) that He bore our sins on the cross.

I was ready to quit leading a Bible study for the youth because I didn't feel like I was making a difference; then a wise man told me - it is not what we do, or what we teach, or even what music we choose for any given Sunday - what makes the difference is that we care...

I rarely remember what songs were sung - but I have never questioned your sincerity - it shows.

So my advice to you (from a former song leader to another) - when you select the music to perform - sing it to God as if He is the only one in the room; then those that are seeking or are simply there to worship will see God smile and rejoice.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dean, so okay, I understand what you're saying and I imagine that it's got to be pretty hard finding the songs that reflect Christ Biblically along with music that will accompany it. But I believe that in either case the music is in second place and the focus should be Christ. Are the words that are in the song Biblical? Do they reflect the God of Scripture? Stuff like that. Sadly, you can lead worship but you can't make people worship (worship, by this sense, I mean singing praises). It's their heart and their praises to God. I would hope that if I didn't worship God as I should or so paid attention to the words that they broke me over how beautiful our Savior is, I'd have nobody to blame but myself and my own sinfulness.

I know in context Paul is speaking about the Judaizers, but I believe that it can have the same application: "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." -Gal 1:10

I hope that may help. Music is great, but it's just so secondary when we stand in awe of our wonderful Savior and understand for a second, just how great our God is!

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever else you do, do all to the glory of God."

Christy said...

Dean, I totally agree with what you said, "we could talk in theory for a long time about the idea that someone's heart being right will enable them to worship no matter what the music is like, but I really don't believe that's true in real life. Some styles of music will be distracting or even annoying to certain groups of people, and some will allow them to genuinely speak/sing words to God." Remember the back woods, I mean blue-grass type 'musical' we did years back? I bowed out of that one because I detest that style of music and no matter how sincere I was/am I can NOT worship with a twang! OK, sorry, back to my original thoughts. With the number of people who attend our church, there's no way to cater to each and every person. I think that our music is pretty diversified and I like that. I also think that the 'theme' of the message probably has a lot to do with the selection, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I will tell you that when you asked for suggestions Sunday morning, I cringed. I just didn't want you opening yourself up to MORE criticism (even though I know you can take it). There are just so many "suggestions" a person can take after a while, you know?

Dean Lusk said...

Thanks much, all!

Anonymous (the last one), I totally agree that the music is at the least secondary, and I think you hammered home your points very well. Understand, however, that the things I said in the post can be entirely valid, yet not done for the purpose of "pleasing man." The encouraging and strengthening of the body of believers is a different thing. That's what I mean to focus on here.

To Keo, God has mercifully and graciously put me (or "pushed while I was originally kicking and screaming") into this place of serving the people who meet at Wall Highway for corporate worship, teaching, and fellowship. There are times for personal outward expressions of worship, and there are times for corporate outward expressions of worship. So I totally understand the "Audience of One" aspect. However, I believe that I can be a distraction if I "lose myself" in worship frequently. (I hope you all know what I mean. Please don't pick it apart unless you want me to type a lot more stuff. :-)

Christy, regarding the "suggestions" I mentioned from the pulpit, I'd much rather have someone come to me with their words of critique than for them to take their criticism to some third party (who also might not mention them to me). That's a recipe for bitterness, and like I said, backbiting and gossip.

In a meeting of Christ-followers, if "just anyone" is able to share a Scripture or a Scriptural song that God has used in their life, that's phenomenal, isn't it? Doesn't He sometimes take a song and pierce you to the heart with it, in a way that wouldn't make sense to others until you tell them about it?

Those are the kinds of suggestions I'd like, but along the way, if someone tells me that the piano is too loud, for instance, I'd certainly like to know it rather than have them eventually leave in disgust that nothing's been done about it. If someone says we're not doing enough polka, samba, Gaelic, or bluegrass music, it's best to communicate that those styles do not, on the whole, meet our people where they are.

I definitely know where you're coming from, though. A suggestion often communicates, "I want you to do things my way," or "I am entitled to this or that," and can be opening a can of worms.

But what if our fear of worms has stifled growth and health in the body of Christ?

Wow, I just rambled...

Dean Lusk said...

And I'm going to follow up on the earlier comments, too. I just ran out of time!

Anonymous said...

Dean, you have had a lot of great comments here and I don't want to repeat those. If you have a diverse congregation, a variety of music sounds would be acceptable. It makes your job more challenging - or keeps you out of a monotonous rut. What is important is that the songs are grounded in Scripture and you have prayed with intentions of pleasing, edifiying and serving the Lord. An occasional a'capella song will certainly put the focus on the message, not the instruments. Do you try to match your song-list with the sermon? Repetition helps reinforce a message.

Anonymous said...

(Sorry, Dean, if I implied that you were seeking to please men. I don't think I meant to come off that way. It's really hard to put the tone of your voice into words, ya know? ;) )

I should've just stopped at the beginning because that's really what I meant. I imagine that it would be a fine line to walk (the edification of the saints to the glory of God and for the furtherance of the gospel and yet at the same time not getting so stuck on what everyone likes or dislikes. I think if you'd really narrow it down, you'd still have a very, very broad selection that everyone likes). Me, personally, I would say the words get me most. It sounds so neat to hear all the believers singing at once too, so that's amazing.

Totally agree with you, Dean. Didn't mean to come off sounding "know-it-all-y" (which hopefully I didn't and if I've made any sense in this little comment, then terrific ;) )

Anonymous; one of them at least.

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