Throughout the history of the music of the Church there has been one consistent pattern. New waves of artistic, creative and beautiful musical revelations crashing onto the established shores of the normal, comfortable and expected forms of musical expressions of worship. The new comes bursting onto the scene, usually causing widespread head scratching and hand wringing.
The old is upset by the new, upended and disturbed by these brash, and unruly invaders. Then the new becomes normal and comfortable and before you know it the new is now the established. Then it happens again…and again…and again.
Throughout this process we can see and learn from several things from BOTH sides of this potentially divisive paradigm shift. I’d like to focus on two of those things: Challenge and Appreciation. But first I’d like to unpack these two perspectives a little bit. We have the new paradigm and the old paradigm, usually at odds with each other.
The Old Paradigm
The old paradigm is established and comfortable. There is familiarity in the musical expressions and a sense of “home” found within the styles and genres closest to the hearts of those who sit here. There is a fond remembrance that carries the worshipers back to sweet and glorious times where real spiritual encounters happened.
There is a dogged sense of stubborn refusal to let go of those good times and the memories associated with them. Sometimes this can be perceived as a musical snobbery, a blatant disregard for newer styles, genres, and expressions, but more times than not it’s a genuine and sincere disconnect with the newer paradigm, based solely on the fact that there is such a huge connection with the older paradigm.
The New Paradigm
The new paradigm is dangerous and disruptive. There is an unknown and exciting sense of the blazing of new trails in these musical expressions. Yet, strangely enough, there is also a sense of “home” in these styles and genres. The folks who sit in this paradigm are genuinely and authentically pursuing the creative act of being themselves.
Typically, what comes along with this act is the blatant refusal to be like the established paradigm. Sometimes this can be perceived as musical snobbery, a sincere disregard for the older styles, genres, and expressions, but more times than not it’s a real and veritable disconnect with the older paradigm, based solely on the fact that there is such a huge connection with the newer paradigm.
Yep, did you see what I just did there? Both sets of worshipers are CONNECTED to their paradigms, deeply invested in what they know to be art and beauty. In my opinion, this is what causes such division. It’s not that folks in the established paradigm hate the newer paradigm so much, it’s that they are so connected to and maybe entrenched in their own paradigm that they don’t have any room for any other expressions. And the same goes for the newer.
We all have the potential to be enchanted by, and at times even held captive by, what we believe and feel to be the best musical expressions of our worship.
So wherever you sit, whether it’s in and older, established paradigm, or a newer, up and coming paradigm there is a challenge to not become so entrenched in what you prefer, in what you believe to be art and beauty. There is a challenge to not become so enamored with what your emotions dictate to you as the only acceptable expressions of worship.
A month or so ago, a well-known “new paradigm” artist and worship leader, Gungor, posted his thoughts on Christian music and how it is easy to spot “Christian” music because it has no soul. He makes some really great points on how a lot of Christian music has become driven by marketing and that it’s basically a machine geared towards making money.
He is a sincere artist pursuing the crafting of beautiful music and challenges artists to pursue their art, and to not let the industry filter their art.
I don’t disagree with this notion at all, yet something in me still screams that it’s not totally gone. There are good people within the industry. Good writers, good musicians and producers. Good people who, though they make a living based on the sale of their product, still have pure motives and hearts turned towards God.
This isn’t necessarily a rant for or against any kind of “Christian” music industry, but more so a challenge to me, to you, and to anyone who will listen to understand that for ages, there has been a continuous cycle of new becoming normal and then normal being disrupted by a newer new.
The challenge still remains. Can we embrace the new? And while we’re embracing the new, is it possible to look for, find and appreciate the beauty in the old?
Which chair are you sitting in?
Both are potentially wonderful seats, depending on our hearts and motives. Personally, I believe that it is possible to embrace the new and the old at the same time.
I think Shaun Groves gives us a great notion to chew on as we approach worship paradigms: “It’s a mistake to appraise the value of a created thing on the basis of my ability to appreciate it rather than God’s ability to use it.”
This comes from a recent post where Shaun shares about his youthful zeal to bring his “art” to save the Christian music industry, and then later realizing that “art” was a god to him.
Basically, that means that if I attach value to art or beauty based on my own appreciation of it rather than God’s ability to work in and through it, I’m WRONG. We are all guilty of this. We prefer certain styles and genres and have a harder time appreciating others, because we’re not viewing through the lens of God’s ability to use them, but through our own like or dislike of the genre.
One of the things that I love about his story is that he realized that even though he had talent and credentials and a zeal to bring beauty and art to what HE perceived to be a dead paradigm, ultimately his perspective was just that, his perspective.
Then he realized that art is subjective and it is a ‘”moving target” – the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.’
“Ultimate significance – Christian significance – isn’t found in chord progressions, simplistic or complex. Or production techniques, vocal timbre or range, instrumentation, rhyme scheme or metaphor. Ultimate value is measured in the secret spaces of the heart and mind, and across the span of eternity, by the Creator of us all.”
In other words, art is subjective. What moves me might not move you. But ultimately, what it comes down to is do we truly believe that God can use ANY musical expression and work in and through the lives of His creations?
So whether you are a new paradigmer – hoping to shake up the industry, and bring a fresh, new, disruptive sound to the collective worship scene around you; or whether you’re an old paradigmer – finding a solid footing on the memories and connecting deeply with a more comfortable and familiar expression of worship, be challenged to appreciate the other perspective.
But more so than that be challenged to appreciate that God is bigger than you, me or any genre, style, and expression that we could ever come up with…and that when the dust settles, it’s more about God using our expressions for His purposes than us using them for our own.
Questions (food for thought – feel free to answer any or all of them in the comments – play nice!):
- What paradigm do you believe you’re sitting in?
- Has it been easy or hard for you to appreciate other paradigms?
- Do you believe you can embrace both?
- Have you been guilty of musical snobbery?
- How does ‘art’ fit into corporate worship expression?