Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : June 28, 2005

Every week, Missio Dei has its Central Gathering.  In the past, there have been a day here and a day there when we didn’t have music as a part of our gathering.  But lately, we’ve gone without more often then we’ve had it.  We used to have three people who helped with music.  One moved on, a second person didn’t want to share out of obligation, and hasn’t felt like sharing anything lately, and the third person wants to help, but only every other week.  And if he is out of town at all, it can be less than every other week.  I don’t think you need to have music to worship God, but I think it is a good thing–whether it is participatory or the people just listen to someone play.  Some of my pastor friends tell me that I need to go recruit more music folk.  I don’t like the idea of going out and recruiting someone simply because we feel that we need it to be complete.  I’d rather have musical expression–or any other sort of ministry–emerge from within our community.  I’m open to people coming in who want to do music, but I want then to come for more of a reason than just that we covet their talent.

How important is music?  I find myself missing it alot.  I think music and the arts are a beautiful thing, and if a community has artists, they should be encouraged to share their gifts.  But what about the community that doesn’t have many artists? What should they do? 

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28 Responses to “Music”

  1. Bernie on June 28th, 2005 1:04 pm

    I would argue that you could have an entire church service that was nothing but music and people would get more out of it than listening to a sermon. Just my opinion.

  2. Van S on June 28th, 2005 1:15 pm

    I somewhat agree. But there are more options than just singing or listening to a sermon. I think the key words there are “get more out of it.” I think churches are doing greater and greater jobs of giving people something they feel they get alot out of…but all the while they are becoming less and less disciples. It is most certainly exciting to have great music, but I’m skeptical as to how transformative it is on its own. The early church seemed to alot of stock in dialogical teaching and fellowship and the Lord’s Supper. But we also know they sang. How much they did of each of these is hard to tell, and even if we knew EXACTLY what they did, it wouldn’t mean that we should do the same.

  3. Chris on June 28th, 2005 11:57 pm

    The “early” church of the 2nd century met every day for the Eucharist (in the morning), but the more substantial meetings they had on Sundays would appear to us as little more than a “prayer meeting.” I don’t know if it’s all that valueable to worry too much about how much we all sing together if it might mean “importing” singers.

  4. Van S on June 29th, 2005 12:05 am

    I’m not sure what that last sentence means, Chris. re you saying that we shouldn’t worry about importing singers, or that importing singers would be a bad thing?

  5. Chris on June 29th, 2005 8:27 am

    I think I just meant that getting people from outside our community to sing for us would mean we think singing together is essential enough that we don’t care who leads our singing time, and given the uncertainty…

  6. Van S on June 29th, 2005 8:41 am

    Chris. I feel like a mentally challenged mule that is being led forward by his master’s carrot. I’m sure you’re leading me somewhere, but I’m not sure where yet…

    In other words, I’m still not exactly sure what you are saying. Are you saying that if a group doesn’t care about who leads singing (so long as there is singing to be had) then they are making an assumption, and that assumption is that singing is an essential to proper worship?

  7. Chris on June 29th, 2005 10:01 am

    I don’t know. I wasn’t trying to lead you anywhere. What I said is what I think.

  8. Van S on June 29th, 2005 10:09 am

    Yeah, but I don’t know what you think, which is why I was asking again. I’m not being snarky, I just am having difficulty understanding what you are saying. The mule/carrot analogy is to make fun of me for not being able to understand what you’re saying…I’m not trying to imply that you have somethign hidden behind your words. I’m just trying to figure out what you’re saying. Could you just say it again another way. Sorry I’m so thick this morning.

  9. JustinG on June 29th, 2005 10:25 am

    I am not sure what Chris is thinking but I would put it this way. What do we value most, community or music? The two do not have to be and should not be mutually exclusive but:

    If we value community more than music, then we will look within the community and not import people into our community for the sole purpose of having some singin’ at our meetings.

    If we believe that music is a necessary component of what it means to be church then we will import people to lead some songs if we don’t have people in our community to lead the singin’.

  10. Van S on June 29th, 2005 10:46 am

    Justin…I completely agree. And that is what I was hearing Chris say, but I wasn’t sure. At any rate, if we have friends that want to come “bless” us by sharing their music or art or poetry or a good word or with cookies, etc., that is a great and beautiful thing. Having brothers and sisters from other church communities come and encourage and support us is a great thing. But to recruit someone specifically to have them perform some service to us that we feel we lack is an odd thing. In that case, we are asking for their ability, not them, to come be a part of our community, and that is sorta impersonal.

    But let us assume we had a glut of musicians in missio Dei, or we had a ton of friends who, like wandering minstrels, wanted to come and share their gifts with us? What role would you see music playing in the flow of a gathering (either a house gathering or the central gathering)?

  11. Van S on June 29th, 2005 10:47 am

    Oh, by the way, Justin–just because I answered your post right away DOES NOT prove that I am always by my computer…or does it?

  12. JustinG on June 29th, 2005 10:56 am

    I have yet to figure out what role, if any, music should play in either house or central gathering.

    I must say that by having 3 songs and a sermon (baptist liturgy) the central gathering looks more and more like a regular church that happens to meet in somebody’s house. The set-up that I have experienced in having attended all the house gatherings at one time during my months at Missio Dei is very similar to what I experienced in small groups in the past.

    I know this may be off topic of music, but I often struggle with seeing the difference between Missio Dei and other churches I have been a part of in the past. We have a larger “church” service and we have small groups that gather apart from the larger congregation.

    I also do not know what, other than location and “close-knit” community, the real difference is supposed to be between house churches and “traditional” churches.

    I am willing to say that we should put more emphasis on the house church experience and cut back on the weekly gathering. Until the church as a whole makes a decision concerning this I will continue, to best of my ability, to be involved in both expressions of Missio Dei.

  13. Van S on June 29th, 2005 11:37 am

    We have some differences from conventional churches, but for the most part, you are right. Our house groups might not feel all that different than some small group experiences, but that might not mean that our house groups aren’t doing things right…it is just as likely that those small groups are actually doing church. As far as making the central gathering less like Baptist liturgy, well, it comes down to participation. As long as the only ones you have participating are the sermonizer and the songster, you’re essentially stuck with something like church as usual. We’ve tried to open things up by having a Central Gathering devoted to prayer each month (though last time it was much more didactic than usual), and we’ve started having open ended dialogue and discussion at the end. And we’ve even opened up the begining for people to share whatever they want. In other words, the invitation to do things differently is out there, but I think it will take time for people to rethink what a meeting should look like.

    To me, the difference should be, like I said, participation. House churches by their nature involve more participation. Some small groups do a good job at getting at this and are, therefore, very much doing the house church thing. But the way it SHOULD look, in my mind, is a loose and organic sharing of abilities and gifts. House churches should be open circles of friendship where a variety of needs are met. I see that happening in our house groups, and to be honest, I doubt very much some of the people who are involved at Missio Dei would find a fit in most conventional churches. So, while it might not seem all that different, the differences are subtle but important.

    On another note, I don’t think the problem plaguing most conventional churches is primarily one of structure. A church can have a central meeting and some limited small group activity and be much more healthy and vital and faithful than we are. I don’t think we’re trying to reinvent the church, it is more like we’re trying to address some issues common to most churches by approaching it diffently.

  14. blorge on June 29th, 2005 12:31 pm

    Not to digress too much by bringing the conversation back to music, but I’d like to point out that the fact that there hasn’t been music at the central gatherings for a bit doesn’t prohibit the house churches from having music when they meet. I think that music can be a great expression of theology and community, however I’m not necessarily the type of person who gets super-emotional just because there’s a song being sung. I think evangelicals tend to conflate music with worship and thus lose out on the richness of what God means when God says that our lives are meant to be worship.

    Anyway, I agree that it is not a good thing to recruit someone into our fellowship merely because they have a certain talent. I would add, however that this could extend to someone who is bilingual (the ELL ministry) or is a film buff (the film group) or whatever else…

    That way of operating takes the worst of the buisness model for doing church because it treats people as resources, rather than what they are: people.

  15. Anonymous on June 29th, 2005 2:16 pm

    Maybe you are generating a reason to take up that instrument you always wanted to learn. :) I always wanted to learn the french horn.

  16. blorge on June 29th, 2005 3:06 pm

    Hmmm… I’m thinking that I may bring an accordian and play some polkas for y’all someday ;)

  17. JustinG on June 29th, 2005 11:03 pm

    Mark - you said a house church should be:

    . . . “a loose and organic sharing of abilities and gifts” . . . “open circles of friendship where a variety of needs are met. I see that happening in our house groups.”

    could you elaborate on what needs are being met because I just don’t see it.

    What I do see is people sitting back while somebody else gives a little talk and then hurrying out the door to get on with their lives. . . needs may be getting met but it still looks like “traditional” church with small groups

    oh wait, that is me sitting back and leaving as soon as the meeting is over (my bad)

  18. Van S on June 30th, 2005 12:02 am

    Maybe things like finding places to live for newly married couples from Michigan and providing things for various Guatemalan friends or the need for community and the need that most people that don’t have the priviledge or desire to go to summer have for learning about Scripture or the sorts of needs that are brought to God in prayer or the need to feel heard and cared about. I know I am being a bit of a jerk, but you seem unable to see any of the cool stuff. You are right that things aren’t as awesome as we want them to be, but there are good things happening too. It is partly a matter of perspective. To some, we are doing things just like every other church has ever done it. I mean, if you look at it the right way, every church is identical, because they usually involve a bunch of people getting together just to talk about Jesus and do a couple nice things here and there. What’s so unique about that? I would argue that we are making some important, if unspectacular changes and shifts here and there. But in the end, I don’t care too much about how innovative or amazing things are. I only care that we are learning to care for each other, learning to love Jesus together, and bringing new people into that love. And that is happening. If it happens at conventional churches too, then all the better.

  19. JustinG on June 30th, 2005 9:09 am

    “the need that most people that don’t have the priviledge or desire to go to summer have for learning about Scripture”

    What does this statement mean?

  20. Van S on June 30th, 2005 9:21 am

    lol. My hands and brains must have been disconnected at that point. I meant seminary, but obviously summer and seminary mean the same thing. Have a nice seminary.

  21. blorge on July 1st, 2005 7:36 am

    I think that a lot of people’s needs are being met, but it is obviously the case that not everyone’s needs are being met.

    We’ve worked towards getting the “lower-order” needs met (i.e. food, shelter, etc.) but some of the “higher-order” needs aren’t always being met. It’s hard to remember exactly how many people are having their needs met when one doesn’t “feel” as if one’s own needs are being met onesself. Does that make sense?

  22. Van S on July 1st, 2005 10:09 am

    Yeah, that makes perfect sense, Brandon. And this is where things hinge on community building and open vulnerability. Most needs that get met are the obvious ones. The non-obvious ones (like most higher-order needs) don’t get met because it is difficult for people to know about them unless you spell it out. Those sort of needs are met by a community when that community becomes open and honest and loving. That takes time. And we’re working against some things like a culture of repression and non-confrontation and business.

  23. blorge on July 1st, 2005 10:53 am

    Sometimes I wonder if we overemphasize the impact of our own repression and non-confronative culture. I think most Minnesotans are repressed on some levels, but we’re amazingly open and straightforward on others.

    I think that the reason people aren’t always willing to share is that we don’t want to be vulnerable. If we don’t share, it’s because we don’t want to risk opening ourselves up to being hurt by others.

    We all respond instinctually to our surroundings so if we feel safe and others share, we’re exponentially more likely and willing to share ourselves. The converse is also true. This is why community takes time. We all have to establish a bond of trust with eachother before we’re willing to let our “higher order” needs be known.

    In another sense, though, I think we do let our needs get known to others in ways that may be a bit dysfunctional or covert. We all have communicative pathologies and so we will share of ourselves but in a veiled way. This is the thing that I have the most difficult time with. I feel like I share a lot of myself, but if people aren’t willing to hear and respond then I shut down. Every one else does this to some extent as well.

  24. Van S on July 1st, 2005 11:09 am

    I think you’re right about the repression thing. And even if we are horribly repressed, it won’t change just because I say we are. You are dead on when you say our response should be to foster safe community.

    The dysfunction piece is huge. I don’t know how many times I thought my needs or concerns were blatantly obvious, only to discover that no one had any idea. In that momement I am faced with a decision to either: a)assume that no one cared enough to actually listen enough to know that I had a need or b)realize that I have to communicate things more directly. I think human nature often has us choosing A instead of B.

  25. blorge on July 1st, 2005 2:57 pm

    I think we also choose A rather than B because it means that the problem is with other people and not myself. That way we avoid introspection and self-change.

  26. Van S on July 1st, 2005 3:12 pm

    Yeah, totally. I see alot of “A” happening in every intentional community…especially churches.

  27. shaun groves on July 1st, 2005 3:18 pm

    As a musician and pastor to post-high school young adults one of my greatest disappointments is the elevation of music to the epicenter of “worship” to the exclusion of all other responses to God. It’s interested to me that the word “worship” in the bible, both old and new testaments, NEVER comes from a greek or Hebrew word meaning “music”. Words like shachah (sp?), proskuneo, abad, and litreia mean things like submission, reverence, service or slave labor. Yet at my church, and in my own life, there is a greater interest in raising hands than stretching them out to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and fight for the poor and oppressed. There is a waiting list to join the “praise band” but a constant lack on volunteers in the nursery. We spend literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on screens and technical gear to look and sound better but next to nothing on rescuing lives from welfare and poverty. Jesus said to love the least as an expression of loving him not sing songs. Service, submission, reverence, fear - these are central to the response to God we call worship and the community of believers we call church. Not music.

    So at our young adult bible study here in Nashville, even though we have many musicians lying around, we often don’t have a musical response time so many of our people call “worship.” We’ve done our best to make music a non-essential far behind prayer, listening, discussing, giving and going. Freaks some people out when no one sings but we believe it’s necessary to take this generations eyes off of the Passion worship movement (as good as it is) and on other expressions of devotion to God.

    But that’s just my two cents. Great blog.


  28. Van S on July 1st, 2005 3:27 pm

    Good thoughts, Shaun. I am struck by the huge difference between being a slave to God and modern musical worship–which is quite often more like a way to self-transcend or have an elevating experience than it is an act of re-commitment to our servitude.

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