I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me


Churches are dividing over it. More and more Evangelical churches and even Mainline churches are replacing the organ, choir, and hymnal with rock band, praise singers, and a projector with big screen.  Some churches combine the two styles, some offer different worship services to accommodate the preferences of the people. Those that use the contemporary style are more likely to have a younger, larger congregation. Research shows that 64% of churches that switch to a contemporary service show a growth of 2% or more. It is certainly an attractive idea for a church that is struggling.

I am only 31, but I have a fondness for the organ, choir, and hymns. If my church suddenly switched, as a few want it to, I would have a difficult time sitting in the pew watching someone jump up and down and wave their arms, while loudly singing repeatedly, “J.C. is in the house!” On the other hand, I understand the many younger people who are depressed by the idea of singing dirges written in the 1700’s to express their joy. When it comes to secular music, I like Perry Como and Jack Jones, so for me, “boring” music is the norm.  To me the traditional music is soothing, it takes me to a higher realm. Those that love contemporary music say the same about their style. I don’t understand it. I just get a headache.

In the book,  Sundays in America by Suzanne Strempka Shea, the author tours a variety of  churches all over the nation. Big, small, fundamentalist and liberal, liturgical and contemporary. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, the author’s preference was closer to my own ideal of what a worship service should be.

And at times she observed the rock concert atmosphere with disdain, but in some she felt peaceful and in touch with God. The difference, from the way I read it, is the intent of the music. Is it really the way these congregants express their worship to the Lord, or is it a marketing ploy to bring in the under 40 crowd who have little children and don’t want to be bored in church?

I think that is the question that the minister and the congregation must ask itself. What is our intention in the style of music that we use? Are we worshipping God or entertaining the lowest common denominator? If we are doing the latter, then our worship is false, it is only a facade to make people feel good, make the minister feel as though she/he is doing something because the numbers in both attendance and funds are good. If that is our measure, we are missing the point. We are connecting to the vain, not the Holy when we choose that route. Yes, we must reach people, yes music is a very important part of the worship service and thus each church must consider the issue. Just make sure the choice is an enlightened decision, not a desperate business decision.

Pastors and laity, what do you think?

By Jim Reindollar


11 thoughts on “I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me

  1. I agree with the addition of one point. Much of the theology of the praise music just does not fit my theology. The “Me and Jesus”, “Blood soaked”, “Coming in Glory” does not move me, because I find it focuses on things I find less important than other things in the Kingdom. My understanding of my call is “What is God calling me to do in this time in this place to bring about the Kingdom of God, which is God’s reign of peace and justice. I like the melodies and the energy of praise music, but the words leave me cold or disgusted. I find that the church I attend now has been able to take world versions of traditional hymns and world hymns and make them “Peppy” enough to satisfy that need of mine for worship with movement. There are times I would dance! There are also times we have the organ and hymns written by Martin Luther 500 years ago. The combination works for us. Thanks for the post and the thought provoking topic!

    • Disciples have some great musicians who’ve been working to make different kinds of music, often with rock instrumentation.

      Michael Carlson, Emily Bowen, Tim Carson come to mind.

      I’ll admit, I’m not really into praise music. That said, I have been in worship settings where it moved me even though it is not my choice.

      I’d like to see music that is neither traditional nor praise. Frankly, I’d be interested to know if anybody is experimenting with jazz and new age styles of music in worship. I’m thinking more instrumental for prayer/meditation.

  2. At the Table, our new c0ntemporary (?) service at East Dallas Christian Church, my approach is to do songs that I can lead authentically and that move us in worship toward God’s word for us that day. It can be tough to find praise songs about living in a world that can seem chaotic. But you can find them, if you look.

    I try to throw in some reggae, funk, jazz, gospel, and traditional hymns. It’s hard though, because for some of our worshipers, anything that isn’t contemporary Christian throws them off. I write some of our songs too, but that takes a tremendous amount of energy and trust.

    In fact, there are a growing subset within contemporary Christian music that is reclaiming hymns. Google up David Crowder’s Fantastical Music conference in Waco, TX next week. Tons of bands, like Bitfrost Arts, the Welcome Wagon, Sufjan Stevens, David Crowder, Pedro the Lion, Derek Webb, and so on and on…

    My vision of music in worship for the future is a boundary-less vision – why can’t we worship by using all of the resources, new and old and ancient, that can lead us into the presence of God?

  3. We have three different services — traditional, contemporary & folk. I wish we had a rap service, too! But they all have a common mission, a common message, and a common Lord. Our music celebrates diversity; our mission celebrates unity.

  4. The purpose of worship is to create a “thin place”, a place where people can experience the sacred as a personal reality.

    The purpose of music is facilitate worship as a “thin place.” While accomplishing this does require performance skills, the use of music in worship is not a performance. The more important the performance, the less important and less successful is worship.

    • Doug,

      You already know that I find declarative statements about what is/is not “True Christianity” to be silly. That said, I’m hoping you are not implying that the previous posters are more shallow than you or “putting on a performance”.

      What is a “thin place” for me may well be meaningless for someone with a different life-experience and DNA.

      Personally, if I could time travel, I’d worship in the church that had JS Bach as the organist. Frankly, I don’t care if he was thinking worship or performance. I suspect it was amazing.


      • ooops. I think my last post “sounds” different on the screen than it does in my heart & mind. It was meant to be clear and concise. I fear it sounds confrontational. While I know some find joy in being confrontational behind the keyboard, I find such behavior to be silly. Sooooooo……silliness is not intended. Clarity and peace, on the other hand, are intended.

  5. To one person, a church organ and choir sounds heavenly, making the place thinner. Another, it’s distracting and leaves a thicker feel. That person might prefer a guitar, or temple bells. Over-performance defeats the purpose if it distracts, drawing attention to this side of the veil, rather than the other.

    An unskilled performance can have the same effect. Offered by a beloved child, it’s heavenly. From an adult, it depends on the perceived motivation and character of the adult.

    So, yes, performance over worship can thicken the place.

  6. I’m torn on the matter. My church has both a “contemporary” service, and a “traditional” service. While I sometimes grow tired of 5-verse hymns with organ-accompaniment, I just can’t bring myself to like the other service. I can’t work the music. The praise band sings songs that I’d only know if I listened to the Christian radio station, and I don’t do that. When they sing songs from the “Praise” songbook, they bounce around with so many codas and repeats (sometimes not even the ones written in the music), I just end up feeling stupid. I read music very well, but I can’t follow this stuff.

    Don’t get me started on the theology of most of what they sing. (Brian Morse, thanks for naming names of some DoC musicians– I’ll look them up)

    It’s a shame, too, because aside from the music, I prefer the more informal, less structured service. Our pastor is looking to try some “new” things (new to our congregation — not new to Christianity) in that service, but I’ll miss most of it, being the luddite that I am.

    • At the present, I find music without words to be most spiritually uplifting. This doesn’t need to mean instrumental music. A vocalist singing without words can be very moving.

      Prior to the printing press/Protestant Reformation, worship tended to involve all of the senses: Stained glass telling biblical stories, incense, music…. the event was transcendental.

      The printing press/Protestant Reformation brought us to where we are at the moment…. word focused.

      One of the most interesting things to me about the emergent movements is that it is bringing the focus back to the senses, not me flappin’ my gums like some schlep.

  7. I am a few weeks behind, so perhaps no one will see this…

    I attended a church heavy on praise music and conservative theology. I found the worship to be compelling, though much my challenging (and occasionally discouraging) theologically. Now I have returned to my hometown Disciples Church and I love the hymns.

    So what does make me? Musically illiterate or polymusical?

    I would like our worship to be more compelling, and I think music is part of it, as long as we understand that “compelling” may or may not be modern. I am pleased to know that contemporary songwriters are finding their voice within our tradition.

    Even a performance-based worship service can be worshipful. I think we need to give the evangelicals their due and do what we can to stifle our reflexive disdain for anything that smacks of playing to the crowd.

    “We are one in the spirit” is in our hymnbook and it was pretty modern when I was in high school. Sometimes I think we are musically Amish–always staying 100 years behind so we don’t get accused of putting on airs.

    In any event, none of this should EVER divide a church. Sensitivity, love, and discussion can find the happy medium.

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