Throughout my adolescent and adult life I have observed the continuing tension between traditional and contemporary styles of music.
There is not always obvious hostility, but one doesn’t have to dig too deep to realise that everyone has their own strong opinion about what makes the best formula for worship.
We are essentially creatures of habit. We like the hymns or songs we are familiar with and feel less comfortable with alternative styles.
Perhaps shy of potential “worship wars” or burned by past controversy about music styles, some worship leaders present a potpourri mix of music to try to please everybody, and often end up pleasing no-one.
Listening to the experts and reading the textbooks one could assume that the music is the worship. It has certainly become the predominant language of our Christian identity.
While it is difficult to imagine worship without music, I often ponder how our music-centred liturgies are experienced by those who are unable to fully participate in the musical content of our gatherings.
In fact, barring the occasional football match where the repertoire is severely limited, church worship may be the only place remaining where community singing is still regularly practised.
While music can carry us more deeply into the worship it is also the most changeable element in our liturgy. Trying to keep up with the shifting musical trends and an ever-expanding repertoire of songs can draw our attention to the music itself and away from God.
Could it even be that music is a distraction to our worship?
The boundaries between participation and performance can sometimes be crossed by musicians and worship leaders who are focussed on providing musical excellence to enhance the worship of others. Where the music is being performed for the approval of an audience rather than the glory of God it will potentially distract us from our worship.
Music that is theologically and culturally incompatible with the worshipping community can also distract our worship from full attention on God. Some worship music is trite, sentimental and unable to express the true majesty of God while many hymns have antiquated and sombre content which are an impediment to particular generations.
While it may seem inconceivable to some, there may be value in our church worship taking a fast from music for a season.
Could our devotion be deepened by some time out from the noise? Could our worship be enriched by some times of word-only worship with scripture, prayer and sacrament or, even more shockingly, embrace some significant and extended times of silence to allow space for worshippers to make a God-connection.
For the musically-challenged, and perhaps many others, the harmony of the bread and wine might ascend to become the tune of our connectedness with God and each other.