This has been floating around in many of the online circles I run in. It’s a very, very good dialogue between three guys who I admire for thinking theologically and pastorally about worship–Kevin Twit, Mike Cosper, and Isaac Wardell.
Here are some of my takeaways:
- On the topic of songs and “singability” of modern musical idioms:
- It is often said that a lot of “contemporary” music is unsingable…too many flourishes, too many pop-vocal-isms. People say that about U2’s music–too high, too irregular. And yet, for many reasons, you attend a U2 concert and you find thousands of people joining in songs, where many people who would normally say “I’m not a singer” or “I can’t sing” find themselves singing away. There is something profound about this observation.
- Indelible Grace has been criticized that some of their hymn resets have vocal lines which are unsingable because of all the extras and flourishes. One such song criticized was “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.” And yet, as Kevin Twit (IG founder) shared, when they led a worship service for thousands of leaders in their denomination, everyone was singing in perfect unison. (Listen to their live Ryman recording for proof.)
- On the topic of contextualization of musical form:
- Music in worship, in relation to how singable and accessible it is to a congregation, is largely based on cultural context–both the context of the city/area the congregation lives in and the “culture” of a given church community.
- Mike Cosper (Sojourn Community Church) makes an interesting (and true) admission that their music would fail miserably in a context like the church Isaac Wardell (of Bifrost Arts) serves in.
One thing I wrestle with was something that Isaac Wardell said. He made the point that as has the privilege of traveling and visiting many modern urban church plants, he notices a striking homogeneity. All the music sounds the same, all the leaders look the same, all the people dress the same. He comments that there is almost a special “uniform” for these folks (plaid button-down shirt). He laments that there is little contextualization going on for all these urban centers where the churches often say that they are being quite contextual in their ministry approach.
I get what he’s saying. And I agree with it in part. I also know that we live in an era of globalization and mass cultural export due to technology. People talk about technology’s “westernization” of the entire world, and I think a similar thing happens to our American youth cultures and urban centers. There is a surprising amount of homogeneity among college-age and young adult folks, such that the urban young adult culture of, say, Chicago can look strikingly similar to Philadelphia. The artsy urban culture of Denver (where I live) people say resembles Seattle. I’m not saying everything is bland sameness and that there aren’t cultural distinctives to each city. Of course there are, which is why I agree with Wardell in part. I just struggle to see that his observation is as stark as he says. I’m open to challenge here. I could be flat-out wrong.