In the balance: Music or the Word
Yesterday I wrote about having confidence in God's Word. Today let's take it out of the abstract and into real life.
A month or so ago we ended up in a situation where we usually don't have any musicians to play in church on a Sunday. When I knew this was going to be happening, I have to admit that I was a bit discouraged. Music has become so much a part of the western church that the idea of no musicians is almost unthinkable.
(In fact, the early church didn't use musical instruments, so it's perfectly possible to follow the 1st-century model without a piano or guitar. In the village where I grew up, the village church only sings psalms and without any musical accompaniment, on principle. There are even many Apostolic assemblies in the world who sing without musical accompaniment; when I was in Malawi, the only instrument in the assemblies was a hand drum - nothing to carry a tune.)
Anyway, I digress. I was somewhat discouraged about our impending lack of music. How would people come to our church and get saved if we didn't have any music?
Then God very graciously, in a few different ways, showed me the problem in my thinking. God has promised to work through His Word, not through music. So as long as God's Word is proclaimed, music is just a side issue.
The first way God pointed this out to me was through a lady at church. The first Sunday that we didn't have any musicians, we struggled a bit with the recorded music and by the end of the evening service I was thinking that the day had been a bit of a disaster. Then a lady came up to me and said: 'Pastor, I feel just like Peter.' I started trying to think of what disaster she could be referring to in the life of Peter, but fortunately, after a brief pause, she continued. 'You know, at the Transfiguration. He didn't want to go home. He just wanted to stay there in the presence of God. That's how I feel tonight.'
Wow. There we were with multiple hiccups with recorded music and a record low attendance (apart from the mid-week meeting when I was the only person to show up) and yet God was still at work. God doesn't need all the things we think should be in place for Him to work. With a handful of people listening to His Word preached, He was at work in a powerful way.
A few weeks later I was reading Mark Driscoll's Confessions of A Reformission Rev, which tells the story of the growth of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mars Hill places great emphasis on the Word, with sermons lasting well over an hour. Yet, with a Sunday attendance now of somewhere around 10,000, they can also have a number of talented bands to accompany the singing. Yet, apparently it wasn't always that way. At one point in the early days they lost all their musicians, and this is what Mark Driscoll writes:
One of our core values was beauty, and we had built much of our church identity on being cool and having good music, but suddenly we had nothing. So our church services were reduced to me preaching for about an hour, taking prayer requests, and closing in prayer. It was a brutal time. I decided that being cool, having good music, understanding postmodern epistemology, and welcoming all kinds of strange people into the church is essentially worthless if at the bedrock of the church anything other than a rigorous Jesus-centred biblical theology guides the mission of the church. And I needed to labour to continually improve as a Bible preacher because there is enough power in the preaching of God's Word alone to build a church from nothing. It seemed that we were in a spiritual war and that if light was going to spread throughout our dark city, it would have to emanate from the pulpit.
(Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev, pp.77-78)
It can be so easy to place an undue amount of emphasis on the music, or some other aspect of church life, but at the end of the day, as Mark Driscoll points our 'there is enough power in the preaching of God's Word alone to build a church'.
Hearing the words of the lady from church and reading that passage from Driscoll made me realize that worrying about the music was actually evidence of a lack of confidence in the power of God's Word. I need to trust the Word to do its work.
We're not reduced to a sermon and prayer requests in Leeds. We still sing, even if the music is recorded. And sometimes God intervenes like a week ago. On Friday night at the prayer meeting quite a few people had been praying that God would send us musicians. And then on the Sunday we had an answer to prayer with two different full bands, one for the morning and one for the evening. (It was a treat for one week, but it was still an answer to our prayers.) But through it all, God is certainly teaching me (and perhaps others as well) that my confidence needs to be in His Word alone to do its work.