I’ve been around local church music ministry all my life. My parents met in a church choir. We sang Southern Gospel as a family, both in our own church and a few others in the area. When I was in college, I sang on the weekly televised services of a large church, then worked as a music minister after graduation. I traveled for a while with a professional group that performed in about two hundred churches every year. I’m still involved in the music at my church in Nashville and I work for Christian publishers as an arranger, songwriter and engraver. My experience is varied but it has all been directed toward local church music ministry.
One of the common attitudes I’ve encountered throughout that experience is about variety. Whether in a church staff meeting about a Christmas musical or discussing an upcoming concert with a pastor, I’ve often heard the phrase, “Well, we don’t want variety just for variety’s sake.” I’ve used the phrase myself. I’ve had the attitude that musical choices for local church ministry should be based primarily on lyrical content. Music that is beautiful but doesn’t have much to “say” was passed over for songs with a “message.”
I understand this sentiment. Like I said, I’ve taken this approach myself. But in recent years, my view has evolved.
When we look around at creation, most of what we see is unnecessary. God could have created a gray world with just the minimum materials to support life. Instead, we see a riotous abundance of color and texture, an endless banquet of useless beauty, an amazing miscellany of animal species and plant life in stunning variations that are, ultimately, pointless.
Yet at each stage of creation, as God loaded every corner of the earth with unnecessary variety, He paused to behold his handiwork and declare it “good.” He proclaimed beauty and variety as worthwhile in and of themselves. With no other purpose, creative beauty and variety, by their very nature, delight and glorify God. When we appreciate the glorious variety of the natural world, we are acknowledging and admiring God as the Creator.
You and I are “sub-creators” in His image. And the staggering variety of His creation should point the way for our own creative output. Variety for the sake of variety is the pattern our Father lays out. Beauty for beauty’s sake –– with no further justification needed –– is “good.” When we create our own beauty and explore the variety of our gifts, it is a reflection of God’s image in us.
I understand that Sunday morning is a purpose-driven event. We want to communicate truth, edify believers and win the lost. Those intentions will steer our planning, even guide our selection of songs. But as children of the Creator, shouldn’t our services also reflect His nature and character? Isn’t there room for useless beauty and variety for variety’s sake? Aren’t we reflecting an incomplete view of God when we limit our creative expressions? Shouldn’t our worship services be more than commercials for Jesus?
What would our services look like if we reveled in our God-given gifts and celebrated His creative Spirit? Could we incorporate beauty and variety without just “showing off?” Would you ever choose the more beautiful song over the less-interesting piece with a “better message?”
This discussion is fraught with pitfalls of ego and performance and misunderstanding. But that’s no reason not to engage. I’d love to hear your thoughts about incorporating variety into your worship services.
--For more helpful articles about blended worship services and the issue of musical style, check out www.discoverworship.com and these articles:
- Arguing the Merits of a Blended Worship Service
- How Can We Add Musical Diversity to our Services?
- The Non-Issue of Style: It's Just Worth It
- Can Too Much New Get Old?
- Variety for Variety's Sake?
- 5 Compelling Reasons to Do More A Cappella Singing
- Worship on the Radio
- Expanding Our Worship Playlist
- The Age of the Top 25 CCLI Worship Songs
- The Both/And of Worship