For ten years I served in the officer of Bishop for the Mid-Atlantic Conference of the IPHC. My duties had me visiting different churches most every Sunday. Talk about singing a new song. Interestingly enough, most every church had their own set of “new songs” and more often than not ones I had never heard. To say I struggled to “enter into worship” would be an understatement. Both the words and tune were new to me and I soon realized that it was my problem since everyone else was carried away “singing off the wall.” One pastor must have noticed my struggle and announced to the congregation they would sing an “oldie” “These are the Days of Elijah”--I felt he was looking at me as he made the selection. Thanks, I needed that, for as an oldie I could really enjoy singing a chorus I knew, even if it was an oldie.
On one occasion, I was visiting a fine church which of course was singing “off the wall.” Again new songs for me and I stood there doing my best to worship becoming more frustrated by the second. As a leader in the conference I wanted to lead by example, but I realized that in the area of music this just wasn’t happening. The words to the choruses were excellent—the tune wasn’t too difficult and the young people were doing a top notch job with their instruments. As I struggled to sing I was asking the Lord why I was having such a hard time with these new songs. “When you went to France, Hungary, Russia, and Romania, could you enter into worship with their songs?” My answer of course was no. Why? They were singing in a foreign language. In my spirit the Lord spoke to me and simply said, “This music is not your language.” That was a wonderful liberating insight for me.
From that time on, I’ve really enjoyed being with others as they enjoyed singing the “off-the-wall” songs. At least I can clap my hands. I rejoice that young folks have found a way to express their love and devotion to Christ with these new songs, but at the same time I don’t feel “nonspiritual” because they don’t do the same for me. After all, I have been saved for over 60 years—the church isn’t trying to evangelize me. These young people need to be evangelized and established in Christ and if it takes these new songs “off the wall” to facilitate that—I say bring them on.
The ideal would be to have services that target age groups (though many golden oldies prefer singing off the wall) with ministry that speaks their worship “language.” (I have jokingly said that I would like to live long enough to see these young people who love to stand for an hour and at times while jumping up and down try that at 70 or 80.) Many of our churches are not strong enough to support a traditional and a contemporary services, but for me this would be the ideal. Some larger churches have gone so far as to build church buildings in the traditional style especially for seniors where hymns and spiritual Gospel songs are the norm.
For me, music isn’t the bottom line in worship. I enjoy others enjoying their music and I don’t struggle with learning a foreign language. Getting people into the Kingdom is our goal and whatever it takes to accomplish that while bringing honor to Christ should be our burning passion. Let the music wars forever cease! Our focus must be soul, souls, souls!
Believe it or not, at my age I’ve learned to use the Internet. On YouTube there are all types of music and much to my delight Gaither Homecoming songs and hymns galore. The other day as I looked for hymns, I found this link featuring Tennessee Ernie Ford. https://youtu.be/HiCkKvYoUAE?list=RDHiCkKvYoUAE These hymns and Gospel songs are my language.
[Editor's Comment: I have known Wesley Russ since 1964 when he and a men's quartet from Emmanuel College came to preach a weekend revival at my first pastorate, the Brownville Pentecostal Holiness Church in Conecuh County near Evergreen, Alabama. I was so impressed with this college student's preaching (Wesley Russ) that I recommended that our church seek to get him as their pastor when I left that church to enter the Air Force as a chaplain in 1965. We have been friends ever since.
When the Air Force sent me to Atlanta to more graduate study and clinical training as a CPE Supervisor, our family attended his church in Tucker called the Church of the Comforter. I sought Wesley's assistance to help me find a house near his church so we could be a part of his congregation. We enjoyed some 15 months worshiping in his church and having fellowship with him and Janice.
Later, when I left the pastorate at the Richmond First Pentecostal Holiness Church we actually joined his church in College Park. MD. We often traveled there to worship with their good people.
In this article about church music, I think Wesley has struck a vital chord on the strings of our hearts. We want the youth to enter into worship and sing songs they like. There needs to be a balance in the kinds of music we sing.
The teaching I received as a resident student at Asbury Theological Seminary was to consider the congregation and their taste for church music. You start with them, not your own agenda. That is good advice to every young pastor. Good music whatever the style will draw people to the church for worship. Let me ask a question. Is your church growing and are you reaching the youth, especially the millennials? If not, it is time to evaluate what you are doing or not doing.]