Worship Wars7: Guitars & The Sound of Music, part2

Posted on January 11, 2008. Filed under: Bi-vocational Ministry, Worship Wars |

Friday, January 11, 2008–These are the stories of my efforts to serve the Lord in a small, elderly, traditional, Southern Baptist Church as a bi-vocational minister, 1992-2007. I am calling this particular series of posts “Worship Wars” because most of the interesting and important things that went wrong, and went well, revolved around how we worshiped God. When people care deeply about something, there can be a tendency to get fightin’ mad if something tries to attack or change that which you care about. Additionally, the things I experienced at our church were quite common at all the other churches like ours. Something was going on in our culture that was affecting hundreds, even thousands of churches. These blogs obviously have a negative strain to them, but I am leaving out names except for some first names when it involves positive things or situations. And even though there are some negative things discussed here, my goal is redemptive. I and my family went through a lot and I am now trying to process this in a positive manner. I do have a goal of trying to help any other ministers out there in the blogosphere who may be facing some similar issues.

In my last posting I began discussing some of the issues surrounding music and musicians; I will continue that theme today. I have stated elsewhere in this blog that as a traditional church, the only musical instruments that were allowed or appreciated were the piano and organ. Last time I discussed in some detail the story of Bob, our longtime accompanist. Today we will look at some other misadventures in the realm of music.

One of the key things that the 1960’s brought into the church was a desire for music that would reach the Baby Boom generation. With the advent of the rock and roll era, and the growth of folk music as well, the guitar became the main instrument in our culture. There is nothing inherently evil or wrong with the guitar. You can certainly make the case that the biblical lyre was in some ways the ancient equivalent to the guitar. David was essentially a guitarist in the folk music tradition of his day and culture.


It is my belief after some study and observation, that churches in the 1960’s-70’s that made the transition musically and allowed guitar music into the worship service, increased their potential to survive the cultural upheaval that the ’60’s and 70’s brought. The churches that did not allow for the guitar, but fought over music instead, failed to make the transition into the post 60’s era and have declined or died. Now the guitar issues were not the only factor that led to the success or failure of a church by any means. Rather, I am saying that the fighting over music was symptomatic of deeper issues in the congregation and revealed other problems. These problems combined in my church, and thousands of others, to lead to death.

The guitar fight occurred in my church before I arrived in ’92, and I have told some of that story already. But my first experience of this antipathy toward the guitar happened in about 1993 after I had been there for over a year. One Sunday morning a man about my age (mid 30’s at that point) visited in the morning service. I introduced myself and he told me that he had grown up in this church and was down here on business for a couple of weeks. As we were talking, one of the deacons and his wife approached and broke out in a big smile, called the visitor by name and hugs were exchanged all around. The older folks of the church loved it when some of the youth from “back in the day” showed up. This deacon inquired of the man’s welfare and of his parents’ health and generally had a great time of fellowship.

After church I spoke with the gentleman again and he stated that he would be back the next Sunday. He then asked me if he could bring his guitar and sing for the church. I asked him about what kind of music he would sing, having been forewarned by many people about what kind of music was appropriate in this church, and he stated that it would not be anything rowdy, it was in the folk tradition, and that he wanted to sing some songs he had written for the Lord. I agreed, seeing how warmly the leading deacon and his wife had received the young man, I thought, “Surely this will be a blessing for these older folks to see one of their ‘kids’ come back home and help lead in worship!” What was I thinking?!

That week I worked up the bulletin and order of service and included the young man’s name and stated that he would sing a couple of songs in the morning service and give a mini-concert in the evening service. That Sunday morning we had between 60-70 in attendance and the young man was excited to be in his home church serving the Lord again. After giving the announcements, reading a Scripture passage, and praying, I introduced the young man and explained that he was back home on business and that many in the congregation remembered him from the past. He was here to help lead us in worship by singing some of the songs he had written.

He got up with his guitar and spoke for a short while, thanking the church for the upbringing he had received here in the 1970’s, then introduced his song. As he started to play and sing, I was thrilled. He was really quite talented and I was impressed that he had written the music and had good lyrics. I found it to be very worshipful. The deacon and his wife who had greeted the young man so warmly last week, got up and walked out. At first I thought maybe one of them was sick or something, but later I found out that they were so upset that a guitar was being used in worship that they were quite angry and left.

After church, as people were filing out, a couple of others said some things about the inappropriateness of the guitar. But then Letha spoke up. Letha was the oldest active member of the church and was at this time about 90 years old. She was just beaming in a big smile and slapped me on the arm and said, “Don’t worry about them! I loved the music!” That evening as we were about ready to start worship and the guest was going to play 3-4 songs, the deacon and his wife came in to the sanctuary, saw the young man at the front of the church with his guitar on a stand, and promptly turned around and walked out in disgust. The crowd that night was noticeably smaller than most Sunday nights. I couldn’t believe it.

Fast forward to 2005/6 for the next time I tried having a guitar in church. That’s right, 12 years later. By this time the church was much much smaller, we were running around 30, and we had been without a youth minister for over a year. We had been having a tough time locating a youth minister who would a)work for $200 a month; b)meet my fairly rigorous doctrinal requirements; and c) put up with the problems in this church. But I will discuss youth ministry later. For now I convinced the church that if we changed the job description to Minister of Youth and Music, and had him work mainly with the youth, but assist the Music Minister when he was out then we could justify paying the man $300 a month. The church agreed. Additionally, I received permission from the church to begin a Saturday night worship service designed for the youth and younger adults; the new music and youth minister would help lead that effort.

Within a couple of weeks of starting the Saturday worship service (which means I was now preaching 4 different sermons a week and still working my other job 40+ hours per week) we signed Billy on as our new Minister of Youth and Music. Billy could play the guitar and lead the singing with some new songs and choruses which greatly enhanced our Saturday worship. Since this was on Saturdays, the congregation was fine with the new music. They didn’t have to hear it.

A few times on Sundays our Music Minister asked Billy to sing and play his guitar, and when our Music Minister was out, Billy would lead the singing, usually with guitar in hand. There was no serious opposition. Now some of the older folks did not really like it, but they were not willing to fight over it either since this was not a permanent change. Maybe we had finally made some progress. But was it too little, too late?


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