Music is a powerful thing. It amazes me that most of the rest of the known world, third world and otherwise, has identified this truth, but we’re still fighting about it in our faith settings. I remember back when I was in college learning about effective methods involved in starting new churches. One of the first things I was instructed to do was to get a demographic study on the listening habits of the people in the area where we would be located. The theory was if you could identify the listening habits, then you could identify with the people. My first ministry was a case study in this classroom theory. Located in what might be considered as a backwoods community, their listening preference was of course country. My personal philosophy at the time was, “friends don’t let friends listen to country”. Can you guess how that experiment turned out? We had a great time there. Some of our closest friendships developed during that time of our ministry, only I think because they were so gracious and forgiving. My subconscious intent was to convert them all to something more like my style preference. Whenever the church would fall back into it’s default setting and sing something like “I’ll Fly Away”, accompanied by a banjo of all things, I would shudder and wonder what strange fate God had placed upon me to entrust me with these people. We could sing all the songs I preferred and programmed into a service and they would enthusiastically humor us and sing along, but something happened whenever “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” somehow slipped in. It transcended the norm and became truly worship to them. Why? I had no idea at the time. It’s funny now as I look back over 12 years and 3000 miles. I’m now in an urban setting with new people, new styles, a different culture. But God has a sense of humor and irony. The other night I was in a very large church setting with thousands of other people enjoying one of my favorite bands and a very well known band at that. You’ll never guess what I heard that night. One of their bigger playing remakes on popular radio is, you guessed it, “I’ll Fly Away”. How does that happen? I’ve wrestled much over this concept of music identification. I’ve asked forgiveness from above for my arrogance of 12 years ago. It wasn’t that I didn’t know. I often said back then that if we’d just bring in more country to our worship services we’d have taken off and made a huge impact in that community. I could never bring myself to do that. Like I said, “friends don’t let friends….”. You get the point. If you know me now however, you know that I listen to almost exclusively country radio. Talk about ironic. At the point in my life that I live in a major urban center and work with urban people, I have escaped to the country. Why? Interestingly enough, it’s because I believe that for the most part it is some of the most honest and truthful music out there. It’s been said that it’s three chords and the truth. I think it really is for the most part. Unlike 12 years ago though, I’m not about to impose my listening habits on those of this community. Why not? It’s because it’s not what they identify with. This is my point. You knew I’d get there eventually didn’t you? The church in many instances has fought with the concept of identifying with the people who surround it. They have forgotten Paul’s “I have become all things to all people” encouragement in the Bible. We have now what’s referred to as worship wars. What it really means is that “you come to where we are and like what we like”. Jesus said, “Go into all the world…” . He didn’t say, wait a bit and they’ll see the light.
We are to be the light. People identify with music. As I write this morning, I’m listening to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” This song still resonates within me years after it was released. When our worship team used to play at the mission for the guys off the streets, their favorite song was “Amazing Grace” set to the Eagles “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. They remembered that song melody. It’s the words set to music that rings through the soul. I am blessed to be at a church that has created another worship service to reach a group of people who resonate with a different musical style. It’s songs they hear on the radio. It’s worship that helps focus their minds on “How Great is our God “ even in the gridlock of I-5. But sadly, I see many churches digging in, willing to die because of their hold on a musical style that resonates only with them. Should they give up what resonates with them entirely, not at all. But I implore you who are reading this, any of you holding out, learn from my mistakes. Allow a little country in if necessary. Friends lead friends before God’s throne, sometimes at great cost to personal preference.