Pastor's Blog

"I am astonished at the foolish music written in these times. It is false and wrong and no longer does anyone pay attention to what our beloved old masters wrote about composition. ... I have often walked out of the church since I could no longer listen to that mountain yodeling."

This was from a discussion between two professional musicians about the “new” church music.

In 1651.

Church music seems to have always had a way of generating emotional fireworks.  In the years that I have served as pastor, Mountain View has experienced two “splits”, and both times issues surrounding music were involved.

I have found musicians to be emotionally-oriented temperamental people.  They communicate emotions through the performance of music and music speaks to them.  Musically-oriented people feel quite strongly about music in all its fine details.  Music is very important to them.

Most of the conflicts I have observed (or navigated) regarding “church music” involved people serious about music getting impatient with those who weren’t -- or people who didn’t understand music misunderstanding or misinterpreting those who did. 

I am not a musician, but I was exposed to a lot of music as a kid.  My dad’s taste in music was broad:  Beethoven, Herb Alpert, the Swingle Singers, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, the Kingston Trio, Dion & the Belmonts, the Platters, the Landmark Baptist Quartet, the Hopper Brothers and Connie, the New Christy Minstrels, Chuck Berry, and Georg Friedrich Handel.  I think the only thing we didn’t listen to was opera – and I got a little of that from Bugs Bunny cartoons.

In my parents’ home, music wasn’t taken seriously.  It was for fun.  And music was fun if it was cool.  Singing parts sounded cool – whether it was a rock ballad or a church hymn – and my dad taught us to hear and sing parts.  It sounded cool when we sang together as a family in the car.  And it was fun.  But I never learned to read music, and never saw a need to.  I didn’t take it that seriously.  It wasn't supposed to be work.  It was supposed to be fun.

As an adult, I still like cool music, but I can live without it.  I tend to use music as a distraction.  When I run, I listen to music to distract me from pain and discomfort.  When I study, I use orchestral music (my secretary says it sounds like a funeral home!) as white noise to block out any voices or conversations so that I can focus my attention.  When I drive I don’t listen to music;  I listen to talk radio.

And I don't want to fail to say that I loathe musicals.  Though I found “The Greatest Showman” acceptable.  The music in it was pretty cool.

And I don’t listen to Christian music – contemporary or otherwise.  Except at church.  Music just doesn’t play that big a role in my life.  It doesn’t play that much of a role in my spiritual life.
My approach to Christian spirituality is on the rational “Spockian” end of the spectrum, and Spock couldn't care less about Bach or rock.

I have wrestled for years with how to shepherd people who are different from me – people to whom music is crucial.  Maybe even the central thing in their practice of the faith.
I would prefer that they perceive things the "right way" -- the way I do -- that emotions are secondary and that a rational understanding of truth is what matters. 
Music doesn't matter.
Emotions don't matter.

But then I am haunted by the thought:  “How would you like it if they insisted that you learn to perceive things the way they do?”   And I find myself in the place of trying to appreciate, love, work with – and serve -- people who are quite different from me;  people to whom music is an indispensable part of life – of their spiritual life.  I must try to understand them without really understanding them.

I’m getting better at it, I think.  But I haven’t always been successful in that venture . . .

When I first came to Mountain View Chapel, we held three weekly services:  Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night prayer meeting.  Our Sunday morning was always full.  Sunday evening was usually half full.  And Wednesday night prayer meeting?  Well, for years it was usually me, two elders, and one deacon.  We were faithful to get on our knees and pray for the church for about an hour every Wednesday night.

I tried a generate interest in attending prayer meeting for a few years.  Nothing seemed to work.  Sunday morning and Sunday evening kept growing.  But Wednesday kept withering away.  I finally said, “Guys, the church doesn’t seem to want the Wednesday evening service.  Let’s shut it down and and find another way to accomplish the same goal.” 

So we shut down Wednesday night prayer meeting.
We announced that we were doing so the next Sunday morning
I was shocked by the response:  “What kind pastor are you???  Churches need to have prayer meetings!  This church has always had prayer meeting!  Churches must pray!  You can’t just shut Wednesday night down!  Don’t you believe in prayer, pastor?”

To such people I responded:  “Do you believe in prayer?”
“Of course,” they said vehemently.
“Then why don’t you come to prayer meeting?” I asked. 

Touche and checkmate.  Yes?

No.

My reasoning was like water running off a duck’s back.  Churches are supposed to have Wednesday night prayer meetings and pastors are supposed to run them, they insisted.  Even if no one comes.  That’s just all there was to it!

This wasn’t the first example of feelings overrunning reason – but it was one of the most memorable for me.  And it wasn’t the last.  That issue – people being so grounded in feelings that they can’t understand reasoning – has been one of the greatest and most frustrating challenges I have faced in ministry. 

I entered ministry assuming that people were mostly reasonable, able to keep their emotions in check, and willing to change their minds when new and better information was presented.  I have long since jettisoned that assumption.  When people feel strongly about something, it’s difficult to reason them out of it.

If you are called to shepherd people like that (and I have concluded that more people are like that than not), what do you do?
Do you try to argue them into understanding and agreeing with your position?
Or do you just give them their way and go with what they feel?

It depends on the issue, doesn’t it?  Some things really matter – and other things don’t.  Life, I think, is about learning the distinction between those things.

But when you start off at 21 thinking all of your ideas matter, and that the goal of ministry is to reason everyone into your own position on things – well…the Lord will have a lot of distinctions to teach you, won’t He?

And I’m STILL learning…

My favorite character in the original Star Trek series was Mr. Spock.  Spock, half-human and half-Vulcan, is dominated by his Vulcan side.  Vulcans live by sheer logic.  Reason means everything.  Emotions do nothing but cloud judgment.  Feelings are unimportant.  What is the truth?  What are the facts?  That is what drives Spock.

Mr. Spock is surrounded by highly emotional fully human characters like Captain Kirk and Dr. “Bones” McCoy, who constantly act on emotional impulse and gut instinct, and who, despite bypassing logic, somehow end up doing the right thing and saving the day.

To which Spock can only raise an eyebrow and respond drily:  “Fascinating.”

The characters of Star Trek, much to my chagrin, reflect truth about reality.  Vulcans don’t exist.  Spock is just the fictional foil for Captain Kirk and the other characters to demonstrate that emotion and feeling, not reason, are what make humans human.  It is Spock with his constant appeal to logic alone who seems less human, unreal, robotic.  His inability to engage emotion is what is often lamented in the series, not Kirk’s inability to stay the course and be logical.  Kirk’s success apart from logic always puzzles Spock.

The clash between reason and emotion has created an internal battle for me ever since I’ve been in ministry.  Spock represents my own approach, my ideal.  People should be persuaded by the truth alone.  If you need to appeal to more than truth to persuade – if you must use gimmicks, if you must manipulate feelings – you are attempting to bypass the truth.  Why?  Isn’t the truth good enough?

An appeal to logic may be a great ideal, but Vulcans are fiction.  Real people in the real world are emotional.  Like it or not, how they feel about things is important to them.  And if your appeal to reason doesn’t take into account the fact of their emotions you are perceived as lacking compassion, lacking heart, lacking sensitivity.  You are perceived as impersonal and uncaring.   You lack humanity.

When it comes to matters of reason and emotion, humanity falls on a spectrum.  On one end you have people who are almost robotic – completely given to logic and reason (like Spock).  On the other end you have people who are completely given to feelings and who can’t track with any reasoning that runs contrary to their feelings.  And then you have the entire spectrum of different balances of reason and feelings that fall in between.

I fall on the Spock end of that spectrum.  It’s not that I don’t feel things.  I am very emotional.  I am moved to uncontrollable tears by Gustav Holst’s Jupiter, and my voice cracks and breaks off in silence if I have to sing And Can It Be or How Deep the Father’s Love For Us.  Our congregation can testify to the many times that I have been overcome with emotion in preaching, especially when I begin thinking of selfless sacrifice – like that of Jesus or John the Baptist or the American founders or those that have given their lives in military service.

What I have found, however, is that when they are given free rein, when they permitted to take the steering wheel, feelings rarely steer life in a good direction.  Feelings are my personal response to the world around me, to how the world is affecting me.  But my view is narrow and small, and when my feelings drive I fail to consider the numerous other things required to make wise decisions and plot a steady and successful course forward.

I can’t escape having feelings, but I can control them and keep them at bay.  I am not always successful, but many things, including my upbringing and many life experiences, have taught me how to suspend feelings when I am assessing a situation and making a decision. 

But what do you do when you are oriented toward the Spock-end, have learned to be that way, and then you encounter people at the opposite end of that spectrum?  If you want to minister to them, to serve them, you have to meet them where they are – and that means developing some level of understanding of emotions and emotional people – people who not only don’t feel that emotional manipulation is bad but whose lives are actually driven by it!

This is one of those places where reality has not totaled my ideals, but viciously dented them and forced me to adapt.  Adapt -- not completely concede and surrender. 

And that is one of the crosses upon which my own soul must die almost daily in the hope of being raised with a better understanding of this dilemma and how to minister patiently and successfully, serving others where the Lord has put them rather than demanding that they move to where I want them to be.

Upcoming Events


Sermon Podcasts & Video

For your convenience, in addition to listening to our sermons on our website you can also subscribe to our podcast channels on iTunes or Google Play, or watch on YouTube. Each delivery method contains the same sermon content.


Listen on Google Play Music
Watch on YouTube

Prayer Chain Signup

Email 
 
Name 
  

Connect With Us

Get In Touch

  • 68 Old Douglass Drive
    Douglassville, PA 19518
  • (610) 326-5856
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Join Our Online Community