Time for Change

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No, this isn’t an endorsement for Obama! It is time for change or will be time for change at some point in all our worship leading lives. Last week we talked about a worship leader I know who said his music didn’t “sound right” – the problem wasn’t that he was doing dated songs, the problem was his band of older musicians were playing modern music like it was 1982. They won’t change.

I’m hearing stories like this from churches everywhere. I know of one mid 40’s guitarist who refuses to use a capo and tried to get the worship leader fired because of it. Over a… capo? He thought it was beneath him, yet modern guitarists know it’s not necessarily a shortcut but a way of getting different chord voicings from the instrument. He won’t change.

Welcome to worship wars 2008. Wars start whenever a person or group feels displaced. Twenty years ago the traditionalists were at war with the contemporaries because they were starting to be displaced. Today, the 80’s rock musicians are at war with the 20-somethings for the same reason.

Let’s get right down to it: it’s a pride issue.

Pride is saying “this is the way I’ve (we’ve) always done it, I know what I’m doing, you don’t, and I refuse to change.” Last week I suggested you might want to look for a new guitarist if yours has this attitude. Not because he can’t play the music, but as all the worship leader devotionals I’ve read say, we supposedly don’t want people on our praise teams with pride issues. How much better instead to have an open heart and mind and be willing to try something new that might be a bit out of our comfort zones?

Last week a reader emailed me to lovingly point out that, at 42 years old, I’m no “spring chicken” myself so who am I to talk! Which leads me to my next point: if I can change, anyone can change.

I’ve reinvented myself more times than Madonna. Here’s a brief rundown of my various incarnations and styles of keyboard playing:

1. Old time congregational Gospel hymn playing (running octaves in the right hand.) 1986. Coat and tie.

2. Steve Green (I can remember going to a Steve Green concert years ago and thinking “this music is so… worldly!” For those who don’t know, Steve Green was in the era of Sandi Patti and his music basically sounded like a typical orchestrated LifeWay choir anthem.) 1989. Coat and tie.

3. Don Moen and “God With Us.” Remember when that worship musical was all the rage? 1994. Worship leader vest.

4. Matt Redman and Passion. 1999. I started wearing jeans to church, but in a business-casual sort of way (shirt tucked in.)

5. Hillsong United and everything else that’s guitar driven. 2007. My shirt’s untucked, I don’t comb my hair and I look younger than I did at #3.

You have to admit that’s quite an impressive leap from the keyboard glissandos of #1 to the distorted guitar riffs of #5. And your guitarist can’t find it within himself to use a delay pedal? Please.

My point is where do you think I’d be today if I was still playing like it was 1986? I’ve found that musical change is not painful but quite fun and challenging. I remember hearing Matt Redman for the first time in the late 90’s, towards the end of the Don Moen/Integrity heyday. I thought “yuck – it’s all guitars and those chord progressions are so weird.” I went to one of WorshipTogether’s first worship conferences in Nashville, heard Matt speak, bought a CD and fell in love with it on the ride home. The same thing happened years before when I heard Steve Green – I bought his CD after the concert and started to like it. Learning about the artist and seeing him/her in concert can give you a window into a musical style and help change your taste. If your guitarists don’t want to play like Starfield then maybe you should take them to a Starfield concert and buy them some CDs.

The music at my last church was predominately an 80’s rock sound with some Paul Baloche thrown in. When I left the music director job to focus on my websites a few years ago I morphed again: I spent a wonderful year at Seacoast Greenville and basically got a crash course in rock playing from Chris Sligh, Adam Fisher and Chris Surratt. I play keyboards completely different now than I did 3 years ago and can fit into a modern rock band as well as playing more churchy stuff like I previously have.

I guess that’s one fear musicians have: they don’t want to lose their musical identity. This isn’t the case at all – you stay the same and can do whatever you did before, it’s just that you can now do so much more. You’re versatile.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of playing at a very contemporary, cutting edge church. After rehearsal, the mid 20’s rock-starish worship leader came up to me and gushed over my keyboard playing. I took this as one of the greatest compliments of my life – a contemporary rocker complimenting a… dork like me! If I can change, anyone can change.

This goes for all musical walks of life. I was talking to a songwriter recently who hopes to have her songs recorded and published. The problem is they all sound like old time Gospel songs. I told her if she seriously wants a publisher to look at her material she needs to write like it’s 2008. “Do you ever listen to Christian radio?” I asked. She wrinkled her nose. I gave her an assignment: start listening to the radio and buy Christian CDs. Don’t just listen but analyze the songs – what makes a modern tune sound differently from a Gospel song from the 60’s?

At a recent worship conference I noticed that a workshop on contemporary singing was jammed with hundreds of people. Evidently another new worship war centers around displaced, operatic housewives who no longer are asked to sing solos or be on the praise team because their warbling won’t fit the modern worship songs.

The choice is yours. If you don’t want to change the world won’t stop turning, but do you really want to be…

…a bitter guitarist who doesn’t get to play with the band as much because he can’t part with those dated effects?

…a vibrato vocalist who doesn’t get to sing as many solos because her voice doesn’t fit contemporary styles?

…a grouchy keyboardist who wonders why he’s only asked to play hymns at the nursing home and not play with the praise band?

Did I mention if I can change, anyone can change? It’s really fun, you ought to try it.

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