Tag Archive for emotion in music

Mind and Spirit

This is the fifth in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

When I read 1 Corinthians 14, I identify with Paul’s situation. He’s talking about speaking in tongues and the place it should have in the church at Corinth. He doesn’t forbid speaking in tongues, as long as an interpreter is there to edify the church. But he does strongly emphasize providing solid, understandable food for the mind, not just the emotions.

That reminds me of my inner struggle every time our Sunday worship service is loaded with contemporary praise songs.

Now I’m certainly not equating praise songs with speaking in tongues. But I do see in 1 Corinthians 14 something of the situation we face. I sense that part of the hymns vs. praise songs issue in our churches is similar to the struggle Paul was facing in Corinth: mind vs. emotion.

Again, hymns are not pure “mind”. They express lots of emotion. And on the other hand, praise songs are not pure “emotion”. They certainly express objective truth. But if there is a line stretching from “mind” on one end to “emotion” on the other, I assert that hymns are nearer the “mind” end, and praise songs are nearer the “emotion” side.

I like what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:15:

I will sing with the spirit and
I will sing with the mind also. (NASB)

Music is always an emotional medium. But it can and must be more than emotional stimulation.

Speaking for myself, and myself alone—expressing personal preference only—praise songs are generally boring. The thought rhythm is too slow; that is, they seem to feed the emotions more than they feed the mind. Too little content, too much repetition. And with their complex, soloistic melodies that I can’t see (I’m used to reading music), they just aren’t worth the effort. They annoy me.

But for every one of me, there is at least one good, godly, Spirit-filled, committed child of God who finds my congregational preferences boring. They find them short on the emotional flavor they prefer, and thus the message just doesn’t connect.

Different cultures, ages, personalities, and individuals are comfortable at different places on that scale of mental stimulation to emotional stimulation. And of course, by even characterizing music that way, I’m painting a highly colorful media in black and white. The issues in congregational singing go far beyond the mind vs. emotion element.

But my point here is this: our Creator God has provided us with an amazing wealth of congregational song that runs the full gamut of mind to emotion. If you’re a worship leader, be aware of both needs, and know your congregation. Feed them a rich and varied feast of song, and don’t be afraid to give them a new flavor once in awhile. They might like it!

If you’re a worshiper, be tolerant, and allow yourself to be stretched. Consider it a chance to broaden your perspective and grow. Participate, and let yourself experience something outside your comfort zone!

For all of us, never forget these two unchanging truths:

  1. Congregational singing is like everything else in life: you will get out of it what you put into it. If resentment and annoyance are all you put in, resentment and annoyance are all you’ll get out.
  1. Always, unfailingly, constantly, show patient kindness toward your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pursue love (1 Corinthians 14:1, NASB).

As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:12-14, NASB)

Emotion and Beyond

This is the fourth in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

Music is emotional. Music arouses passion. Who would want it otherwise?

Not I! As a child of God and as a hymn writer, it’s my goal to be fully responsive to the truth. That includes being emotionally responsive to the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ. Who can believe what God has done for us in Christ and not be emotional? How can we grasp that truth and not be passionate about Him?

That’s why music is such a magnificent gift. It combines meaning with emotion.

But the Church is not the only party speaking to people through emotion and the senses. We minister to a people on sensory overload. Communications media saturate their senses and coddle them with entertainment, desperate to get a hearing for their products. Radio, TV, recordings, billboards, everything is designed with maximum sensory appeal and maximum entertainment value.

When we in the Church attempt to communicate with these people, we sometimes use the same tactics. We feel our music must have maximum energy level to break through to people accustomed to high-appeal communications.

So in our church music, we turn up the emotional volume to maximum. And why not? What is more deeply emotional than the truth we are communicating?

But there are negative effects. We further addict our congregations to high-energy emotional appeals. We feed them salt, increasing their thirst for emotional stimulation and entertainment. More and more, entertainment values saturate our expectations and our judgments of quality. “Good” Christian music is music that excites and impresses us, whether or not it improves our lives and draws us closer to the Living God.

With this increased desire for music that emotionally stimulates us, some themes–critically important themes–are minimized in our songs because they don’t readily lend themselves to musical thrills. Topics like holy living, prayer, perseverance, and self-sacrifice tend to be edged out of our church music. I’ve spent over 35 years in church music publishing, and I can assure you that this is true.

For hymns, the problem grows worse because of a blurring of the line between performance music and congregational music. Choirs, ensembles, and soloists believe that their music has to generate enough emotional energy to jump the gap to static listeners and stir them to emotional involvement. And remember, these are listeners numbed by constant, high-energy sensory appeals all around them.

Whether performance music actually needs such emotional levels, congregational music should not need them. The emotional dynamic is completely different. Hymns don’t have to jump a gap from performer to listener. They don’t need to stir static listeners to involvement. In congregational singing, performers and listeners are one and the same. As they sing, they are already physically involved in the music. With performance music, the congregation has to be jump-started into involvement. In congregational singing, they are already involved. No jump-start is needed. That involvement advantage, along with simpler tunes, should free hymns to focus on meatier words.

But the performance and entertainment mentality has so pervaded our congregations that congregations approach their hymns looking for emotional stimulation as the measure of value. Additionally, as performance increasingly pervades congregational music, singability becomes less and less important. The discipline of simplicity is often lost.

There’s more fall-out. With our church music addicted to high emotional energy and focused on narrow, high-emotion topics, our songs get further and further away from day-by-day, moment-by-moment Christian living. We talk less and less in daily, believable tones about daily, practical issues. And let’s face it: happiness, holiness, and the salvation of needy people are won or lost more on Monday morning than Sunday morning.

None of this is doom and gloom, nor is it intended as an indictment of any particular style of music. The solution is not easy, but it is simple: remember and refocus. Christianity is less about feeling better than about being better. For yourself and for your people, do you want to feel better temporarily or be better every day through a closer relationship with Jesus Christ?

In our society, music is usually focused on temporary emotional stimulation. Music makers gauge their success by how much they can stir their audience to excitement or sentiment, though only for passing moments. Music can do much more than that. Expect more from your church music. Expect more from your hymns. As you sing, look to the Living Christ. Desire to know Him better and to live closer to Him. Let emotion be only an overflow of your faith in Him.