Worship at FBC Starkville
The Attitude and Philosophy of Worship
photos by Kathleen Rodgers
We love to be entertained. Whether we're telling stories around a campfire or reading good books or even sitting in a dark room with a hi-def TV and surround sound, we love to be engaged. It's always been with us, this yearning for creativity and art and entertainment. When we're really involved, our five senses can be totally immersed. Have you ever been reading a book and totally missed your name being called by a friend? How about jumping in fright at a good scary movie? The medium and the availability might change, but not our desire to be entertained. We love a good story; a good song; a good movie.
It's in our DNA. It's the way God created us. He designed us to be aesthetic creatures. We respond to the world around us with our five senses, judging things to be pleasing or not. We appreciate, in varying degrees, things like the color of the sky at sunset, the beauty of a mountain range in the distance, the pattern of the fabric on a chair, the pictures in our homes, the clothes we wear. Walk into anyone's home, and you can easily get a sense of their aesthetic style.
Likewise, the arts can evoke strong aesthetic reactions. Have you seen a sculpture in a museum or a park that you absolutely detested? How about paintings? What about music? Music is a scoundrel. You can avoid a sculpture, you could refuse to hang a picture in your home, but music is fairly pervasive. Thankfully, in our modern world, music can be ultra-personalized. Put on your headphones and stream your favorite brand of music for your ears only. Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora - choose your provider, and each family member can listen to their different playlists while sitting in the same room.
Music has a rough history of being villainous. It evokes very strong emotions in people. When Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" was premiered in Paris in 1913, it actually caused a riot. Today, Stravinsky's work would seem tame. Music for the church is no different. Way back in the middle ages, the monks of the cathedral of Notre Dame came up with some new music. All the Gregorian chant folks hated it. In late sixteenth-century England, the top ten church songs only included versified psalms. Then, Isaac Watts came along and wrote "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." It was not appreciated at the time, and it was another one hundred years before we found a hymn tune to match it. During the 1800s in the US, hymn writers began writing "gospel" songs like "The Old Rugged Cross". Traditional church singers hated the jerky rhythms of the gospel style and thought it too much like dance music. Let's not even talk about the 20th century!
So what does this mean for worship? Worship is much more than music, yet music plays an integral part in our corporate worship experiences. God has built us to respond to music with our senses, to enjoy it, and to be entertained by it. It is a natural force. How are we, then, to come together in worship if everyone responds to music differently, favoring one genre or style of music over another. Let's look to the Bible for some guidelines.
The natural man is ruled by his passions, his ego, and his aesthetics. Ephesians 2:3 reminds us:
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
But the Christ-follower strives to be ruled by the Spirit:
Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me".
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
We are still in possession of all our natural longings and desires, including our aesthetic sensibilities. However, the Christ-follower is not ruled by them. Rather, we sacrifice them daily as we follow Christ. Instead of allowing our flesh to divide us, Paul calls us to override that tendency and:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
When we come together for worship, we put aside our personal taste for the good and the common-unity of the congregation. We do not lose our aesthetic appreciation for excellence and beauty, but we understand that there is a larger purpose than satisfying our entertainment cravings. We set aside and crucify our personal preferences to prefer those around us instead.
At FBC Starkville, the music ministry has a vision for our church to be joined together in worship. There's actually a name for it: Unified Worship. There are two necessary components in this philosophy of worship planning.
The first component is the attitude of the worshipper. They must come to a service willing to be a living sacrifice. Worship is not what you get out of it, but what you put into it. We should arrive at the service in expectation that we will be challenged more than comforted. We will be called to action instead of asked to sit idly. We love to hear our favorite songs, but we should also strive to learn new ones. Scripture commands us multiple times to… Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. (Psalm 149:1) and also Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. (Psalm 98:1)
As the Lord continues to do marvelous things among us, we respond with new expressions of praise. These can be new hymns, spiritual songs, or anthems. There are numerous new songs written each month, but they are vetted carefully for inclusion in our service so that we only include a small handful of new songs per semester. A song is new if it's new to you. A seventeenth-century hymn may be new to you. Some congregants at FBC don't know the composer Kristen Stanfill. Others have never heard of Bill Gaither! I ask you to ponder this question: If you don't try new songs, are you being disobedient to the Lord?
The second component in Unified Worship is the philosophy by which music is utilized. Music is chosen based on many factors for a service. What we don't do is just as informative as what we do.
We don't use texts that are theologically incompatible with what we believe.
We don't use music that isn’t written well and appropriate for congregational singing.
We don't use music to follow a style trend. We are not interested in being the ‘trendy’ church.
We don't "perform" music to glorify ourselves or to be in the spotlight.
We don't plan services to please people, but to please God.
We do use music that engages the congregation in worship.
We do use a variety of genres and historical eras of music as it is appropriate for the service.
We do search for music that appropriately communicates the message of Christ in ways that speak to each generation as needed.
We do choose music that fits the needs of the service rather than choosing music for its genre or style.
We do strive to prepare all music to the highest level of excellence.
We do understand that music affects our sensibilities and is a great power for the Kingdom in building community, engaging the congregation, and sharing the Word.
We do seek to use music to glorify God as we gather, grow, give, and go!
Within the parameters of Unified Worship, there is plenty of room for all kinds of music. We have two thousand years of music history! Why settle for only music written in the last decade or music that was written in the 1950s? Having said that, we seek to provide a balance in our services, understanding that visitors are present and that most people don't have a "big picture" view of worship.
There are five events planned for this year that reflect Unified Worship but speak to various parts of our congregation.
Our Hymns Alive! Concert on Sunday, October 6 at 4 pm in the sanctuary will feature classic hymns and classical music by very talented and trained musicians. Dr. Michaelle Harrison will be featured on our pipe organ. We'll have several MSU music faculty members taking part, including Dr. Anthony Kirkland on trumpet, soprano Dr. Roza Tulaganova, percussionist Dr. Jason Baker, and cellist Courtney Blackwell. Our Celebration Choir and Orchestra will also be leading worship. This concert allows us to share music in a worship concert that is not otherwise usually appropriate for our morning worship services.
Night of Worship
Our next Night of Worship is on Sunday, October 27, at 6 pm. This worship experience draws upon much newer music and will utilize our young worship leaders, along with the band, choir, and orchestra. The experience includes more modern pieces with extended periods of congregational singing. Our worship leaders include our staff members, Kyle Hickey and Veronica Leach, local music teacher Rachel Witbeck and students Daniel Joyner, Nathanael Rosener, and Jeff Jenkins.
As we begin the Christmas season, we will present our cantata, Christmas in His Presence. This annual program features our Celebration Choir and Orchestra in a traditional concert setting that brings the music of the season into focus with new choral music. The entire program centers on the joyful birth of Christ and our eager expectation for his return. Our Christmas program this year will be on Sunday, December 8 at 4 and 6 pm.
A Star(k)filled Christmas at City Hall Plaza will be on Sunday, December 15 at 4:30 pm. Our choir will join with other churches around town to sing Christmas carols, share hot chocolate and cookies, and enjoy a live manger scene. We want to take the Christmas message out to the broader community and share a Christian influence with our city.
Christmas Eve Service
The last event for the year is our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. As in years past, we'll have two services: one at 4 pm and another at 5:30 pm. The music will feature traditional Christmas carols and a solo or two. It's a special time with family to consider the true meaning of Christmas.
In every one of these events, just like every Sunday, the second component of the Unified Worship philosophy is applied: choosing music that is appropriate and leading it with excellence. It is left to you to decide whether you will bring the first component to worship: that of a willing heart and a broken spirit. In the end, all the music in the world, no matter the style or quality, is worthless if we don't come with the right attitude to worship. Let's hear the prophet Micah's words once again ring out in the sanctuary:
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.