This past Sunday, I was sitting in a worship service with my lovely Bride by my side. Since I retired from the active pastorate, this is one of my weekly pleasures and privileges. Unfortunately, it is also the instigation of a now-weekly thought. The thought is in the form of a question, and the question is this: “Why can’t they play music I know?”
As I stood attempting to sing these (mostly unfamiliar) songs with the rest of the congregation, it really bothered me that this question keeps coming up week after week. The reason it bothers me is because, as a pastor for thirty-eight years, I fought that battle, week in and week out. If I had gotten paid for each time I heard a similar complaint from one of the parishioners, I could have retired at age fifty.
The Problem Was Obvious
The obvious problem was that everyone’s taste was different. When I was pastoring, some wanted hymns, some wanted choruses, others wanted contemporary worship music. Playing to the masses was impossible. If we hired a pianist, people complained because they wanted to hear guitar. When all we had was a guitarist, the complaints got even louder. For me as a pastor, it was a constant source of frustration. Of the several things I don’t miss in retirement, trying to choose music to please the folks in the pews is right up there with business meetings and letters from anonymous critics.
On the other side of things, there was something I had seldom paused to consider in those days. When I did pick out music, regardless of what it was, I knew the selections. If I didn’t know them, I took the time to learn them. I tried my darndest to teach people what I knew, but worship services really aren’t long enough to do much of that. But, at least, I tried. In my defense, no one has attempted much musical direction in the services I’ve attended since my retirement. I could use a tad more of that these days.
I Wouldn’t Whine
Having said all that, I have to admit, it’s not something I’d voice any complaints over. I would never go to the pastor of a church and whine about not knowing the music. The reason for my reticence to do so is found in Scripture. Beginning in Psalm thirty-three, we start reading the admonition which tells us to “sing a new song” to the Lord. We find this repeated in Psalms 96, 98, 144, 149, and Isaiah 42. So what do we do? Publish fat hymnals containing our favorites from the past five hundred years. I guess they’re new in light of eternity (how’s that for rationalization). Regardless, many of them are old and stale.
It’s not all bad, though. The fact is, I’ve heard some dynamite sermons since my retirement. In addition, I’ve struggled to learn some new songs that are quite good as well. I’m an old dog learning new tricks. It’s not easy, but it is gratifying.
A couple weeks ago, I was visiting with some Christians who were complaining about their respective worship services. After listening for a while, I asked them this question. “Why do we go to church?”
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]