Contemporary is Relative

I’m sitting at the French Press in Goleta finalizing my sermon notes while listening to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book.
It’s on shuffle play and it went from Same Drugs (one of my favorites from the album — and listen to it before you make your snap judgment. It’s not about drugs) to How Great which uses the, often overplayed, song by Chris Tomlin.
And it got me thinking about contemporary worship and one of my recent experiences at a “contemporary” service.

So there I was at a church’s 8:30am contemporary service.
Now — I prefer worship with drum beats, bass line, electric guitar riffs, and the worship leaders dressed like hipsters with scarves, even if it’s 100 degrees outside. Even if the songs are Jesus is my boyfriend type of songs that are way to repetitive and may be theologically unsound,  I still prefer that over the high church, organ music, “traditional” worship.

The pastor was wearing what seems to be the uniform of mainline contemporary worship: Aloha shirt (that’s Hawaiian shirt for you mainlanders) and jeans. (And if they really are uncomfortable of ditching the robe completely, they’ll have a stole on — often with Hawaiian floral prints. What’s with all the Hawaiian stuff…?).

There was a full praise band — drums, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard, few vocals.
Except, there was really nothing “contemporary” about the service or the songs the worship band led us in.
The songs were popular when I was in high school. It was a throw back to the 90’s when Darlene Zschech and Hillsong was the face of contemporary worship. They even incorporated camp songs that are tried and true in our UMC camp circles.

But, it was 2015. Not 1996. I looked around.  I wasn’t surprised that I was one of the few young folks and the only non-white person in the pews. Which, actually — unfortunately– is fairly normal (to be one of the few who are young and not white in a Methodist gathering)…

Contemporary worship in mainline denomination is often a misnomer. It’s like the folks putting together the contemporary worship are filled with nostalgia more than being with the times. 
Also many of the contemporary worship services I’ve attended just aren’t done well either. It’s almost an afterthought, I feel like.
The church feels the pressure to do a contemporary worship because the big non-denom churches are doing it and drawing the (oh-so-coveted) younger crowd. We don’t want to mess with the worship times that are already established because people will have a holy cow. So we decide to do it first thing in the morning, the 8am hour. Because young folks love getting up early.
We wear non-traditional Sunday clothes like jeans and Aloha shirts  — or an Ed Hardy shirt if one is suffering from a mid-life crisis. We go all-in with the phrase come as you are (which more translates to: wear whatever the heck you want, but ladies you be careful what you wear so that you don’t tempt the men around you because we men are too feeble and too stupid to know how to handle such “adversity.”)
We find musicians who detest the current state of music — mainly because we have a hard time finding musicians with younger, “contemporary” taste to come to worship at 8am.
And there we have it. One more thing to cross off  on the checklist of “Things Modern Churches” should do.

Generally we define this style of worship as “contemporary” because of the music the worship service incorporates.
But the music that many of our contemporary worship incorporates rarely are contemporary. They are the tried and true (read: overused) songs from the last decade. They surely don’t reflect the contemporary music that dominates the radio.

Just for funsies, here are the top 10 tracks on iTunes at the time of writing this:
1. Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake
2. One Dance – Drake
3. Just Like Fire – P!nk
4. Don’t Let Me Down – Chainsmokers
5. H.O.L.Y. – Florida Georgia Line
6. Work From Home – 5th Harmony
7. This is What You Came For – Calvin Harris
8. Panda – Desiigner
9. 7 Years – Luke Graham
10. Somewhere on a Beach – Dierks Bentley

(Top 5 Albums: Black – Dierks Bently; Lemonade – Beyonce; Murder for Hire 2 – Kevin Gates; 7/27 – 5th Harmony; If I’m Honest – Blake Shelton)

For more funsies, top 5 tracks of Christian & Gospel music on iTunes:
1. Trust in You – Lauren Daigle
2. Slow Down – Nicole Nordeman
3. Move (Keep Walkin’) – Tobymac (man, this guy’s still around? Awesome)
4. Good Good Father – Chris Tomlin
5. Tell Your Heart to Beat Again – Danny Gokey (he’s the American Idol guy, right? — quick Google search says “yes”)

Many songs used in contemporary worship do not reflect the style of the (contemporary) top hits in the country. (We also don’t use the top Christian hits that often, either. Trust in You by Ms. Daigle is a fantastic song, btw.)

It’s too new. It’s too hiphop. It’s too unfamiliar. It’s too electronica. It’s too… young. I’ve had my warming of the heart moment while singing the morning blessing to the tune of the Superman theme; Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan’s Island; singing One Tin Soldier around the campfire. How do we recreate that 

So, contemporary becomes relative. When we think of contemporary, instead of thinking of the things that are happening now, we tend to think of what the world was like when we were the age of people we’re trying to reach.

And that’s one of the biggest mistakes I feel a church makes when reaching out to people. Instead of actually engaging folks we’re wanting to reach and learning where they may be in life, what they may be seeking — we assume this is what they’ll want. We sit in a room with insiders and life-timers asking, “What would be meaningful to those who may have never been to church?”
How do we answer those questions without engaging and interacting with such folks?
Well, when I was their age…
Well, when we were looking for a church in the 60’s…
What worked for my kids (who are now in their 50’s)…
We chose the Methodist Church over the other churches because it had the nicest landscape and the freshest paint on its walls. So let’s spruce up the campus!
We went to church because it was the thing to do! Why are we trying so hard to reach folks? They should be coming soon! Have faith, oh ye of little faith. 

A lot of times, rather than being contemporary, we’re nostalgic.
I know I’m being snarky. And I know I’m making sweeping generalizations. But hey, I was just informed that there is no drought in California and that when a certain person comes to power, he’ll go all Moses on us and strike a rock and water will gush out. (I don’t know what that has to do with anything).

I just get annoyed when a worship is contemporary solely on the basis that the service has a guitar and the pastor can wear jeans. That’s not contemporary. That’s casual. And maybe that’s the better name of such services: casual service. 

On a different note, two of the best albums I heard recently are Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
In fact — they’re more honest about their faith and the world around them, I feel, than the bubbly Christian artists that you hear on K-Love or Air1 or the ones that win Dove awards.

I’ll leave you with Chance the Rapper bringing church to Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. Maybe you can think about using this song for Sunday service. 😉

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