As church musicians go, my sense is that I fall into a narrow segment of the population in that I have both experience in and appreciation for the so-called “traditional” and “contemporary” church music styles. I can easily be at home behind the organ console, in front of a choir, at the keyboard in a worship band, or dual-wielding handbells—and in a 5-hour span on a Sunday morning, you may occasionally find me doing all four.
The point of this is not to brag; it’s simply to set up the context for the argument I’m about to make. I lay this groundwork because, it seems to me that most church musicians live in one of these realms (“traditional” or “contemporary”) at the exclusion of the other, either because they find the other one distasteful or they simply have no experience with it (which of these gives way to the other is a matter for another post).
And so having background in both, I notice when some musicians level disparaging remarks at one camp’s expense. Both sides (though I hate to reinforce the false dichotomy) are equally guilty of these sins. “Organ music is outdated and obsolete.” “Guitars and drums are not worship instruments.” “Why should we spend money to buy hymnals? Rock music is the way to go!” “Why do the song leaders get so dramatic and emotional? It’s nauseating…”
These remarks are not only divisive and hurtful comments that we level against our own Christian brothers and sisters (who, by the way, are also following their own call to discipleship and doing the Lord’s work). These remarks also betray musical and theological snobbery, which should have no place in the Church. They are an assault on our fellow Christians and speak volumes about our own fears and insecurities. Setting our own personal tastes and liturgical biases up on pedestal (or using them as a bludgeon) says that we don’t care about oneness with our neighbors, that we can’t treat with respect and dignity things that are different than our own practices. It also speaks of an arrogance that prevents us from learning from other traditions; it says, “We know what’s best and you don’t.”
Snobbery creeps in in other ways as well, especially ones that don’t fall along musical style lines. It can sometimes be manifested in a perfectionistic zeal for only musically superior musical performances by soloists or the choir or the organist; it can show up in the insecurities of leaders when things don’t go smoothly, as if worship should be such a clockwork endeavor or slick performance that there is zero-tolerance for mistakes. My own sins of snobbery tend to fall into this category, and I remind myself and others that worship should be like the widow’s mite—not offering perfection, but offering our best, which is not the same thing.
The last place for us to find snobbery should be in a time devoted to the unadulterated praise of the living God in Christ. Let’s work to make worship a snob-free zone.