There are No Worship Wars at Memorial Services

RIP My Way  Having had occasion in recent weeks to participate in or attend a number of funeral services in churches, I have made particular note that there seems to be no issue regarding musical style in these services of ministry and worship.  Although churches seem to continue contentions, either openly or behind the scenes, regarding genres of musical expression in weekly worship gatherings, no such contention seems present when time comes for planning memorial services.  I am unaware of a single scenario where a church announces that there will be a “traditional” funeral service at 2:00pm followed by a “contemporary” service at 3:00pm, and a “blended” service at 4:00pm.  Nor have I heard of a deceased church member to be remembered via “Funeral Kids Style” in the Children’s Building, an “All-out Funeral” (labeled with some kitsch moniker trying to describe an anticipated experience that teenagers can anticipate) in the Student Life Center, a band-driven “Young Adult” service in Fellowship Hall that may either be an unplugged acoustic version or a deafening-decibels version depending on band availability, and finally a “Same Ol’ Traditional” service to be held in, where else? the Sanctuary.

Granted, I am being totally tongue-in-cheek concerning some conclusions of my observance, but the observance is true nonetheless.  Some might immediately observe that multiple services would not be needed for a funeral these days as modern trends do not find people attending funerals in great numbers anyway.  Indeed, while statistics bear out declining attendance for wakes and memorial services these days, one reason for this sad and telling fact is likely the way church leaders have split the church in weekly worship into the very kinds of self-obsessed divisions mentioned in the ironic description listed above.  After all, why would a vibrant teen who is living loud want to subject himself or herself to a service that is rooted in remembering a past of some elderly person who was outside their circle anyway?  Most likely you could continue in this satirical tone to fill in other equally erroneous situations that contradict conventional Christian norms and understandings of biblical teaching as to how believers are to treat one another.  St. Paul is not difficult to understand in this Romans 12 passage, just to offer one clear example:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  (Romans 12:10-16)

Just this past Saturday I attended two memorial services, one for a seventy-year-old saint, and one in memory of a twenty-one year old Christ-follower.  Though the congregations gathered for each of these services were multi-generational, I never heard a word of discontent over musical expression.  Some might say the homogenous spirit in this regard was out of respect for the deceased.  Such may be at least a factor, especially in the case of the former where music expression was all of a traditional style, nevertheless argument could be made that this simply amplifies the point.  Is not mutual respect a contributing factor in the very essence of how we are to worship in weekly gatherings?  Would we not then choose to defer to one another for purpose of mutuality in ministry and worship community, rather than demand what we prefer to be the musical repertoire, lest we pick up our instruments of choice and leave one fellowship to find another that “does it our way?”

Worship pastors, senior pastors, and other church leaders, let us pause to consider how our practices of weekly worship are forming the people of our flock.  May we include serious consideration of how we are leading them to consider one another, even as we think about the means of artistic expression with which we engage in Christian worship as a community of faith that professes to be one in Christ.  Perhaps we can learn from the respect we offer for those who we pray will rest in peace, and can intention to serve those with whom God calls us to live in peace.

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church keyboard players, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

4 Comments on “There are No Worship Wars at Memorial Services”

  1. bbbbarry Says:

    [importing a facebook discussion]
    What an awful article. I kept waiting for the clincher — where he recognizes that, in funerals, the wishes and tastes of the deceased are uniquely reflected. Nope: he just plowed through with the same old reasoning that ignores the fact that we do choose our congregations, and we do so partly based on whether the worship service speaks to our hearts. So, *within* those congregations, too, we want the worship service to speak to our hearts, and it’s not selfish or unreasonable to want that. The best churches, whether traditional in style or contemporary, or blended, straightforwardly recognize that this is the way it’s going to be.

    He could, for instance, have done the same article pointing out the fact that he’s never experienced a day of memorial services with an early funeral, late funeral, and evening funeral, then agonized over churches who divide their congregations temporally. Of course, he *wouldn’t* have done that, because we all recognize that it’s perfectly OK to have an early service and a late service. Why not, then, make the early service one kind of thing and the late service another?

    [elizabeth responds]
    “We want the worship service to speak to our hearts.” This statement is the epitome of self-serving “worship”. That is exactly what the article is comparing to funeral services. We all gather together for one purpose. Would you be honoring the person LESS because the music wasn’t to your taste and didn’t “speak to your heart”? No! So why do we create self serving divided worship services? Plus, God is going to speak to my heart any time I open my heart to Him and listen…that doesn’t require one style of worship over another. So I disagree, I do NOT recognize that “that’s the way it’s going to be.”

    [i answer]
    So, your choice of church has *nothing* to do with the style of music, the convenience to your house, whether you like the people there…? There’s nothing “self-serving” about that, in the bad sense of the term. Would you recommend that we go to churches whose teachings are at variance with our beliefs? Exactly how far are we going to go here?

    Why *did* you choose the church you go to? What basis can there be for a choice of church that can’t ultimately be criticized as “self-serving” by the logic of the linked article?

    I’d be interested to hear other people’s answers to these questions, too, and not just Elizabeth’s.

    [paul clark jr weighs in]
    Barry B seems to me you may have missed the point

    [i answer]
    I may very well have missed the point – do explain!

    I tend to think that this post is saying that, in the case of funerals, we selflessly tend to put our own desires aside for what a worship service should be like, and if we can do it for funerals (the special feasts of our worship experience) then why on earth can’t we do it for our every-week services, the weekly meals for which Christendom comes together? That is, you seem to be saying that, when faced with the unflinching reality that funerals bring, we focus properly and leave our selfishness behind, and we would all benefit if we applied that focus to our normal lives and worship.

    If your point is something else, though, please enlighten.

  2. bbbbarry Says:

    [paul clark jr says:]
    Think you got it. Curious why plea for leaders to lead toward unity and deference equals “an awful article”

    [i respond]
    A plea for leaders to lead toward unity and deference does *not* equal an “awful article.” But misplaced analysis does. So, while I’m glad to hear that I did get the point, I’m also sad because I so completely disagree with that point.

    Not that I disagree with your goal of getting leaders to lead toward unity, but that I disagree with flawed reasoning, the reasoning the entire post is built on.

    Funerals are not at all an emblematic place to start, simply because, as mentioned, the entire service is planned according to the wishes of one or two people (the deceased or a family member). Everyone understands that if the person’s favorite hymn was “God of Earth and Outer Space,” we’re all gonna sing it. There *is* a reason we do that for funerals, and what we do for funerals shouldn’t translate to what we do week in and week out.

    Many of us have been in churches where one gatekeeper subjects everyone to his or her own tastes in worship — leaving out a beloved song that the community would cherish, or including a song that very few cherish. “Deference” in this case was defined (by *that* person) as all of *us* deferring to *that* person — perhaps not quite what the Apostle Paul had in mind.

    What a rich message of freedom this post could have been, if it had recognized that different congregations have different shapes and different worship styles for the same reason that they have different theological understandings and interpretations of Scripture — and even within one congregation the early service can be more formal and the late service can be more casual.

    Ideally, such arrangements can benefit the health of a congregation. In a church I used to attend, for instance, after a decade of pinballing from one wrong answer to another, they got a contemporary service going that has been a breath of fresh air for the church. ‎Clayton Christensen would recognize it as a co-opting of what he calls “disruptive innovation” — a way for a large and entrenched organization to be infused by new life. This doesn’t seem like the picture of selfishness and triviality painted here.

    • bbbbarry, (I admit that is just fun to type)

      I still think you may be misreading me, or what bothers me more is that I have not communicated well through the original article. That is a real and present danger with blogs, where the aim may be to nudge and, depending on where in the matrix someone jumps in, there is capacity for impression that the nudge is the entire intention, if that makes sense. I appreciate you bringing the conversation over here where more who read the original can see the expanded discussion. Perhaps the “rich message of freedom” you feel I missed will be read in your extended remarks.

  3. […] There are No Wars at Memorial Services […]

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