A friend of mine, Matt Anderson, recently sent this as part of his weekly email entitled Matt Chat. This is actually part 4, but it stands alone very well. I asked his permission to post it here and he graciously agreed. You can find out more about Matt by clicking here.
Have you ever wondered why we humans are so set in our ways musically? Have you ever pondered why it seems so impossible to align multiple generations within a church under the umbrella of one musical style? Why does it seem like the lines of musical taste are so incredibly pronounced? The explanation may actually be partly physiological.
The year was 1982, and I was a 14 year-old kid just discovering what was then called Contempoary Christian Music. Christian music as an industry was in its infancy. It had outgrown its Southern Gospel/Quartet roots and evolved past its coffee house/folk/classic rock configuration. The trailblazers included Larry Norman (although if alive today, he would be angered by the classification), Don Francisco, Randy Matthews, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, and Randy Stonehill. Now Christian record companies were being formed in the hopes of becoming more professional and legitimate within the national music industry. I dove into it with both feet. I was fortunate, in that the record store at the mall in my town had a large collection of Christian albums. That was about the time when I handed over $8 and bought the “Priority” LP by The Imperials. The album had been out for a year or two and won many awards. It featured such classic songs as, “Trumpet of Jesus,” “I’d Rather Believe in You,” and “Be Still and Know.” I wore that album out. Being into harmonies and pop music, I didn’t just enjoy the music. I actually wanted to be an Imperial, down to the white leisure suit. That style of music would forever be imprinted on my mind. Don’t get me wrong. I think I’ve done a good job over the decades of embracing new styles and nuances in music. But for me nothing can ever match that time of discovery, to the point that hearing Russ Taff sing “Trumpet of Jesus” a few years ago at a Gaither Homecoming concert about sent me through the rafters. I squeeled like a junior higher on helium. Anytime I hear music from that age, a smile comes across my face, and a wave of nostalgia sweeps over me. I never knew music could be so powerful, even decades after I first heard it.
According to Daniel Levitin, I shouldn’t be surprised. In an article last year in the New York Times, Levitin, a professor of psychology and the Director for the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, said, “Fourteen is a sort of magic age for the development of musical tastes. Pubertal growth hormones make everything we’re experiencing, including music, seem very important. We’re just reaching a point in our cognitive development when we’re developing our own tastes. And musical tastes become a badge of identity.” While it’s certainly not an excuse for the musical entrenchment we sometimes see in congregations, it does explain a lot. Whatever we loved at 14 is most likely what we will always have the greatest fondness for later on. That’s why every generation has a different way of filling in this blank: “You know, we just need to sing songs like….” The most seasoned among us will fill it with their favorite hymn or “He Touched Me”. People my age will try to look cool by saying something new, but we privately won’t be mad if “There’s Just Something About that Name” comes out of mothballs. The Millennials would have incredible memories with songs like “Draw Me Close” or “Hungry”, and the youngest among us can’t figure out why Jesus Culture hasn’t made it to the Sunday morning platform. It’s the Fourteen Factor.
Trying to find a style of music that “works” for everyone (I addressed this in the last article) is about as realistic as handing out cans of Pepsi to all the fans at a baseball game, hoping everyone will drink it with appreciation. However, we in the Body of Christ need to model for society what it looks like to be submissive in areas of taste for the greater good of expanding the Kingdom. And we constantly need to remember that this is what it’s really all about. The church is not a catering business; it is the Body of Christ sent to bless other lives more than ours. We need to let go of what is not essential to fulfill what is eternal, and musical taste in corporate worship is absolutely non-essential. While a part of us will always be that 14 year-old, we can’t act like a 14 year-old. The only true factor worth considering is, “Is God being glorified?” We may despise drums, but God is still being glorified. We may have a pipe organ accompanying us, but God is being glorifed. The worship leader may have a tattoo, but God is being glorified. The worship leader may have been a fan of Tattoo on “Fantasy Island,” but God is being glorified. That’s all that matters. Don’t change churches because of it. Don’t look for the church that caters to your 14 year-old needs. That’s what iTunes is for. Come together under the heading of Jesus Christ – not Bill Gaither, Hosanna! Integrity, Vineyard, Hillsong, Planetshakers, or Jesus Culture. If the song pleases actual 14 year-olds, look at the lyrics and lift your hands at the beautiful content you’re singing. There is timeless truth there…even if it happens to be amplified with, well, amplifiers. If your church is singing songs for people who are 14 in dog years, don’t fold your arms and pout. There is something for you in every song if you’ll mine for it…and you won’t have to look far. Just know that if Jesus likes it, so should you.
By the way, you’ll be glad to know that I actually downloaded “Priority” from iTunes, and my inner 14 year-old is one happy critter. It’s always great when you “Finish What You Started.” (A little obscure Imperials humor, there. Hope the four of you who got that enjoyed it.)