The first song I dedicated to Bernice was the Beatles’ “In My Life” (1965). Those who know our story and the lyrics of the song will know why. This remains our song, well one of them anyway. Each time I encounter the song I remember the time of our courtship and am reminded of how much she means to me. Music has that power to evoke memories and feelings and indeed to reinforce them.
At the recent Sting concert, Sting admitted that the audience was not there to listen to his new material, which was not bad, but most if not all of us were there to listen to and sing along to his hits. He started his set with “Message in a Bottle” (1979) and we were all engaged and singing along. We knew the words and the song would have evoked memories, feelings, and transported us back to key moments in our lives. And then I thought about the songs we sing in our corporate worship services.
Often worship leaders will choose songs that they know. Some worship leaders have a large repertoire of good music ranging from classic hymns to great new worship songs. But I suspect many do not have that wide a repertoire and therefore choose songs that are meaningful to them, songs that they know. Maybe we should also be asking who is in my congregation and what songs do they know and what songs have meaning for them? And if you have an intergenerational congregation then the exercise is even more challenging because different songs will be meaningful to different generations.
Therefore, what songs the worship leader knows and is meaningful to him or her cannot be the only criterion for songs that are chosen. If the worship leader loves the people, he or she must not only listen to God but must also care for the hearts of the congregation. What songs have been meaningful to them in their pilgrimage? Of all the songs used in corporate worship throughout the year can we interweave songs that stir, the hearts of as many generations as possible?
This is a lot of work but if we truly love each other, we do the hard work needed. If the young love the old, they will take the trouble to know them and what music is meaningful to them and why. And if the old love the young, they too need to make the effort to learn the good new songs that God has given the church. We need to enter into each other’s worlds to discover we are in His world.
One lazy way of addressing the generational differences is to have different worship services for different groups. So, there are traditional services and there are contemporary services, where the worship styles and the songs sung are different. I am not against generation-specific ministries but we must acknowledge and embrace the fact that we are one body and we have so much to offer each other — we can help each other get a bigger and more accurate picture of our God. Let’s learn each other’s songs and get a glimpse of each other’s hearts. It will also be great preparation for the heavenly choir.