Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Hymns of Our Generation

This week will be the grand start to LiFT Camp 2010, and we’re kicking things off at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Last week, we spent every day working through “practice camp” with the LiFT staff at Boyce College in Louisville, KY, where we held worship services, played games, listened to challenging messages and received other training in areas of sharing the gospel, praying with students, CPR, etc.
At this exact moment, however, we’re at Ridgeview Baptist Church in Stuarts Draft, VA. They’re sending over forty kids to LiFT camp this week, and in a sense, this is like a pre-LiFT kick-off. However, this church has a very wide range of ages, and particularly a larger group of the “gracefully aged”.

I'm the sound guy on my HeartSong team, and I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I consider my role in this team to be one of the most challenging. No matter what church or camp or youth group we have the honor to spend our time, the music we play and the message we bring doesn’t change at all. What changes considerably is how I react within the churches and camps and youth groups. It takes considerable flexibility, because every place we go has a different musical background (and often it goes deeper than that, even as a part of their doctrine).
(Please understand, I consider this very positive. I believe that these people and churches have their various preferences because that’s what enables them to worship more freely. A fellow I met last weekend told me he loves the music so loud that he can’t hear himself singing; this way he can shout out to God and not worry about anybody hearing how “bad” he sings. And for the record, that’s how I like it, too.)

But let’s return to now, here at Ridgeview Baptist Church. Many of these people grew up in churches with an organ and a piano, with hymnals and a minister of music directing the choir and the congregation both. “It Is Well”, “I Need Thee Every Hour”, “Nothing but the Blood”, “Be Thou My Vision”; these and many others are the hymns they know and the cry of their hearts to God. These are the hymns of their generation.
Today, perhaps thirty or forty (or sixty or eighty) years since those hymnals and pews were new and those organ pipes rang their first sonorous notes, when everything else has changed in house and culture and church, these people fight for the hymns they grew up singing. They fight for the hymns of their youth.
And so, in churches like Ridgeview, there are some people who contest the use of drums, dislike the bass guitar and even cringe at the electric. They still long for the four-part, Southern-gospel harmonies and familiar melodies bursting with important theological truths and sound doctrine.
It’s vital that we remember this; as youth, as a team and individually; as a musician or a sound guy. That’s why, in churches like this, I keep the drums and bass turned down, and make sure those vocal harmonies sound as tight as possible. That’s why, in churches like this, we find joy in songs like “Jesus Paid It All” and “Before the Throne”. That’s why, in churches like this, we strive to show people that the love of Christ is strong in everything we do, so that even if they don’t like the style of music, they can see the power of our incredible God and the truth of his word through us and through the words we sing.

I overheard the pastor at Ridgeview discussing this idea with a member of the church. (That’s what prompted me to write, after all.) The songs we sing, these are the hymns of OUR generation. Perhaps, as the pastor speculated, we will fight for these songs forty years from now. Perhaps, when house and culture and church have changed all around us, we will still cling to these “hymns of our generation”. The music is different, but the words are as powerful and as true as any other hymn we could sing. And perhaps, forty years from now, we can remain open to music and welcome a new generation as they sing new hymns of worship to a constant God.

And as I finish this post, I feel the need to pose a question. Hayden, Tommy and I stayed with a wonderful fellow and his wife, both divorced and remarried, with kids of their own. He asked for our stories; our journey in faith and in coming to know Christ. Then he posed this incredible question: What drives you?
As young adults, away from our parents and our parents’ faith, what compels us to remain faithful? So, what is it? What drives us?

What drives you?