NY Times on contemporary Christian music

There’s a decent article on the NY Times site talking about the growth of High Desert Church in Victorville, CA. It focuses particularly on the music ministry there, which to my mind seems simultaneously gigantic and sophisticated. I thought the writer was fair, and that the subjects came off very well; though you know the “typical” Times reader (if such a creature exists) will be expected to shudder after reading that the church was able to collect $20 million in member donations for a new building project. (I.e., with that kind of money, what CAN’T they do?)

I’d just like to comment on two parts of the article. The senior pastor says:

“When you start a church,” said Tom Mercer, 52, the senior pastor, “you don’t decide who you’re going to reach and then pick a music style. You pick a music style, and that determines who’s going to come.”

Ain’t that the truth. If people don’t like the music they tend to leave, unless they are old-timers who formed a bond with the church in years past, before the music changed to something they don’t like. People are more likely to endure a boring pastor than bad music.

And toward the end, the article quotes some of the musicians’ comments on trying to remain humble as they perform/entertain/lead worship.

“We’re not up there to have people say, ‘Wow, what an amazing band,’” Mr. Day said. His goal, he explained, was to play with excellence but to remain “transparent.”

“There’s a constant tension,” he continued, “between the audience and the people on the stage, all thinking, ‘O.K., music is a great tool, but the ultimate purpose is worship.’ And riding that tension is tough.”

I can appreciate that dilemma, as it is not isolated to musical endeavors. But it does raise an interesting question about “how good” art can be without the artist becoming guilty of pride. In the middle ages and renaissance, artists would consciously build in subtle imperfections into their works, in a bid for humility similar to that of the Victorville musicians. But they would also give it all they had: were the Chartres sculptors holding back? Handel? Bach? I don’t think so. Maybe they were all guilty of pride . . . no doubt I would have been, given their monumental talents. But in contemporary music just as in anything else, I say it can’t be wrong to give it your all. God knows why we do what we do.

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