Last summer, although it wasn’t for Lent, our church gave up something a little bigger than chocolate. We gave up music. We were going through a period of transition and wanted a clean music slate, a cleansed palate. We wanted to refocus on what was truly important in our services. So, for three weeks, we fasted from all music in our worship services. No preludes, no postludes, no interludes. How did we do that? How did it go? In these next two posts, I’d like to share some of what we did during the fast and what we learned from it. I’ll begin with what we did.
- Silence before the service - the first week of the fast, there was a lot of boisterous talking in the sanctuary during the time normally filled by the prelude. I think everyone simply assumed there was no prelude, or that it was starting late. So they just prattled away as usual. It made us realize just how much people talk during the prelude, a time that could be used to prepare one’s heart for coming before God. For the following weeks, we asked that everyone be quiet in the sanctuary before the service.
- Reading song lyrics - it occurred to us that the lyrics of many hymns and praise songs could be used powerfully in worship, even without singing. We looked for songs with repetition and strong, simple statements about God. Then we grouped the lines into responsive readings. A few of the songs that worked well were: “Rejoice, the Lord is King”, “How Great Is Our God”, and “When Morning Gilds the Skies”.
- Reading Psalms - Psalms are songs, and while many of them have been put to less-than-singable tunes, they are also great for reading aloud. We read Psalms for at least five minutes each week during the fast.
- Scripture reading - every week in our church, the pastor does read our primary Scripture passage aloud. But the music fast gave us the opportunity to read a lot more passages together. Sometimes we had leaders read them; sometimes we read them together. In one service, we spent about fifteen minutes asking for requests from the parishioners, then reading those verses aloud. We recruited at least ten different readers during the fast, which kept it more interesting and got more people involved.
- Longer prayers - although a CRC mainstay, the “Long Prayer” is not often all that long. During the music fast, our congregational prayer was about twice its normal length.
- Sermons focused on music - in our effort to use the fast as a time of learning and refocusing, our sermons during the fast centered on several important worship topics. They included titles such as: “Worship Is Not About You”; “Worship Is Not About Style”; “Worship Is Not Just for the Mind”. Each message was part of our overall theme of understanding and appreciating worship more fully.
- Small-group prayer - at the end of two of the services, we asked the congregation for a list of prayer topics. These weren’t necessarily personal concerns, but mainly broad topics such as guidance for our political leaders or relief for victims of a disaster. Then we broke into small groups, with those seated nearby, to pray for about ten minutes. Anyone who did not want to participate could simply leave the sanctuary.
- Sharing time - how often do we give our congregations a chance to share their joys and sorrows during our services? Probably not often enough. We did this twice during the fast, and included these in our congregational prayer.
- Original Form Number 1 for the Lord’s Supper - if you grew up in an old-school CRC congregation, you might remember Form Number 1 for the Lord’s Supper, as found in the Blue Psalter. It’s long, wordy, and it doesn’t get used very often. But it’s also rich with great language that still speaks truth: “First of all, let us be fully persuaded in our hearts that our Lord Jesus Christ… has humbled himself unto the very deepest reproach and anguish of hell, in body and soul, on the tree of the cross… that we might be accepted of God, and nevermore be forsaken of Him.” That is really good. And, of course, there’s this: “Take, eat, remember, and believe that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was broken unto a complete remission of all our sins.” We used this older form when we celebrated Communion during the fast.
- Speaking in unison - between creeds, confessions, and readings, we spent a good deal of time speaking out loud together. We recited the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, answers from the Catechism, and Bible verses. I would estimate we do at least a little of this every week in our services, but during the fast we did a lot more.
- Skits - we found a skit that was specifically about getting hung up on one’s preferred style of worship music. This is very rare for us, and it was well received (in part, I suppose, because it was funny).
- Silent prayer - yes, silence can be deafening, but it’s also an effective way to focus your heart on God. We spent about three to five minutes in each service of the fast allowing everyone to offer prayers in silence.
So how did all this pan out? What did we learn from the fast? I’ll offer more on this in my next post. The above list might be helpful if you ever undertake to fast from music, or if you just want a few ideas for injecting some freshness into your services.
Looking forward to reading your next post. Would your pastor be willing to share his/her sermon outlines with us?
Love this concept - can't wait for the next post...
Sorry, but I'm having a knee-jerk reaction. This post freaks me out, so I'm not even near considering your congregation's motives for this fast of yours, let alone contemplating the possibility of suggesting to my church leaders that we do the same. Maybe, some people should check out the article in Scientific American Mind's April/May issue titled "How Music Heals the Brain: Its Power to Lift Mood and Build Connections," and consider if such a fast might affect some of their fellow members adversely. Of course, I'm sure people can always listen to music at home, but it's not the same. I often miss church services for health reasons, and watching services on TV is just not the same. To get the same quality of preaching I'd get in church I often have to settle for a sort of performance that strikes me more as entertainment than worship. I don't go to church to be entertained but to entertain God as it were.
Along with ability of music to heal, minister peace or convey emotion, it is true that words combined with music (melody, rhythm, harmony) have a way of embedding truth deep in our hearts and minds that the spoken word alone does not. Music in worship invites us to participate, which adds another level of learning (heightening the importance of the songs that are chosen). And of course, those who have studied child development know that physical activity combined with melody helps place a song into a child's long-term memory. (holding up 1 finger is naturally connected to the song, "This Little Light of Mine" for those of us who learned it as a child).
Your decision to fast from music in worship is surprising, but interesting in the fact that I'm sure you had to think deeply about how to express truth and emotion in other ways. It makes me wonder about something else thing that we take for granted in worship - the spoken word. Did you also think about 'fasting' from speaking? It would be challenging, but also interesting, to think of how to communicate the entire service using only music (sung and/or played), visual arts, and movement.
Dear Diane (and Michele)-
I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of music and it's importance in worship. That's why we only fasted from it for three weeks. And we did it with much fear and trembling and lots and lots of prayer. We also had the full support (at least in public) of the Elders of the church. The fourth week we ended it with music festival where almost the entire service was music (sorry Michelle as a CRC church we couldn't eliminate the preaching of the word), but we concluded the service with a sermon from one of our missionaries.
As far as fasting from speaking. I'd be all for a silent service of meditation and prayer. We need space for silence to Hear God's Still Small voice in our souls - and our worlds are so full of noise. That might be for another season, or a special service.
Music is indeed formative. I believe that music (and the hymnal) is the most effective theology class we can take. - that's why the words of hymns and spirituals and praise songs are so important. However, music can be divisive. Music can also put us into auto-pilot in worship. Taking a short intentional break can refresh it's power in our midst. As an adult I've now listened to the lyrics of popular music I liked as a kid and teenager. When I listened to those lyrics with fresh ears I've thought - wow, That song isn't about what I thought it was about - or Wow that song is really great. But it took a break and fresh ears for me to hear it anew.
I'm happy to dialogue with you (plural) about any other questions you may have. It was a risk and I think it paid off --- but I'm not sure what Christy has planned for the next blog post, I'm curious to read it myself.
Dear Joyce (and others)-
Our first sermon, "It's Not about you." The message was a study on the question, "What is Biblical Worship." It was taken from a number of texts. Deut 6:4-6, Psalm 33, and Galatians 1:10. Main Idea: Christian Worship means that we exalt God because He is God. (Not because we like the style etc ...)
Our second sermon, "It's not about one style." The message was study on the question, "How does the Psalmist urge us to worship?" The main text was Psalm 150 but also Ephesians 5:19-20. Main Idea: Worship is bigger than you think. (The Bible encourages to worship God (with music) in all possible means.)
Our third sermon, "It's not just for the mind." The message was on the question, "How does David celebrate God's presence?" The main text was 2 Samuel 6:12-22. Main Idea: In true worship we celebrate the Lord's Glory with genuine, unashamed adoration! (Worship involves emotion not just intellect.)
The fourth week was a music festival. Almost the entire worship service was one big musical. We did have a sermon from one of our missionaries who serves in Austria.
The rest of the summer we did additional services on worship and what it means. If anyone is intrested in those, feel free to see our website: www.cragmorcrc.org You can listen to the messages. If you want manuscripts, feel free to e-mail me and I'll send you what I have. No Charge, but if you chose to borrow or simply re-use my sermons I simply ask that you would give credit for any ideas that aren't originally yours.
-Grace and Peace
Thanks for sharing and providing directions to the sermon recordings. I now know what I'll be listening to on the way to and from the in-laws this weekend.
Hi all! I wanted to let you know that the follow-up to this post (Music Fasting Part II) is now available. Check it out!
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