God loves to surprise us. Try, just try to constrain Him, and He’ll surprise you; He’ll break out like a jack-in-a-box. I think it’s good to imitate our creator in this way and break out of our self-imposed restraints, as well as others’ expectations.
I remember a workshop I attended on speaking to groups about God, by Steve Bush. He said one of his keys to getting the message across was the element of surprise- in his messages, he thinks of what everyone expects him to say on a given subject, and then figure out a way to say the opposite. For example, if you’re speaking in church about sex, people expect you to say something frumpy like, “Sex is bad. Your desires are evil.” So you come out saying that “Sex is good. It’s good that you want to have sex.”
It’s important to have this element of surprise, of actively looking for ways to go against expectations, in our lives. And right now I want to focus on how this works in music – specifically leading times of musical worship.
What are people in your congregation getting used to? What are you coming to expect from a certain song? Why are churches breaking away from hymns accompanied exclusively by organ and piano? It’s because, while the songs are great, (we don’t do them enough!) their methods have become stale. People look to new songs and “contemporary” instrumentation as a fresh way to express their love and theology (yes, theology!) to God and each other.
But then something happens. Things settle down again and we end up doing the same new songs in the same new way that we heard on the predominant recording at the time of introduction. The drummer starts “Better is One Day” going “around the world” on the tom-toms. The bass player just has to do that riff on “You’re Worthy of My Praise.” The girl singer does the same echo the same way on that one song… only instead of once, like the girl on the cd, it’s every single time on that one part!
You get the idea. We end up back in that same dog-gone rut, only this time without the pipe organ and sheet music.
Try this- differ radically from what you and others are expecting. Instead of dropping out at that same point, keep going without any change in the dynamics- or take it higher. Instead of transitioning “smoothly” between every single song, leave some breathing room (more on that at another time). Instead of dropping out to the acoustic guitar, go to just Piano and drums. (It’s an awesome and highly underutilized combination!) Or drop out to just the crunchy electric guitar. Or only sing the refrain (“chorus”) once at the end, instead of 3 times.
Or – how about this – do a traditional hymn, in its traditional style! How many minds would that blow?! If you consider these ideas, it really shouldn’t. When I saw him in concert a couple of years ago (I ran the sound system), Derek Webb said that you should have so much variety in your worship at church that you should dislike every 3rd song or so. Can you imagine that?
What else can I say? Don’t let the way you do things get in the way of seeing the Message in new ways. Shake it up! Be surprising… Be surprised.