Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”, Part 11: Chapters 9-12

Reminder: I’ve been working through this book with my old college roommate, Hollywood. His church is going through it, and I thought it’d be fun to go through this book about a fictitious New England church realizing that they’re “aging” and struggling through the aspects of what that is and what it looks like so it doesn’t die. Anyway, these are the thoughts this book provokes as I go through it…and it won’t hurt for you to read the earlier entries on this.

Our family gift for Christmas last year was a year’s worth of satellite radio. We got the special deal for two radios–one for the car and one for the kitchen–and, well, if you’re asking me, it was money well-spent.

What I like most about the deal is that the “stations” are all segmented to let you listen to whatever you happen to be in the mood for at that moment. There’s four or five different channels for most genres of music. For example, if you’re into country music, there’s a station that’s doing top country hits, another that’s doing “roots” of country, another that’s doing “oldie” country, another that’s doing a compilation of hits from different decades…you get the idea. And this is for pretty much all genres–and manalive I didn’t recognize how many styles of 80’s music there were.

See, I didn’t listen to the music that most people associated with the 80’s genre. You know, whatever MTV was playing. The punk movement was just coming to Alabama about 5 years too late, which allowed me to slide from Van Halen & Ozzy & AC/DC to Social Distortion, Black Flag, X, and, of course, The Ramones.


There’s a satellite radio channel for that.

Which I like, but I digress.

Anyway, my friends would get in my car and hear the Ramones or Black Flag and their immediate response was that it was awful and noise and you couldn’t understand the words and it was angry and all the other reasons most everyone else on the planet didn’t like punk music.

But the reasons I liked it was that it was ABOUT something. It wasn’t fluff about “Relax, don’t do it” or “Mickey being so fine and blowing my mind.” Anti-abortion song in punk? Got it. Berlin wall? Covered. Generational angst? Bingo. How stupid TV is? Done. Outrage over Reaganomics? Yep.

And it didn’t have to be technically perfect. Anyone could learn 3 chords and have a band. Turn up the amp, put lots of distortion and reverb in there, and do-it-yourself.

And it got a reaction. Nobody was “meh” about punk. Either loved it or hated it–nothing in-between…kinda like the NHL. Or the Talking Heads.

Anyway, chapters 9-12 of the book are all about the evolution of church music, and how it evolved in history. The characters spend a lot of time talking about what hymns they loved and why they loved those hymns so dearly.

Then the pastor would interject with some insights into why that hymn was written and the life-circumstance of the writer. Very interesting stuff, too. Basically that some of the hymns they loved dearly were written by young people writing songs they liked that the older people in their churches didn’t like. More or less writing songs as a reaction to what the older people were singing in the services.

The author did bring up a question hat one of the older ladies in the group had that will require more discussion in later chapters: “Does all the music we love have to be thrown out the window just because young people want something different? Isn’t there any place for the music we grew up loving?” A great question, too. Which will be dealt with later.

But, there is a moment where young people were invited to the meetings, and they discussed that they “couldn’t” sing the music…like they were listening to music from a foreign land’s culture.

They couldn’t “hear” hymns.

And MacDonald says, “If his comment described where a lot of young people were in the Christian world, then we really had a bigger problem than I’d realized. He was suggesting that we have generations who don’t understand each other’s words, but they don’t even have an ear for each other’s music.”

I think he’s correct. We don’t have an ear for each other’s music. I do have trouble with singing hymns sung in the original formats. Much like other people have for when young people sing the exact same hymn in a different format.

And, interestingly, churches seem to have focused on making sure they have technically proficient musicians (many of them paid) playing on great stages with big screens and lots of money put into great sound with incredible lighting (I’ve been to churches with “robotic” roaming lights set to timers) rigs…

…and this generation…

…much like punks made music accessible to anyone who wanted to play it…

…is more interested in the character of the person playing the music and his reasoning for playing it. They want their worship leaders “authentic.”

And, that’s how I like my favorite musicians.

I like Jay Farrar of Son Volt–even if we all know his voice isn’t all that great. He’s singing because he loves it. He’s singing because it’s his story. He’s singing about things that matter to him. From his perspective.

And that’s how “worship wars” start, kids.

The problem is that the people who make the decisions in most churches are all of the older generation…very happy to provide the youth with rooms and bells and whistles in their own area of ministry, but what goes on in the main worship service at churches is the personal preference of a very small group.

I like how MacDonald puts it into perspective for the older members of their fictional group: “In their [the teenagers] day-to-day world, they tend to run with people their own age; they speak a youthful dialect, a type of subcultural language. And when they come to church–many of them coerced by their parents–where a culture is laden with adult perspectives and practices.”

I’d suggest that it’s a two-way street, too. Teens need to understand that adults have their own way of cultural interaction.

And, as per usual, I see this as a chance for both generations to serve one another. The young people need to learn from the grownups…and the grownups need to learn (and especially choose to serve) the younger generations, too.

But, in most churches, it’s the young who have to do without in the main services. No big deal, patrons. That’s really the way it is. And I have very little hope for change.

Because I know for sure that I don’t “hear” much I like when it comes to music in churches anymore than the vast majority of humans “hear” the music that means so much to me.

However, I like the ideal of a congregation with a mixed bag of worship styles so everybody gets something they like periodically and we choose to serve when that style isn’t the one we prefer.

I don’t see that happening, frankly, in very many churches.


But if satellite radio can see the need to provide options for everybody, well, why can’t we?