When I’m having a bad day, I often listen to sad music and let myself feel sad for a while. Then I turn on a “bop” and try to use the music to give myself an emotional shot of happiness. When I’m walking through campus on the way from a long class to a longer class, I tend to turn on an upbeat song and dance my way there to get a burst of energy and enthusiasm.
In our culture, we often use music as a way to express our emotions (I am sad), and to shape our emotions (I am enthusiastic). This can be a blessing, but it can also be a danger to us. The danger of individual emotion-driven music is that it often excludes the idea that music is a gift we give.
If I only choose to listen to music that gives me an emotional experience, I miss the opportunity to listen to music that is special to someone else as a gift. I also lose a chance to give the gift of expression to a friend, because I’m not thinking about what would serve them.
This idea can leak into how we view corporate worship. When we attempt to evaluate a worship service by how it affects our emotions, we are treating it like we would a concert. Our goal should be serving others, not being served by music.
Individual music is not inherently bad. But we should evaluate how we treat music, and whether we let our individual preferences trump corporate growth. If I dislike a song that serves the Church because it doesn’t give me a certain emotional reaction, I am making music into my servant rather that being a servant of God and his Church.
So what can we do about this? A good first step is to ask: whom can I serve by learning about their music? I can affirm a culture that is different than mine by affirming what is good about its music, especially if I need to work to enjoy it. This also includes how I sing songs in corporate worship that are not comfortable for me.
If I only listen to music that gives me the emotions that I want, my music will reflect and strengthen only my own emotions and thoughts.But when I sacrifice my own preferences to someone else’s heart music, I have a chance to serve them and express truth that is fuller and deeper than I could ever experience on my own.
See also Harold Best, Music: Through the Eyes of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 175-6.