Whoever has ears…let them be plugged at church.

There seems to be an unwritten rule about church music these days.  If you go to church, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  The rule is, stated simply, LOUDER is better.  More and more churches are offering contemporary services and more and more of them seem to have a secondary goal of bursting an ear drum.  I like contemporary music.  I’m a fan of loud music in certain places and at certain times.  I’m just not sure a church worship service is one of those places or times.

I hesitate to even mention the deafening noise of contemporary church music today as it brings back memories of my younger years when “old people” would claim my music was “too loud”.   “Too loud?,” I thought back then. “It’s not loud enough!”   Of course, my music was either blaring from my bedroom or car stereo – not from the sanctuary of my church.  Fast forward twenty some years and now I find myself complaining about the decibels.  (Did I just say complaining?  Didn’t I just write a blog about not doing that!)   Am I now an old person simply because I think the current generational music is too loud?  Or is it indeed too loud?  After all, I’m only 42 – not 82!  It wasn’t until I saw my six year old cover his ears during the entire musical portion of a recent church service that I realized, this is a problem.

I do understand the need for loud music in certain venues, like an outdoor concert.   Or even an indoor concert.  Or if the entire audience is hearing impaired.  Or if you are in a nursing home.   I even understand the “need” for it to be loud in your car at times.  One could make a compelling argument on why Queen’s classic “Bohemian Rapsody” should not be played quietly.  Similarly, it would be wrong to listen to Tom Cochrane’s song, “Life is a highway” on volume setting three.  Sometimes you just have to “pump up the volume”.  I get that.   But at church – it seems that the loud music detracts away from the purpose of the assembly.  The lyrics should rise to heaven but does that mean the sound has to reach there too?

As I sat in a recent “worship concert” on a Sunday morning, several reasons came to me as to why the volume should be lowered.

  1. Loud music can damage hearing.  This is well documented.  If a child (or adult) feels the need to cover his ears in order to protect the precious gift of hearing, the volume is too loud.   I have noticed that most of the musicians wear ear plugs.  Why?  Because even THEY recognize it’s dangerously loud.  Granted, they are a few feet closer to the speakers but in most churches it doesn’t make that much of a difference.   Many times the music is so loud that I can actually feel the beat of the drums in my chest.
  2. The loud volume does not enhance the worship experience, but rather distracts from it.  This certainly could be a subjective point, however, there is a beauty in contrast.  A good preacher does not scream his entire sermon – but rather uses a full range of inflection and volume to more effectively communicate his point.   At times he speaks in a normal tone of voice.  At other times he may whisper to emphasize a sentence.  Occasionally he may need to raise his voice to persuade his listeners.   The power of communication comes in the content being delivered in a variety of ways.  The music should employ similar tactics.  I’m not saying that music should never get loud.  The problem is that most contemporary church music seems to only have one volume – HIGH.  Everything is turned up so high that even their “quiet” stuff is loud.
  3. The rising cost of ear plugs.  Ok, so ear plugs aren’t really that expensive.  Regardless, many of these churches hand out ear plugs prior to the service.  This amuses me.  By handing them out are they not admitting there is a problem?   That’s like handing out pillows before the sermon as if to say – “He’s boring, you’re going to need this.”   Why not just turn the volume down a few notches and save some money on the plugs?
  4. Loud music does not encourage people to sing.  Any musician should understand this as they normally have a feedback monitor on stage so they can hear how they sound.  When you cannot hear your own voice, you cannot gauge how well you are singing.  If the musicians have the need to hear themselves, shouldn’t the people also be afforded the same luxury?  I know that when the music is that loud, I stop trying to sing.  After all, if they wanted to hear my voice – they’d turn it down.  When I do try to sing with the music being so loud, I eventually lose my voice – literally.   Fortunately, no one really wants to hear my voice anyway.  Trust me on this one.  I truly make a “joyful noise.”
  5. Loud music does not create a reverent environment.  There is something reverent about quietness.  In many public venues in our culture you show reverence by being quiet and still.  Funerals do not use rock music to celebrate a life.  You show reverence for the dead by being morbidly quiet.  Weddings do not blast heavy metal music to celebrate a marriage.  You show reverence for the couple by being quiet on their special day.  Graduation ceremonies do not use a heavy drum beat to congratulate a graduate.  You show reverence for the graduates by being boringly still.  In almost every important public venue, we recognize the need and appropriateness for silence and stillness.  Even the Bible communicates a need for this.  Jesus, by His own example, would repeatedly go “up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:23).  Psalm 46:10 tell us to “Be still and know that I am God.”  God is a God who communicates on the soul level.  In order to hear Him, you often have to quiet your soul to hear His “gentle voice”.  I’m not saying God can’t use a Christian rock concert to communicate to people – obviously, many Christian bands have an impact on thousands of people every year.  God can speak through a burning bush (Exodus 3), a sunset (Psalm 19) and has even spoken through an ass in the past (Numbers 22 and this blog as an example).   What I am saying that we can miss a precious, special connection when the noise drowns out His word.  Even the prophet Elijah, running for his life and desperate for a word from God, was hidden in a cave awaiting to hear His voice.   We are told..

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him…” (I Kings 19:11-13)

Maybe you need to hear from God today.   Maybe, like Elijah, you are desperate for some direction or instruction.  Try turning off the radio.  Muting the TV.   Pause the ipod.  Climb a mountain.  Or at least get away from the kids and friends.  Sit still and listen.  Open His book.  Read.  Meditate.  Pray.  Ask Him to show up.   Show Him (via your body language) that you are really interested in what He has to say.   Have your attitude be like the prophet Habakkuk, “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved.” – Habakkuk 2:1

If the God of the universe really had a message for you – personally – wouldn’t you want to hear it?   What if God was trying to talk to us most days and we simply couldn’t hear it because the noise of this world is just simply too loud – even if that noise is at church?

Just a thought…