By David Cooke
If you were a certain age in the 1980’s and liked music there was only one man to listen to. His name was John Peel. He had the remarkable quality of being the most innovative and contemporary DJ, yet managed to be well into his 60’s before Radio 1 retired him off. I think he would laugh at the thought that he now has an inaugural lecture (what does inaugural mean again- first I think?). Anyway, he now has one and Pete Townsend gave the first speech. He bemoaned the lack of innovation in music and had a good old pop at iTunes. You can watch a bit here.
Why am I telling you this? Well perhaps, like me, you will have been to or laid on a Carol Service. These days you seem to have a choice- traditional or innovative-and which do you think ‘Church folk’ generally prefer? You guessed it. So often for the people who don’t come to church we lay on a ‘traditional’ service we think that ‘they’ really like that ‘they’ then rarely come again to. Eh? I thought ‘they’ liked it. Is it not that ‘church folk’ like Carol services and post-Christendom folk don’t know what they like or what a Carol Service is ‘supposed’ to be because the truth is they increasingly aren’t coming to church? The vital statistics are telling us that.
This year we decided to have a service that was more representative of what we normally do on a Sunday. We tried not to worry if ‘they’ would like it and took a risk on more traditional folk not getting their carol fix. We reworked Carols with alternative tunes, added some creativity, some testimony and then had a good old non-seeker friendly worship experience right bang in the middle of it all. Do you know what happened? People seemed to encounter God. ‘They’ as far as I could discern seemed to love it. We didn’t get it completely right by any means and quite a few have given me ‘views’ and I am still reflecting, hence this piece, but I do think the risk was worth it.
Now I know we don’t want to encourage this sort of thing catching on in the C of E at Christmas but can I give a John Peelesque nudge for a corporate try at something authentic, worshipful, unapologetic and dare I suggest even ‘new’. If Pete Townsend was giving the church some advice he might ask us about our A & R department and say, "Why don’t you lot write some new Carols and sign some new bands?". "New?". Whatever next. As Matthew Parris said in his great article in the Times on Saturday we need to be a people who ‘Stand up for our faith’ and maybe that means some innovation whilst also clearly declaring the Gospel. Did I mention that the average age in the pew in the C of E is 61 and most, it’s fair to say, do not enthuse about ‘new’ as the late John Peel used to. Never mind singing about a bleak midwinter- we’re actually in one! As Craig Groeschl wonderfully says,
“All people [or churches] end up somewhere in life, but few end up there on purpose.”
I caught some of a debate about worship and 18 minutes in Piper is asked the question "Is worship for believers or non-believers?" No prizes for guessing his answer. I have been pondering this one for our Church plant. I think we should also be asking this question especially about our Carol Services don’t you? Are they for us or are they for ‘them’? However, is not the most important thing surely that our worship is in fact for God and what really matters is not if we like it or our visitors like it but that God likes it. That’s the real test. How do we know the answer? Well, that’s probably a different post and in the meantime you would do well to read this excellent book called Now to him: putting Christ back at the centre of our worship.
As I’ve been on about music, the Reformissionary has just released his Best albums of 2011 which are always worth checking out. I think John Peel would enjoy it.