*In order to make worship more "exciting," you, or some members of your governing body, or perhaps some fringe member, or an advertisement that comes in your mail suggests switching the style of worship in your church to something more "contemporary." It's hard to find good organists, after all, and nobody sings those fusty old hymns anymore.
*Your organist/choir director is seeking to augment the choir with some professional soloists, possibly from the local opera company or university school of music or conservatory. With such singers hired, naturally (in addition to the choir's anthem each week) those soloists are going to need to sing, well, a solo, to help justify the expense. Also, the extra singers are effective and this means that the choir becomes a main attraction, which means possibly more than one choral anthem per service. When this causes the service to get long and unwieldy, the obvious response is to drop one of the congregational hymns or songs.
*So the hymn sings are kind of fun on occasion, but it seems like those have to happen more and more often to keep the congregation's interest, even though inevitably those hymn sings become trapped in the same little rotation of eight to ten hymns, every time. (Not to mention, you end up preaching less and less.)
If you're the type who actually reads this blog, you probably observed Pentecost in some way during your service this Sunday morning. Whether through visual representations of the "tongues, like fire" that marked the Acts account, or the evocation of multiple languages in that reading, or any number of hymns or anthems that might work for the day (even if you went all crazy and preached on the alternate reading from Ezekiel -- the "dry bones" vision -- like some crazy pastor around here), in some way or another the Holy Spirit was a prominent focus or subject of the service. That's quite natural for the one day on the liturgical calendar that more or less focuses pastors who would much rather avoid the subject of the Holy Spirit to avoid avoiding the subject.
To a large degree that will be it for formal acknowledgment of the Holy Spirit as a theme of worship. That doesn't mean, however, that the Spirit isn't of concern throughout the rest of the church's week-to-week life, even if the Spirit isn't acknowledged by name.
We are seeking the Spirit when we wonder what we need to do, for example, to "get people excited" about church, or to "get more young people" (who will, if we're honest, turn around and act and think exactly like the old people, so that everybody will get along) in the church, or any number of other convoluted ways we talk about wishing things were different or somehow better in our church. At root, we're seeking some kind of action of the Holy Spirit in the life of our congregation.
Except, really, we're not. Or only limitedly so.
We want the Spirit to do something safe. We want something predictable that will look good and have obvious tangible impact -- something that shows up in counting statistics, preferably. And that's not how the Spirit operates.
This explains, I think, why churches are so often prone to use music as a substitute or proxy for a genuine in-breaking experience of the Holy Spirit.
Music is not tame or neutral, as was hopefully made clear in the previous entry here. It inevitably affects any words to which it is joined, any audience to which it is played, any event in which it is introduced. And it is true enough that you don't necessarily know absolutely for sure what that effect is going to be, or at least not for every person involved (different styles of music will cause different people to respond differently and all that).
You don't know for sure, but you do have a pretty good idea, or at least an expectation, what that result will be.
For one thing, in the cases noted at the beginning of this entry, you've probably already got some feedback about the use of "praise & worship" music (still, no one has ever explained to me how those two things got separated) or a professionalized choir or hymn repertory, whether you asked for that feedback or not.
Some of what you can know is more or less baked into the style of music in question; by about the third contemporary worship song, at the latest, some of the congregation will be lifting holy hands or something. That's just how that goes. After the professionalized choir essays a movement of a Mozart mass, their efforts will be rewarded with judicious, tasteful, proper applause. Congregants will get all nostalgic and weepy when they've sung "Amazing Grace" at the thirteenth straight hymn sing. We know these things.
In short, music (yes, including congregational singing) is good at producing all the feels, as some of my seminary classmates would say, and so it becomes a quick and safe way of generating a series of largely emotional (maybe sometimes intellectual) reactions that can be passed off as "the moving of the Spirit" in the congregation.
Music isn't neutral, remember; it really does have a first and foremost tendency to call attention to itself before anything else. It will have its affect; it will produce joy or sadness or rage or melancholy or any number of other responses if deployed without regard for that affective quality that is, frankly, a lot of the pleasure in most of the music that even has a chance of entering most churches (the likes of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Pierre Boulez etc. have mostly not entered the church's musical repertoire).
Music can, when chosen and prepared with diligence and prayerful insight, be a vehicle through which the Spirit can move. It can and has happened, sometimes even working through those affective qualities that can otherwise make music more distraction than witness. The mere presentation of music in worship, however, is no guarantee of the Spirit's action in worship. People may well be moved, yes, but not necessarily by anything other than well-done music. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but by no means is it the main thing as far as worship is concerned.
Given that, about the best you can do, dear pastor, is choose what is yours to choose with the same mind and theological training you use to prepare your sermon; work with your musicians to prepare and present that music with the most skill and understanding possible; and to see that song of the people as an intrinsic part of the gathering of the congregation, the proclamation of and response to the Word, and the sending of the people out to be the body of Christ in the world. In other words, treat the hymns as if they are important parts of worship.
They are, right?
None of the musical types represented here guarantee that the Holy Spirit will show up and do what you want it to do. None of them. Okay?