It is no exaggeration to say that we grew up in church. When I think of all the Sunday morning services, Sunday school classes, VBS weeks, Alternative to Halloween events, Wednesday night dinners and choir practices, Santa’s Workshops, and Christian Activity Programs for Summer (CAPS) that we attended, I almost feel as if church was the sixth member of our immediate family. I loved all of those events and formed many happy memories while in attendance.
There are, however, a few church memories that fill me at once with nostalgia and loathing, and those are the song choices of every single music minister we ever had, with the important exception of my now brother in-law (You were the best, David – you know whom I’m talking about here). Honestly, the problem was not just the choice of songs but the unending repetition of each one at every possible opportunity.
One particular music minister loved southern gospel music. For all of you out there who are fans, please understand that there is good southern gospel, and then there is the southern gospel we sang in my church.
Just about every Sunday night, we went to church and sang two songs over and over. The first, When We All Get To Heaven, was supposed to be sung with all of the gusto the congregation could muster. The music minister would get red-faced and sweaty up at the podium as he motioned to his wife, the pianist, to take us through the chorus again.
Another frequent chorus relied heavily on the repeating refrain, “I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to praise the Lord!” That’ll get the juices flowing on Sunday. The best part was when the leader would personalize the song for our church by changing the first line to, “Our church is a turn on church, and I came to praise the Lorrrrrrrrd!” Try singing that and only that for two weeks in a row, and then wonder why attendance steadily dropped at Sunday night services.
By far, the most memorable worship song for our family is The Center of God’s Will. You don’t recognize it? That is because the music minister at that time made it up, which is code for saying that it was his all-time favorite. The defining characteristic of this chorus was the motion it required. It went something like this:
So when you move to the left (congregation steps to the left, therefore stepping out of God’s will)
You’re not where you belong.
And when you move to the right (congregation takes two steps to the right, because just one step actually places us back in God’s will, and that does not fit with the song)
You know you’re going wrong.
You’ve got to GET BACK (congregation steps left again, back into God’s will)
To where you ought to be –
In the center of God’s will for you and me.
I may have gotten some of the non-directional content wrong, but you get the gist. Our family took up almost an entire row each week, and we were distinguished by our half-hearted, somewhat mocking participation in this song. We took the tiniest steps we could take while trying not to out to the rest of the congregation as great spoil sports. Trying and, I’m sure, not succeeding.
Truly, my expectations for music ministry are not incredibly high at this point. As far as I am concerned, anyone who doesn’t make me sing his or her own musical creations in the name of praise music can pretty much stay.