For those of you who grew up singing the missional hymn “Jesus Saves” it is quite likely that you had to ask someone what it meant to “waft” something on a “rolling tide.” Now, for our Alabama friends, this hymn is not speaking of a school in Tuscaloosa. To “waft” simply means to gently glide or whirl as “through the air.” When you think about it—many things “waft.” Pass by any BBQ restaurant and you will experience “wafting!” Our music and messages each Sunday “wafts.” What the hymn is speaking of is something I am very concerned about. If what we do is concealed or constrained, the message will fail to “waft.” It can’t get outside. It can’t “glide through the air.”
Recently, I had a wonderful conservation with Scott Smith, a State Missionary colleague who serves at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board in the area of evangelism. We talked about how we have utilized unprecedented resources, spending more money than at any time in the history of the SBC in facilitating worship, and yet, attendance and baptisms are critically down. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with worship and music. I am conducting some “non-scientific” research related to the music we place before our people. Even with an ever-expanding portfolio of music options that go beyond the hymnal, our people are not singing with the same regularity or intensity about our responsibility to “waft it on the rolling tide.” Whether we sing “Jesus Saves” from the hymnal or “Love Them Like Jesus” by Casting Crowns, it is my concern that we are missing or devaluing a vital element in our worship.
In some research there is an attempt to discover “cause and effect” relationships. A first step is to articulate an assumption or hypothesis and then to launch the research. My presumption is that there is a relationship between the content of our music to the actions of our people. Whether this is a “cause” or an “effect” is yet to be determined. The first step was to hear from worship pastors related to songs written after 2000 that deal specifically with the subject of evangelism. The response was good in that I discovered many wonderful songs with great texts that deal with the importance of evangelism. The song list, however, was fairly limited when compared to the corpus of hymns written in similar periods of time. In addition, (and perhaps more concerning) is how often or how little these songs are actually repeated in corporate worship.
There are many reasons as to why such is the case. In future articlesI will explore these and other issues. It is important to note that this not a Reformed theology vs.Arminian theology debate. I know leaders on both sides of the theological spectrum are very concerned about the issue of evangelism. Martin Luther knew of the impact that music played. Even the world of science confirms what believers have known for centuries—music affects cognition, memory, and response. In short, singing influences our behavior. The Apostle Paul knew about the impact of music as his letters often included metrical features which would be sung by the early church. He tied teaching directly to singing (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). The effect of music directly ties to our actions. In addition, it isn’t an argument over style or worship expression.
What is a concern is the population explosion in our state and the decline of church attendance and baptisms. This slide is taking place at a time in which we are investing more funding than ever in corporate worship. We have amazing technology, choirs, instruments, bands, and worship teams. With all these tools we are in the midst of a collective decline in terms of reaching people with the Gospel in Georgia.
Dr. Mark Noll, professor of history at Regent College and notable expert in evangelical history has stated: that “nothing so profoundly defined the faith of evangelicalism as its hymnody: what evangelicals have been is what we have sung” (Christianity Today, July 1999).
If we are “what we sing” then it may be time to change the song. Whether you sing the latest songs written by contemporary musicians or that of pastors written in the last century, we have a responsibility to affirm, encourage, and admonish the church to “go and tell.” It’s time to “waft” the news—Jesus Saves!