Speed Trap

I recently attended The Summit, and it was, as always, excellent (more on that later). However, I was almost completely distracted during one of the sessions on the second day by a Music Speed Trap.

You know speed traps on the highway? Those places, almost always outside of small towns who have very small revenue streams, where a speed limit sign is put where you can’t see it (or can’t see it in time), and the police sit just on the other side waiting to catch you going too fast? Well, this is the like that, only with music.

There are two kinds of MST’s. The first is the Metronome trap. This is the one that assumes the slower the beat, the more spiritual the music. This is the one I encountered at the Summit last week. The worship leaders (who are normally uniformly excellent) led us in a song, I don’t remember which one (I’ve tried to put it out of my mind), during the beginning of a session. If the metronome is normally on 100, they sang it on 75. We sang so slow, I took naps between words.

This trap isn’t dependent on the style of music or the instruments used — we had plenty of guitar, drums, etc. on this day, and it was a contemporary song. It was just t o o   d  a  n  g    s    l    o    w. What’s really fun when you run into this speed trap is listening to the people in the crowd who know what the beat is supposed to be try to keep … down … with the leaders. Have you ever seen a Corvette in a school zone, trying to go 20 mph, but occasionally gunning the engine and getting up to 25 or so, then hitting the brakes to get back down to 20, going in this jerky speed up, slow down, motion all the way through the zone?

It’s kind of like that.

The second kind of MST is the “slow songs go last” trap. Even for leaders who keep the beat up on the individual songs (the songs that are supposed to be at 125 are at 125, the songs that are supposed to be at 75 are at 75, etc.) fall into this one. No matter how rocking they get during the service, they always end with at least two slow songs. Again, the theory seems to be that the slower the music, the more spiritual the music, thus if we want to get spiritual leading into preaching, we need to get s-l-o-w.

I spent some time going to concerts in my youth (back when bands had normal one-word names, Heart, Eagles, Nugent, Lynyrdskynyrd, not weird esoteric phrases like Death Cab for Cutie. But I digress). There are just two rules of a concert set: 1) Start off with a bang, and 2) End with a bigger bang. This is because when someone’s talking about a concert later, they’ll go on and on about how it started and how it ended, but they won’t remembers what happens in the middle. Nobody remembers what happens in the middle. If your first two songs and last two songs blow the doors off, then you could sing “Mary Had A Little Lamp” for forty-five minutes in the middle, and no one would care.

In the worship world, however, it’s like they only got half of the message. Even contemporary worship leaders whose bands could give the one word Lynyrdskynyrd a run for their money fall into this trap. If the normal music session looks like a U (big start, big finish, slow in the middle), the normal worship session looks like a \ (backslash; big finish, slower and slower all the way to the end). I wonder if perhaps the lethargy in the pews (or seats, if you’re non-denominational) is caused by the worship leaders putting the people to sleep before the preacher gets up to speak?

What if the worship leaders WOKE UP the people for the pastor? Maybe we need to get the crowd’s adrenaline going, so when the pastor gives them a word from God, their hearts are pumping and they’re in “let’s get after it” mode. It might even wake the pastors up, some of whom preach as if they just took a Vicodin. (I’m sooooooooooo mellow…)

Have you been caught in a MST lately?

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