Class Wars: from without

Growing up I went to a good catholic primary school for grades 4 and 5. Walking to school we would often throw taunts, both physical and verbal, at the school bus carrying the ‘public’ school kids as it passed us by. Needless to say the kids on the bus would return the heckling with equal vigour to our own. Being no older than 9 or 10 years of age, I knew nothing of the public school system verses the ‘private’ catholic system, but what I did know, in my infantile wisdom, was that the kids on that bus were different; after all they wore a different uniform. Imagine the shock to my young system when my parents announced that my final year of primary schooling would be conducted in the public school system. Even worse…the same school that was serviced by the bus which I had gestured towards for two whole years would be my school for grade 6. To my surprise the kids at Lismore Public where no different to the kids at St Carthages Catholic.

Much of my adolescent spiritual formation took place in the Pentecostal traditions. I was baptised in a Pentecostal church and my first experiences of being in a worship team were within the Pentecostal church. Whilst I can’t recall a specific sermon or nominate any particular preacher, I grew up with a sense that we, as Pentecostals, were better than our Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ. It could be argued however, that my innate sense of superiority was weaved into the very fabric of my cultural surroundings (Russell, 1997). How I came to harbour such vain thoughts is, perhaps, redundant, nevertheless I carried this spiritual vanity into my early twenties where I actively participated in a number of worship teams.

One area that my spiritual vanity found a ready platform was in my role as a singer. Pentecostal singers not only sang better; we worshipped better because we were spiritually more ‘mature’ (superior) than our evangelical counterparts. It was not only observable in the quality of our ‘performance’ but in the visual expression of our worship – lifting of hands; kneeling; jumping and clapping. The ‘Evangelicals’ didn’t do any of this (so I thought) and therefore we were more advanced in the evolution of worship. Similar to the joust between kids in the ‘public versus private’ war; equal derision, and therefore responsibility, is harboured by both sides. Sure, Pentecostals might think they have explored the range of available physical worship expressions, thus elevating their spiritual status, but Evangelicals are equal to the task of prejudice by levelling accusation of theological impropriety and misplaced self orientation squarely (and often incorrectly) at the actions of the Pentecostals.

A ‘class war’ does exist between Pentecostal and Evangelical singers. Is it fuelled by the larger ‘worship wars’ (Parrett, 2005) which take in the debate of ‘Hymns versus Chorus’ and ‘appropriate presentational styles’? (Carson, 2002; Warren, 1995) Probably! Regardless, it is an area that is very difficult to address given its ‘unstated nature’. Most worship team members, young and old, are aware (and regularly reminded) of ego and its disparaging qualities for a worship team member (Gilley, 2005; Rowbotham, 2008), but no one ever commented on my sense of spiritual superiority towards other expressions of the Christian faith. I now wish someone had.

References:
Carson, D. A. (Ed.). (2002). Worship by the Book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Gilley, G. (2005). This Little Church Went to Market: Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out? (2 ed.). Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.
Parrett, G. A. (2005). 9.5 THESES ON WORSHIP. Christianity Today, 49(2), 38-42.
Rowbotham, J. (2008, March 22-23). Happy Clappers. The Weekend Australian, pp. 4-5,
Russell, J. (1997). A “Place” for Every Voice: The Role of Culture in the Development of Singing Expertise. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 31(4), 95-109.
Warren, R. (1995). The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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About Dr Daniel K. Robinson

Daniel is a freelance artist and educator. In 2011 Daniel completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. He has served as National Vice President (2009–11) and National Secretary for the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing (2006–11) and was awarded the ANATS National Certificate of Recognition for service to the profession in 2012. Daniel is the principal Singing Voice Specialist for Djarts (www.djarts.com.au) and presents workshops and seminars to church singers across Australia and abroad. He and his wife Jodie have three children and live in Brisbane, Queensland Australia.

Posted on May 21, 2009, in Singing, Worship, Worship Culture, Worship Wars and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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