which way is the arrow pointing?
'Neath the cold grey clammy earth, my mother lies in state...
So begins possibly the worst opening line of a "hymn" ever written. The church has been debating the proper use of music before and after that awful tune. Too often the debate has raged around preferred styles. But there is another question that deserves some attention: to whom is the music directed? Or, in other words, which way is the arrow pointing?
The problem with being preoccupied with style alone, is that we can be picking songs and placing them in worship inappropriately. While people may not consciously take note of the direction the song is intended, the affect of the music can be undermined because no one has asked the question of which way does the arrow need to be pointing at this particular time in the service. It has only two directions: toward God or toward us.
Songs that point toward God either offer God praise for who God is (How Great Thou Art, Great and Mighty, Blessed Be Your Name) or give witness to God's greatness (Amazing Grace, That's Why We Praise Him, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Mighty to Save, He Is). Some songs, however, are directed at the people as either a celebration of community (One in the Bond of Love, They'll Know We Are Christians) or invitation to receive something from God (Come Just As You Are, He Is, and countless anthems that have proclaimed God's forgiveness, grace, promise and necessity for repentance).
It's not that it is wrong to choose a song that points to us when we are inviting people to a time of commitment, for instance. But it just doesn't maximize the invitation and chance of response. In the same way that opening the worship service with a song about making a commitment might inadvertently make people feel uncomfortable rather than draw them into worship.
So, the next time you are choosing music for worship, in addition to choosing styles that will engage the various groups in your church, ask the question for song placement: which way is the arrow pointing?