A Cappella is Hard to Spell

Mike Cope?s blog has been abuzz with discussion on these two posts about the Richland Hills Church of Christ?s decision to add an instrumental service to their a cappella lineup. The comments have been predictable, ranging from “I can?t believe it!” to “I?m so glad they?re doing it!” to “Why is this still an issue?” to “Nanny nanny boo boo, stick your head in fondue.”

It reminds me of a time when I was talking to a search team from a church in Texas several years ago, before we moved to Tulsa. At the time I was preaching for a Church of Christ in Bellingham, Washington that had made the transition from a cappella to instrumental worship on Sunday morning. They told me that my being at an instrumental church wasn?t an issue even though they were thoroughly committed to the a cappella tradition. We then went back and forth about instrumental vs. a cappella worship for the next 45 minutes. After which I finally said, “If this isn?t really an issue, why are we still talking about it?”

With 200+ comments already registered on those posts I think it may still be an issue.


I learned some great lessons from the transition we made up in Bellingham. Here are three that come to mind:

1. Before you decide to go instrumental, make sure you have a band that can actually play and sing at the same time. The only thing worse than bad a cappella is bad instrumental worship.

2. Adding instrumental worship is not going to make your church grow. It?s not like your city is full of sinners who would gladly come to your church if only you had a rockin? band.

Two guys are sitting in a bar. One says to the other, “Did you hear that the Church of Christ finally started using instruments?” The other says, “Well, I’ll be darned. Let?s go check it out.”

This country is full of instrumental churches that are in decline. When we went instrumental I really thought it would make a difference in our outreach and growth. It didn?t. We went from being an a cappella church with little outreach to an instrumental church with little outreach. The thing I love about what Richland Hills has done is that they?ve already proven they can engage their community and grow regardless of their worship style. They?re already doing things that are much harder to do than adding an instrumental service. Same thing goes for churches that drop “Church of Christ” from their name. Oak Hills was already doing some significant things in San Antonio and experiencing significant growth before the name change. The instrumental move and the name change should be the last two steps in a church?s outreach strategy, not the first two. Unfortunately, other churches will probably try to grow by changing their names and/or worship styles (easy things to do) instead of digging into their neighborhoods and figuring out ways to connect in missional ways (much harder to do).

3. If you think fights about old vs. new songs or praise teams vs. one song leader are wearisome, wait until you start fighting about instrumental worship styles. Loud or soft? Piano or Guitar? Electric or acoustic? Can we use drums? What about a tuba? Do we want a big band or coffee house sound? Can everyone who wants to, bring a tambourine? For the record, my preferred style is loudish guitar-driven indie-rock. Please leave your tambourine at home.

These lessons and a few others I?ve learned have kept me from being more aggressive about starting up an instrumental service at Garnett even though I think we have the freedom to do just that. Someday we’ll probably start one up, but it?s not the most important thing on my radar screen. My involvement in the missional conversation has so shifted my thinking that I find myself less interested in worship styles than I used to be.

The other day a friend said to me, “Missions is the new worship.” I think he?s right. In the next post, I?ll try to explain why.



    Fred good to see your name again!

    I will say that instrumental worship with a good band and the right motive is not overrated… and I’ll say that the process to get there in an existing church isn’t worth the trouble in most stories -but definately was in ours. However – I wouldn’t do it again for anything…We were blessed with a very good band completely relocating to our congregation while we were still a cofc and accapella.

    As you said – instruments were the 2nd to last thing to change and the sign changed 2 years after the instruments were added.

    What I like about Tom Barnett’s ministry in LA has nothing to do with their Assembly of God worship gatherings – but their 200 local community missions.

    I enjoyed this post!

  3. Acappella … sorry

  4. Ok … A Cappella … sorry again 🙂

  5. This is good stuff… thanks. I grew up in a different heritage with instruments… it’s rare to find someone in the Church of Christ tradition, for or against a cappella music, that actually can step outside the petty arguments and see the issues surrounding instrumental music for what they are not – the point.

    I am sad because I believe that so many of the Church will be unable to connect with the 3 observations you made unless/until they take the path you and your church family took in Washington.

    Lesson #2 I find to be a truth that is understated. Apart from being connected with God and His people – there is no lasting or healthy transformation in the lives of non-believers (or Christ-followers for that matter).

    Lesson #3 I find to be a sad commentary on the toxic by-products of focusing on the style of music used in worship. I have worshiped with, had discussions with, and been a student under many music ministers (some of them family, most of them not – some of them instrumental, some a cappella), and I can’t tell you how taxing and worthless most of my experiences have been in discussions about “worship”… I wouldn’t have used the word at the time, but you called them “fights”. Looking back that’s exactly what they were/are.

    I?m looking forward to the next post.

  6. Yesterday, my son sent me this link:

    The PS2 version of DDR is already a hit at our house. Maybe this is the perfect gift for a hard-to-buy-for aspiring young (a cappella) song leader in your family?

    (Be sure to check out the commercial on the page. Thanks to Eric Wallace, whoever you are, for providing a good laugh.)

  7. Well said. Amen!

  8. Well said, Wade. I also worked with an instrumental church for a while, and agree with everything you’ve said here. Especially the notion that before you go instrumental, make sure you have a good band. Wow. I learned that one the hard way!

  9. Good points all around.

    Off the subject, are you able to give us anything on Garnett’s role with the ISWW? Someone on Terry’s blog said something about Garnett not participating anymore. Terry clarified that it would only be for the ’08 year. Whaz up? (If you can)

  10. Wise words. Thank you for this post, Wade.

  11. Brad–As you know, Garnett and Memorial alternate overseeing the Workshop every other year. Because of some things we’re working through at Garnett, I’m not going to have the time or energy to do a good job of directing the 08 workshop and because we are currently understaffed and probably will continue to be so for next year or so, our staff isn’t going to be able to put all the moving parts of the workshop together as we usually do. So Terry is going to direct and Memorial is going to oversee the 08 workshop. We’ll still help out as we can with volunteers and ideas and suggestions. I’ll still be on stage each evening co-hosting and making fun of Terry. We’ll be doing the 2010 workshop as scheduled.

    I can’t tell you what a blessing it is to be a partner with Terry and Memorial in all of this. I’m convinced one of the reasons the workshop has been around as long as it has is because of the way Garnett and Memorial have been able to work together. This is but one more example of it.

  12. Thanks for bringing that post on Mike Cope’s blog to my attention. I added my two cents there as well.

    I receive the Christian Chronicle, and find the debates over instrumental vs acappella worship as tiresome as ever. More laughable still are the unity meetings at universities. I’m sorry, that’s not where unity will be forged.

    My Bachelor of Ministry degree is from Harding University, and my ordination from an independent Christian Church. The church I helped plant in Brazil in non-instrumental, while my mission support came from instrumental churches. I served a Christian Church in the southwest US, and now attend a Brazilian Church of Christ in New Jersey.

    Unity isn’t that complicated. It’s something you do. So much fuss over being one thing or the other is unnecessary.

  13. Thank you to Glenn… That was hilarious!

  14. Song Leader Revolution … I am rolling in the floor. But honestly I have to say, if it doesn’t have 728b I’m not getting it. ha

  15. Nice.

  16. The way things are going now it looks like the instrumental churches of Christ will be the new / old tradititonal churches. New in the sense of a new tradition among some churches of Christ and old in the sense of being like the Catholic church and some Protestant denominations that have used instruments for centuries. The non- traditional churches of Christ will be those identified with being a capella. Not having the instrument has been an appeal to those who want to break with tradition.

  17. Hello,

    I just stumbled upon your blog through variety of links that begun at the ZOE website (a friend bought the CD and I was curious). I must say that skimming through has disturbed me quite a bit. It is clear that you and a large number of congregations have–and will continue–to depart from what you call the “old school” or “traditional” CoC. It’s rather sad that the one and only Church that Christ DIED for is splitting over simple worship issues.

    Is it really that difficult to follow the pattern laid down in the Bible? If these “modern” CofCs are still willing to follow the Biblical example regarding baptism, WHY would you depart from the examples given regarding basic worship and Church leadership.

    While the “traditional” CofC may seem stuffy and out-of-date, perhaps that is because it WAS formed over 2000 years ago. And besides, why would you change something that God designed anyway? It’s like deciding that grape juice is too old school and replacing it with apple, or maybe even a sparkling pear juice.

    God doesn’t care whether or not you use tamborines, pianos or electric guitars–he asked for voice.

    Why not give him what he asks for?

    I’m sure you’ll probably be a bit irritated once this is posted and reaches you, but as a Christian I could not simple stand aside and let error reign. Remember that regardless of what modernity says, the path is STILL narrow.

    So how about that sparkling pear juice?


  18. I seemed to have typed in an incorrect email address before.

    If you so desire, feel free to spam this one with comments contrary to what i’ve posted on your blog. I’m always willing to discuss/debate God’s Word.

  19. My comment is to Rae, mainly. Patternism is sure rampant in your comments. Look back in history, as I have done over the past five or six years and you will see that the cofC you are referring is quite new. Not at all the 2000 year old church I thought it to be.

    I have been told all my life that the cofC is modeled after the NT church. My question today would be “which one?” Which NT church should I pattern my church after?

    We use instruments and a cappella in our worship service. We are a merged cofC and Christian Church and these comments are right in that you have to be missional and reach out to the community for their needs — not these insignificant methods of worship. I’m glad that my Christianity is not defined by the hour of worship I give on Sunday morning!

  20. Sorry Peggy, I just don’t see what the problem is regarding “patternisn.” Aren’t we supposed to pattern ourselves after the NT church? I completely agree that the CoC has it’s faults–especially I think when it comes to following the NT church hierarchy. Instead of having elders, deacons etc. we have fallen into what the denominational world considers normal, the use of 1 “pastor” who does everything.

    But that’s a whole other issue.

    My point is that I completely agree that the hour of worship you give on a Sunday morning does not define you as a Christian. You *do* have to be a moral, upstanding person who does his/her best to follow God’s Word etc…but that hour of worship you give to God does seem to be important no? Why would Paul have to lecture the Corinthians on how it was to be done if they weren’t doing in a manner that was not pleasing to God? Why was he instructing Timothy on it?

    If it’s so insignificant, why on earth would it have to be addressed in the first place?

    Yes, I agree that you have to be missional and reach out to the community. It is the duty of every Christian to spread the joy of God–it shouldn’t even feel like a duty, it should be something that comes naturally because you appreciate what God has done for you. But that does not constitute the whole of your Christianity. There are many components to it and I am unwilling to say that the hour or three of organized worship is any less important.

    Thus, I think that such bickering about methods of worship–however insignificant they seem–is needed. I hope you guys keep thinking about it, search the Scriptures and pray. I hope you come to the understanding that God wants his people to have.

  21. Rae, Excellent thoughts. If there is not a pattern we should follow then why do we partake of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday , and how do we finance the work of the church and should we not follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and be like Him ? And many other aspects of our Christian life on Sunday and everyday.

  22. “Aren?t we supposed to pattern ourselves after the NT church?” Uhh. well…nevermind.

  23. Sam Middlebrook says:


    If you posted here to pick an argument, then I don’t have much to say. If you posted here to engage in actual dialogue, I have a lot to say. Just let me know which.


  24. LOL Sam, I did not post to pick an argument. I posted because I really did stumble across this and it *is* an issue I find important. Please feel free to comment or even email me if you like, I’d love further discussion. I do however apologize if I came across as exceedingly brash–then again Jesus overturned tables and yelled.

    In any case, I happen to like dialogue and I should probably apologize to Wade for practically spamming his blog when I’m a complete stranger.

  25. Hey Rae. As a regular reader and occasional commenter on this blog, welcome. Personally, I didn?t feel like your comment was mean-spirited (it?s hard to make those judgments when we only type a few words). In fact, I was glad to read it… often we just all start agreeing with each other and no real progress is made. Wade used a tag line on his blog last year that said something like “Without disagreement nothing is learned” or something like that. So your words are appreciated.

    I’ll approach one of your questions above: “Aren?t we supposed to pattern ourselves after the NT church?” For a long time I would have answered “yes” to that question. Not any longer. We?ve already discussed some of the problems that happened during those often idealized first 100 years (namely in Corinth). So my answer to your question is “no.” We do however model our personal life and collective community after the example of Jesus (the Author and Perfector). These days I go to the Gospels first when looking for answers about the church (including worship), then consult Paul and other inspired writers who sought to address the practicalities of living out the ways of Jesus during the first century AD (usually correcting problems). I still consider myself a restorationist (I guess) but my aim is not to restore a perfect church (which never existed) but to live out the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught is growing among us to perfection. If I had to pick a pattern to restore it would be the Garden of Eden (pre fig leaf), not Ephesus or Corinth or Rome. What do you think?

  26. Oh Russ, I think you’ve caught me completely one that one. You’ve verbalized exactly what I thought, but didn’t doing a particularly good job of expressing.

    The early years of the Church are incredibly idealized and yes, we’re not to pattern ourselves after a specific congregation described in the Bible. God help us if we chose Laodicea or early Corinth!

    I think the term “pattern ourselves after the early Church” has become a bit of a catchphrase–a cliche, and not particularly well articulated at that. To truly be the Church Christ instituted we should follow the precepts etc. that were laid down in the NT. My point was just poorly articulated.

    Rather, through the letters to the various churches written by the inspired writers, we gain a clearer understanding of what we should be doing. Instead of the phrase that I know I still throw about, it’s deeper than that. It’s not the individual congregations etc., it is instead the precepts they followed, or at least, were supposed to follow. For that, the Bible is the only answer. We shouldn’t follow everything Ephesus, Corinth or Rome did–we should follow Ephesians, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. *That* is where our pattern lies. It’s not neat and simply laid out like one would expect of a pattern.

    Instead, it requires a lot of searching and piecing together. I.e. the Bereans were great students of the Word and praised for it so it is a good thing to do (Acts 17); the Corinthians were told to examine themselves as they participated in the Lord’s Supper so it seems like the proper way to do it(1 Cor. 11) etc. etc.

    On the note of cliches, I don’t actually consider myself a “restorationist” and I don’t really know if very many CoCers do? Maybe someone can answer that question next? I’ve actually never been to a congregation that spoke about the Restoration movement or Alexander Campbell et al in any detail or emphasis.

    Regarding restoration in a more general sense of the word, I still wouldn’t consider myself a restorationist. I don’t see anything in particular that we need to, or can, restore. Attempting to restore the Garden of Eden for example, would be utterly impossible since it would mean denying mankind the knowledge of good and evil. We cannot uneat the fruit just as we cannot “restore” a perfect church that never existed. Rather, we have to do the very best we can to follow the pattern laid down for the Church in the NT and not anything different.

    I guess that is a bit clearer? I hope that was somewhat coherent…if not, I will blame Buckley’s Cold and Flu syrup 🙂 Thanks for that response Russ, and I hope this clears up a bit what I was trying to communicate.

  27. Wish I Could Leave My Name says:

    I also wish I had something significant to contribute to the thoughts here. But right now I’m among those who are just plain weary of the “praise teams vs. 1 song leader” debate.

    One option is not better than the other. But if changing causes people to up-and-leave for the sake of their conscience – whether the rest agree or not – is it worth making the change?

    I have to agree with you, Wade: If our singing/worship got better as a result of anything, we would still have to establish some cause and effect relationship between better singing/worship and caring, one-on-one outreach to people who have never really heard of Jesus, except as an epithet.

    I’m not sure what “missions is the new worship” may mean – I have a guess – but it’s a sure bet that fixating on either one exclusively ain’t-a-gonna fix anything broken.

    Like a heart. Or a relationship with God.

  28. Responding to the use of the word pattern as used by Rae above:

    “It would be extremely cruel of our Father to expect us to follow some specific pattern, connecting our very salvation to such an endeavor, and then leave us to assume, infer and deduce what that pattern actually is. And yet this would seemingly appear to be exactly what has happened, IF the peculiar principle of patternism, as embraced and promoted in various factions of God’s vast spiritual family, is objectively true (which I do not believe for a second). I find it more than a little interesting that I have yet to meet any two patternists who can agree among themselves 100% on exactly what constitutes God’s true pattern. I have also yet to have a single one of these rigid patternists ever give me the definitive, exhaustive list of every particular of this pattern. And I have been asking repeatedly for many years. NONE will give it to me! Not a single one!! And the reason is obvious — they can’t even agree among themselves what should be on the list! Even they don’t know what “the pattern” is!! (Try this test sometime — ask a patternist to give you in writing EVERY item in their “pattern” that pertains to fellowship and salvation; tell them not to leave out a single one, since each are eternally critical, according to them. You will never get that list … NEVER.) Nevertheless they still boldly declare “the pattern” (whatever it is) to be critical to salvation and fellowship! The result of such hermeneutical confusion is exactly what we all see far too frequently today — countless feuding factions and squabbling siblings disgracefully dismembering the universal Body of our Lord Jesus Christ over each party’s perceived particulars of some elusive pattern. When these patternists themselves can’t agree on the particulars and parameters of the pattern, that ought to tell us something! In reality, the most divided and divisive bunch within Christendom are the hardcore patternists.

    On the other hand, I certainly do not deny the presence of a biblical “pattern” (if one feels compelled to employ such a term) provided by the Father for His children. I believe such a “pattern” is far more specific and limited, and certainly the particulars of it are far less nebulous, than anything produced by the patternists and partyists, however. Mankind is not left to assume, deduce or infer the Father’s will or intent, debating the parameters of it endlessly. Rather, God has provided the one true pattern in the person of His beloved Son Jesus Christ, who is “the exact representation of His nature” and through whom He has “spoken to us in these last days” (Hebrews 1:2-3). As mentioned earlier, Paul declared he followed Christ Jesus, and urged us to do the same. Patterning ourselves after Paul simply suggests imitating his resolve to pattern himself after Jesus! Patterning ourselves after those who lived spiritually successful lives simply means we exhibit the same faith and faithfulness they did. We don’t try to recreate every detail of their lives in our own; we don’t seek to be clones; rather, we display the same devotion to the Lord they did. In so doing, we achieve the same result. The purpose of Christians in the 21st century is not to be “copy cats” of every known practice or example of Christians in the 1st century. Such is much too absurd to even seriously suggest. Instead, like the saints of yesteryear, we serve our Savior to the best of our individual abilities and understandings within the social, cultural and historical parameters wherein we each find ourselves placed by our sovereign God. Divine principles and precepts are eternal, human application is NOT. Too frequently the legalists have sought to create patterns out of the latter, and the result is the chaos being experienced in the church today.”

    From Al Maxey: http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx130.htm

  29. Wade,

    First I would just say that you are a true teacher and your love and concern for others comes through on your blog. You really want to see the kingdom expand and it shows.

    As you know I understand all to well what you have said. We are still only now digging out from the idea that a name change and bad instrumental worship equals growth.

    I would only add that we must see people, individual people, instead of statistics and numbers. Chasing numbers leads to a lot of bad decisions.

  30. Yes , Jesus is our pattern and we should be changed into His likeness. Let us follow in His steps.
    We can also include the pattern of sound teaching ( 2 Tim. 1 : 13 ).
    There is a pattern of healthy doctrine. When Paul was giving instruction about women not teaching in the assemblies he said ,” As in all the congregations of the saints ,women should remain silent in the churches.” I Cor. 14 : 33 and 34 . There was a pattern. Other passages can be used. Let us teach the whole will of God.

  31. Rae – how do you even begin to approach restoring something that never reached a definable telos and was an organism increasing in glory within a changing social, political, and spiritual context – based on a cannon that never states it’s intent to be setting forth a worship or mission pattern to be modled accross all generations, cultures, and settings.

    Restoration of the first century church based on the New Testament is a very flawed approach.

    Restoration of anything that has already happened is a flawed approach.

    There is no pattern to “behold” or “uphold”.

    There is a Way – and the Way is a person – not a code.

    Sorry it’s not easily definable and neatly packagable anymore.

    I love your passion though – assuming it’s from the Lord, and I believe it is.

    Blessings to you!

  32. Nevermind Rae – Russ already said what I said – but better…

    just for spelling practice:

    A Cappella

    Yeah – I did it!

  33. Still Searching says:

    I have grown up in a conservative “patternistic” (if I can put it that way) Church of Christ. I’ve been a minister in two of these type churches during my adulthood, and presently.

    It has been more and more difficult for me to make sense of what shannon said so well. I echo her thoughts.

    “It would be extremely cruel of our Father to expect us to follow some specific pattern, connecting our very salvation to such an endeavor, and then leave us to assume, infer and deduce what that pattern actually is.”

    I’ve read the scriptures regarding “pattern” and “sound doctrine.” Because of my church background I have previously mentally inserted into those passeges what “pattern” and “sound doctrine” are referring to. Even though the scriptures never specifically say, “follow this pattern”, or “adhere to these rules” followed by a list regarding Lord’s Supper, Instrumental Music, etc. I’m finding it harder to understand how some of our (patternistic churches’) most “important” issues are ones that scripture says the least about. For this reason I’m having a growing difficulty believing that God would expect us to follow a pattern that scripture doesn’t clearly explain. I’ve been told, in essence, to “look at this scripture this way” and “if you consider this and that, and tilt your head like this, you can see the teaching about instrumental music here.” As I stand back and try again and again to look at these issues, I simply can’t see the teaching I grew up with.

    I believe we have inserted a great deal into the scriptures that refer to any simblance of there being a “pattern” that we must follow.

    (Wade, I appreciate this site and your sincerity that shines through)

  34. A capella was the dominant form of music in Catholic and Protestant churches until the 18th century. The use of the voice only, to worship God is for spiritual reasons. I grew up in the independent Christian church where the instrument became dominant and voices often barely heard. Worship became entertainment. Unity for its own sake tends toward universalism. In churches of Christ having no central offices, our unity depends solely upon grace, sharing a common head through our baptism into Christ. We try hard to maintain this unity, but in reality there will always be as many “divisions” as there are members of the body of Christ because no two people are able to agree completely on everything. Rather than add the instrument for the sake of unity, we should acknowledge as brethren those who sincerely believe they can or must use an instrument, assuming they hold firmly to the gospel message of salvation. The gospel must always be the real issue and the ground of unity.

  35. Wade I greatly appreciate your positive, objective, and direct comments on this much over-discussed issue.

    Everyone else you are all so polite to one another, regardless of differences in opinions, and that is genuinely refreshing!

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