27 September, 2023

What I’ve Learned in Switching to an A Cappella Church of Christ

by | 30 May, 2023 | 10 comments

By Jeff Dye 

Until recently, Independent Christian Churches were all I had ever known.  

JEFF DYE

My parents attended four Christian Church colleges, and my father served among independent churches and ministries his entire working life. His final full-time service was with a Christian Church-affiliated nursing home, which had a chapel with a baptistery. My baptism there at age 11 surely puts me among the youngest ever baptized in a nursing home—anywhere!  

After finishing high school, I followed in my parents’ footsteps by studying at two Christian church schools—both different from the four they attended—and then I served two decades in Christian churches or related ministries. 

Then COVID-19 hit. In the fall of 2020, as the world was emerging from the severest restrictions on gathering, my wife and I were church “free agents.” I suggested we try an a cappella congregation I knew, Westport Road Church of Christ in Louisville, Ky. We jumped in, and two years later I joined the staff as involvement minister—a lifelong Christian Church guy now teaching, discipling, and worshipping in four-part harmony (including my weak efforts to keep up with the bass members of the praise team).  

WHAT I’VE OBSERVED ABOUT SERVING IN AN A CAPPELLA CHURCH  

Here are five observations from my experiences serving in an a cappella church.  

I found genuine openness. At Westport Road, along with other like-minded a cappella congregations, instruments aren’t a focal point, and they really aren’t the enemy. And because instruments aren’t a reason for a fight, I have found it refreshing that the worship services feel less about performance and volume. The result is the congregation is more easily engaged in worship.  

I found a lack of legalism. Many in my present congregation grew up with very strict do’s and don’ts, and as a result, they tend to navigate away from such a mindset. There is a gracious, open spirit that comes when we put our lives up against the gospel, and a freedom when we let the gospel lead. I have found that in my Church of Christ. 

I have found that education is valued—in the pulpit and in the pew. I have enjoyed learning that a lot of folks at WRCC grew up going to the same schools (just like their Christian Church cousins). Many of our lay people have used their four-year degrees as stepping stones to more education—like law school, medical school, or other advanced work.  

While some churches look at advanced education with suspicion, I appreciate that it has allowed me to deepen my well for study and teaching. Education does not have to be a pathway to elitism or a disengaged faith; instead, it can be a way to expand faithful service into important areas of our culture. 

I appreciate that the church I now serve does not let the cultural calendar shape our Sunday worship or our efforts to unite in ministry. Previous churches I attended and served often used national holidays as an opportunity to celebrate our country. At times we incorporated the Pledge of Allegiance into the worship service when every other Sunday we pledged our allegiance only to Jesus. As a minister, I have faced questions about the importance of remembering Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Veteran’s Day, but not once has anyone ever asked, “Why don’t we remember Pentecost, the day the church was born?”  

I believe we too often allow the culture to shape the church calendar, instead of the other way around. I love the opportunities that living in the United States provides, but I am convinced the worship service is not the place to celebrate country, war, or politics. They are not the reason we gather for worship, nor are they essential matters when it comes to faith. On our stage we simply display a cross. 

Finally, I have appreciated and been challenged by the diversity that is developing at our church. The Churches of Christ in Louisville have been effective at taking root in the African-American community. This is the most diverse congregation I’ve had the opportunity to serve. This observation is more a commentary on the ethnic separation some churches still experience on Sunday mornings than a boast about any success at WRCC. But it’s a start.  

My wife and I recently had some folks over to our house for lunch, where White and Black people ate, talked, laughed, and shared openly together. It was just one step, but one that my church is helping me take more and more. 

WHAT I’M LEARNING ABOUT FOLLOWING CHRIST AND LEADING IN HIS CHURCH  

Westport Road Church of Christ is far from perfect, and Churches of Christ face some unique challenges. But serving on the staff of a Church of Christ is giving me the opportunity to listen and learn.  

I’m learning what grace looks like in a church where many have experienced its opposite.  

I’m learning there is an upside to scaled-down, simple worship that requires us to focus more on the connection we have in Christ rather than on cutting-edge content.  

And I’m learning I need to keep learning . . . that unity happens only when we choose to sit at the same table and learn from each other.  

My hope is that by “crossing the aisle” I’ve joined a conversation bigger than any one church among us. I know it has given me an opportunity to get a small taste of what Jesus prayed for in John 17.  

Jeff Dye serves as engagement minister at Westport Road Church of Christ in Louisville, Kentucky.  

10 Comments

  1. Loren C Roberts

    Love, mercy and grace along with humility are a sign of Christian fellowship.
    While I see no reason not to use instruments in worship, the early church did not have air conditioning, electricity, etc.
    I appreciate my a cappella brothers and sisters in Christ. Particularly when I look around and see most people where I worship don’t even praise God in song. They just stand and listen.

  2. Daniel Schantz

    I attend a couple different A Capella churches from time to time, and the thing I love about them is the tremendous singing. In many of our churches the bands are consistently too loud, so that I cannot even hear my own voice, let alone anyone else singing. I have always felt that the human voice is the most amazing instrument in the world, and I wonder why we would ever want to squelch it with electronic noises. We need balance. There are a number of things about modern worship services that I don’t get, but this is the number one mystery to me.

  3. Noe Mohorn

    Thank you for your comments. I grew up in an instrumental church of Christ and then in my twenties I started attending a non-instrumental church and served in many leadership roles. I now communicate openly between these church and especially enjoying their writing and commentaries.

  4. Tim

    Thanks for sharing! God bless your ministry.

  5. Fuller Ming

    I am currently with what has historically been an acapella Church of Christ, the Bowie Church of Christ in Bowie, Maryland, Located between Washington DC and Annapolis. I was converted in college almost 40 years ago. I now serve as an Elder.

    Jeff’s 5 observations are interesting.
    1. Openness
    2. Lack of legalism.
    3. Education is valued
    4. Minimizing Culture
    5. Diversity

    In general, you have to check each congregation to see if these values are present. Many acapella Churches of Christ, however, are not open to instruments and many of the primarily African American Churches of Christ in the Washington DC metropolitan area are very theologically conservative here – absolutely no instruments. Legalism is also something that can change from church to church. Even so, I find the historically White acapella Churches are better than the primarily Black congregations, especially in the South and the DC Metro area.

    Education is valued and the evidence is in the colleges and universities that come out of the acapella tradition: Pepperdine, Harding, Abilene Christian University, Rochester University (Rochester Hills, Michigan), Faulkner University, Freed–Hardeman University, Lipscomb University, Lubbock Christian University, and Oklahoma Christian University. These all tend to be larger than the Independent Christian Church colleges and universities and are better funded. They also have a broader acceptance of students from outside of restoration church circles. This may be why there is more openness and not as much legalism, but again, this is with the more White acapella Churches of Christ. Note that all of the universities I listed are PWI (Predominantly White Institutions).

    The cultural issue and waving of the American Flag is also different, depending on the congregation. There is also a regional influence. Friends of mine moved to Georgia a number of years ago and had to be very quiet about their excitement about Barak Obama becoming president. The church they attended was 99% White in a suburb of Atlanta and my friend told me the church was depressed after election day in 2016. In the DC area. Even so, The acapella Churches of Christ’s unofficial, official doctrinally stance is to not celebrate or sometimes not even to acknowledge the holidays

    Finally, regarding Diversity – again, it’s a hit or miss: you have to visit each congregation. Even so, the acapella Churches of Christ in the DC Metro area that have historically been predominately White are more diverse ethnically than churches in the South and the Midwest. When I travel, I generally visit an Independent Church of Christ / Christian Church and they are generally primarily of one ethnicity – White Americans. The Black acapella Churches of Christ are, well, primarily African American but are likely more open, excepting, and welcoming to White Christians – as long as they are willing to toe the line doctrinally (Five Acts of Worship, Five Finger Plan, Speak where the Bible Speaks… you know the drill). For the record, I am an African America, but I have predominantly associated with predominately White acapella Churches of Christ in the DC area – on the Maryland side.

    I have not done a comprehensive study but in my 45 years in the acapella Churches of Christ, these are my observations. With that said, the two branches of restoration are generally biblical, theologically conservative, and all part of one family. The Disciples of Christ do not align anymore with the polity and theology of these two more conservative lines. Yet, in the end, God is God and he makes the final call. His grace is sufficient and powerful and we will all realize how little we actually know regarding His word and our own struggles with falling short of the glory of God – I know I fall way short, even as I strive to serve and honor God alongside and in fellowship with my Independent Christian Church brothers and family.

  6. Ogbe Etaba-Royal

    Great write there, Jeff.

    While unity in worship and service is the ideal, I think one shouldn’t swerve out the cordiality which ought to own a major display in Christian worship.

    I grew up in a once Acapella CC that’s now instrumental, later moved to College and was part of an Acapella CC. I attend both on various occasions as it concerns my proximity to the area having any of those.

    There’s harmony in Bible teachings to a great extent from/in both churches, from my observation over the years.

    As observed by many, the privilege of hearing my own voice and that of others blend in harmony is key, admirable to me; that’s the joy.

    Musical instruments ought to be regulated in such decibels as would allow for hearing of the human with only a voice to offer.

  7. David

    Thank you for the thought-provoking and transparent article. Having grown up in an a cappella church, I have come to have a great appreciation (I hope this spreads to every area of my life as I age) for this simple experiment. I love how this act necessitates participation among members in order for it to work (sometimes to greater effect than others, but still…). Participation rather than perfection is always beautiful.

  8. Earley Terry

    Sorry that I’m a little late to this conversation. I just discovered this website while listening to a podcast from the Christian Chronicle.

    Before reading this article, I had not heard the term Acappella churches of Christ. Being raised in the church of Christ in the Los Angeles area that term was never used. I am aware that some congregations are using musical instruments. The one thing that we must remember is what is the commandment. The commandment is to sing. Col 3:16; Eph 5:19

    Also one of the Brothers in this discussion made a statement that in his area white congregations are better than African American or Black congregations. I was hoping that he would take some time to explain his comment. How can our Church come to the unity of faith with attitudes such as that?

  9. James

    In all the discussions there is only one thing to be considered in matters of religion and that is who has all authority in matters of religion. It is not me, nor your church but Jesus Christ the Divine Son of God (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, let’s let Him answer all questions, settle all disputes. Religious division is wrong and in violation of Scripture (1 Corinthians 1:10).
    James

  10. Al Edmonds

    1. As secularism takes over our churches and many stalwart Christian Church congregations abandon God’s plan of salvation — especially repentance and baptism — I would hope that this trend not take over the C of C-A cappella congregations as well. If you decide to accept instrumentation and other user-friendly accommodations, then what else can you accept? (The kettle of water on the stove keeps getting warmer and warmer.)
    2. You know that there is something fundamentally wrong when earplugs are passed out at “worship” (or music gig/set as the performers term it) to prevent ear damage. It would be interesting to have a noise meter at these high-decibel performances. (Exposure to 90db over the workday is considered hazardous.)

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