We all have our preferences. Whether it be Country, Modern, Alternative, Adult Contemporary, Swing, Decades (pick your own), Rap, Rock, etc..; we all have our preferences. I am not only speaking of music in general, but particularly, music in the church. We are not always logical or consistent about it. I like a lot of Country music; but not at church. My sweet wife, on the other hand, grew up in a different country (Philippines) where there is no Country. When you grow up in a different country where there is no Country, you end up not liking Country. Go figure.
One thing that we can all agree on is this: No matter what your musical tastes, the church is undergoing a major change that is having a monumental impact on the role and mission of the church. Worship wars have been going on now for decades. The fundamental paradigm shift from the hymnal to the modern stage band is something that we have all witnessed to some degree. The changes is music style are indicative of the changing demographics of the church. Aging Baby Boomers are in the process of being replaced by Millenials. I read recently that within the next 10 to 15 years, most church music leaders over the age of 50 will be replaced by younger and more hip leaders whose musical styles will be a radical departure from what many of us are comfortable. Bearing this in mind, let me offer four observations and cautions to the church of today; lest we run the risk of not becoming the church of tomorrow.
1. Be careful that we not lose the substance of our music over the style. As Evangelicals, the actual substance and message of the song should always be paramount over the changing style. A valid criticism of music is that it sacrifices the message of the gospel for the volume and style of the music. I would amplify this to include not only modern music, but also a lot of music that has more of a Country feel to it as well. Any song can be at risk for bad lyrics and unscriptural themes, not just songs with a contemporary style. When The Happy Goodmans sang “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now,” not only did they violate practically every rule of modern grammar, but also basic Christian theology. If I did not like that song so much, I would remove it from my iPod playlist. Likewise, Michael W. Smith’s song “Above All” could stand a little theological review. Good theology should never be sacrificed for a “good beat that is easy to dance to.”
2. The church should seek participation in singing songs of praise rather than just performance. The demise of the church choir and the elevation of the stage band has naturally led to a loss of participation in congregational singing and more observing a good performance. There is a difference between a congregational song and music where you are “invited to sing along on the chorus.” So called “Specials” have given way to a service that has the look, feel, and sound of a modern concert rather than corporate praise and adoration of the Savior. A while back my family attended a church that had about 6 or 7 songs in the morning worship service. We were invited to stand and sing on 2 of them. The rest was total performance.
3. All too often, we assume that people understand what we are singing about, but there is little accountability. Modern songs of praise have been said to have all of the nutritional value of bubble gum. They have a nice catchy tune but contain little of theological significance that is going to be used to reinforce theological truth learned in the sermon. Likewise, there are many Christians who have been saved for decades and have for decades sung lyrics such as “Here I raise mine Ebenezer” and have no clue of its theological significance. Don’t dumb music down to its lowest common denominator but also use more esoteric songs to teach about the faith. One of the best teachable moments that I had with my young daughter was when she asked me about the blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins.
4. Be careful not to put personality over praise. An old preacher that I once knew often prayed “And Lord, hide me behind the cross this morning as I stand at the sacred desk…” The transitioning church of today told the choir to take the pulpit with them on the way out, so this “sacred desk” reference is a little outdated. However, the prayer should be that the congregation connect with the Savior and see Him rather than those of us with feet of clay who stand before them each week. Now here is where I run the risk of making some people mad at me. There are “thinkers” and there are “feelers.” As a general rule, many music leaders tend to be “feelers” and connect with an audience on an emotional level. Often, these emotions can be quite intense, but they can also be very shallow. Likewise, many preachers and teachers are “thinkers” and connect with an audience in an intellectual way. Happy is the leader who can achieve true balance.
An acquaintance of mine with an earned doctorate from a Southern Baptist seminary was trying to educate me about his church. He acknowledge that this rapidly growing congregation did not really preach the Bible. Their message was affirming and nurturing in substance without being “preachy.” When I asked why he attended there instead of a church where God’s Word was faithfully and carefully expounded, he told me “My wife likes the music.”