Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Church Music Conundrum

Prepare for some rambling with no definite conclusions- unless you can provide them!  I have been thinking a lot lately about the songs I have sung in worship over the years.  I am old enough to have been through several generations of church music, and I have loved them all.  I grew up singing from hymnals, and those hymns still have a profound influence on me today.  I was exposed to the early years of praise & worship music which we called "camp songs," and I find myself singing those great old songs on a daily basis.  In the 1990s we began incorporating praise choruses and more modern music into traditional worship settings. Then came the advent of praise bands and contemporary worship music.  I have been in churches that sang each and every style of church music, and before we go any further you need to understand this- I love them all!

I also love the church my family currently attends, and the very contemporary music is a crucial part of worship- and it is awesome!  The quality of the musicians is at a professional level, and the vocalists who lead worship are gifted in so many ways.  But there is one thing that has been gnawing at me lately, and today I wanted to see if any of you might share my concern.  I am bothered by the way we have segregated the music in our churches, because I have come to believe that in doing so we are damaging the foundations of our faith. Let me explain.

The hymns that I grew up singing were already very old when I learned them, but they were the songs that everyone sang at church- and had for a couple of centuries.  Great hymns like It Is Well With My Soul, Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee, In the Garden, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and Amazing Grace were songs that pretty much every Christian knew. It was part of a bond that united us.  Those lyrics still resonate with me today.  Growing up in  North Carolina I also learned to love the old country/bluegrass style hymns like When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, I Saw the Light and I'll Fly Away.  I just purchased the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? for my I-pod.  None of these songs are contemporary, yet they still stir my soul in so many ways. As I was exposed to newer music in the late 70s through Young Life, youth group and Quaker Lake Camp- songs like Pass It On, In His Name, The All Day Song, Seek Ye First and Sing Alleluia- I loved the more modern feel, but I never forgot the music of my childhood.  It was never either/or, it was always both.  In the 90s, as more and more contemporary praise music was introduced into traditional worship, I learned to love songs like Majesty, Lord I Lift Your Name On High, Awesome God and Shout To the Lord.  But they didn't replace the old stand-bys, they were simply added to the playlist.  When Third Day released their Offerings album in 2000, followed my Michael W. Smith's Worship in 2001, everything changed.  Worship music went mainstream.  I wore those CDs out, along with everything from Chris Tomlin, DeliriousStarfield and David Crowder. Rock and roll worship was the new thing, and I was into it big time.  But again, in my mind, this was all an addition to the great hymns of the church and all the music that had come before- not a replacement for it.  I led worship at youth group nearly every week, and always included songs from nearly every generation of church music- because they were all important to me.

And therein lies my concern.  In many of our houses of worship, including the one I attend, the old songs have been replaced and often forgotten.  So many of the old hymns and songs of praise are etched upon my heart and offer me comfort and hope when I need inspiration.  I wonder if my son will have that.  He loves the style of the music we sing, but has little attachment to the actual songs.  We seem so intent on singing the "flavor of the month" that we seldom really commit songs to memory anymore.  It seems every time I fall in love with a song we quit singing it. A few of the true classic hymns, like Amazing Grace, receive new arrangements and new life.  But most have been shelved. Those early praise & worship songs have suffered a worse fate- they have been completely abandoned. I remember with great affection the zeal of our congregation in Kissimmee singing Lord I Lift Your Name On High, the young and the old doing the hand motions and singing praise to God.  I cannot remember the last time I heard that song in a church.  We have segregated the music.  If your church sings traditional hymns, then you ONLY sing traditional hymns. If you sing contemporary music, anything written before 2000 is very suspect. In doing this we are cheating ourselves and our churches of one of the great bonds of the faith- shared music.  And we may be cheating our children as well.  My life would be much different if I did not know the words to It Is Well With My Soul AND Rich Mullin's Bound To Come Some Trouble. What great songs of faith will our children have to lean on? Classics only become classic when given time to age and grow.  Are we allowing that in the modern church?

Let me close with a story from my friend Michael Bridges of the band Lost And Found.  He was asked one time if he and George knew any praise and worship songs.  Micheal's response was that yes, they did. In fact, they were part of a church that knew over 500 worship songs, so many that they had put them all in a book. His tongue-in-cheek dig at musical segregation often rings true to me.  Songs that praise God and fill our souls should not have expiration dates or be confined to any one generation. They need to be sung and to be recorded in our hearts and minds as "A very present help in times of trouble."  It's all God's music.  And it is time to start singing...

And BTW- I have no idea how Pharoah Pharoah fits into this discussion! :)

Because of Jesus,


  1. Replies
    1. I am assuming you mean Pharoah, Marie. And yes it is!!!

    2. Anonymous1/31/2013

      I Agree...Pidgeon holing any form of worship because it doesn't fit us or is too old is really sad. I believe that most "Sacred (an all-emcompassing term) Music and Singing are a part of someone's testimony to their Lord and Savior....We should then hear them and be thankful for the shared experience through God's Grace.
      In My Humble Opinion, UBD

    3. Well said, Brother David! We may use different words and melodies, but as long as we sue them to glorify the same Lord and Savior and praise the same God, then we need to let them be heard! You are wise, oh great one! :)

  2. My church uses some hymns and some praise music, but it isn't very current praise music. It's mostly 90's-ish. I always wish we could use a little more of everything. A little more new and a little more old because they all speak of things that are true at different times of life for different people. But so many people are so tied to one kind of music or to a certain playlist that not enough gets played. That's why I'm thankful for Pandora!


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