Worship War Weariness

I Write Modern Worship Choruses

 

A senior adult shared the above cartoon with me a few weeks ago. He thought it was funny, but I wasn’t laughing. I’ve also heard a guest speaker at a ministry luncheon tell a similar joke, and while the older adults in the room laughed away, I noticed that all of the young people grew extremely quiet and withdrawn.

Why the icy silence? Because we know that this isn’t really a joke… it’s a passive aggressive attack on our generation and the worship songs which speak to our hearts in a powerful way. And we’ve endured this sort of “drive-by shooting” before… more times than we can count. The Baby Boomer generation has a strong fighting spirit. This was wonderful when it carried them through Pearl Harbor and World War II, but now that they’ve set their sights on young people it is doing serious harm to the church.

Of course, many older people feel that they are the ones being targeted. In some cases, this may be true. But in my experience, the young people of my generation continue to sing old hymns and love them dearly. No matter how many old favorites we sing, however, planning even one worship service which predominately uses praise choruses brings us under a fresh barrage of attacks.

I grew up singing old hymns and love them, but as I type worship slides I often find myself worried about the outdated language. If church visitors can’t understand what we’re singing about because it is literally like a foreign language to them, how can it be meaningful and prepare their hearts to worship God? Don’t forget, too, that music itself is a language. Some hymns are absolutely stunning, while others clunk along with tunes that are so cheesy it almost feels irreverent to play them – as if we’re attempting to worship the God of Hosts with corny carnival music.

Am I attacking the use of hymns? Absolutely not. They’re an important part of our Christian heritage and I hope we’ll continue to teach them to coming generations. But if we want to use these songs to reach modern people for Christ (which is the whole point, by the way) then we desperately need to update the language and the musical style of many of these hymns.

To put it simply, we must focus on giving the LORD the glory due His name (Psalm 29:2), worshipping God with the right spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and encouraging one another and building up other members of God’s family instead of tearing them down (I Thessalonians 5:11).

And yes, this cuts both ways. No matter which side of the debate you personally fall on, please catch yourself the next time you’re tempted to make a passive aggressive remark about worship styles. Attacking other believers and drawing attention away from God during times of worship is not cute. This is a sin, and one that will surely bring God’s judgment.

During Times of Worship, Can You Honestly Say That Your Focus is on God and God Alone?

 

 

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31 thoughts on “Worship War Weariness

    1. Why aren’t the younger generations writing more of their own hymns (Like Revelation Song) or modernizing some of the out of date ones?
      Regarding the 7-11 worship song joke why does the chorus to Oceans have to be repeated 6x?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Keith, I think a lot of young songwriters are trying. I’ve heard a lot of modernized hymns on the radio lately, and we have some really wonderful modern hymns (such as “In Christ Alone,” “Before the Throne of God Above,” etc.). Of course, they would probably turn around and ask why a song has to look and feel like an old hymn in order to be worshipful.

        Also, I’ll be the first to agree that some modern worship leaders go too far with repeating a chorus, and this is something I personally try to avoid. But in our frantic culture, we often sing or say words without really thinking about what it is we just promised to the Lord. I see the repeated chorus as a modern version of the Psalmist’s command to pause and reflect on what we just sung (Selah)… Repeating a phrase again makes us stop and think about it, giving us time to truly digest it and time to make sure that we can sing those words to God in all truthfulness…

        Thanks for jumping into the conversation, Keith. I’ve always appreciated your dry humor!

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        1. For me personally, some of my favourite songs to bring before my Lord are hymns. I have a strictly hymn playlist I will listen to for days. Yet, sometimes I need that repeated chorus. When my heart is hard, and the chorus offers God my surrender, it takes more than once through to be able to bring myself to a place of authenticity. If I have been distracted, or worried, or self centered, songs that put my focus back on God will be placed on repeat – even ones that are already repetitive. I realize I may not be a majority in this need for repetition, and sometimes it may be needless, but I do need it. Repetition takes me from a place of casual singing along, to a place where I am declaring words to the Most High.

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      2. If you notice, the chorus to Oceans builds…it starts out softly and builds as the writer or worshiper becomes strengthened. We are to repeat our requests before God, not giving up hope that they will be answered. As far as the hymns go, I once heard that the words were actually put to bar tunes of the current times. Many of them were actually considered pretty scandalous when they were written. They did this because they wanted the music to be familiar and relevant to the people….kinda like now. And there are current musicians that do use scripture and hymns….for instance Sons of Korah.

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    2. Thanks Evan…it really is the elephant in the room in a good number of churches, and it breaks my heart to see generations starting to worship separately…we don’t need a divorce between generations, we just all need a reminder of what worship (and brotherly love) really is!

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  1. My husband and I left a church over the music. The old hymns are mostly easy to sing, and a congregation usually doesn’t sound like five hundred people singing different songs at the same time. I have a very old hymnal and read the old hymns for pleasure in words praising the Lord. When my husband and I listen to KSBJ in Houston, we enjoy the young music played on the radio, AND most of it is beautiful. Unfortunately, the church we were attending was using these same radio songs for our congregation to sing. These songs are beautiful when a singing artist with a full orchestra / band record them. They are mostly extremely hard for the average person to sing. It mattered not how many months we sang these songs week after agonizing week, it came out sounding horrible as a group. My husband who has a beautiful singing voice had an equally hard time trying to sing these songs. It isn’t the words that bother us, it is the experience of trying to sing these songs that is awful. Of course I would prefer to sing an old hymn that is easy to sing for almost EVERYONE, and thus we are able to sing them with our hearts unto our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The music team who decided what songs to sing behaved like they were doing a professional recording of these songs, and honestly – having heard the real deal on the radio – the music worship leaders performance also fell short. It was embarrassing at times to see them in their pride of doing a better job of it than the rest of the congregation. I don’t want to see amateurs behaving like professional on a stage. I want the “choir” back in my church, singing beautiful worship songs that we are all able to sing. The radio songs can be sung by those on their “stage” for the congregation to enjoy listening to while worshiping the Lord.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Juanita! I have also experienced worship leaders who are trying to be performers, and you’re right – it is a distraction. Of course, I’ve also heard people sing hymns with such pride that it really does have the same effect… I feel that it isn’t necessarily the song itself, but the heart attitude of the ones singing that makes all the difference. I’ve been in churches where everything is so modern that my heart craves the older songs, and I’ve also been in churches where everything is so dry and out of date that my heart craved the newer songs like a thirsty wanderer needs water in the desert!

      What a great reminder for all of us to examine our hearts, be sure that we’re worshiping with the proper heart and attitude, and be open to variety and freshness in our worship settings (whatever that means for us)…

      So glad you shared!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a good consideration. I much enjoy an assortment of hymns and choruses. But I am sometimes put off by offerings from both genres–for various reasons. It just demonstrates that humans are not perfect and not every musical style will appeal to every taste, I suppose.
    One of the more ironic arguments I’ve heard with regard to “hymns only” is that modern worship is inferior (even evil?!) due to the use of modern (electric) instruments, drums etc. This completely ignores the reality that the hymns were modern when they were first written.
    I’m guessing the greatest danger for us lies either in the temptation to become pridefully dismissive over music preference…or of turning any worship service into a show of human compositioinal/performance skill. Those potential sins can be easily committed regardless of which style one favors.

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  3. I do understand what you are trying to say. I am trying to breach a spiritual gender gap. I have been around 62 years, and experienced a more enthusiastic church for the Lord when I was young. When I am singing the hymns that are easy to sing, my focus is always on the Lord – and not on trying to sing something that I simply cannot sing without offending the ears of those near me when I am trying desperately to find the pitch and the awkward note arrangements – – – and my ears being offended by the cacophony of the same around me. Therefore I have never felt the easy to sing hymns were dry and out of date. Just as the Bible does not go out of date, loving hymns do not either. If one feels that way, I suspect that they are attending church for the wrong reason. Pick up a 1940 hymnal and see how you feel about the worshipful words. Church attendance is falling off rapidly over the last 20 years. Many of us baby boomers do not recognize the “feel good about yourself” messages being preached as Biblical, and the “rock star songs” being sung as worshipful. The young and old alike are not attending. I am in prayer and in communion with the Lord 24/7/365, and read / study the scriptures at home every day. We have not dropped our attendance with the Lord, we have dropped our attendance in the “new age” leaning churches of today. In Revelation, only the last 4 churches are in existence today, and only one of them has the Lord’s good report card. I am here to represent the older generation that is in attendance of The Church, The Body of Christ all day, every day. With much love I recommend a study of the 7 churches in Revelation, especially the last 4 which are in existence today to find out why Christian church attendance is deteriorating rapidly – it is much deeper than just the vain stance on music. I tell you these things in love, for they need to be said aloud. It isn’t about me, it is about the Biblical message in Revelation that today’s church must come to terms with. God Bless you in your endeavors with the Lord in you.

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    1. In Revelation, only the last 4 churches are in existence today,
      The persecuted church (Smyrna, #2) is very much alive today…and thriving in Christ’s love in spite of intense external opposition.

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      1. I seem to have upset you. It was not my intention. There is a lesson we must learn as to why Christians are turning away from the church in America and going underground. Music is only a tiny piece of it, but it is part of it. God Bless.

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        1. If, by upset, you mean angry or hurt, then no. I have done an extensive survey of the churches of Revelation and agree with you that there is much we can learn from these letters. Not only did these congregations literally exist in history, but they also represent “types” of individual assemblies. And interestingly, the order of their appearance in the text mirrors not only church history, but that of ancient Israel, as well. It is indeed a fascinating example of the wisdom and orderliness of God’s plan for history.

          Your comment did create concern as I happen to disagree with the idea that only the last 4 church types are relevant to our experience today. And, due to the spiritually-discerned nature of prophecy, we need to be careful about drawing conclusions which are not directly revealed in the text.

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          1. Please do not twist the meaning of what I said. All of the Bible is for our learning, and all the churches in Revelation are important for study. They do mirror the history of the church. What I said is that the last 4 are in existence today – meaning that there are many churches that need to do the work of necessary change in order to bring Christians back in the fold. My concern is why are Americans not attending church? It has much to do with the weary worship war that includes music, as well as the content of the sermon.

            “Back in 1957 — during the halcyon days of the Eisenhower administration — 69% of Americans said religion was increasing its influence. And in December 2001 — just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States — 71% said religion was increasing its influence in American life, which is the highest reading on that measure in Gallup Poll history. But by 2003, the percentage saying religion was increasing its influence had dropped back into the 30% range and though it has been as high as 50% since then, it is just 32% today.” (Gallup)

            When Gallup compared another question regarding actual church attendance to how many Americans claim to be in attendance . . . the churches report that only half of those who claim to have recently gone to church are telling the truth. The thing is that when you ask the question, people don’t want you to think badly of them, so half of those that claim to be attending church are in reality not attending.

            Because so many are not attending services, everything regarding their family, their community, and their nation is affected. Reverend Graham stated that only a small percentage of America’s Christians are voting in local and national elections. If they were attending church, I don’t think they should be told how to vote, but they would be encouraged to vote their faith based values. It is important for the church to figure out why Americans are not attending, and embrace faith based changes, even if the answers mean embracing more traditional music and Bible based worship services.

            It is my opinion that there are many reasons for the drops in church attendance over the last several decades. I find myself paying keen attention when reading about this subject, and from listening to what people have to say. Several top reasons for not attending: have a hard time finding a Bible based church; churches that feel like a social program to make you feel good about yourself (not why we attend worship); and music they do not relate to, either because it lacks the conservatively reverent atmosphere they prefer for worship, or they miss having a traditional choir. It is easy to fade away from attending what many see as a social club.

            I would love to see attendance in America’s Christian churches dramatically increase. We are supposed to congregate with other Christians. Healing America is tied up in a revival of our Christian faith. I am simply suggesting that those in leadership of American Christian churches need to take a good look at why attendance has dropped. They need to accept the truth of the reasons discovered – even if it is discovered that the majority like traditional music in the form of a choir singing songs easy for the entire congregation to sing.

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          2. Hi Juanita,

            I apologize for not taking the time to ask what you meant.
            Your comment indicated that you believe Revelation tells us that only the last 4 churches are in existence today, (your words). The statement appears to mean that you believe that the Christian church is no longer persecuted.
            If you meant that you believe that the last 4 forms of assembly are prevalent in American society, I accept your clarification. If you are telling readers that this is the case on a worldwide scale, it is an errant conclusion.

            I am simply suggesting that those in leadership of American Christian churches need to take a good look at why attendance has dropped. They need to accept the truth of the reasons discovered – even if it is discovered that the majority like traditional music in the form of a choir singing songs easy for the entire congregation to sing.

            There are many American followers of Christ who attend small, faithful study groups which do not keep official attendance records. And, there are many who attend large churches who are not on the rosters for various reasons. These individuals would not have been counted when official records were checked. Not being on an official list does not mean their claim to attendance is a lie.

            Yes, lack of sound teaching can be a big issue in our assemblies. In both the more modern and traditional formats. And yes, a consistent lack of depth of spiritual truth in the music service might be one indicator of spiritual shallowness.

            The thought has crossed my mind, though, that neither hymns nor praise choruses would have been recognized by King David as traditional worship songs. And it’s a given that different styles of music will appeal to different personalities.

            I agree with John Mark’s original point that there is room in God’s choir for both hymns and modern music… We don’t need to become prideful over musical skill or dismissive of others who don’t relate to *my* preferred style. We don’t need to insist on our own musical way or debate one another or break fellowship over which style of music is superior. Our congregation enjoys both forms, contains families in every phase of life, and our ability to fellowship in love has not been adversely affected by it.

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          3. Once again, using euphemism and innuendo to change the meaning of my words is dishonest. Willful ignorance is the supreme problem in the church today, and why so many are opting out. The Body of Christ has been divided and subdivided ad nauseum by the denominations – destroying Christian fellowship in America. Today’s church is building on yesterday’s divisions within the church via man’s denominations, and now further divides it with worship weariness. The evidence of my points exists in the mass exodus from America’s churches.

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          4. Once again, I apologize for jumping to conclusions which prompted my initial comment to you. I also expressed a desire for specific clarification of your meaning by pointing out the way your statement can be understood.

            There was no euphemism or innuendo involved in my response. I simply pointed out that many who belong to Christ’s church do indeed still meet together on a regular basis, even though they may not be recognized officially as church-goers.

            Sometimes division is necessary when unbiblical teaching is allowed to dominate.
            Unnecessary division of the church occurs, in part, because individuals disregard the scriptural command to consider others to be more important than myself and instead ungraciously insist *my* way is best. Some will even cite scripture verses as support for their attitude, which can lead to the development of a new denomination which centralizes its teaching around those particular applications of the text.

            I appreciate your concern for the spiritual health of God’s people, But, we do not appear to be in agreement on some things and I’m not willing to continue a debate with you.
            In light of his desire to see believers make an effort to better appreciate one another, it seems that would be highly disrespectful to our host.

            Thank you for the interaction.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Hymns are an open wound for me. I can’t read music and never learned how to sing. It’s not just the words that are confusing, but how to sing them. My last church’s worship leader tried to bring in some of the contemporary music, which delighted me to no end because I can sing them without having to worry about how high a high note is or how low a low note is, I don’t even know what the notes are called – but I can sing them somehow. Then the elders asked her to play one less contemporary song one week. Then two less. Then just one. One day she quit. It was back to the hymnals for the entire service. One pianist, a dozen scratchy voices – belonging to the retired, hearing-impaired elders. It was excruciating to experience – like nails on a chalkboard. After two such Sundays, the pastor (a millennial) also quit. So we tried new churches. All of them hymn only churches. The only one that isn’t hymn only is on the other side of the county – even so, it’s just too far away. Most Sundays, I bring my MP3 Player along and get lost in my own world of contemporary music just before Church just to survive the hymns. I hope one day the wound can heal, but it’s only been a few months. From my perspective, if hymns are not taught, singing is not taught, then they quickly lose what power they would have had. Assuming that somebody else will teach the younger generation to sing won’t instill in them the love of hymns that the elders inherited from their elders. But having a strange-hold on hymns is definitely not the answer.

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    1. Jamie – thanks for sharing your personal experience. It is so sad to hear stories like this, and I think you’ve hit on an important point. Many young people just aren’t as familiar with the hymns the way their parents were, because this is not the type of music that is typically played in youth group settings anymore. But when young people graduate from youth group to “big church,” they’re expected to switch musical styles without warning or preparation. Thank you for this reminder of our need to sing all types of music across all age levels, and I pray that your church will be able to achieve a balance in this area. Blessings!

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  5. I can’t read music and never learned how to sing. It’s not just the words that are confusing, but how to sing them.
    This is me. Not so much the words, but the way they are to be sung. And I don’t have a great range, so many hymns are pitched too high for my inability to consistently harmonize. (Google a YouTube performance of Tis By Thy Strength The Mountains Stand–beautiful, but incredibly complex) It’s the flip side of the type of potential distraction Juanita cited with regard to unfamiliar modern pieces.
    I still try, because I want to be a part of the communal offering of praise. But, if it gets too stressful, I’m also happy to just sit and listen. 🙂

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  6. I really didn’t get the cartoon, but then I rarely attend a church (though I love the Lord and spend time with Him every day). I love both old and new Christian music I agree some of the old hymns are wonderful and I need a few tissues to sing them due to their deep and heartfelt sincerity, some modern ones have the same effect. Personally I think its all to do with the spirit and inspiration of the songs/song writers. One thing I can safely say (being as I’m not a church member) is I find many modern songs sung in churches very “lukewarm” and wishy washy the good stuff tends to come from the Christian rock groups etc Jesus was after all a radical!

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  7. This has been a very interesting discussion. In my own Presbyterian denomination in Brisbane Australia we do seem to have moved on from worship wars, and people have generally accepted that we use a mix of singable modern songs and hymns, plus some older hymns where the language is not obscure or archaic. This post may be helpful as you think this through some more: http://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/07/17/c-s-lewis-on-musical-taste-and-grace/ or this one http://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/09/05/oh-for-a-humble-attitude-to-church-especially-the-music/
    Or this
    http://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/10/02/laying-aside-my-taste-in-music/

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  8. Make a joyful noise ~ Amen :Y

    I first heard this term “7-11” a few months ago, and not to offend, but had to admit there was truth in the title. I will say the continuous repeating of the same verse does not draw my inspiration, but then it is not about me. The question would be – Has the Lord been praised and glorified with the music?

    I have personally witnessed the praise and glorification of the Lord in the remembrance of the old hymns as they were sung by my Mother during the winter of her life. She was a dementia patient and could not engage in conversation, but could remember every single word of the old hymns. This remembrance was so amazing and not only inspired; but brought about a surreal understanding as to the value and depth of that music. All those around her were equally amazed ~ she glorified God in this dementia state by the remembrance of those hymns. I would have to ponder if it would have been as amazing if she had been repeating the same verse. ~ Amen :Y

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    1. I read a book called “This Is Your Brain on Music,” and they have found that music is directly connected to the memory centers in our brain. This is why we can hear a familiar song or Christmas carol and be flooded with a rush of warm memories… when we hear music the memory centers in our brain actually light up! Anyway, I think it’s truly amazing that God has allowed music and memory to be connected this way in His perfect design, and I agree that our hymns and worship songs are a wonderful way to put the truths of Scripture into our lasting memory banks.

      They say you remember the music that meant the most to you when you were younger, and I imagine many of our younger adults today will remember the words to their favorite worship choruses vividly as senior adults. For me, it would be just as amazing to hear a patient remember the words to Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” as it would be to hear them remember the words to “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Either way, God has given us a way to take His truth and hold onto it!

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