Did you know that some church songs are holier than other songs? It’s true. Just ask anyone. Well, that’s true subjectively. I’m pretty sure it’s not an objective truth. What makes a song appropriate for use in church? Is it about style? About content? For every 5 people you ask you will find 7 opinions on the matter. There is no unified voice in what make an appropriate worship song. Welcome to the WORSHIP WARS.
People complain about the contemporary Christian worship music that floods many churches and ask why we can’t go back and do the good old songs that were full of theology (yes, I’ve actually heard that argument before). But when those “good old songs” were new people were complaining about them asking why the church had to shift from its older style of worship. Each generation finds its own voice in worshipping God. Style doesn’t make one song better than another.
What about content, then? The good old hymns of the church had great content that is missing from a lot of these “ding-dong ditties” (an expression one octogenarian used in conversation with me). But let’s be honest – for every generation of sacred songs there are some that are wonderful. They are timeless songs that proclaim great truths and will be sung for decades (if not centuries). But there are also songs that are just plain junk. Read through any hymnal and you will find the classics, but there are also songs in there that were no good, are no good, and will never be any good.
There are songs being written currently that have wonderful content full of rich theology. There are songs being written now that are fluff, spiritual marshmallows that don’t nourish the soul. Don’t cast out an entire generation of music because of some bad songs – every generation has bad songs.
What does it really come down to, then? Personal preference. That’s it. We like the songs that we like. We dislike the songs we dislike.
Sometimes we’ll like the way a certain line moves our soul. Sometimes the melody will capture us and we will love worshipping to it over and over and over and over again.
A mentor of mine once noted that people seem to love the worship songs that were present when they had a significant spiritual experience. What was being played when you had your first real encounter with Jesus? Chances are that those songs will have a special place in your heart. If you have attended a retreat or spiritual conference that was dynamic and revitalized your spirituality, the songs played at that event will have significantly more meaning to you than a new song introduced by your church’s worship team the following week. We are a highly subjective people. Our experiences lead us to like or dislike worship.
When we understand that our experiences and preferences determine our pleasure and displeasure with songs we are freed to worship alongside of people in spite of differences. We don’t have to like the same music, but we worship the same Jesus. I don’t even have to have all of the words of a song memorized to worship God. God transcends words and is not limited to what I can read on the projection screen and sing along with.
As a pastor, then, I have made a conscious effort to engage multiple generations and styles in our church’s service. This is typically called a “blended service” – which I guess is an adequate description. Our worship leader is prayerfully intentional in selecting songs that cover a variety of styles and eras. I don’t think that our way is the best way, but we do understand that people respond to different music in different ways, and we seek the good of the ENTIRE church, not just one demographic.
We recently conducted an unscientific survey in our church, asking people to rate 20 different worship songs. They were asked to scale how familiar they were with the song (little, medium, or very familiar) , how much they liked the song (don’t like, somewhat like, really like), and if they wanted to hear it more, less, or the same. We included 5 hymns and 15 contemporary songs.
We found an interesting phenomenon: even when people really liked a song they indicated that they would like to hear it played about the same in church. This was true almost across the board for hymns and contemporary songs. For example, Revelation Song received one of the highest favorability ratings in our church 73.1% of responders really like it. At the same time, the overwhelming majority said the frequency of play in church was fine and to keep it the same.
While we don’t pick music based on the subjective likes and dislikes of people, the surveys were interesting to see how people think and what they desire in a weekly worship service. I don’t think we’ll ever get it all right. No single service will make everyone content, but we do want to be intentional about creating a worship environment where it is easy to worship God, so we will continue to utilize the blended method. If your church does something else – more power to you. But we have to be faithful with what and who God is calling us to be.
I don’t think the worship wars will ever end. It’s about personal preference, so we will never achieve total unity. But we can worship alongside each other and embrace each other’s preference even if it isn’t our own. I really don’t think God cares about our preferences as much as he cares about whether or not we are actually worshipping. So, next Sunday at church, forget about what you like or prefer and attempt to engage and worship God no matter what song the praise team is leading.
How about you? What are your preferences? What songs move you? What songs make you shut down?
And, just because I know some of you are interested, here are the 20 songs from our survey:
1. Victorious –
2. Let God Arise –
3. Mighty to Save –
4. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name –
5. Great is Thy Faithfulness –
6. When the Stars Burn Down –
7. God is Able –
8. 10000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) –
9. I Surrender –
10. Everyday –
11. My Savior Lives –
12. The Solid Rock –
13. Blessed Assurance –
14. Revelation Song –
15. Glory to God Forever –
16. Here In Your Presence –
17. Here and Now –
18. Wonderful Merciful Savior –
19. The Stand –
20. Days of Elijah –