In the spirit of rushing in where angels fear to tread, I’m going to present some reflections on music that I’ve witnessed in my “anecdotes from churches I’ve visited on vacation” series. I keep repeating the qualifiers that there are some positive exceptions and that this is unscientific reporting on the state of the church, but I think what I’ve seen is pretty typical.
I've noticed that people are often bored. God is not boring, and the music leaders seem to be really into their thing, so what's the problem? I think it's the shallow content of so many of the songs.
Yes, music is subjective. There are objective standards for weighing the quality of the music we sing in church, however, beginning with the theological depth and quality of the lyrics. If you are interested in growing in your understanding of music and the broader subject of worship, pick up a copy of Bob Kauflin’s book, Worship Matters. He has some other great resource recommendations at his blog and in his book if you want to go even deeper.
What I’ve seen in the songs we sing is way too much emphasis on what we do and not enough about God. Too often, you can go through a whole service with nothing but songs about me singing about how I'm praising God. In these songs, you hear a lot about what I'm doing (or supposed to be doing), but very little content about God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What are we learning as we sing, or what great truths are we celebrating?
This “me” focus is not a matter of new songs vs. old songs. The much-loved In the Garden is an easy example of an older song with this problem.
You can get away with a so-so song in a good mix and even a "me" song can be fine as a response in a bigger package. The trouble comes when most or all of the songs fit this pattern.
Another thing I’ve observed is the "token hymn syndrome." You know, throw in a hymn to keep the traditionalists happy. Unfortunately, there are a lot of flaky hymns to choose from over the last 100 years that won't upset the me/my/I weighting of the service. Sometimes the token hymn is a good song, and I should be thankful for that.
The music chosen for a worship service should be there to serve. It should serve the congregation by directing them to God, it should serve the rest of the service by being cohesive and thoughtfully ordered, and it should serve the sermon. Worship does not end when the preaching starts – preaching should be the main event of the worship service.
If you find a church where expositional, Christ-centered preaching is central, serious, joyful, transcendent music should follow. It usually does.
Are you interested in more significant worship music? Check out Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Getty Music and Stuart Townend. There are several others that are doing good music these days. There is a bit of a reformation of worship music going on these days, thankfully.
So then, there is no excuse for doing the shallow, flaky stuff, right?