[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]Sorry ~ I missed my June Worship column. I was about to write it when a severe heart attack crunched through my chest. After 10 days of haze in the Intensive Care Unit and 2 in a ward, I came out of hospital considerably weaker in body, but much stronger in spirit. Looking over The Edge sharpens one’s focus like nothing else can do!
On arrival back home, my wife Thearl gave me a Scripture she had discovered that very morning: “Don’t be afraid, for you are deeply loved by God. Be at peace; take heart and be strong!” (Daniel 10:19). God infused courage, comfort, peace and strength through His Word. And we smiled at the relevance of His command to “take heart”! It has already been set to music. With sharpened focus I reviewed my personal “bucket list”. It includes “to make every effort to turn congregational singing from shallow songs to deep, biblical songs worthy of the God we worship.”
So please allow me to open my ‘heart’ to you. May this column infect you with a contagious ambition that will spread like an epidemic through our churches. An ambition to sing together the songs GOD wants to hear, and songs that WE need to hear. Let’s unpack this ambition, in the context of seven Contemporary Christian Music trends:
1) The trend towards high volume music in church. God does not want mere noise in church, even melodious noise (Amos 5:23). Because hyped-up high-volume music becomes an end in itself to be enjoyed by the congregation, instead of a motivating force for Christian obedience in actions that promote justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24). The Music Ministry Team, including the
Sound Desk, should aim to facilitate (not dominate) the singing of the congregation. We should be able to hear the singing of those around us as we sing to each other.
2) The trend towards performance singing, away from participation singing. God longs to hear His people singing together to each other. (Ephesians 5:19 “address one another … in songs”). But we are becoming a Listening-to-Music generation. Current Technology makes this so easy. Hearty sing-along participation is not fashionable any more. Instead we tap our feet, wave our hands and move our bodies, as we enjoy listening to the worship group performing up front. Let’s encourage our congregations to sing heartily to the Lord and to one another.
3) The trend towards fuzzy-wuzzy feel-good songs. God is waiting for us to sing songs of substantial Biblical content, songs that stimulate the mind as well as move our feelings. Instead He shrugs His shoulders with disappointment as we sing shallow song after shallow song full of emotive spiritual phrases. He patiently yearns for us to sing with our Minds as well as our spirits (1
4) The trend towards meaninglessness and disconnectedness in songs. God always speaks meaningfully. He prizes the gift of Prophecy because it is UNDERSTANDABLE LANGUAGE that builds up the church (1 Corinthians 14:1-5). His Word has continuity because He reveals His thoughts in connected sentences. He does not use the contemporary visual trick of stringing many disparate images together in rapid succession. But so many Contemporary Worship Songs fail to meet God’s bench-mark of meaningful connectivity in a sequence of crafted words and sentences that build up a purposeful message. Too often we sing confusion, as in “Searching the world The lost will be found In freedom we live as one we cry out You carried the cross You died and rose again my God I’ll only ever give my all” (M Crocker, S Ligertwood, M Sampson 2005). God is saddened by this trend. It is contrary to His nature.
5) The trend towards exclusively Contemporary Song genre, away from the Hymn genre. God expects us to sing some songs in the Hymn-genre (Ephesians 5:19 Colossians 3:16) – as well as Psalms. The essential mark of a Hymn is its systematic development of a theme, usually needing a series of stanzas to cover it adequately. It demands Meaning and Connectedness of thought. If
the church sings only the contemporary “spiritual song” genre, even if some songs do embrace short-term meaning and connectivity, then God sighs at the lopsideness of our repertoire. He knows how much richness of song we are missing. He has given us so much more! Why aren’t we also singing “psalms and hymns”? We are like children addicted to junk food, and pushing nutritious food off our plates. No wonder the Church becomes obese and unhealthy! Furthermore, because Christian Hymns have been around for 2000 years, we miss out on our spiritual roots when we refuse to sing any song more than 10 years old. But fortunately there are Contemporary Song-writers (Townend, Getty, Leckebusch et al) who still write Hymns.
6) Monotonous themes
The trend towards monotonous themes in songs. God wants us to sing the themes of His Word. “Let the word of Christ dwell richly in you as you teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Colossians 3:16). God is passionate that the word of Christ overflow in our singing, so that we teach and admonish one another with purpose-driven lyrics. The themes of our singing in the course of a year should embrace all the major themes of Scripture. But what does God hear most Sundays? Mono-themed songs repeating the same cliches: You are great/wonderful/awesome; We love you/adore You/worship You/praise You; In You we have victory/we are strong/we conquer enemies because No weapon formed against you will prosper. God is waiting to hear songs that reflect the 1001 other themes found in Scripture. How much longer will He wait?
7) The trend towards shrinking the meaning of ‘worship’ till it becomes a synonym for “singing in church”. God sees “worship” in much wider terms. It describes our comprehensive commitment to Him. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is your spiritual worship.” Worship is more than singing in church. Worship is more than the prayers, confession, monetary gifts, testimonies, preaching, baptisms, communion at the Lord’s Table, tea and socialising ~ all of which comprise an integrated Worship Service. Worship takes place as we live our Sunday to Saturday daily life. In the home, with the family, during our Quiet Times, at our daily work, in our sport and recreation, while we shop, on facebook, driving in traffic, in our political life, reading the newspaper, on the Internet, talking on the phone, watching TV. In all of this we worship God as long as we are committing ourselves to him as a living sacrifice. We can begin by revising our Vocabulary to speak more accurately of ‘the Music Ministry team leading us in Singing to God and to one another’, and “Let us worship God as we hear the sermon” and at the end of the Service: “Go out into the world to worship Jesus in everything we do.”
So it is with a renewed commitment to worthy worship that I write this July column. I urge you
‘from the bottom of my heart’ to become a godly rebel and shift the trends …
1) away from high-volume domination – to facilitating the congregation singing to one another.
2) away from merely listening to ‘worship music’- to actively participating in ‘worship singing’.
3) away from mostly feel-good songs – to substantial Biblical songs that stretch the Mind.
4) away from meaningless and disconnected lyrics – to meaningful, connected lyrics.
5) away from exclusively contemporary songs – to include hymns as well.
6) away from monotonously-themed songs – to songs that embrace all the themes