Songs of the generations: Part 2 — Hugh Wetmore

Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.


Each generation has its own musical preference. This preference tends to be sourced in the style of music I enjoyed as a teenager. This becomes the style of music I enjoy most throughout my life.

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In the typical congregation, we’ll find every generation present, so we will give each one affirmation. And we will exercise our tolerance for styles we don’t like, but others do .

“Psalms” for the older traditionalists, “hymns” for the middle-aged conventionalists, and “spiritual songs” for the younger inspirationalists.

Of course, that’s a simplification. But the picture is clear: These are the three musical genres prescribed by Scripture, as the congregation sings to one another in their get-togethers. (Ephesians 5:18, 19; Colossians 3:16).

This “generational theme” was sparked by my friend’s email: “… Maybe our younger generation does not like to use hymns and choruses in worship, but to us from the older generation, we long to have these incorporated, as they have such depth and rich Scriptural content.” Musical style is one aspect of the generational divide. The other aspect he mentions is “depth and rich Scriptural content”.

Lyrics are important
God considers the content of the lyrics as most important, even more than the style of the music. Listen to this emphasis in Colossians 3:16:

The content of the lyrics must be sourced in the “word of Christ, dwelling in you richly.”

The content of the lyrics must “teach and admonish one another” – the singers in the congregation.

The content of the lyrics must “be full of wisdom” – no shallow cliches or empty meanings are tolerated.

To many it seems strange that these criteria should be applied to our songs. Isn’t Paul talking about the sermon???

No, he deliberately equates the song with the sermon. They both have the same purpose: to encourage us to do “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v17).

Living for Jesus
God wants the totality of our daily lives to bring credit to the Lord Jesus. To this end we preach the Word, and to this end we sing the Word. So that we will live for Jesus all the time.

So, just as we would not tolerate pious cliches and shallow content in the sermons we hear, we should be just as intolerant of the vacuous, meaningless lyrics which we so often sing.

This is not a generational thing at all. We insult our youth when we feed them songs that have little exposition of the Word, that focus on feelings rather than on “teaching and correcting” the way we live, songs that are superficial, with no meaty wisdom in the lyrics. If their minds can be stretched to understand science and maths, literature and philosophy during the week, let’s not dumb down “the deep things of God” on Sundays (1 Corinthians 2:10).

As we sing, we must be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18,19), and it is the Spirit who “searches all things, even the deep things of God … that we may understand what God has given us” (1 Corinthians 2:12). That’s why, whatever the generational style of music, we must “sing with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). As my friend wrote, the song lyrics must have “depth and rich Scriptural content”.

Use this checklist in choosing your Sunday song-list:

  • Is this sourced in Scripture? Can you cite Scripture to support the content of the lyrics? Such songs are worthy of singing!
  • Do these lyrics teach us about God and the way we should live? Do they correct wrong ideas and behaviour? Use such songs – they will bear fruit.
  • Are the lyrics superficial and dependent on feel-good cliches? Omit such unworthy songs. Is there meaningful thought connectedness and progression of ideas? Choose such wise songs.

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