Thinking Out Loud

March 2, 2010

Hymn Wanted: Any One Will Do

Filed under: Church, music, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

As you can expect, there are a lot of discussions in our house about music, particularly church music.    Both of us listen to a lot of it and both before and after getting married we have extensive experience doing all sorts of musical activities in all kinds of churches.   We’ve even done some stuff together, though the whole isn’t always better than the sum of the parts.   We agree on some things and we disagree on others.

But there are a few things we agree on:

  1. We both generally like modern worship music; and
  2. We both feel that unless churches move forward into 21st Century culture (note that I did not say “the world’s culture”) our churches will eventually die off numerically and in terms of relevance.

So you would think we would be very happy to see churches making the switch from the gospel hymns of the early 1900s to today’s modern choruses, right?

Well, not necessarily.

A few weeks back we were in a church service where the pieces just didn’t fit.   We have had some talks with the leadership of this assembly, and we know that they very much want to move things forward.   We know that they recognize that the very survival of their local congregation is contingent on change.

But there are right ways and wrong ways to accomplish such a transition, and the worship format of this particular service that Sunday was doing a disservice to both young and old.


  1. Instrumentation:   Piano, organ and drums.   Seriously.   No, wait; it’s so bizarre I have to say it again:  Piano, organ and drums.
  2. Song selection:   Worship choruses that would have worked well just about anywhere else but where we were.

The second factor is key.   A worship leader should be choosing songs that give the congregation the words and voicing to express something back to God in awe and gratitude for all that He is and has done in their lives.

It’s not enough just to track the CCLI Top 25, or read The Sunday Setlists weekly, as much as I value those resources.   It’s not enough to choose the worship songs that are your personal favorites.

It’s a matter of finding what are the right songs for them.   This means individually — having selections that work for different people represented — but also, chiefly, collectively.

Many modern worship compositions are written in a “hymn style.”   Many others are what I would call “recurrent,” that is, they’ve been around for a longer period and have achieved a “quorum of familiarity” among the people present.   Others are simply what gets played on the Christian radio stations where you live.   There’s even some hymns that are being remade with slightly different rhythmic patterns and extra tags, bridges or codas.

All these songs are “safe” for transitioning a congregation that has been locked into prewar (World War II, not Iraq) worship patterns.

I hate to say it, but the hearts of the people at the worship time we attended just weren’t into it.   I’ve never said this before, and I may never say it again, but I wish we had just sung some hymns.

Modern worship, incorrectly chosen as to its suitability to a particular congregation, is probably just as out-of-place as many of those early 20th century gospel hymns.

You have to choose right.

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