My Journey Away from Contemporary Worship Music

I have been what many would call a “worship leader” for close to two decades. When I first became involved in “worship ministry” in an Assemblies of God youth group we sang such songs as The Name of the Lord Is a Strong Tower, As the Deer, Lord I Lift Your Name on High, and others of the era of the 1980s and 90s. Ours was considered a stylistically progressive church since we used almost exclusively contemporary songs.

This meant that if I were to visit a “traditional” church, not only would I be unfamiliar with the hymns, I would also likely cringe when they sang them and in my heart ridicule them (the people rather than the songs) as being old-fashioned.

It was during these formative years in my experience as a worship leader that I began to introduce even more contemporary songs to our youth group. It was then that I discovered artists like Delirious, Darrel Evans, Matt Redman, and Vineyard Music with their songs Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble, Trading My Sorrows, Heart of Worship, and Hungry.

As a young musician who desired to honor Christ, I found these songs to be particularly compelling. I felt different when we sang them. The way Nirvana gave voice to the angst of Generation X, bands like Delirious were giving voice to a generation of young Christians who didn’t feel they could relate to the songs of their parents and grandparents.

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Over the years when I would occasionally hear a hymn, the language was always strikingly foreign, with Ebenezers and bulwarks, diadems and fetters. Which only served to confirm my bias that hymns were simply out-of-date. They had served their purpose. They had run their course.

The problem with my youthful logic only began to dawn on me about seven years ago. I had come to recognize that these ancient hymns accomplished something that the new songs weren’t. While contemporary worship seemed to take the listener on an exciting and emotional roller coaster, the old hymns engaged the mind with deep and glorious truths that when sincerely pondered caused a regenerated heart to humbly bow before its King.

When I accepted my first post as a paid member of a church staff in 2007, I began the practice of singing one hymn each week. There were times where my peers would teasingly ask what an “Ebenezer” was. What I found was that when I gave them a basic definition of these seemingly obsolete words we were singing, their response was usually something akin to, “Oh? Cool. I never knew that!” I think when they asked, they half expected me to say, “I don’t know! Weird word, huh?” Instead, they were being challenged to learn, not merely a new word, but how to ponder the things of God deeply when we sing His praises.

Nowadays, I still choose songs for our congregation to sing that had been written recently, but they are becoming increasingly the minority. And the criteria for selecting them is becoming more and more thorough. Hymns have begun to take precedent in my song selection for two reasons.

First, hymns have been sung by the giants of the faith who have gone on before us over the last two millennia. When we sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, we join with Martin Luther who wrote it, and with Calvin and Spurgeon and Edwards who invariably sang and cherished it. When we sing It Is Well With My Soul we are encouraged by the faith of Horatio Spafford who wrote the hymn in the wake of the tragic death of his four daughters. And while many contemporary songs have certainly been written by wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ who have surely endured trials, the fact that we can join with generations past and be reminded that the Church is vastly larger than our local congregation, farther reaching than our town or state or country, and much, much older than the oldest saint living today is something we should not take lightly. Indeed, this should birth in us a desire to sing the songs that our Family has sung together for two-thousand years (and beyond when we discuss singing the Psalms).

Second, the content of hymns is almost always vastly more theologically rich. When I say rich, I don’t necessarily mean every hymn recounts the Gospel in its entirety, or that all hymns clearly teach the Five Points of Calvinism. Rather, the theology in the hymns is typically more sound or healthy than much of contemporary worship music. As I said earlier, contemporary songs engage our emotions more often, where the hymns engage our hearts by way of the mind.

By way of example, one of the top ten contemporary songs being sung in American evangelical churches right now is called One Thing Remains. While there is nothing in the song particularly bad (in fact, much of it is pretty good), it seems to me that the purpose of the song is to work the listeners into an emotional state. The chorus is:

“Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love / Your love / Your love.”

With the repetition of a simple lyric like that, it isn’t a stretch to say that the composers’ goal was not to engage the listener’s mind.

Whereas Augustus Toplady’s hymn Rock of Ages is doctrinally sound, it also is a very moving song of our dependence upon Christ our Rock:

“Rock of Ages cleft for me / Let me hide myself in Thee / Let the water and the blood / From Thy wounded side which flowed / Be of sin the double cure / Save from wrath and make me pure.”

So I make this plea to my fellow ministers, do not neglect these milestones from ages past. In fact, I would make the case for the abandonment of most contemporary songs. If you choose a song for congregational worship based on its content (say you have chosen a contemporary song because of its focus on the Cross), do the hard work of finding a hymn that more than likely addresses the same topic or doctrine in a much deeper way. If, on the other hand, you have chosen a song because of the way it feels or the emotion it evokes, ask yourself whether you are depending upon the Holy Spirit or your own skills to engage our brothers and sisters in singing to our King.


UPDATE 10/24/2015: Your comments are more than welcome, but before you add to the (as of now) 540 comments, please take the time to read these two follow-up pieces as many of your objections are addressed therein:

http://www.dancogan.com/home/my-journey-away-from-contemporary-worship-music-faqs-pt-1

http://www.dancogan.com/home/my-journey-away-from-contemporary-worship-music-faqs-pt-2

670 thoughts on “My Journey Away from Contemporary Worship Music

  1. Excellent reflection, Dan! We seem to be in the midst of the congregational singing cultural shift that says two things:1) Contemporary, popular expression is valuable and good.
    2) Therefore, anything that is from the past must be rejected.
    I completely agree with the first point, and I reject completely the second one. We can see much further when we stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us. and the Holy Spirit to did not just start working in 1981!
    I am now in my fourth decade of music ministry, and while I love and cherish the music from the past, I am also very open to the music of contemporary worship. We really must have both! Thank you for a well thought blog.

    1. Thank you, Steve. Four decades. Wow! Praise the Lord for His faithfulness!
      In his introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, C. S. Lewis said he would advise a young reader, if he had to choose between reading only old or only new books, to read the old ones because the new ones are still being tested. Recently someone on Facebook recommended only singing a “new” Christian song after it had stuck around for 50 years. My criteria is a little lower than that, but I see where they were coming from.
      As I indicated at the end of this post, I would say the majority of modern songs should be scrapped and not used in corporate worship. I would even go so far as to say that if we shouldn’t use a particular song in corporate worship, we shouldn’t use it in private worship either.
      But, just because something is old doesn’t necessarily mean it is good or better. Likewise, just because something is new doesn’t automatically make it bad or worse. There are some truly great songs being written. One we sing at New City Church is called “Grace Alone” by Dustin Kensrue. It is biblically faithful, jam packed with solid theology, and it’s catchy so people can be singing it all throughout the week.

      1. I don’t believe it’s a matter of whether the song is old or new, of the present generation or those that are past. And actually, it’s not even judged on theological thought, the litmus test for songs of worship, is not whether it engages our mind or our heat, worship, true worship glorifies God and causes HIM to respond. If He responds, everyone in the service will be touched.
        Too many worship leaders sing the songs they like, or songs the people like but we should take a step back and ask the question few have considered, “Lord, what song would you like to hear? Which song will cause you to arise? What song will cause you to turn your face towards us and release your intimacy in this service.
        “I will praise the name of God with a song. And will magnify him with Thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than ox or bullock that have horns and hoofs.” Psalm 68:30-31
        Most contemporary songs do not “praise his name.” There’s seldom a song heard that magnifies HIM with thanksgiving. And unfortunately, we seldom hear worship leaders ask the Lord, “what songs can we sing that will please YOU!
        The Psalmist David understood this and he taught the concept to Asaph and his sons. In addition he installed 4000 priest to do nothing but give thanks to God. History confirms the importance of their role for as long as they gave thanks, the nation was at rest from war.
        Jeroboam drove out the priests of thanksgiving and “he ordained him priests for the high places, and for Devils, and for calves he had made.” According to 2 Chris 12:1
        For the past several years, I’ve study the “priests of thanksgiving.” During times of national crisis it was the sons of Asaph that God delivered his prophetic words of instruction to. And without exception, the nation was saved.
        Nehemiah recognized these priests of thanksgiving had been replaced with singers made chose. Nehemiah contended with those rulers and put the priests of thanksgiving bac in thei rightful place. Victory follow suit.
        I’m convinced we would see the salvation of the Lord in our nation if we offer unto him the Sacrifical songs of thanksgiving instead of songs that give little mention of the Lords Name much less could be categorized as glorifying or magnifying HIM.
        Rev Deborah Howard

        1. Fanny Crosby wrote 9,000 hymns. Charles Wesley at least 6,000. In Hymn-based churches today perhaps 100 of those are still in use if you really look for them. And many, many other song writers were ministering to believers in those generations, whose work is now mostly forgotten. I think a similar percentage of today’s songs will survive as classics. And most of them will be forgotten. That’s how it should be.

          1. Sad but true, as well most of the truths of the Scripture is forgotten as well, much has become contemporary shallow man made doctrine,(like most contemporary so called worship music., Funny I have never read in Scripture where anyone tapped their toes, wiggled their hips to the beat when in worship, seems they fell on their faces in awe and reverence of Holy God.When Christ returns all of that contemporary music and worship will be forgotten, And that’s how it should be.

          2. To Jerry’s March 19th comment. David literally danced naked in the streets in worship of God. Don’t count out toe tapping or hip swaying as a form of worship. The question is, does God approve and encourage it when it happens? Are you dancing because everybody is giving you attention and encouragement to do so or is God at the center of your dance?

        2. @Deborah…While your comment speaks to your personal study I don’t think it speaks adequately to the focus of worship. Jereboam rejected God because allowing the people to focus on God would have destroyed his political hold. If a syncretism is insinuated in this discussion it is a refocus on US period except as that *temporary* focus promotes gratitude for past mercies and faith for tomorrow. I do believe in asking God what He wants to hear but respectfully have to submit that He doesn’t need me or my worship. I need Him and what focuses ME on HIM is of great importance. He is self-sufficient and I am completely in need of Him down to cellular cohesion and O2 exchange. I need Him every hour. Those songs or prayers or testimonies or preaching which focus ME on HIS sufficiency and his willingness, on His ultimate greatness and my appropriate place relative to Him should be the ones that make it to the top of any list that supposes worship.

        3. Asking God what He wants is perhaps useful to people who hear back from God. I have never heard from him regarding songs or any other topic. For whatever reason, He has left me only with my experience and rational thinking with which to plan song sets. I choose by singability (because songs that reduce participation are worse than useless), and by content relevant to the day’s message or current situations (because why song about irrelevancies?). People seem to come away with a feeling of unity and collective sense of being the Body of Christ. What other measure is there?

        1. Yes, they were once new songs, and the author is saying that new songs aren’t bad. He’s just pointing out that the old songs we still use for worship have stood the test of time (while many other songs that were new back then didn’t) so they have a little bit of cred. The songs that are new today *may* stand the test of time; but they may not – we won’t know for a while! We know the old ones already have. It seems like he was very careful to say that new is not bad, just that we ought to consider the old ones more often than we tend to do.

          1. “It seems like he was very careful to say that new is not bad, just that we ought to consider the old ones more often than we tend to do.”, when the author states, “In fact, I would make the case for the abandonment of most contemporary songs” that makes it very clear that he thinks his style of worship which are “hymns” are better.Same happens when people write books that state only the King James Version of the Bible should be read. It mere legalism.
            The question that should be asked is, are the songs done to glorify God and are people using them to worhip Him.
            I agree we should not abandon hymns, but I disagree with the notion that we should abandon most contemporary music.

          2. I think they have stood the test of time mostly because they were in the hymnal, and that’s the songs there were, and it’s relatively hard to publish a new hymnal and then replace all the hymnals at the church.
            I grew up singing hymns in church. I went to music school, where for the first two years we studied the part-leading in the particular style of music common when most of these hymns were arranged, which meant we tended to study hymns or Bach. I like hymns. However, I can say that while there were 600 or so hymns in the book, we tended to sing the same 50 over and over, except when the music director was getting tired of those and was looking for one that wasn’t being oversung. Further, it’s getting harder and harder to find musicians who have the stylistic capability of playing hymns, without making them pretty awful.

          3. Songs that have stood the test of time, despite some of them being written by serial murderers. The author seems to appealing to authority, as though Martin Luther is some kind of unassailable source of songwriting wisdom. Whatever. They were all people, amd have no more authority over songcraft than you or I do.

          1. My point exactly. There has to be a balance.
            My goodness, these are some of the most long winded comments I have ever seen. People like to see themselves talk!

        2. You are correct! But I do believe the old songs had more depth of theology in them, and when I need to feel close to the Lord, I get out an old hymn book I have and sing the ones I love. Most have topical indices, so I can also find a song pertinent to what I am going through. I like some of the contemporary choruses, but I am glad my church does BOTH at our worship service.

          1. Yes, the depth of theology in “In the Garden” is staggering. Anyone can make blanket statements, but the fact of the matter is there are good new songs and good old songs. The good old songs got to be such by once being good new songs. The same will hold true of today’s songs. I don’t know about any other worship leaders, but I vet ALL the music (old and new) for theological accuracy before using it in a service. There are plenty of contemporary songs that can (and should) make the cut, and several old favorites that are just plain weak and probably should have been culled out long ago. But I approach the music selection from the standpoint of “the best song for the job” whether it’s old or new – age matters not, it’s all about the message.

      2. LOVE your article! I’ve always thought we have started to throw the “baby out with the bathwater” when we stopped singing the hymns! I was worried that my children and grandchildren would never know the beauty and the richness of them. It seems like in general that we are over the “gotta do something contemporary” to be with the times and are gradually bringing back a hymn or two within the service.Nothing has been more striking case for hymns to me then when I overheard my elderly mother singing hymns to my young daughter as she rocked her! I stood at the doorway a long time listening to mom and hearing my baby coo! What a holy moment that was! That was 20 years ago and I will never forget how lovely that was and how strange a contemporary song would have been!

      3. Thank you, Dan, for your insightful thoughts regarding church music. You have iterated what has been proofing in my heart and mind over the past few years. Moreover, I have been longing for the return of hymn books, so that those visiting from other congregations would be able to follow along with unfamiliar songs and feel they are a part of the corporate worship – not excluded because they are unfamiliar with the songs (read: tunes). I’m afraid we have “thrown the baby out with the bathwater” by not availing written notation to our congregants. Luther wrote volumes of hymns for the church, along with translating scripture into the vernacular of the German folk, so they could “own” it, rather than being spoon fed by clerics. I’m afraid that with the new performance style of “worship” music offered by those deemed to be “Worship Leaders,” again minimizes the engagement of all in true worship of our audience of One.

        1. Thank you, Deborah Powell. Yes, there’s an ugly trend toward worship music as performance. Whether the worship music is led by a choir singing anthems or by a singer or two plus a thumping band, the goal of the music should be to help the congregation worship. If there’s a choir, it’s helpful if the congregation is invited to sing along with some parts. If it’s a singer or two and a band, it’s helpful if there are not interludes of unpredictable length. Few people want to risk singing out heartily to begin the next part of the song and then find out that the band planned to play another measure or two. And yes, printed music is a real help for learning to sing church music of almost any genre.

      4. Hi My name is Vince and I am a worship leader in Brazil. In my opinion we have space in our churches for all kinds of music. Old hymns and contemporary christian songs. God is a creative God and he is giving new inspirations every day. We can find bad theology in both kinds of songs, old and new. About repeating chorus or verses I think most of the critics would hate heaven for in heaven the angels are singing HOLY HOLY HOLY HOLY……. For centuries. We shouldn’t put God in a box. In 50 years people will be saying that the songs we sing today are considered old ones !!!!!

        1. Hi, Vince.
          I’ve answered many questions just like yours, although I don’t expect everyone to read all the comments. So I will give a brief response to your points here as well.
          What we don’t have room for in either our gathered or dispersed worship is songs that are romantic/sentimental as opposed to biblical—it is these kinds of songs that I am critiquing. Yes, we can find bad theology in both hymns and modern songs. This is not based on the age or the style of the song, but the content.
          I absolutely agree that God is creative (indeed, He is the Source of all things, Romans 11:36). But I would challenge your statement that “[God] is giving new inspirations every day.” Rather, by the Holy Spirit He is illuminating our eyes to the eternal Truth revealed in the pages of Scripture. I would assume that you and I hold very different worldviews on the topic of inspiration. If you’d like to learn more about my beliefs on this matter, please read my series titled My Journey Away From the Charismatic Movement, which begins with part 1 here.
          Regarding repetition, as I’ve intimated in the article and stated in many of the comments here, what the Lord does in Scripture (as in the Psalms and in Christ’s Revelation to John) is not a license to thoughtlessly repeat something because we couldn’t think of anything better to say, or couldn’t think of something that rhymed, etc. Repetition is used selectively in Scripture, and unfortunately used indiscriminately and thoughtlessly in much contemporary “worship” music.
          Bless you in your pursuit of knowing Christ and in your service to His Church.

        2. About repeating chorus or verses I think most of the critics would hate heaven for in heaven the angels are singing HOLY HOLY HOLY HOLYI have heard this shallow argument before, To compare the angels singing HOLY HOLY HOLY with the contemporary music scene is sacrilege.
          ” We shouldn’t put God in a box.”
          We couldn’t put God in a box if we wanted to, if you think we can put God in a box you do not know the God the angels are singing HOLY HOLY HOLY to. Your thinking is so typical of today’s so called worship leaders, all heat and no light.

          1. @JerryThen instead of wasting your comment on bashing the “Worship Leaders of today”….maybe you should humbly consider that we are learning under and watching the elder generation….and its your duty to pass on the “baton” to us….the next generation……instead of sitting there bickering about how we are all talk and no “light”……yeah we are in a day in age where we have lost the fear of the Lord and we have lost our fervency…..but as for me, I look to the older generation for guidance…..but I find that most older folks rather cling to their pews and hymns…..and recall how it used to be…then to show us how to press through and diligently seek His Face
            – A young worship leader hungry For God

      5. Your journey is similar to mine- I got caught up in the new music of the 70s- but one day I realized that the songs like “His eye is on the Sparrow” and ” I come to the Garden alone” are very personal songs- they speak of a personal relationship with Jesus that I have not heard in any of the newer songs- some of which I loved the tunes and words but do not speak to me as deeply…. my favorite older hymn is HOw Firm a Foundation- because unlike most hymns when you get into the second verse- it is God talking to you- He is telling you His promises and that he notices the struggles in your life and yet this is a very old hymn and it does connect me back to all those Christians who have gone before- a continuum of faith…

    2. “Second, the content of hymns is almost always vastly more theologically rich.” One of your examples is “Trading my sorrows. “I’m pressed but not crushed persecuted not abandoned Struck down but not destroyed I’m blessed beyond the curse for his promise will endure And his joy’s gonna be my strength ” 2 Cor 4: 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 8We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. ” That’s pretty theologicall rich if you ask me.

      1. You really can’t compare the two songs and say that ‘Trading My Sorrows’ is equally as theologically rich as ‘Rock of Ages.’ That is really the only content of ‘Trading My Sorrows,’ plus “And I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my shame, And I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord,” repeated seven times, and “Yes Lord” repeated 36 times. Personally I feel that saying “yes Lord” 36 times is totally unnecessary and may even be taking God’s name in vain. (lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/trading-my-sorrow-lyrics-katinas.html)Whereas ‘Rock of Ages’ has four full verses describing our helpless estate and dependence on Christ, with “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee,” being repeated once as it is both the first and last lines of the hymn. (lyrics: http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Rock_of_Ages/)

        1. I’m with you @randomcreativity! Great article, and there is no comparison between Trading My Sorrows, and Rock of Ages. So many contemporary songs are dependent on feelings and how we can have an “emotional spiritual experience”. Whereas songs of old (Rock Of Ages) are written all based on how dependent we are merely on Christ, not on how we may feel at that present moment. Feelings aren’t God, God is God. Our singing and song-writing can’t be based on the feelings we may be experiencing, Gotta preach truth to your heart and encourage yourself in the Lord as David did!

          1. Feelings are not God, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. We shouldn’t live by our feelings, but we must live with our feelings. The feelings we feel come from the songs’ truth about God, not from the song itself. I feel the same emotions when singly a well written hymn as I do a modern song because I have an emotional response to the love of God. It’s a natural reaction.
            Mark 12:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. Your heart includes your feelings.

        2. First, let me say I think both are good songs. More verses does not equal more theological richness. Each song should be judged of its own merit. The author simply picked one of the more theologically sound hymns and one of the more repetitive modern songs to prove his point. However, the implications are not true for all songs of either genre. “10,000 reasons” has four verses and is quite theologically sound. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/mattredman/10000reasonsblessthelord.html
          Lord is a title, not a name. The word Lord was used to represent the (YHWH) name of God, but it is not the actual name itself.
          Repetition is never vain if it is heartfelt. In fact, repetition is how we learn most things. I agree that if you sing the song aimlessly, then you lose out of the praise and worship aspect…but that is true for any Christian song.

          1. Brain,Actually the common English way of revealing the Hebrew and Greek behind the words is in the capitalization and font. First, though, Lord as you wrote it is κύριος in Greek, which is a title. However, often Bible translators via publishers referenced the Old Testament use of the tetragrammaton using all capitalized LORD with the L having a larger font size. Matt. 22:44 and Psalm 110:1 are good examples to look at. One way we prove the deity of Jesus is that not only did He carry the designation of Lord, context dictating how it was meant, but that He also was referred to as LORD as well, meaning Jesus is YHWH! Look at Romans 10:13 and then Joel 2:32. Ask yourself by whom are we saved? Romans reads Κυρίου (genitive form of κύριος) and states, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”” we are saved through calling on the Lord. Who is the Lord? A few verses earlier 9 “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Verse 13 is a quotation of Joel 2:32 “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” You can probably see where this is going. LORD in Joel 2:32 is the tetragrammaton. Jesus=YHWH.
            Yahweh is God’s special unique name used nearly seven thousand times in Scripture, Old and New, whereas κύριος is used about a tenth of that. One would have to ask the author if they intended this to be a name or title.

    3. Hello,I found your article very interesting and agree with much of it. I do think a lot of the ‘new’ songs can really get a crowd motivated. However,
      I find myself becoming bored when singing the newer, contemporary songs because of the repetitive nature of almost all of them. I would also tend to call them mind numbing rather than deeply inspiring. I am never bored when singing the old hymns, they reach out across the years and continue to teach and inspire and focus our hearts and minds on our creator.
      Thank you for your thoughtful entry here.

    4. i am 67 years old…This mess and I say that because No-One can understand it..is not praise..Songs like Nothing But The Blood…will stir your heart..Songs like I’d rather have Jesus..Amazing Grace the original..These are real songs…Its like we get away from the real word of God by saying we need to change it..thats so WRONG..Look at the generations ..was my generation stronger for God than these generations today where ‘EVERYTHING GOES’? i THINK WE HAVE SWAYED AWAY AND THATS THE EXACT REASON AMERICA IS IN THE SPIRITUAL MESS ITS IN RIGHT NOW…IF WE DO NOT WAKE UP!!! AMERICA WAKE UP…OLD WAS GOOD THEN AND ITS GOOD NOW…OMG WHY DO YOU EVIL THOUGHTS???? WE ARE MOVING AWAY FROM GOD..NO RESPECT FOR HIM…WHO HE IS..SO SAD!!!

      1. I agree that the world now is moving away from God, i’m 20 and i can tell that the world has changed since i was younger. The old hymns are beautiful and strong i love “his eye is on the sparrows”. Most worship song writers go to the hymns for insparation, I often write worship songs for my church, I do not write them for the sake of writing a song; I write them when I’m in the mist of worship when I feel his precence thats when he places the words on my heart. I believe that the way we write new songs has not changed from the old, just a different style of how it is constructed and sounds.

    5. LOVE THIS ARTICLE. I agree 100%. I used to go to a Vineyard church, and their songs got very old to me after 9 years. I went back to the Assembly Of God. We sing at least a couple of Hymns and old choruses in the traditional service, the contemporary is all worship music. More people go to the 2nd service. I am 51.5 and I will always LOVE the old Hymns of the Church. It is well is my favorite. My kids think I’m old fashioned but so be it. Their music is Heavy Metal, I hate it. They are 21 and 18. Thank you for this article. Glad someone in the worship field still cares about the Hymns.

      1. Thank you, Laurie. More than caring about the hymns, I care about being connected in a meaningful way to those who have gone before us. I’m not a fan of separating age groups in church with different style services. I see this is pragmatism that masquerades as a concern for reaching people. But it isn’t our musical performances that bring people to repentance and faith in Christ, it is the Holy Spirit. The means God has chosen to accomplish this is the regular preaching of the Word.

        1. I appreciated your article. We have had this struggle in our church for years. I also was very much in favor of the new worship songs which in early days moved my emotions. As I grew in my relationship with the Lord, and also began to hear groups like Indelible Grace and Keith and Kristyn Getty. , I began to listen to the words. I soon realized that almost all of the contemporary songs are man centered. What God has done for me vs. hyms that speak about the Sovereignty of God, the glory of God, basically Christ-centered. In the church we are in presently, we sing hymns at the first service and more contemporary hymns.

      1. I agree that there is a third option. For example, the work of RUF, Red Mountain Music, Sovereign Grace Music, and the entire re-hymn movement and the music of the new liturgists is thoughtful and theologically rich. Much of the new music they write should be classified as hymns set to contemporary music. There have always been popular Christian works that were more about entertainment and less about truth – for example, some of the Medieval mystery plays. Think about the vast number of gospel hymns written in the 19th century. A few of that genera live on as treasured classics.
        I think the main thing is to become so aware of God’s glory that our love for truth about him makes others aware and hungry to experience God at a deeper level. Only then will theology become alive to them as it has to us.

          1. You are very kind! With that encouragement, here’s another of my attempts:
            What I owe You I cannot pay,
            You chose me when there was no day,
            Predestined me to be your son,
            Before my life had e’en begun.
            You loved me when I didn’t care,
            They tortured you and stripped you bare,
            They crucified you on a tree,
            You let them do all that for me.
            And thus for all our sins you died,
            The wrath of God You satisfied.
            And when You died upon that tree,
            From slavery You ransomed me.
            You put Your Spirit in our hearts,
            And promised He would ne’er depart
            And You’re our lawyer up above,
            You argue for us with Your love.
            No matter what with us You’ll stay,
            Through storm and tempest, night and day.
            And then one day on that bright shore,
            We’ll meet to stay forevermore.
            So now my feeble “thanks” I give,
            And ask You all my sins forgive
            For You my life I’ll try to live,
            That’s the best “thanks” I have to give.

        1. If we search the word, we find our answers to everything that pertains to life and Godliness and this long debate could be diffused. I remember the Lord speaking to me in my early days of being his disciple after He found me in the 70’s hippie movement of sinful living, “Is music your God or is God your music” which compelled me to dig into Scripture with prayer for guidance.
          Some things I was shown: The kind of music God likes isn’t determined by a style, genre, beat, or
          generation. God has never meant the music we make to be disassociated
          from the life we live.
          God likes music that is offered out of a life of worship.
          I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present
          your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is
          your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1 ESV)
          God likes music that is offered to serve others.
          As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good
          stewards of God’s varied grace: (1 Pet. 4:10 ESV)
          God likes music that is offered in response to the Gospel.
          Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish
          one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and
          spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you
          do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
          giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:16-17)
          God does hate some music:
          Amos told the Israelites that God actually hated their musical
          worship.
          “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your
          solemn assemblies… Take away from me the noise of your
          songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen” (Amos 5:21,
          23 ESV).

          1. Good points, Joey!!
            He leadeth me O solemn thought,
            By His own Words in Scripture wrought,
            And by His Spirit in my heart,
            To do the things I know I ought.
            He leadeth me, not magically,
            Nor by some vision I would see.
            Nor do I study how things are,
            To see if He my way does bar.
            Sometimes against my will He leads,
            Sometimes regardless of my “needs,”
            However hard the path may be,
            Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.
            He leadeth me O blessed thought,
            To do the things I know I ought.
            To help me more like Christ to be,
            And so for Him wait eagerly.
            Perhaps in some miraculous way,
            He’ll choose to lead again some day.
            No matter what He asks of me,
            Will I then say, “He leadeth me?”

    6. I agree with this article. The older I become, the more I appreciate the classic hymns of the faith, and the more shallow I realize that much of the contemporary worship music scene has become.
      What it may signal is that we’re simply not as bright, not as able to understand theological truth, as past generations. After all, the general educational level, particularly in language, is going down dramatically. If you doubt this, just take a listen to the horrible English skills of today’s typical teenager and middle-age adult. “I’m like…” punctuates virtually ever thought. Sometimes you’ll hear “like” four or five times in one spoken sentence.
      In our churches, Bible literacy is dropping. Attendance is dropping. Devotion to Christian teaching is dropping. Sons and daughters of church goers are constantly steeped in leftist ideology from early elementary, all the way through graduate school. There is little fundamental Christian thought taking root. Parents are sleep walking through it all while their children slip away under the onslaught of Darwinian thought and every imaginable evil image in media. Scan across the channels: it’s a constant onslaught of pornography and pagan ideas.

    7. I am in my 6th decade! i like the words that are in the old hymns, but like the beat in the contemporary music . The new stuff is desert and the old stuff is an entree . The problem i have is Satan will be worshiped as God ,when he begins his reign . Is contemporary music(both christian and secular, which sound alike except for some of the words) designed to do this by working up the senses as when Moses came down from the mountain and found everyone in a frenzy, worshiping the calf(Satan) . Are we being conditioned for such a time ? We need to be aware of the time we live in, and not blindly follow man, religious or not. Just saying .

    8. Tubal Cain was an artificer of brass….this beat music has been since Genesis and the fall of man, it originated with people dedicated to the devil. It is marketed as “praise” but is generic. I believe it will usher in the antiChrist in the one world ecumenical church. It is humanistic, glorifying the talent of man. It appeals not to the heart of the gospel, but to the emotions of fallen sinners. It does not glorify God, and when it overtakes the service, often compelling the participants to stand for 20 minutes, while they repeat the same simplistic lines, it is trancelike. The worst part of it, when they play it loud and arrogantly, the Holy Spirit departs from the service.

      1. And I would simply respond that our worship should be only for God. Our worship is not an act of evangelism.

    9. I so enjoyed your story. Yes I grew up on traditional music. All of a sudden several years ago, my church with a new choir director crammed contemporary music down our throats!! It was rejected because there was no true Holy Spirit in the songs!! It was a vain repetition workup! Blendimg music in one service doesn’t work either because everybody is not in one accord!! If the Holy Spirit shows up in a tradtional song, don’t go to a contemporary song because most of the time the spirit will die!! I have seen it for too many years.

  2. I appreciate your insight. It is interesting that when someone suddenly realizes the richness and depth of songs that have been sung for decades it is like a great revelation, while the old folks at the country church are thought to be dull and backwards for doing that same thing for decades. I love modern worship (I am almost 50), and for many years did not care for hymns. I still lean towards new songs to a fault, but our church sings hymns as well almost every service. I think we need to try to sing songs from many points in church experience.
    P.S. Your byline could be a song in itself. I think I know what some of your tags are, but it seems complicated.

    1. Thank you, Charlie. I think our shared experience is what has led me to this theology of worship. I agree that we should sing songs from different eras of church history. The unfortunate point I’m making is that a lot of what has been written in the last four decades is terribly lacking in sound theology. Not just that the songs are simple—many of the Psalms are beautiful in their simplicity. But songs like “What Faith Can Do” which place more emphasis on our believing than in the object of our faith (Christ). In fact, if I remember correctly, that song makes no mention of any person of the Godhead, only human faith. I strongly believe songs like that should be abandoned in the church altogether. But a song like “How Great Is Our God”? While not as stout as many hymns in certainly a theologically sound song for the church. And if it lasts into coming generations, great!

      1. Dear Dan, I do understand how much music in church has changed. Next month I will 75 years young. We have just return from 50 years on the mission field in Central America. Not only has the music changed, but the church has changed very much also. No longer do we hear the words, Repentance, Hell and those type words uttered from the pulpit now. There are two types of Christian music that I think Worship leaders need to understand the first is Praise music and Worship. Praise music ministers to the soulish man, it excites us and makes us feel good. While Worship music ministers to our Spirit man. Worship music doesn’t have any words like Me, I Myself in it. It only sings about our wonderful Savior and who He is. I’m all for song making us feel good but shouldn’t we be practicing Worshiping because we need to be preparing for Eternity? Where we all will be worshiping all the time. I started leading church music when I was 15 and didn’t understand why if we played a certain song we would have the whole congregation doing a Jericho march and if we played another song Sister So and so would get up a do a Holy ghost dance until she would shake all those bobby-pins out of her hair. As a music director, I miss the mark too many time. I have learned that as a worship leader we are to worship until the presence of God comes in. The Worship service is God’s time while the preaching is for us mortals. Enjoyed your thoughts, just thought I would add mine. May God’s greatest blessings overtake you.

        1. Loved the original article, and also this reply. It took me several years to recognize the difference between praise music and worship music. For me, worship music is the most valuable, but most often what we participate in is praise music. I long for the times of worship that I experienced in worship services in the South during the 1970s. The contemporary stuff with all the “I’s”, “Me’s”, “My’s” simply refocus our attention back on ourselves, however, worship is focused on God.

          1. This thread simply has become the site of another battle in worship wars.
            There is too much generalization going on, the CoW doesn’t have this, the old stuff doesn’t have that.
            So more division, than a discussion about leading the people of God in praise of Him.
            The funny thing is – it isn’t about the music or the lyrics, a real examination of them would reveal that. Whether people are touting CoW or Hymns, it is all about comfort and perceived need.
            Sad

      2. Dan I really appreciate this article. I am 37 and was saved in an old fashioned Baptist Church at 15 yrs of age. I’ve grown in the lord and am the Minister of music. I also play several instruments and sing with my family in our church and churches around the country.We do traditional and southern gospel for the most part primarily for the reasons you stated above. I have always been blessed by not only hymns but our Choir songs as well as many family groups from all over the south. I have never liked contemporary music and my pastor preaches on it but not long ago my family and I sung “Come to the Well” by casting crowns and God Moved in a big way. Sunday I Sung ” I am redeemed”. Just waned to say we occasionally fit one in but they better be REAL!!!Amen Brother.

  3. just curious, why are you making this sound like a either/or?
    I would note you aren’t choosing just one century from the past but several, so why are you saying you are journeying from this time, as opposed to making that.wealth of music part of this time?
    While I wouldn’t want to give up Be Thou My Vision, neither would I toss aside John Michael Talbots, Michael Card’s, Tori Hunter’s or some of Chris Tomlinson, casting crowns, etc. the musicians of this age need to compose music and lyrics as well as study that which has blessed the church before…
    Some music engages the left brain, some the right, some is vertical, some is horizontal, we need both, set in a sacramental service that reveals Christ as much as teaches about Him…..
    The church needs it all, and its leaders not to walk away from any of it.

    1. Hi, Dustin. That’s a good question.
      It’s probably somewhat reactionary on my part, but I’ll stand by it. As I mentioned in a previous comment, C. S. Lewis said in his introduction to Athanatius’ “On the Incarnation” that if he had to tell contemporary readers wether to choose between new books or old books, he would recommend the old ones. But since he was a writer he recognized that it would be kind of silly to say no new books are good. If that were the case, he wouldn’t write! Similarly, I am a songwriter. If I believed the Church should stop writing music, I would likely be sinning against my conscience. But I believe we should be writing new songs (although, not with new theology).
      The either/or dynamic is there because I have seen more often than not the either/or dynamic in favor of Contemporary to the exclusion of hymns and Psalms.
      Also however, I am leaning toward the Regulative Principle which says essentially that God has laid out a pattern for how He is to be worshipped, and it is not for man to decide which parts we like and which parts we don’t. Which (ironically) would even rule out hymns. This is why many Reformed churches sing only the Psalms. The issue I have with such a strict position is that the Psalms in many cases contain the promises of the Messiah, where we are living in the fulfillment of those promises. So to not sing about Christ explicitly seems to me to miss something of how the Church is to worship. Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 is a great example of an early hymn in the church.
      The difference between the hymns of ages past and contemporary worship is the quality of material. Yes, there are some EXCELLENT songs being written today. But many of them are rubbish. But they get included in the repertoire of many churches simply because of the emotion they evoke, or worse simply because they’re new.
      So, to answer the question as to why I sound so “either/or” on the matter is because in most conversations about Contemporary vs. Hymns, the contemporary in question isn’t Michael Card, it’s Jesus Culture. And to be frank, I think a majority of what that scene is putting out absolutely pales in comparison to the musical and theological quality of hymns.
      But as I stated previously, I still use new songs. Just yesterday we sang ‘Grace Alone’ by Dustin Kensrue and ‘Oh! Great Is Our God’ by the Sing Team, as well as ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,’ ‘Sovereign Grace O’er Sin Abounding,’ and ‘In the Shadow of the Glorious Cross.’ So while my tone may seem very “either/or,” it’s in actuality just more hymn-heavy.

      1. My question to you (and that could have been posed to C.S.Lewis as well, I guess) is this:
        How in the world is a song (or a book) still going to be around in 50 years if you say that it should not be sung (or the book read) until it’s been around for that length of time?
        Especially when you say that songs not fit for public worship are probably not fit for private worship either?
        And I ask this question as one who loves the old hymns and metric psalms and could live easily without most modern worship songs.

        1. Hi Wolf,
          I know what you mean. I had the same thought. As I’ve pondered it, this is the conclusion I’ve drawn: If a song is indeed not fit for corporate or private worship, then we are better off when and if it dies off within a generation.
          I do not believe however that introducing it into our gathered worship setting should be the testing ground for orthodoxy. The problem I have with much of the contemporary worship music being published is not the simplicity or the repetition, but the shallowness. I’ll say again, not all new is bad, and not all old is good; the issue seems to be that our standards have gone way down.

      2. Dan,
        So you are making the apology that you are taking sides because others do?
        As to depth, again, when that issue is brought up, I question it for the same reason I question evidentiary (or forensic) apologetics. We don’t worship God only with our intellect, true worship connects spirit and truth.
        Worship shouldn’t simply affect one sphere of the brain, and what often I see from people who disdain simplistic and repetitive lyrics is that they don’t like that it only stimulates the right side (the artistic/creative/sociological/emotional sphere. ) And that is tacked onto to CoW, despite enough evidence ot the contrary. (It’s for this very reason that some dislike liturgical music – because of the dissonance of a song of praise like the Agnus Dei ro Nunc Dimitis, when it is relegated to dirge. Or the Gloria when sung to the same tempo as O Sacred Head. The problem with using hymns with great left brain messages is that you don’t leave time for people to savor them, and you wind up with information overload.
        The same goes for the idea of the balance between horizontal and vertical worship. Study the psalms – how many are directed up rather than out. How much of the music you described actually praises the God in whose presence you are gathered directly?
        These are the distinctions I see in your choices, far more than the era the music is taking. You have one vertical, the rest are horizontal. How many stir the soul, leaving it to have time to meditate on the words you’ve had them sing?
        During the summer, my worship minister and I led worship at the friday chapel services of the summer session at my alma mater. We introduced to them our settings of liturgical music, which some of the profs dismissed as too novel, too new. We only did one song all three weeks, our setting of Simeon’s Song, the Nunc Dimitis. (which they really thought was too upbeat!) At the last chapel, we had communion, and in our tradition, the post communion canticle can be and mostly is that piece. So as I left the serving communion, without any musicians, I turned and faced the altar and started singing acapella. Without the words in their hands, (I hadn”t dismissed them yet) all the guys there started singing it, some crying in the moment. Every word they had down, and they realized it, after only singing it three times. Guys who’ve sung versions (which they couldn’t remember) for 20-50 years, could sing this one, without words, without reference points like instruments playing melody lines, and drowned the chapel with praises. best of all – they realized the special connection between the Body and Blood of the Lord, and Simeon’s praises.
        It isn’t either left brain or right brain stimulation – it needs both and time to cherish those words simple or profound or both. (and silence as well!) It isn’t vertical or horizontal – it must be both.
        Don’t swing on the pendulum…. give people a way to express with every part of their being – their praise for God.

        1. Dustin, I wholeheartedly agree that when we worship, we should be engaging all aspects of our person: body, soul, mind. I think what you’re missing in my argument is that what I’m taking issue with is the banal, merely emotional contemporary worship. I believe a majority of Contemporary Worship Music is in that category. Again, most, not all.

      3. Many hymns are silly and simple too: Hold the Fort? I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop? I honestly can’t believe that people are still talking and blogging about worship music in the church. I’m 54 and have been involved in worship music in the church since I was very young. I embrace it all and you know what, I can worship Father God whether someone is leading A Mighty Fortress is Our God or One Thing Remains. This is insanity to me that the discussion is still going on and on.

        1. I agree–there is nothing wrong with contemporary music. Particularly when it helps draw in younger people. After all, isn’t our mission to draw All people to serving Christ? I am 59 years old and can sing most of the old hymns from memory. Yes, they are beautiful–but so is much contemporary music. Why does this have to be such a dividing subject. If you like hymns, go to a traditional service. If you like contemporary, find a praise and worship service. Just remember that 100 years ago folks were complaining about the “new” things happening in churches!

          1. I don’t understand the concept of contemporary service versus traditional worship service…Can you picture or imagine after Moses led the people out of Egypt..or Joshua across Jordan to the promised land… Can you imagine the people saying…we no longer want to sing the songs of Moses or the patriarchs …let’s be contemporary let’s try to attract the Canaanites by singing like them…or can you imagine David saying…we really need two types of music to the Psalms that I have written…let’s find out the types of music the Philistines sing…sing to their rhythm to attract the young people…sing songs that will bring them …or can you picture Paul and Silas, after being beaten , sitting in the dungeon, wondering…shall we sing traditional songs or hymns that has been set to the beat of the newest Roman/Italian opera..or saying to the church..let’s ask the traditional worshiper to pray…. no let’s sing the more contemporary songs…. I wonder who prayed for Peter when he was in prison…was there a traditional church or a contemporary worship service…which one prayed??…just a side bar wondering….

        2. I totally agree. The author is just selecting some of the best hymns and saying they represent the entire genre. We could make the same case for Gregorian Chant style writings, but we don’t hear those much anymore either. Why because stylistically speaking, they’ve been replaced by other equally theological modes of worship.The Bible tells us to ‘sing a new song’, but it doesn’t say just ‘but make sure you don’t change the musical style, be sure there’s four verses of verbatim scripture, and make sure you sing the chorus ever other verse’.

      4. You are correct in that “God has laid out a pattern for how he is to be worshipped” and, most probably, this pattern was most closely followed in the synagogues of Israel. Jesus worshipped after this pattern, celebrating the passover immediately before his crucifixion. After decades in various protestant churches, both mainline and evangelical, I now worship in a Messianic Jewish congregation and find rich theological meaning there. In regard to the music, most Messianic music is straight from the Bible, including the psalms. I still know and sing the old hymns of the church, however, as well as some of the contemporary Christian, though there is much “vain repetition” in the latter. Great discussion.

      5. I wonder how many hymns have been written over the past several hundred years that we will never hear because they were “rubbish.” I bet a lot. The point is, while we shouldn’t abandon great hymns, we also shouldn’t stereotype contemporary music as theologically deficient because you can quote some that are. I’m with Dustin – let’s use both styles of God honoring songs!

        1. Can you provide an example of a contemporary Christian song that is not theologically deficient? One that would be reasonably self-explanatory to anyone who did not share your particular brand of theology–or who was not you?

          1. Take a look at my follow up post “FAQ’s pt. 2.” I give quite a few examples of contemporary artists and songs that I use in our gathered worship.

          2. In Christ Alone by Keith and Kristin Getty (in fact most of their modern hymns are theologically rich and beautiful – check them out) I love Sovereign Grace music – again full of theology and musically creative. And (gasp) even some of Hillsongs newer music focuses on the glorious gospel. Here are the lyrics from their song Man of Sorrows:-http://www.lyricsfreak.com/h/hillsong/man+of+sorrows_21064647.html
            In my view we need to be singing songs that glory in the beauty of Jesus and what he has done, regardless of the “era” in which they were written.

      6. Dan and other commentators,
        I would like to offer perhaps another question for us to ponder in light of this historically controversial subject/debate. I would like for us to ask of ourselves: When was the last time that I personally and the church corporately experienced the undeniable, unmistakeable divine presence of the Holy Spirit – which as a result drew people to the altar, where marriages were being healed, addicts were being delivered, broken people were being restored, hopelessness was being broken, miracles taking place apart from anyone orchestrating or influencing them? I am 100% confident that if when we gathered to Worship the King – after having taken the time to personally and corporately prepare ourselves and the spiritual atmosphere – after all of that – when the Holy Spirit walks into the room – everything changes. I’m convinced that we are still debating hymns vs. contemporary or some combination because there is nothing spiritually significant taking place when we gather to sing songs. In a true attitude and atmosphere of Worship – something MUST happen as a result. It simply can’t be that any of us – young or old were personally satisfied by the song selection or presentation. The question we MUST ask is: Did any of it matter? Did the Holy Spirit show up in response to our Worship? The way we answer that question better be genuine and authentic – not based on how we felt afterwards? Were we changed, challenged by His Presence? If not – who cares?

        1. Hi, Mike. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your concern. It seems though that you may think it is our worship that brings others to faith in Christ. Is that how you would summarize your comments? I have the privilege of seeing spiritually significant things happen each and every time we open God’s Word and hear Him speak through it and through the preaching of the gospel. As I’ve stated previously, I think what happens as a result of misguided worship (I.e., singing things to and about the Lord that are untrue and unbiblical, or are emotionalistic as opposed to something true that affects our emotions) may be spiritually significant, but not in the way some may think. It is detrimental to our faith when we sing and encourage the singing of songs that are theologically vapid.

          1. Dan – I would offer that if we limit he times in which the Holy Spirit can minister to only when the Word is being preached – that it would be an unreasonable assumption. I am only saying this – the music segment of a gathering of believers and pre-believers alike is not the only component of Worship. I am saying that during the times when music is being offered in an act of genuine worship (albeit songs that reflect our adoration and love for our Master and King) – that during those times of worship – we can and should expect the miraculous to happen. Hearts and spirits are being made ready during worship songs – it is then (along with the times when the Word is preached) that we should expect people to be healed, delivered, saved, restored, encouraged. If not – we are missing out on the fullness of the Worship experience. I agree that the lyrics should be powerful and direct us to Jesus – with that said – the Holy Spirit can do things beyond what we say and do – let’s just not limit Him by expecting so little. If we can say with certainty that the person of the Holy Spirit showed up when we gathered – something significant should have happened as a result. If that is not happening – it doesn’t matter which songs we sing, lighting, sound systems, flat screen monitors, choir, band – if nothing really happened – it really was of no benefit. I think we often fail to ask the difficult questions of what we do and the results they are having.

        2. I fully agree with your statement. I am a missionary and I travel to many countries. One thing I have found here and abroad, the old hymns usher in the Holy Spirit in such a way souls are saved and miracles are witnessed. If we are not changed and challenged by His Presence we have truly missed the mark. Blessings..

    2. Dustin says:”This thread simply has become the site of another battle in worship wars.” and yet here you are back in full battle array warring for all your worth determined to win a war you have already condemned. Maybe you ought not have such a condemning spirit(which you will surely deny) toward those who disagree with you. The “just curious” thing usually is bait to get someone to commit themselves so you can launch a salvo of your own righteous opinion. So here you are adding fire to the war you condemned. Way to go.

  4. I have also felt this same pull, this same revelation.The repetition has been bothering me in my spirit.
    I am older though, and grew up with the old hymns.

    1. Hi, Jim. It just seems like there is such a depth to God’s Word that the older songs were more willing to tap into than the new ones, doesn’t it? I’m all for new songs being written that simply exposit old truths, but I haven’t seen very much of that in terms of contemporary worship music. That’s not to say it’s not there, but it’s certainly the minority.

      1. On the comment of depth, it may not be worship music, per se, but I’ve always found the works of Michael Card to be deep theologically as well as emotionally appealing. From El Shaddai to The Basin and the Towel the images evoke both deep mental and deep emotional understanding.

  5. this article is sad to me mainly because of the divisive nature of either or…bordering on legalistic rhetoric that isn’t the least bit necessary. I know this, when we began attending the church we currently attend, the first thing we noticed is that God was alive and working first from the pulpit and the spoken word but secondly through music…both expressions of worship. The God given and led music only stirred and stirs my soul to stand with and worship him….lift my hands, heart and eyes to Him…it never has stirred me to stand with or worship Steve, or Corey…or Calvin or Luther. My preference would be a bit more upbeat, contemporary if you will…whether that be the lyrics of the old hymns or more modern songs….but that is my preference, it isn’t right or wrong. By the way, if repetition is only because the songwriter couldn’t think of anything else or better to say…the writers of Psalms and Proverbs drew a lot of blanks:)….or it might be a way to focus our attention on something specific….How Long Oh Lord etc… It really isn’t fair to use a song that really has no chorus…written way back when against a song that has a chorus…what is a chorus supposed to do? Well, what is the chorus in What Can Wash My Sins Away supposed to do?

    1. Hi, Rich. Thank you for your comments.
      Legalism is certainly not a good thing. But division can be. Dividing good from bad, right from wrong, depth from shallowness. I’ve stated (both in the article and comments here) that I utilize new songs as well as old. What I am calling for is a raising of a standard. In the last several decades I believe we have let our standard slip to an all time low.
      As I said in my reply above to Wolf Paul, the problem is not the repetition, but the lack of depth. When God uses repetition (as in the case of several of the Psalms), he not only has the right, but the prerogative to do so. But comparing repetition from a Jesus Culture song with the repetition of a Psalm is like comparing Joel Osteen to the prophet Joel. The Psalms are the songs God has written about Himself for His people to sing to and about Him. So again, the repetition is not an issue. Neither is simplicity. The issue is the quality of content.
      In fact, I don’t have a stance on how the music should sound (as far as genre goes). I do believe we should play our instruments with the utmost excellence we have to offer, but that may be bluegrass or orchestral or rock. The main concern here is content; and I believe the content of much contemporary worship music is lacking at best, and bad theology at worst.

  6. Interesting article.I think there needs to be a happy medium- modern worship songs like Man of Sorrows, Forever, No Other Name etc have roots in the hymns of old but have found a way to contemporarize them without losing their meaning.
    That being said, hymns like A Mighty Fortress or Come Thou Fount were new and “contemporary” once upon a time too. And just as we find ourselves using new translations of the same Bible, we should always strive to find new ways of expressing our love of God as long as it remains Christ centered. I think the notion that “older is always holier” is dangerous for the church if it wants to remain a light in an ever changing world.

    1. Hi, Mark. I agree. As I have said, I still utilize several contemporary songs. It’s the content that’s at issue.
      I will also be posting an article in the near future about why I won’t use songs from certain artists because of their associations with certain bad theologies. There are quite a few great songs from Hillsong, but I won’t sing them in our church because the leadership of Hillsong espouse what I believe to be some rather dangerous and unbiblical doctrines. For what it’s worth, my wife disagrees with stance on that particular aspect 🙂

      1. Hey, Dan. Good discussion. Have you also dropped the good old “Ebenezer” song? It seems there is at least some indication that its author may have abandoned the faith. Cheers!

  7. What an excellent post. Thank you. You put these precise words onto my ponderings that I’ve not been able to clearly articulate.”While contemporary worship seemed to take the listener on an exciting and emotional rollercoaster, the old hymns engaged the mind with deep and glorious truths that when sincerely pondered caused a regenerated heart to humbly bow before its King.”

  8. I grew up in my Christian life singing the old hymns and I still like them. I started listening to the contemporary music and now my rule of thumb is if the words are scriptural and are predominant over the music, I tend to like it. If the music is predominant and we can’t hear the words, then it is for whipping up the emotions and I don’t listen to it. Christianity is not about emotions, it is a fact. God can and does bring out emotional responses to things in our lives and that is good. Man made emotions will lead us down the wrong path. I agree that music can honor the Creator or honor the world system. We have to watch it closely.

  9. Thank you so much for this. This is something my family has really struggled with. Sometimes the songs sound good (great rhythm, beat, promote clapping, etc.) but there is just nothing of substance in the lyric. I tell my husband it is like we are dressing up the pig. I believe in a mix of contemporary and traditional worship, but we need to be selective. Songs should be chosen after consideration of the lyric and not based only on how they will sound on stage. It scares me that we are moving in this direction because I see it as a very slippery slope. If people come to worship for an emotional experience, they miss the point of worship, and if they fail to get it, they may leave a church for the wrong reasons.

    1. I agree, Emily. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I like that phrase: “dressing up the pig.” 🙂

    2. You are so right! We are on a slippery slope. To me praise songs are not hymns. They are a couple of sentences repeated over and over. I don’t mind them but I want some hymns added to the service to get me in the mood to worship.

  10. Most new songs have a short shelf life because they are musically and theologically weak. Generations have grown up singing the newest music that is no longer considered hip. Fads have cut off grandparents ability to sing with their own grandchildren. Most contemporary songs are solos sung with rhythm back up. I have been in services that the music was so loud you couldn’t hear your own voice. Hymns are structured with the rhythm of the words, melody and harmon working together to facilitate group singing. The singing, not the accompaniment, is the driving force. Many times in the past few decades I have wished I was orthodox or Church of Christ. They haven’t had their worship services polluted with this controversy.

    1. Pamela, you’re right. I even remember in those early days looking at the copyright year of songs and thinking, “Oh, I can’t use this one. It’s over five years old now!”

    2. Totall agree with you , Pamela. There’s nowhere to run anymore. Just grit your teeth and look upward for Jesus’ soon appearance.

    3. Too many churches are obviously proud of their powerful sound systems which can drown out my own voice and certainly the voices of those nearby. We should be able to hear ourselves and the congregation singing along with the performers on stage. I love hearing various instruments join in, but they should not over-power the voices. I completely agree with Pamela, and to take it further; I like acapella style sometimes. I have seen song leaders and people on stage put down their mics for a chorus or two and just sing along with the congregation. Why couldn’t that happen more often?
      Bill and Gloria Gaither have written many wonderful gospel songs. Bill credits Andre Crouch with writing the greatest hymn in our generation – “Through It All.”

  11. It is a huge struggle for me and my wife to fully accept the new songs that are in today’s worship services. I am 56 years old and I have for the majority of my adult life sang in our church’s choir. I love to sing, I love to be drawn into worship through song. However, since relocating to a new area and searching for a new church we find that many of the up and coming “seeker” churches desire to have a “concert” to begin the service with which no one knows the songs and cannot fully participate in that part of the service. There are many writers who are skilled at writing some of the new music. Two of my favorites are Keith and Kristyn Getty. Here is what they say that has a similar thought to yours…..“We believe in creating modern hymns for two reasons,” Keith explains. “First, they can teach us our faith in a fuller way through what they sing, and secondly, we want to attempt to create a more ‘timeless’ art form—music that people of every generation can sing now, and perhaps at best, can last throughout their lifetimes—art that transcends time and generation.” Getty goes on to say…. “A pastoral friend of mine challenged me with this thought: ‘What will new generations remember when they are older if they only sing songs for two years at a time?’ He exposed the need for us to write modern hymns which are enduring, full of the unchanging riches of God and accessible to as many generations as possible.” Once when the Getty’s came to a choir retreat our church had I recall Keith saying that every song he wrote was given to his pastor to approve the theology before he would put it to music and publish it.
    Our churches are slowly trying to do away with the choirs and that can be good or bad. I can live with that as long as they give me the opportunity to worship in song that is based on sound Biblical truths!!

    1. Eddie, I adore the music of the Getty’s. They are an anomaly in modern worship. I hope to see more songwriters approach the responsibility of writing music for the Church with their mentality. And what a smart approach to be thinking through the theological implications of a song with his pastor!

  12. Hi Dan,
    While I understand your argument, I believe a big factor is being left out, and that is how contemporary music helps lead people to Christ. It is not to only be about the old country folk singing their same hymns for 50 years. As Christians, we are to be fishers of men, and often times, music is a way to bring people to Christ. While you point out how contemporary worship focuses a lot on the emotional side (of which I do agree) this is the side of broken people who need Christ. Perhaps a Casting Crown or Natalie Grant song is what a broken down person and/or non-believer needs to hear? Honestly, when I did not go to church (for personal reasons, mostly out of being hurt by church-goers) I did not want to hear the same droning hymns I heard all my life, in churches full of conflicting words and judgment. I did not want anything to do with it. I stopped going to church for a long time. Then, a new friend came a long and shared some modern worship with me. It not only sound refreshing and new, but it spoke to my heart the word of God, in a way no other song had to before, and cause for me to cry out to Christ. Now, as a previously classically trained singer, I greatly appreciate old music, especially hymns and choir music. But, as a broken soul who was away from God for long, the music that helped me back was modern worship. It is not across the board accurate or left or right decision to determine what is the best worship music or what is the most effective for a congregation as a whole or for an individual. Honestly, churches which have both traditional and modern are better able to reach out to a more diverse crowd. Think about the youth. Which style of music will better catch the attention of an average 14 year old: organ music or pop rock? Also, there are plenty of modern music which contain lyrics that are either all scripture or mostly scripture: preferring a style of music over another does not remove the content of the lyrics. In my current church, we mostly sing modern because of the demographics in that neighborhood. It may be a sad picture, but not everyone can immediately appreciate ancient hymns. As a musician, I believe it is a pretty bold statement to discard a genre as lesser than due to its “modern” stance. What would have happened if those hymns, when they were modern back in the day, were discounted by their modernism? Time periods are not relevant when it comes to worship, but the heart of the worshiper and his or her focus on God is what is important. Once again, it is not only about the current members worshiping, but is about us Christians reaching out to those who really need to hear about and know Christ, whether it be a modern or traditional piece of worship.
    God bless,

    1. Hi, LuLu.
      First of all, I’m so happy to hear you are back in fellowship with brothers & sisters in Christ.
      I would however say that nowhere in Scripture do we find a precedent for man to determine how God is to be worshiped. God alone gets to determine how he is worshiped. The issue I have with much of the modern worship movement is that lack of depth, the lack of engaging the mind of the worshiper. It has become based primarily upon emotion and feeling rather than knowledge of the Holy.
      Genre and age of the song are not at issue here. I am addressing content and the standards we use.
      If we are depending upon the music the draw in unbelievers, then we will fail miserably every time. Even if the band is phenomenal. Because when we have brought them in, and we present the Gospel to them, they will be offended and walk away. The Gospel is offensive! It essentially says, “You can’t live a good enough life to save yourself! Someone else has to do it for you.” It’s a “rock of offense” and a “stumbling block.” It is “foolishness to those who are perishing.” When we consider what the lost will think of the songs we sing, we’re missing the point of worshiping in song. When we sing, we do not do it for those who are not in Christ. We do it for God’s glory. Does the Lord use our worshiping at times to draw people to Himself? Sure! Particularly if the songs we are singing contain the Gospel message. But we should not exclude hymns because unsaved people might dislike them, nor should we include newer songs because unsaved people may like them.

      1. Just as I predicted someone actually blurted the “But so many are led to Christ” line to justify their personal inclinations. Glad you responded thus Dan. It wasn’t so clear in your write-up. You point out rightly that worship is NOT about us or the unbeliever. Neither does it need anything more than a humble heart. Unfortunately, people still attempt to sidestep this by dismissing it as a “modern vs contemporary” controversy.

  13. Dan,
    What a great word to read from an actual worship leader! This was a very thoughtful, personal piece. This is a conversation that needs to happen. I actually wrote a piece on it a couple years ago called “Why Hymns Are Better” (http://wp.me/pPuFU-7W) that inexplicably started getting traffic and went viral a couple months ago. People want to talk about this, and many have strong opinions. Like you, I argue that hymns are better theologically, as well as lyrically and musically. I hope more worship leaders are impacted by your thoughts, and by hymns, and I hope that others out there with the gift of songwriting would turn their creativity to more complex, thoughtful explorations of praise instead of repetitive, shallow songs that all sound the same.

  14. Thanks for your thought provoking article. I’d like to just add some random thoughts as a musician in worship since the mid-sixties:1. I was turned off from many of the old hymns because all of our organists played them like a dirge, often holding notes for twice as long as they were written ( while they looked like they were hunting for the proper key or pedal). Later I learned to play the organ and my teacher told me my job was to “make it sing” and that “my keester should be off the bench more than it was on the bench”. I believe that if the old psalms and hymns were played with enthusiasm, more individuals might find them worshipful. Although I truly believe that some of the lamentations need to be slow and thoughtful.
    2. The organ was initially considered an instrument of the devil ( or so I learned when I took organ lessons).
    3. I recently heard someone complaining strongly against contemporary songs. When I asked him which songs he’d particularly like, all of them were contemporary when I began playing in the mid-60s. I had expected a request for the “old hymns”. When I asked about those, he didn’t like those either because they were too slow.
    4. The best rendition of Silent Night I ever heard was using only an acoustic guitar – just like it was first played.
    5. I enjoy best a mix of songs – our church now includes songs because of their biblical truths preparing the heart and mind for the sermon and summarizing the sermon in the postlude. We use songs from any decade if they “fit” the message and Bible passage.
    6. If we need to educate young people about Ebenezers and bulwarks, diadems and fetters, perhaps we also need to educate the older worshiper about contemporary language. I suspect that “seekers” wouldn’t know the meaning of these words and wonder if that makes them feel less welcome.
    7. In poetry, repetition is designed to reinforce the thought or idea. Maybe we sometimes need the repetition to “get through” to us – when we are stressed out, anxious, or overburdened, we lose cognitive abilities. During the last two years due to multiple challenges, family deaths and cancer, there were days that I needed to hear ““Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me”. My mind could not comprehend deep theology and I needed this repetition to remind me that God was ALWAYS there and His love never fails me. And I could worship him gratefully with these words.
    8. Finally, the current music concerns are the same ones I heard in the 1960s, just different songs. And now some of those songs are the old hymns of today…
    I intensely dislike the music controversies and believe that worship (music) needs to meet the needs of ALL the worshipers, give glory and praise to God, and that we all need to be more open to the leading of the Spirit.
    Okay, rant over.

    1. Lois,
      I really appreciate your thoughts. I agree that our worship should be joyful!
      I would say however, I really dislike the word “seeker,” since apart from the Holy Spirit replacing our stony hearts with hearts of flesh, none of us seek God (Exek. 36:26; Rom. 3:11). As I said in a previous comment, those who are not in Christ are not the ones we consider when worshiping; only the Lord is. That being said, there are certainly things we can do to make those who are not Christians feel more comfortable being in our worship services; like giving some helpful explanations in a bulletin or worship guide. We do this at New City for the Lord’s Supper.
      Regarding repetition, I don’t doubt that many people have been encouraged by that Jesus Culture song, but I believe that when we are depressed and downtrodden, the best thing for us is to meditate on God’s Word. Rather than emptying our mind (more of a pagan practice), we should fill our minds with His Word. That doesn’t then mean that we will never struggle with depression, but in the midst of that trial we are building ourselves up in Christ through His Word, hiding His Word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him.
      I know this conversation has been happening for, not only decades but centuries. But I think we have hit a critical mass, where the majority of what is being published contains bad and dangerous theology. But the main person to consider in our worship is not us in the pews, but our great God who saves. We must look to His Word, not our feelings or emotions.

  15. Church organist of ~10 years here, thank you for so eloquently putting into words something that I have been trying to say for ages!
    I recently got into Sacred Harp singing, and some of the hymns there amaze me by their beauty. If you ever come across a copy of The Sacred Harp, just open it at random and have a read. Here’s an example:
    Jesus, what shall I do to show
    How much I love Thy charming name?
    Let my whole heart with rapture glow,
    Thy boundless goodness to proclaim.
    Lord, if a distant glimpse of Thee
    Can give such sweet, such vast delight,
    What must the joy, the triumph be
    To dwell forever in Thy sight.
    You just can’t compare that to the likes of Tim Hughes or Hillsong can you

  16. I have two comments. First is that of older hymns and songs only the best survived so in 50 years time maybe o few of today’s contemporay worship songs will remain and take their place in the established hymns.Second having worked I the secular entertainment business I sometimes feel a similar emotional atmosphere in a worship event as a secular concert and am concerned this leads to a faith based on high emotion that depends on feeling good and not real understanding and solid faith that can lean on God through bad times

    1. John, you hit the nail on the head. Even in the first picture in this article, you can’t tell the difference between this and a secular rock concert. Not good.

    1. Rebecca, would you care to discuss that further? What have I said in particular that makes you think I’m being arrogant?

  17. People have been saying this stuff about the music in the church for centuries, “the new music is too modern, or isn’t worthy ” but someday the music of today will be the standards of tomorrow. So many of the old hymns put me to sleep, so I like the music that is upbeat and makes you feel uplifted and energized when you leave the church. I don’t think it’s your job to decide what is worthy and what isn’t. I think that’s for each person to decide for themselves.

    1. I laid in bed last night thinking about this subject after I posted the above comment, and I had to add more to it. There is an old saying : God works in mysterious ways” and I think it’s true. Who knows what piece of music will touch someone’s life on their journey with Christ. What one person thinks is boring another may love and cherish. Some of the old hymns that have been updated will make me cry and others will put me to sleep, but it’s not for me to decide what is worthy for someone else. I think that’s my problem with your article, it’s not your job to decide what’s worthy and what’s not.

  18. I’m no music pro, nor am I a Biblical expert, and how I interpret your words may not match many of your readers. People are people and their journeys through life generation by generation offer both similarities and differences. Theology changes, culture changes, style changes – that’s to be expected. As you’ve personally matured, your preferences have changed but I am sure you’re not singing good ole hymns from 214…or 14. Musicians then weren’t more enlightened, talented or revered – they were their day’s modern musicians changing how people in their day worshiped. Language and communication styles have grown with the culture, if we don’t pack old school messaging and complexity into song structure, that doesn’t make today’s most modern worship tunes shallow, songs unsingable and messages irrelevant. We live today, embrace it, even if old school hymns bring you closeness and joy.

    1. Tiffany “Theology changes,” My oh my, Theology changes???? your theology might change, but that would indicate you never had any theology,Theo-God,ology-study. If you understanding of this issue is as off course as your understanding of theology you are in real trouble. No wonder our world is in the mess it is in. The emergent movement believes like you do, are you emergent, that would explain your faulty view of theology?

  19. Amen! I’ve preached this very thing from my soapbox for years! I agree with every word! One thing more, when you are personally going through a dark time in your personal life what will you be more apt to sing? A contemporary “praise song” or a hymn? I strongly believe there is room in the modern-day Christian worship experience for both… And in fact can be done effectively in medleys.

  20. Your assessment is spot-on.
    I am in a Lutheran church which takes it’s worship music very seriously. Every piece is carefully chosen by the pastor and the music director for each service. That kind of care of selection, both of lyric and music, is SO important.
    We do not hear CCW music in our services. We DO hear and sing hymns and our choirs and organist perform modern music in the classical style. This sets a church service apart from the things of popular culture. I think that’s OK. Church should be different.
    As for “seekers”, why should we try to be closer to what they are used to in the outside world? They are “seeking” something that they are not finding out there.

  21. Continued blessings.For over 35 years, we were in full-time music ministry, as well as private and public school ministries. My husband was/is (in part-time ministry, now) a gifted leader of “blended” worship. We treasure the meaningfulness of the hymns, and we recognized the potential in some of the more modern songs. The words must be the key in either. The music should be the enhancement.
    You are spot on. Standards have changed considerably as a lack of discernment has increased in all parts of American living. As leaders we are to educate those in our care, to bring them to understanding, and to challenge them to draw closer to the God of their salvation seeking to have the “mind of Christ” dwelling in them.
    Food for thought: Years ago we were in conversation with one of our college students from Africa who shared his concerns regarding American Christians’ music. “I hear the constant beat of the drums. In my country they are used in this way to call up the demons!”
    We have been encouraged lately by the number of younger Christians who are turning toward things of substance, not afraid to challenge the current trends, and stretching their minds to higher thinking.
    “Oh, to be like Him, blessed Redeemer…”

  22. Excellent observations. I would like to say that song Children sing in church should also be looked at closely. “Father Abraham” and “If I Were a Butterfly” may be a fun song to sing but we should be teaching them while singing. Music is a great tool for teaching both adults and children. Child Evangelism Fellowship has been writhing songs with that in mind for years.

  23. Great article, it made me think and I appreciate you taking the time to share your insight after leading for so many years. I grew up singing hymns as a Mormon never hearing modern worship songs. I didn’t even know what Christians meant by “worship”. It took me some time to get use to it, but I can’t deny that the emotion I felt during what you would call “repetitive” worship had a part in my conversion to Christianity.
    This line in the article caught my attention
    “While contemporary worship seemed to take the listener on an exciting and emotional rollercoaster, the old hymns engaged the mind with deep and glorious truths that when sincerely pondered caused a regenerated heart to humbly bow before its King.”
    It seemed to me that after this part of the article you believed that a hymn that engages the mind with “deep and glorious truths” is a “better” way to worship than a repetitve emotional roller coaster. If I agreed with that then I would whole heartedly agree with everything else you said. However, I don’t believe that worship must always be engaging the mind. There are moments when its about engaging the heart and when the music repeats itself it makes it less about the “words” and allows the worshipper ponder, praise and communicate to God without being given the words to say. Having said that, many churches I have been too have gone to far in the “emotional” direction leaving a void of songs with real “depth” and “truth” to them.
    Another issue is the music itself. Music is very “cultural”. People in one culture/time will respond to music that would be painful or boring to people in another. That’s why I love it when an artist takes a beautifully penned hymn and updates the music to fit the times and the culture. Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, absolutely incredible hymns that have been remastered for modern culture. Your article didn’t seem to address what you thought about hymns with new music behind them, I’m curious what you think.

  24. Fabulous article! Well thought out. I am a professional musician that’s a Christian (not a Christian musician). Contemporary Christian Music is just like every other style of music, there are some great new ones being written and then there’s all the other stuff. Every song at one time was new. I totally get the content argument and I agree with it, but the bottom line is that even with perfect theology, if a songs not singable, old or new, it’s not usable.
    I really enjoy the newer acoustical settings of hymns that bring them into the 21st century. I too agree the Gettys are doing a spectacular job.

  25. I’m Youth & Worship pastor in the Cayman islands. At this church there is a combination of hymns & contemporary. Some say we should only have hymns, some say only use contemporary so am trying to have a blend of both. I’m 61 and raised in liturgical church but have been in ministry many years in various positions and churches so have a unique background.Here in the Caribbean, some use hymns, some contemporary but also they write their own songs with a great beat, rhythm and much, much, much repetition. They enter into the throne room and God shows up. Sometimes as Americans we think we have the answer and the way of doing things but people all over the world worship Him with their culture, music styles, etc. Just a different perspective. Thanks for posting what you did.

  26. We need to remember that all the hymns mentioned in this article and in most of our hymnals were “contemporary” in their time. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE hymns…both modern, “modernized”, as well as piano and organ accompanied or a cappella. My church does a “blended” song service….sometimes leaning toward “traditional” and sometimes more contemporary, depending on how God, through prayer, study, The Holy Spirit…..leads me. Sometimes a song like “One Thing Remains” is exactly what the worshiping Christian needs: simple, yet profound; singing to God, with thankfulness, for His Amazing Grace and love! (just like we sometimes just need to say or hear “I love you”). Sometimes we need a song like “How Great the Father’s Love” or “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”(just like we sometimes need complicated and detailed conversations with our loved ones). I believe most styles and approaches have their place, depending on the personality of the church, it’s leaders, it’s members, it’s visitors, the community, etc. Worshiping the one true God in spirit and truth is the most important thing.

  27. Thanks for taking the time to write out your thoughts. This is a topic that seems to come up often, and I hate to see that you’ve taken an either/or approach.
    I’m an engineer. It’s easy for me to forget about the emotional stuff and get caught up in the facts and figures of salvation. But I have to remember Ephesians 5:18-19, where it makes the parallel of worshiping with getting drunk. I certainly think this is making the case for emotional worship, and I think it’s just one example of many in the Bible.
    As for the Psalms, how many of the Psalms say “sing to the Lord a new song”? Do those churches that stick to only the Psalms just ignore those parts?
    I challenge you to go back to the Bible on this one. It’s easy to take things CS Lewis and others say and try to make them apply to this, but ultimately you’re 2 degrees away from the source. The Bible repeatedly speaks of praise and worship being something we get caught up in, not an educational exercise.
    Here’s a thought exercise: If you truly want to sing songs in church that have the richest theology, then I believe you need to sing rap songs. Compare the length of the lyrics to a typical Lecrae song with those of a hymn, and you’ll find there is room for easily 3 times as many words. Rap is, by nature, much more lyrical than melodic music, and Lecrae really lays some truth and depth into many of his songs. So, okay, we know you’re not going to sing rap with the congregation on Sunday morning, but ask yourself why not? And if the answer is style, then you have to acknowledge that style matters. And if style matters, then you can’t pretend it doesn’t matter when you’re singing the old hymns.
    Please don’t take any of this as an attack. This is an issue I care deeply about and it’s easy to get me talking. I hope none of this comes off as harsh. Thanks.

  28. As a lay person music lover, I have heard this argument many times through the years but you have articulated it well. What I’d like to see us more examples. What would you deem a good worship song as opposed to a poor song. I understand the general principles but would learn more by seeing examples of the way you evaluate songs. By the way, my favorite for the most stupid vapid hymn is the Christmas ditty “Bring a torch Jabet Isabella.” Proof that time alone does not always separate the wheat from the chaff!

  29. I would say my path to “modern worship” is similar to the authors. I grew up in a Congregational church but was introduced to the modern worship movement (for lack of a better term) in the late 80’s. I have been a youth pastor and now a worship pastor for the last 25 years. Some of those years in a more traditional church and most in a younger more charismatic church plant. I have shied away from hymns throughout for a couple reasons. For one, I’m an acoustic guitar player (side joke: How do you get an acoustic guitar player to stop playing? Answer: Put a sheet of music in front of him). Enough said. But secondly, I also felt the hymns were not very relatable in a modern culture even though I appreciated the history and richness of their heritage. For me, part of the judgement came from the life and joy I felt when singing contemporary worship songs. Though repetitive and sometimes shallow, they were also simple enough to sing and use as a “tool” of connection to God. I found hymns to be much harder to wield! To continue with my tool analogy – “One Thing Remains” may be only a “screwdriver” in the “Worship toolbox” where “How Great Thou Art” may be a table saw. You can do a lot more with a table saw but many just don’t know how to use it! Dan, I agree with the heart behind your article – You see a great wood shop with table saws and routers and planers etc (the hymns) and we’ve used contemporary worship and gone “backwards” in a sense. I agree with you that as worship leaders we need to help the people in our churches learn to use these deep, complex, beautiful, foundational, scripture filled, hymns (table saws) to deepen our worship. I disagree, however, with the notion that these “smaller tools” should be pushed out and seldom used. I think they are valuable, important tools to connect with a younger generation. I think they are also valuable tools to use while worshipping to connect on an experiential level.The struggle I have with both hymns and contemporary worship is our tendency to take either one to “religion.” By religion, I mean lifeless ritual that is more about form than substance or heart. Can we agree that one could sing “your love never fails and never gives up” or “A mighty fortress is our God a bulwark never failing” and not really connect to the living God? To go back to my woodworking analogy, does it really matter what tools are in our wood shop if nothing is being built? I say, let’s use all the tools but focus on the product being built more so than the tools! Thanks for your thoughtful words.

  30. Thank you! Our little country church gets lots of town folk out because we use our hymnals every week. Of course, once in awhile we sing a contemporary worship song, but most of us love the hymns. I’m sad for my grand children, because they aren’t learning the words of the hymns. Maybe someday, they will.

  31. There is so much truth in this! Thank you for writing this article! I do believe that in a large sense we tend to focus more on symptoms than causes. As my brother (a career “musicianary” for many years) once said, ” there are two, and ONLY two kinds of music. Good music and bad music.”
    Now, the lyric is a separate issue altogether.
    What I find most troubling in contemporary “worship” music is a lack of craft. Weekend garage bands writing songs without ever having committed to truly learning the fundamentals of music. This can tend to result in just regurgitating the same chord progressions that we’ve heard a million times, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it is a self-limitation that impedes a more complete exploration of musical content. Simple-on-purpose is very different indeed from simple-because-I-don’t-know-any-better.
    Of greater importance is the lack of craft in lyric writing. Metering, prosody, rhyme scheme, etc. are only hinted at in much of modern music. Again, this does not necessarily make a resulting song “bad”, but if a writer invests in learning, truly learning, the craft of lyric writing, the quality of the resultant songs have the potential to be exponentially better. And once again, simple-on-purpose is very different from simple-because-I-don’t-know-any-better. And whether congregants can articulate it or not, they know the difference.
    If we are to be song writers for God, oughtn’t we take the responsibility to seriously invest in learning music theory, lyric writing, vocal technique, instrumental technique and other skills? I think that by and large we are just too content to use whatever information has drifted over our collective transoms without critically examining it.
    Is “good enough” truly good enough?
    Our church recently split into two services that are being called “Softer Sunday” and “Louder Later”. While I appreciate the notion of being sensitive to disparate tastes in music, I believe we are completely missing the point. The “Softer Sunday” people enjoy more hymns at a lower volume (volume being yet another completely different issue!) as opposed to more contemporary songs in the later service. I believe that for others, as it is for me, it is not an issue of form but of content.
    When I learned of this plan I took our worship pastor aside and encouraged him to not focus on making one set of music quieter, or piano-centric vs. louder, or guitar-centric. Rather I encouraged him to make ALL choices scripture-centric. You simply cannot go wrong singing scripture.
    Too often “worshippers” are after the warm fuzzy feeling that often accompanies a worship service. The warm fuzzies can be a by-product, but must never EVER be the goal of worshipping. We bring a *sacrifice* of praise (Heb 13:15), but I am to worship Him regardless of my feelings attached.

  32. Or just sing the Psalms Jesus sang if you are worried about doctrine and sound theology. I am 18 and tend to prefer singing Psalms and older hymns over the more modern Christian music.

  33. Great thoughts on modern worship! I too have found many contemporary songs to be lacking in their ability to engage the mind and really honor Christ rather than engage the emotion and bring focus to self. That being said, we do many contemporary songs. I am, however, becoming more and more picky about the content of the lyrics. When I am picking songs for our congregation, I try to filter them through a few steps (in order of importance):
    1) Does it honor and exalt Christ (is it “Christ-centered”)?
    2) Is it theologically sound?
    3) Is it attainable for the “average joe” (non-musician) to sing/engage in?
    4) Is it attainable for our worship band?
    5) Does it fit within the style/culture we are aiming for?
    If it can’t run the gauntlet… it doesn’t make the cut.

  34. Nobody ever considers that the reason the old hymns are so good is because they outlasted and stood above many more that were bad. They, too, were new once. Similarly, many of the hymns of today are going to stand out for generations and will be found to be deep, insightful and theological. Many others will not. Just like has always been the case. It doesn’t take too long to look through any old hymn book to find many songs that aren’t theologically sound. The truly great hymns will stand across time no matter when they were written.

  35. I definitely understand where you’re coming from and I agree we don’t need to neglect the older songs, however we’re in a new day and time. Churches want the BEST appearance, the best sound(such as nice fancy lights or sound system), they want nice LED signs out front and so much more, but want to stay solely in the older more traditional songs. We have for so long catered to our elderly people by only playing hymns and suh, but what about our youth? Our youth enjoy more contemporary, up beat music. So shouldn’t we conform both of the styles together? Even at that, we are still singing about the SAME God so why is there such an argument about what style? Delirious and Skillet, bands like that have reached SO many kids, even gothic and punk kids who wouldn’t have been reached by singing the older hymn amazing grace. Yes I’ll always argue that they are VERY important, but to focus your worship around those and be so closed minded in my opinion yore losing a lot of souls. Music is so important, and if we are up to date in everything else why not invite different styles of music.

  36. My stepdaughter posted your article to us in an email as her favorite of the year. Thank you!Last summer my husband I attended the annual Hymns conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and I highly recommend it for all traditional hymn lovers. This is the website for last year’s conference—this year’s conference is not online yet but the dates for 2015 are June 26-July 1.
    http://cedar.intervarsity.org/great-god-wonders
    In addition to good Bible exposition and optional workshops we spend many hours together singing from HYMNS II – the traditional InterVarsity hymnal
    I’ll post you the 2015 link when I see it.

  37. The problem with Modern Worship Music is: There is no genuine Anointing. The words please the ears, the strobe lights please the eyes…but The Spirit of God is not present in most cases. The Hymns of old are effective and bring deliverance because the authors were Spirit filled, and penned the words under the unction of the Holy Ghost. That makes all the difference in the world! I am a young musician, and I am very well versed in both Modern and Traditional Music. There is no comparison. The word declares that we as Christians should be seperate from the world. I believe that this includes music. Call is legalism, call it judgmental… the proof is “in the pudding.” Thank you for your post!

    1. There are good contemporary worship songs, and there are bad ones. There are well crafted hymns, and there are less well crafted hymns, to put it charitably. Perhaps you are not the one to decide whether or not a particular song was written by a spirit-led person … could it be that you (or your music minister) is only responsible for deciding what seems appropriate for your congregation? Or are your ideas and opinions binding for all people in all churches throughout the world? I don’t mean to be unkind, but I had my chops busted in this same area a couple decades ago by a missions professor. You’re going way out on a limb when you make absolutes when this is such a subjective area!
      I appreciate your passion for true worship and great worship songs. Just bear in mind it may look completely different in different local churches, here and around the world. Should the people of Africa or Tibet sing English hymns translated into their language? And frankly, the idea that being separate from the world means we should not have music that uses the same instruments, or chord structures, or melodies, and so forth, as contemporary bluegrass, or country, or blues music, does not stand up under scrutiny. It is, indeed, legalism, and I would challenge you to consider that possibility.
      And when you say the proof is in the pudding – what does this mean?

  38. wow – I agree with everything!! I grew up in the church – I am in worship – playing piano. I can play hymns blindfolded – however, not so with our music of today. The repetition of some of the songs almost puts me to sleep – I am always thinking when will this song end. I love the message and heart that are in our hymns. Keep listening to God!!

  39. Something I have found recently that I like is when old hymns are put to new tunes. There is a more modern tune-style that makes the song more contemporary, which appeals to a certain group of people. Old hymns with modifications to the lyrics (such as “O Thou Fount”) are a cool way to bring in that historical traditional aspect, without leaving some people feeling like the song is “irrelevant,” which is a complaint I have both made myself and heard from other people. I enjoy having both contemporary and traditional music in this way.

  40. All I know is that when my heart is troubled, the words “Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way… to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey” come to mind much quicker than 13 phrases of “rain down, rain down,etc.” And I love some of the new modern songs but I can tell you those old hymns are deep in my heart! Let’s just teach them to the next generation……for their own sake!

  41. I started reading this hoping to find a good reason for my recent pull back to old hymns. Instead, I found the same tired, worn-out, faulty logic that older generations have used for decades. I would appreciate this article more if somewhere in there you just admit that we’re getting old.

    1. I get it! I came from the red hymnal and love it! When I moved away I didn’t really need a book I knew most of the songs by heart. The wonderful church I attend now sings the new worship songs and many of them have helped me to draw closer to God, as I had strayed. Going back to my old church I wasn’t prepared for what I felt. Great joy being back home yes, but as they sang the great old songs, tears rolled down my face. I couldn’t stop. “Oh Love of God, how rich and sure, how measureless and strong. It shall forevermore endure the saints and angels song.” There is nothing so rich. The Spirit is what draws. I would never argue with anyone but I get what he’s saying about this. When I hear the song that says “I’m about to get my worship on” I change the station.

  42. Dan, though I have enjoyed my share of it, I was never quite drawn into the lure of contemporary worship music; probably because the old hymns had such a large part of my life growing up. I was forced to find the significance in the lyrics of hymns, and, quite frankly, enjoyed the music and opportunities for harmony (dual meaning intended) that hymns afforded. I was drawn, however, by your remarks related to the emotional aspect of contemporary music and wanted to share a link to a tract I once read that really helped me to understand my own thoughts related to the blandness of contemporary praise. The larger publication from which this tract is drawn (I think it’s called “Release of the Spirit” by Watchman Nee), tells of the makeup of man being three parts – spirit, soul and flesh with the spirit being our inner most part and the soul being comprised of the mind, the will, and the emotions. Once I understood this makeup of man and the place of my emotions in my makeup, I was encouraged to keep emotions in their proper place and began to prefer the influence of the Spirit of God in my spirit over the impact of songs skillfully (or maybe instinctively) written to elicit an emotional response. Indeed, I have enjoyed the “release of the spirit” in large gatherings of the body utilizing contemporary worship, usually to come down from the “high” in a short time. However, like you, I have enjoyed longer and deeper influences on my faith from the lyrics of “the good old hymns”. Here’s the link I spoke of: http://www.lsm.org/pdfs/Mystery-of-Human-Life/MHL-English.pdf

  43. If your concern is for theologically-rich content, then why are you even looking at the date that a song was written? Are you suggesting some genetic mutation happened in the 70s and now all people blessed with the song-writing gene are also cursed with the weak-theology gene?
    I too put a higher emphasis on theologically-rich content than anything else when I put together a worship set and the date that the song was written is the very last consideration I make, if I even consider it at all. Maybe I’m the only one with access to the theologically-rich contemporary database, but I have no trouble at all finding songs across ALL generations that are appropriate for corporate worship.
    An ideal worship service for me would be if someone brand new to Christianity walked in and, just by listening, would not be able to tell which songs were “old” and which were “new.” Once we put preference aside and realize that good songs are good songs, then this entire conversation becomes a moot point.

    1. Josh, I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier. Just going back through a few of them and trying to reply. No, when I speak about hymns I’m not referring to a specific era, but encouraging first of all more biblically faithful content (e.g., “In Christ Alone” by the Getty’s is a great example of a modern hymn), and secondly singing songs that span the ages (e.g., some songs from now, such as “In Christ Alone,” as well as older songs like “Holy, Holy, Holy,” but even much older, such as setting the Christ Hymn from Philippians 2 to music, or singing more Psalms. My issue is not one of personal preference, but of a recognized disconnect between much of what is being published and labeled as “worship” and what the Bible actually identifies as acceptable worship.

  44. I thought I was an “old fogey”. I rejoice in reading your article! I responded to the Holy Spirit’s leading when I was 9 yrs old, singing Just As I Am. To this day that hymn moves me in a special way. And I too love Rock of Ages because Jesus is my Rock! Thank you for your insight.

  45. I like your article, but as a worship pastor, my job is not to select songs that are new/ old/ deep or shallow. I believe for one that lead worship leader in the church is actually the pastor. Not to say that the pastor should pick all of the songs, but is the one God called to lead lead that Church as He (God) leads the pastor. I see what you are saying in your article, but don’t think that the problem lies in style of music, or even in depth of content… but rather it seemed that earlier in your days you were excluding hymns for the wrong reasons, it wasn’t the contemporary music’s fault. There are a lot of bad contemporary songs out there… I can amen that. There are a lot of bad hymns as well (still in the hymnal… even after all these years, they have not all been weeded out yet.) Some songs transcend era’s of time, and can speak to generation after generation… not all will, and I think that is ok. I believe many of the old hymns that you are talking about will continue to be with us. Many of the songs of today, and of the next few decades will still be around for our children’s children as well. I believe that is because God still speaks today. Sometimes that may be in some deep profound way… sometimes it’s with just a single word.
    The Goal is not to sing only deep songs as well. I think it is a mistake to think that “simple” or even “shallow” songs don’t have a place in worship. I love the hymns don’t get me wrong. But there have been times, where I feel like I am drowning in them. Some times we need to dwell on a single aspect of God, like God being the Father, just take time to worship Him for that. Sometimes a hymn will do that… but then go on to God the Son, spirit, fortress, healer, ect.. in the next 5 verses. There is a place for depth certainly… especially in the preaching of the Word. But I believe sometimes we need to hear one thing, maybe two. At least I know I do. Sometimes the “shallow” parts of my walk are overlooked, I need reminding of even the most basic spiritual things, because I am “prone to wander.”
    I believe the mistake that many worship leaders make is that they seem themselves as “worship leaders,” and not “worship pastors, or ministers.” Meaning that leading worship in a Church is only maybe 10% on stage, 90% off. I know for me, I want to know what God is speaking to my pastor for a given Sunday, before I pick a set list for it. I want to be on the same page with him, because we are a team, and he is leader. I want to enforce what is going to be preached, and help our congregation take it with them when they leave in song. There are certainly times that God hits me with a particular song for a Sunday, but I find that when He does that, it almost always is in line with what He is leading my pastor to preach on.
    When we as worship pastors know what passage we will be in on a given Sunday, and we know what our pastor is going to focus in on, suddenly a shallow or simple worship song (old or new) can have a deep impact, because it’s being covered in scripture, and that song that seems “shallow” by itself will suddenly become deep… because it will be used in context with the spoken word. Likewise a “deep” hymn can be even better understood when your pastor follows it up with God’s word, and your congregation wont feel like they are drowning… or that they really dont know what they just sung…
    Our Church is truly multi-generational… and that can be a challenge. And people certainly have their opinions about how “they think worship should be.” But, my focus, and the focus of my pastor and fellow staff is not on relevancy or on being traditional… We simply want to make much of Jesus. I find that when I am on the same page with my pastor, my song selection is no longer about style, but about “how can I help tell God’s word through song.” Usually we are not covering everything there is to know about God in one sermon… Usually we are focusing on something specific. So i will use certain songs, repeat parts of songs, or just use some of a song, depending on the message. I believe the worship pastor is not above the pastor… and we are on the same team. It is amazing to see what God does with the music and message when we work together. It is also amazing to me to see how I now hear more about how the worship set I picked “spoke to, convicted, or was what someone needed to hear,” more so now that “I love that song, I always love to hear that one on the radio,we need to do more songs like that, or even; the young people today need to learn more of that.” The focus of our congregation has actually started shifting more to Jesus and off of our style of music. We do traditional hymns, and contemporary worship music… not much southern Gospel, specials, or non- congregational songs.
    We need depth, shallowness, our minds and hearts in worship. We need to know the God we are worshipping… and we are emotional beigns… we were made that way. When we are emotionally and mentally engaged in worship, we are more able to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. And our worship is more pleasing to Him.
    I didn’t mean for that to be so long.

  46. This article makes me sad. I love both traditional and contemporary, and even participate in a songwriter small group which focuses on God-breathed music. I don’t understand why you can’t have various mediums in worship. It is mean and bullying to discredit the work the Holy Spirit is doing in my heart through the music I create, just because it isn’t a hymn.

  47. A good subject that is very dear to my heart. I have led and help lead worship for over thirty years in that time a person gains much insight. I travel much when I run into some one my age who’s is a believer I as the same question. The question is “do you feel the worship music today is different than when we wore young. They all give me the same answer. “today we sing in church about the Lord” when we wore in our twenties “we sang to the Lord” this makes much difference in the spiritual realm. As for worship leader I would never want to be one again. To explain my reasons would take many pages to write. Jesus Christ must be the “host” of the worship team every single member must have the opportunity to shine and when he ore she is not shining they should step back and let others shine. I have experienced much and always when you have a recognized worship leader then you begin to open a can of worms. I have ministered on the road with a gospel blue grass band and none of us was the leader we all had the same say so. well I can go on if you want toast me something go for it I will try to respond.

  48. Preferences and understanding change as we grow in knowledge and experience. Hymns labelled as “old” or “traditional” were contemporary at the time of their composition. I believe there is a deeper-rooted issue of church culture that supercedes worship music, where emotional experience/ upliftment/ assurance tend to overrule reflection and study. The same trend is arising in secular music when we consider many modern lyrics.

  49. Finally!! Someone who follows my thinking. The Contemporary could have been incorporated without losing the Traditional. But it was not.

  50. The argument is made that “hymns have been sung by the giants of the faith who have gone on before us over the last two millennia”, this is a stretch. The reformation was in 1517, the music style from when the church became institutionalized (around 3rd – 4th century) was less participatory for the congregation. The Reformation brought upon music for the congregation, many of Martin Luther hymns were words put to the tune of the beer drinking songs of the day. He did this to be “relevant”.I have nothing against hymns, I love many of them and I believe there is something to be learned by their legacy, but there is also some bad theology in some of those as well (“and now I will be happy all the day”), We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, there are still spirit filled song writers out there today and I am sure there are classics out there that just have not stood the test of time as of yet.
    We have this tendency to believe the past has always been better, doesn’t this put God and his leading in some box?

  51. Contemporary music is milk. Repeating a line multiple times does not feed the soul. Hymns are the meat! I get nothing from contemporary songs in church.

  52. The friction in many churches about music type, should cause them to realize that separation of Church members according to music preferences is not appropriate. I loved your sincere comments explaining both sides and I want to thank you for this post. I love music but after years of pianist, organist, young choirs I long for the return to worshiping God not just singing worship songs to bring on the emotions.

  53. I don’t believe it’s a matter of whether the song is old or new, of the present generation or those that are past. And actually, it’s not even judged on theological thought, the litmus test for songs of worship, is not whether it engages our mind or our heat, worship, true worship glorifies God and causes HIM to respond. If He responds, everyone in the service will be touched.
    Too many worship leaders sing the songs they like, or songs the people like but we should take a step back and ask the question few have considered, “Lord, what song would you like to hear? Which song will cause you to arise? What song will cause you to turn your face towards us and release your intimacy in this service.
    “I will praise the name of God with a song. And will magnify him with Thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than ox or bullock that have horns and hoofs.” Psalm 68:30-31
    Most contemporary songs do not “praise his name.” There’s seldom a song heard that magnifies HIM with thanksgiving. And unfortunately, we seldom hear worship leaders ask the Lord, “what songs can we sing that will please YOU!
    The Psalmist David understood this and he taught the concept to Asaph and his sons. In addition he installed 4000 priest to do nothing but give thanks to God. History confirms the importance of their role for as long as they gave thanks, the nation was at rest from war.
    Jeroboam drove out the priests of thanksgiving and “he ordained him priests for the high places, and for Devils, and for calves he had made.” According to 2 Chris 12:1
    For the past several years, I’ve study the “priests of thanksgiving.” During times of national crisis it was the sons of Asaph that God delivered his prophetic words of instruction to. And without exception, the nation was saved.
    Nehemiah recognized these priests of thanksgiving had been replaced with singers made chose. Nehemiah contended with those rulers and put the priests of thanksgiving bac in thei rightful place. Victory follow suit.
    I’m convinced we would see the salvation of the Lord in our nation if we offer unto him the Sacrifical songs of thanksgiving instead of songs that give little mention of the Lords Name much less could be categorized as glorifying or magnifying HIM.
    Rev Deborah Howard

  54. As an organist/pianist the traditional hymns reach an audience who build the church. I enjoy the playing and singing the contemporary music which is built on the great history of the hymn.

  55. Thanks for sharing your observation and journey. While I don’t totally agree with the “…case for the abandonment of most contemporary songs…”, I sincerely appreciate reading the thoughts and comments. As with all reading, context is key to understanding.

  56. After reading this essay, and then the responses, I only got through about 10 of them, realizing that there were so many. It’s obviously a provocative topic.I DO believe that where 2 or 3 are gathered, we may be in worship. However, that is oftentimes not including worship music. Having grown up in a traditional main line church, with hymns and anthems that I now know so well they form music worms in my mind all week long, after singing them, I would not feel that I had worshiped if we only sang contemporary music. When our organ plays the very rich harmonies of some of these beautiful hymns, and these notes all enhance and glorify the scripture or words of praise or worship or pleadings for forgiveness or promise of life everlasting that are in the verses that we are singing, then THAT leaves me feeling that I have REALLY felt God’s presence, and been able to privately, inside my heart and soul, and publicly, by singing out loud, with others, worship our God.
    I have been at Contemporary services, some of which don’t even have music in their books (how does a tenor sing a hymn, or an alto, or more importantly, how does ANYONE sing if they don’t know the melody?) and it doesn’t feel like church. We DO occasionally sing hymns and anthems that are contemporary, when they fit the scripture and the feel of the service that week….they do seem to be from the 70’s or so…they are fine, and fitting when used. But I thank God for the chestnuts that exist and have for generations because they are profound.

    1. You have brought out a very good point. Pam. Let me add a little more to that.The thing about the old organ-only days was, it fulfilled the essential role of keeping everyone in key and on time – thus singing out the lyrics with ONE voice, with little distraction from the actual organ sound. The instruments and music style (including the lead singer’s vocal acrobatics on the raised stage and the smoke & lights) in “contemporary worship” (with rare exceptions), completely dominate the lyrics & congregation’s voice. This is theatrics, plain & simple, as anyone in the entertainment industry can affirm.
      When so many here rise to defend the contemporary music style, it is a sad indictment that MUSIC has replaced the majesty of Jesus in worship of him.

  57. True worship never has been and will never be about us, but about glorifying God. We have for so many years now made it about us and how we feel. The question shouldn’t be what song should I sing to draw in a crowd or get people to stand and worship through their emotions. The question should be is this song that I am singing glorifying God. I think we have lost the focus.

  58. Most new music written in mainline protestant (particularly Lutheran) and Roman Catholic circles tends to follow the style/format of traditional hymns, including the theological richness that you describe. So you may be able to find recent (i.e., literally contemporary) material that would probably seem to you to be “traditional” instead of “contemporary.” Search out Marty Haugen, David Haas, and the Saint Louis Jesuits.
    Some additional very interesting discussion is in the comments to this NPR story from last year: http://www.npr.org/2013/07/08/200013769/modern-hymn-writers-aim-to-take-back-sunday. (The story itself is pretty problematic, as the people point out in the comments over and over.)
    Also, check out the music from Taizé for songs that are simple and repetitive (neither of which are a problem as many people have noted) but not shallow.

  59. The age of a song and who has sung it before doesn’t change anything about its value to the church today. But you are spot on with the second point that hymns are theologically richer than most contemporary songs.As one comment or pointed out, contemporary songs are often based on a single verse or loosely tied to a passage of scripture. That’s obviously not a bad thing, and certainly those songs are great to listen to, but are they explicitly singing the gospel or teaching doctrine? If not, then they are probably best left to the radio.
    At our church the measuring rod we use to determine songs is simply do they sing what we are preaching. All too often songs can be vague, too emotional, or even come across as love songs (if you can replace God or Jesus with a girl, then it’s not explicit enough). When we gather for corporate worship, we want to sing the gospel and preach the gospel. That means, can someone read the words to this song and learn the gospel? Or does it teach on redemption or justification or propitiation or another doctrine that would help someone understand the gospel more fully?
    My question to you though is why have you made a distinction about the age of the song? There are contemporary hymns being written that are just as rich as greats like Isaac Watts. Guys like Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, Michael Bleecker, and Aaron Ivey are all writing rich songs that are current. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about called Songs for the Book of Luke, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/lukealbum/ and it has contributions from worship pastors all over the country. D.A. Carson (one of the greatest NT scholars of our generation) even cowrote one of the songs! My personal favorite off of this album is Come to the Feast, a beautiful and rich song and perfect as a lead in to communion.
    I think you’re right in saying churches should be singing hymns, but they can be both new and old hymns.

  60. i do not seriously think it matters, as a new Christian without much knowledge or background in music of any Christian sort ,, the new songs engaged my heart so much more than any hymns I used to sing growing up in churches that did not interact with God whatsoever , so I guess its the spiritual heart of the person leading worship that makes the difference and the heart of the person singing it,, so weather a hymn or a new song, if they point your heart to Jesus,, I am not particularly worried, thanks good reading all the same

  61. We sing a wide variety of songs at our church including hymns, contemporary, and secular songs. Recently, we had a 4 week series called simple, discussing various points in the song “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd with multiple bible verses supporting each line. Of course the Lynyrd Skynyrd song was sung during the last week of the series. All who were in attendance will likely always remember being in worship whenever they hear that song and think about God.And as a sidenote, what’s wrong with the 3rd verse of hymns? Usually only the 1st, 2nd, and 4th verses are sung! 🙂

  62. I, too, have led worship, directed choirs, taught worship classes, and have a music degree. You mentioned “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in your post. What I discovered as a worship leader/choir director in a traditional church was that often those who are singing them are so “tuned out” of what they are singing (just as some people are when singing repetitive contemporary worship songs) that they have no idea what the hymn is about, either.
    One small example: Even the pastor (who was within 10 years of retirement) did not know what the hymn “A Mighty Fortress” was really saying. He commented in a sermon that “on earth is not his equal” referred to Jesus. Ahem . . . Most of the hymn is actually talking about Satan – the foe.
    So, while, yes, hymns can and often are filled with theological depth, my experience has been that most people who have sung those songs throughout their church lives process very little of the cognitive information within.
    This makes the argument for both hymns and contemporary worship songs on a level playing field when it comes to which is “better.”

  63. Amen Dan! Fantastic article. As a church musician myself and currently at college, I’ve seen both sides of the coin, but I do prefer the hymns for their depth and beauty. The sad thing that I see in my generation (I’m 22), is brought out in Psalm 149:6. “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand.” Sometimes when I see these new songs come out, I think our generation has thrown the two-edged sword away (referring to the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6). Sometimes after weeks of prayer I ask myself if people are making commitments to follow Christ consciously or subconsciously, just being in an emotional state (which never works). Repetition in songs, especially in overdrawn bridges and the “final chorus” just drives me insane! I’ve been up the front playing in church (I play violin) when a bridge has been repeated 7-8 times and thought, “there has to be a better way than this.” As a classically trained musician, I was brought up studying Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, but especially Bach. Here is my favorite quote from J.S. Bach, who I regard as one of the best church musicians to have ever lived. “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”Maybe everyone should reconsider the music we play in church, not just the songs we choose and if they draw on the main message, but also how the songs are played! People come to church as a community to fellowship with others and with God, so we shouldn’t switch their brains into autopilot mode. I pray that more music directors around the world will start to reconsider we are leading the congregations ourselves, or if we are allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us, while organizing the service and up the front. Of course, this could mean using a more contemporary song or just arranging a hymn to be more upbeat, but we should go into this ministry with a heart for conscious service which is pleasing before God, to allow people to see how wonderful, merciful, powerful, awe-inspiring and loving our God is.
    Satan has done really well to distract us so far, but God’s truth and light always shines through.
    Thanks again Dan. God bless you and your family.
    John

  64. While I appreciate much of the sentiment, it’s not actually true that the current “traditional” hymns have been sung for two millennia. Almost all of them were written over the last few hundred years, and a large swath come from one century (the 18th) thanks to the tireless work of saints like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. It’s also misleading to say that hymns *as a genre* are more theologically sound. While I could cherry pick a few examples of bad-theology hymns that are still sung today, what I mean for the most part is that the passage of time has dispatched many of the poor theological hymns. For the most part, only those with lasting value have…well, *lasted*.
    Side note: a case can also be made for singing shallow, repetitive (but theologically sound) songs as *a part* of our overall worship. I mean, have you read the 118th Psalm lately?
    As I said, I do appreciate the sentiment of this post, and I’m all in favor of singing good, deep songs that encourage reflection and thought and growth. I’m in favor of challenging current song writers to go beyond cheap hooks. And many of them are! (Have you listened to groups like Rend Collective? Fantastic, fun, deep, and sound stuff!)
    And the real problem with contemporary worship music (IMO) is not addressed here at all: the influence a handful of American megachurches have on which modern songs get sung. THAT is a point worth exploring.

    1. Well said and articulated. I agree with what you state here John. I also want to add that by creating this Hymns versus Modern Songs rift, we tend to aggravate relations between the generations, where there is likely a difference in perspective, preference and personal growth as a believer and worshiper. I do think there is some distinction between songs of worship, songs of evangelism and songs of edification, which tends to be unclear and undefined in many forums where Christian music is debated. With regards to worship, if we consider Isiah 6:3 and then Rev. 4:8, <>, is this indicative of shallow worship? I’ve also seen it stated in a few posts above that today’s “ancient hymns” were indeed yesterday’s “contemporary songs”. I can imagine that the movement from literary chants/ recitations to poems put to music with stanzas meant for congregational singing at some point in time was a point of controversy.

  65. I must say it’s an interesting read and the comments make for an interesting read.I can see both sides of the coin but I also have issues with both sides of the coin.
    Personally my judge of a song is if its based in the new covenant or the old covenant. If its theology is based in new covenant then great I’m all for it old or new. I do find a lot of songs focus a lot on self instead of focusing on Christ. We step into church to hear about ‘our husband’ Jesus and what he has done for us. I will never under estimate the power of a simple song though – the heart which most are written in is a heart that loves our Lord and out of that this revelation has been poured forth as a song. Sometimes it takes simple songs for people to get their minds on Christ instead of the words of a song.
    In all this if a song is set in the new covenant of Christ then I am good with it. New songs are a way forward for a new generation and should no be discounted – even the psalmist tells us to sing a new song to the Lord. We love the people that have gone before us and I honour them but I’m sure they are all in heaven telling us its not about them and to not look to them but to Christ alone.
    I attend a church of over 30000 people with an average age of 50’s but the people fully immerse in our Savour and Him alone. The songs we sing are all ‘modern’ but its the heart of worship for our Lord that bypasses time and draws people into worship. The song is just the means in which their voice that proclaims what he has done for us.

  66. We serve an amazing God whose character and glorious attributes are more profound than we will ever understand until we meet Him face to face. Christian music of all types endeavor to capture our mortal descriptions of a Holy God, the amazing grace he has shown us through Jesus and how that love has impacted our lives. Each song from the Psalms, hymns and todays contemporary music serve to glorify God when they are sung by those who love Him and are called according to His great purpose.
    “So I make this plea to my fellow ministers, do not neglect these milestones from ages past. In fact, I would make the case for the abandonment of most contemporary songs. If you choose a song for congregational worship based on its content (say you have chosen a contemporary song because of its focus on the Cross), do the hard work of finding a hymn that more than likely addresses the same topic or doctrine in a much deeper way. If on the other hand you have chosen a song because of the way it feels or the emotion it evokes, ask yourself whether you are depending upon the Holy Spirit or your own skills to engage our brothers and sisters in singing to our King.”
    In essence it appears you are attempting to define what is the “right” approach to selecting music for congregational worship as well as accusing the brethren of not being as spiritual as you are because they, A. do not spend the time to find an adequate alternative in the great Hymns or, B. are not relying on the Holy Spirit to lead their ministry. This may not at all be your intent but I encourage you to re-read your words.
    Debate about which music is “appropriate” within the scope of your discussion is divisive within the church and will result in prideful opinion and quarrels which are not edifying and do not build up the body. The Holy Spirit who is present within all true believers is capable of using a single word, phrase or song to draw the hearer into a closer walk with Jesus. He is equally capable of taking the song of a bird, the babble of a brook or the sound of wind rustling through the trees to cause us to recognize the incredible majesty and awesome power of our great God.
    2 Timothy 23-24
    …23But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged.
    There are controversial aspects of church life where the opinions of the world and the opinion of God differ and we must be sure that we always side with Gods opinion over the worlds. There is nowhere in scripture where I find a basis to believe that the thoughts you share are affirmed by God and not simply an opinion developed over years of personal relationship with God that fits your particular experience. Contemporary music is not an offering of “strange fire” upon the alter rather it is a genuine effort by men and women led by the Holy Spirit to express praise, worship and love to the God of the universe and His Son Jesus.
    Ephesians 5 19-20
    19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;…
    It is not my intent to provide rebuke but rather to point to Christ’s prayer in the garden.
    John 17 20-22
    20″I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22″The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;…
    May your efforts cause the Church to become one in Christ Jesus.
    In love

  67. Great article. I’m forwarding to my husband who would toss out just about all “new” music…though he does love some of Chris Tomlin’s stuff…well, really just his version of Amazing Grace..My Chains are gone. I love all music, but despise the repetition that some leaders insist on…seriously? I agree with you that sometimes it’s more about getting an emotional frenzie worked up than allowing the Holy Spirit to move and work. I grew up in a small Baptist church in South Arkansas so hymns were definitely part of my life. My mother’s family were all very musical so all of our family gatherings were around the piano and/or guitars singing, you guessed it…southern gospel hymns. Great memories.For many years, I’ve written songs (none published)…I enjoy listening to what the Lord speaks to me when I read the Psalms and sometimes a melody plays in my mind. Or a poem will “write itself” from what I’m reading. I love that and know that it is God speaking to me in those moments. (I’ve tried just doing it from ‘scratch’ …like I think I’ll write a song or poem today…but it doesn’t work very well.) Anyway, I appreciate your effort to bring back the old while keeping some of the more “note worthy” (pun intended) new songs. 🙂

  68. I am a 61 year old daughter of a Southern Baptist minister who gave 70 years of his life to God’s word and the church. Needless to say, I have spent many hours in the church. God blessed me with vocal and instrumental talents that I have used for his service for many years. I think of very few of the contemporary choruses or “hymns” that have led me to the feet of the Savior; most make me want to dance even though I am not a dancer! Getting hyped up by the rhythm or loudness of a song is not worship. Worship begins in a heart touched by God’s love. I once had a pastor who found a scripture in the Old Testament that, to paraphrase, says people can’t “hear” except by the spoken word. To him this meant he was the only one who lead in worship not the musicians. Such a selfish interpretation! One more complaint and I’ll close. Do you visiting outside of the sanctuary. Once you enter, let the music of the organist or pianist help prepare you to receive God’s blessings.

  69. Thank You! I am a senior (citizen, not in high school – haha) and I grew up singing the hymns. I love them. Often the words to those great old songs come to mind – Holy Spirit prompted I know – when I am praying, working, driving. Sometimes in my devotions I will simply read all the verses of a hymn. Now I am a part of the Elder Care Ministry in our church (which combines hymns and worship songs, but not the multi-repeated phrased ones), and what do we sing for those old lovlies (along with a Gospel message)? Hymns. The residents LOVE them and we love singing them.

  70. Hi Dan, overall I agree with you. The hymns of our past are rich and powerful, and I think they should be in our rotation of songs that we lift to the Lord. That said, I take issue with your statements about One Thing Remains. You characterize the song as though it’s some weak attempt to hype emotion. Frankly, I find that to be narrow minded, overly critical, and also somewhat ignorant. Those words sound strong, and I mean no offense, but I was shocked to read your comments. You are basically calling into question the character and motives of the author (I am not the author, haha.).
    The two points I want to make are 1. There is far more lyrical content in that song than only the chorus. The verses and bridge speak truth and encouragement in the faith. The chorus is only one part of the song, yet you use it to call into question the quality and value of the song overall. 2. The chorus is repetitive. And obviously, repetition can be overdone. However, in this case, the repetition is limited to only the chorus. And in many cases, repetition is a good thing. If there is a powerful truth to be conveyed, it is sometimes good to sit on that truth, singing it out over and over again.
    Again, overall we totally agree. Hymns are awesome and should be recognized as useful and valuable for out #churches. But I would just caution against making broad statements about other songs, especially when you don’t even address the contest of the entire lyrical content of the song.
    Blessings to you, brother!

  71. This is a VERY GOOD ARTICLE!! I love many modern praise and worship songs, but I will always love the good old hymns of the Faith way more! They are so much deeper, and much more Biblically sound. PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW. PRAISE HIM ,ALL CREATURES HERE BELOW. PRAISE HIM ABOVE YE HEAVENLY HOSTS. PRAISE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY GHOST. AMEN.

  72. Please… repetition does not equal emotion. I have been to churches where they sang “Just as I am” till the cows came home. I have seen it stir people and seen it NOT stir one breathing being. A song is not good because it is old. And frankly some of the newer stuff is just as theologically “rich” as the old hymns. I am not saying knock one or the other but embrace them both. Frankly, we should spend our time debating more importan issues than music.

  73. If I had NOT began to listen to “contemporary” Christian music about 8 years ago, I would still be a lost sinner, not realizing that I needed a savior in Jesus Christ!!!

  74. I don’t disagree with your theory. I just think that either your church experience or your city is very different than mine.
    At my church, we have young single parents, abandoned by not only their partners, but also their families. They are completely unable to ponder the deep God concepts because “you never give up and your love never runs out on me” are brand spanking new concepts to these kids who have not been raised in a church. Or maybe they were taken there weekly, but their life was so vastly different when they went home every week that they thought everyone just put on a good show and God would treat them like their earthly father had: abuse or neglect for many.
    So I understand these positions, but the severely hurting brand new Christians who’ve come to the church seeking change from their old life which included all of the “bad” sins according to the “good” church members: the hymns don’t get it done. It doesn’t matter what an Ebeneezer is when you’re struggling to survive, to make it TO church and to figure out what it is you believe and who you are as a child of God.
    We need churches that provide this “experience” because this type of Christian, unfortunately, is becoming all too common. Consider it the “waiting room” music for the hospital for sinners. The hymns are for the residents. The ones who’ve gone through rehab and have a spiritual footing.
    Maybe we need both. But plenty of the waiting room worship- we have a full house to serve.

  75. Thank you for your honest article. I don’t go to church much these days because the “worship” music causes me to not worship. I can listen to the sermon the next day on tape without the interference of the “performance” style of our services. That our churches have come to such a sad state in an attempt to be “seeker-friendly” is disheartening. Please, oh please, worship leaders – drop the “repeat the chorus ad nauseum” songs and bring back some of the grand old hymns!

  76. Great article. Thank you, Dan. You and I have been on many of the same stepping stones regarding our attitudes in worship.
    I am curious if you will be introducing the psalter hymns in your church. I’ve been struggling between the Exclusive Psalmody (EP) and Inclusive Psalmody (IP) arguements for more than three years now. I think I am settled in the IP position but with that I really mean INCLUSIVE. I believe at least one psalm (or inspired hymn) be sung in each service along with our direct thanksgivings and praises to our Lord Jesus.
    We read inspired Scripture and recite uninspired confessions and in the same mannor I would like to sing one inspired psalm and good (yet uninspired) hymns. The singing of psalms was once a Reformed distinctive I wish would return to us.
    There are a lot of great books in the Reformed camps that cover both sides. Yet the most convincing to me was Bonhoeffer’s, PSALMS THE PRAYERBOOK OF THE BIBLE. In it he stated, “Wherever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”
    I’m looking forward to hearing back from you.

  77. I agreed with a large portion of your article until you began your critique of the song “one thing remains”. This lyric, drawn straight out of the Bible, most certainly engages the mind. It reminds the mind, in very simple language, of the persistent love of God. And, frequently, a simple lyric allows a person to worship simply. You don’t always need to tread through a forest of elevated language and heady theology in order to worship.
    Balance. We need both. A healthy dose of theology can help our worship. But so can simple truths.

  78. I could not agree more. I miss hymns, I often find myself with the hymn book open & reading hymns when the church is singing the same chorus over & over, sometimes for the 6 or 7th time. While I was going through a dark period in my life, “It Is Well With My Soul” spoke volumes to me, especially when I read why & the purpose for which it was written. Church goers today miss out on so much by not singing hymns. There are also great books that explain what caused a hymn to be written that could help music leaders find the deeper meaning of the song. Thank you for your aryicle.

  79. I was very curious to see what brought you back to the “good ‘ole hymns” from the contemporary songs, and literally laughed out loud at the first point. None of the songs we sing…including the great hymns of the faith… have been sung for 2000 years. This is a funny point, but, since it comes up so often, I think it must be an important one.You mention Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” (I agree, it is a great hymn) but what about his songs “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” or “Flung to the Heedless Winds” or “We All Believe in One True God” or “From depths of woe I cry to you” or his 1538 hymnic version of the Lord’s Prayer, “Vater unser im Himmelreich”, etc.?
    I was raised on the “good ‘ole hymns” (I have most of their 1st & 2nd verses memorized, and many, many 3rd & 4th verses too) and was told that CCM is sin (don’t even get me started on the traditional rhetoric against drums, guitars, and synths that I could regurgitate). It’s not until the last 4 years (I’m 38) did I start allowing myself to listen to CCM, and, by God’s grace, I now know I’m not sinning. So, on a logical perspective, I ask, if the old hymns are the “right” ones, what about the others Luther wrote? Why aren’t we singing old Gregorian chants of the church? What did the churches of Luther’s, Bach’s, Crosby’s, and Newton’s days say about their “Contemporary” music? What do we do with the Psalms that repeat themselves many times over? (We most certainly don’t call them weak and shallow!) What do we do with Psalm 96 that says “Sing to the Lord a new song?” What is “weak” and “shallow” about “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…My chains are gone, I’ve been set free, My God, my Savior has ransomed me”? Or, “And on that day when my strength is failing, The end draws near and my time has come, Still my soul will sing Your praise unending, Ten thousand years and then forevermore, Bless the Lord O my soul…”? Or, “Who has held the oceans in His hands? Who has numbered every grain of sand? Kings and nations tremble at His voice, All creation rises to rejoice”?
    In looking up some of the history on Wikipedia for the song “Amazing Grace” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Grace#Dissemination), I read something very interesting about the Second Great Awakening (which was one of the greatest influences in propelling the song to spread across the U.S. and become a staple of religious services). “Religion was stripped of ornament and ceremony, and made as plain and simple as possible; sermons and songs often used repetition to get across to a rural population of poor and mostly uneducated people the necessity of turning away from sin. ” (quote from Wikipedia under section “Dissemination, link above). So, the leaders in the Second Great Awakening used the very method you decry (simple, plain, repetition) as a method of sharing the message of the Gospel.
    I get it, some CCM songs are not to my taste either (Jamie Grace’s “I’m gonna get my worship on”). To be honest, some “old” songs are not to my taste (“Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah” and “Be Thou My Vision” are 2 – mostly because I felt they were SO overused and run into the ground for me). However, listening to CCM without shame or guilt has allowed me to find MY relationship with God and actually WORSHIP Him for who HE is, not worrying how technically perfect I sing the song nor even how technically perfect my song selection is.
    My conclusion is that both contemporary songs and older songs (there are theologically weak songs in all eras), have their places, and removing my own pride over song selection has allowed me to see the beauty and color God has given to many of His children. The best part is that it has given life to my worship of Him, which is the whole point of Christian songs, is it not?

  80. Dan – after reading through the comments (yes, all of them), the one thing you seemed to repeat was it was about standards of the songs.However, you do admit that there is the occasional contemporary song that meets these standards.
    So what we have is the “old hymns” which is a collection of songs written over the past 2,000+ years. I would think these songs are still remembered due to their outstanding quality. But it was just that. Outstanding. If we are contributing just one contemporary song per year that meets your qualifications for a proper worship song, is that any less than has been contributed over the past 2,000 years?
    I don’t believe the standards have been lowered. I believe that the songs being written by contemporary musicians have just as much potential to be outstanding and someday make it into the collection of classic songs still treasured by the church.

  81. Thank you for this article!! We have as a family recently begun a more thorough study of music, what it is and what God’s word says about music in an effort to bring our listening choices more in line with the Word of God.
    I highly recommend materials at Majesty Music to further your study.
    Blessings to you as you seek musical truth,
    Evelyn Mae Raymond

  82. Interesting but I mostly disagree. I just had a conversation with my daughter that the deadness of the church in Europe (where I am currently visiting) could probably be revived if some contemporary artists would undertake the missionfield here. Don’t get me wrong. I love the old hymns but they are not my theology. My theology is the Bible and many, many contemporary worship songs come straight from the oldest hymns – The book of Psalms. The author pointed to repetition of one contemporary song. Have you read the Psalms? They are definitely repetitive. Or have you read the songs that Paul includes in his epistles? Very short and concise as many contemporary songs are. This article reminds me of people who only believe in the King James Version of the Bible. The contemporary versions are so much more accurate and understandable but this seems to intimidate some old time believers. There is room for both types of worship just as there is room for more than one version of the Bible. When I teach or lead worship I encourage believers to be discerning between a mans opinion and divine inspiration. Use the Word of God. This is the crux of true worship.

  83. Just a short addition. When we sing the old hymns, we are uniting with believers going back hundreds of years, maybe a thousand or more. We are one body joined to 1100 AD, singing out Be Thou My Vision with those Celtic brothers and sisters, supporting our brother Newton as he saw what he had been saved from, Crosby, blind, yet somehow seeing more clearly than most contemporary Christians just what it means to be saved. We would be foolish to let go this glorious treasury.

  84. Hi ,This is a fantastic article. I completely agree with you coz we sing hymn on sundays and the deep meanings have always moved me and i used to wonder about the depth of love these song writers had.
    They speak the bible as it is and it can actually bring a sinner to the calvary.
    Great Article.

  85. Beautifully said. I have gone down this path as one who loves worship time in our church and yet wishing we had more variety. We changed to a more contemporary church and after a couple of years realized my heart longed for the depth of the hymns I grew up with. While I still enjoy contempory Christian music, I believe a heart humbled in prayerful and penitent and awe filled worship pleases our holy God. It’s not what pleases me or others that matters. Worship is for Him. Reverence seems lost in loud and screaming performances. At least is is for me.

  86. People love singing hymns for good reason! Our annual “Hymn Sing” brings people together from all over the greater Seattle and Vancouver areas as part of the summer Washington Music Festival, held on the grounds of George Washington Inn – a Port Angeles Bed & Breakfast. Hope you can come and sing with us in 2015!

  87. These type of “research” conversation have proven to be “not helpful” regarding the very topic in which it being proposed. Most often as the writer of this personal preference reflection mentioned, “this kind of conversation is shallow.” What this type of “research” conversation get deep in – is not necessary theology as it being mentioned here and there instead it get deep in making “money” – write a book, develop a small group study dvd that goes along with it and there it goes. I am not suggesting that that is the intention of this composition. I am simply saying that this ancient conversation (labeling) have not stop and it will not stop the onging changes the church MUST go through in it’s consideration of how it communicate….note – what changes is the method not the message!
    This personal preference sharing could do better moving the conversation past picking side on musical preferences toward communal transformation.
    Right, this just my small minded opinion

  88. For the sake of brevity I will provide a list of comments. I am a Chrisitan and jazz musician/composer, BA Sociology, who grew up in the northeastern Megalopolis. Given the fact that the purpose of contemporary Christian music is to reach people with the message of Christ, I observe the following.
    1. In my opinion the phenomeon of what I call “white Chrisitan Contemporary Rock music” as marketed on FM radio in America, is promoting a kind of racial and cultural segregation which is merely an extenstion of the kind of musical segregation which has existed for decades in America. This is segregation by race and age primarily. Why is it that my local Christian FM radio station never plays the music of Take 6, The Gospel 4, or Evelyn Turrentive Agee to mention a few of many examples? The radio station will have some professional business explanation for this of course, but the real reason is that they are too busy marketing the white Chrisitan rock stars of today. Most white Christian rock stars are inferior musicians, composers, and players when compared to artists such as Take 6, The Gospel 4 or Evelyn Turrentine Agee. They win awards and make money, but it is a closed circuit. The door is not open to all. The playing field is not level.
    This is part of why America is still divided.
    2. I assert that that Comtemporary Christian rock music is primarily about making money first and promoting Christianty second. The artists want to be stars and make large sums of money so that they do not have to work at day jobs like most Americans. The radio stations help facilitate this.
    3. Jesus did not travel with a rock band, or computer based recording technology. He had sandals, a robe, 12 disciples, and a revolutionary message which survives to this day. His message is just as revolutionary today as it was 2000 years ago. I am of the opinion that the Comtemporary Christian music machine would reject him if he suddenly appeared back stage at a concert or at a radio station.
    4. Using myself as an example, the reality is that I as a fully competent musician/composer, would never be offered an opportunity to work by any Contemporary Chrisitan artist because of my age and cultural awarness. They would be totally turned off by me. I am aged 60, learned to play within the African American jazz tradition at least partially, and perhaps I just understand too much! I would never be so foolish as to think that my phone might ring regarding this!
    I think that is sufficient. Thank you for considering this.

    1. Just a couple of things in response to your post. Please understand that I reply with respect.:
      [ you said, “1. In my opinion the phenomenon of what I call “white Christian Contemporary Rock music” as marketed on FM radio in America, is promoting a kind of racial and cultural segregation which is merely an extension of the kind of musical segregation which has existed for decades in America… “]
      —As a former student of Broadcasting, it is common to created a specific type of genre to be available on the radio. It all depends on the demographic you want your radio station to reach. I’m not sure where you live but in South Florida there are many types of Christian radio stations, many which play different genres/styles within the same station. The segregation that you speak of has been around forever and perpetrated by the listener, not the music. Every person is different and have different styles of music that speak to them. That’s why “they” choose the radio station of their liking and tastes. It’s not segregation, it’s just preference. Additionally, Christian rock is practically everywhere because it is popular, hence the term ‘pop’ music.
      [You said, “2. I assert that that Contemporary Christian rock music is primarily about making money first and promoting Christianity second. The artists want to be stars and make large sums of money so that they do not have to work at day jobs like most Americans. The radio stations help facilitate this.”]
      — You cannot assume to know what a Christian Rock Singer’s intention is. As far as working hard, that is relative depending on who a person is. Despite the singer’s intentions, many songs have a way of meeting people emotionally where they are at. I could care less if the push from the singer was for money. At the end of the day I hear a song and focus on how it makes me feel and my connection to God. If there was no connection then ultimately they would fall into obscurity like so many.
      [You said, “3. Jesus did not travel with a rock band, or computer based recording technology. He had sandals, a robe, 12 disciples, and a revolutionary message which survives to this day. His message is just as revolutionary today as it was 2000 years ago. I am of the opinion that the Contemporary Christian music machine would reject him if he suddenly appeared back stage at a concert or at a radio station.”]
      — Yes it’s probably true that in many cases Jesus would be rejected, however, you’re forgetting that he was rejected back then too by the majority. That was part of his purpose. If Jesus were to be in physical form today He would be just as contemporary as He was back then and probably use much of today’s technology to draw the masses.
      You said, [“4. Using myself as an example, the reality is that I as a fully competent musician/composer, would never be offered an opportunity to work by any Contemporary Christian artist because of my age and cultural awareness. They would be totally turned off by me. I am aged 60, learned to play within the African American jazz tradition at least partially, and perhaps I just understand too much! I would never be so foolish as to think that my phone might ring regarding this!”]
      — Whether you are used in any genre of Christian music has no reflection on your age an/or cultural awareness. What about the Bill Gaither, Carman, The Winans, and many others who are considered a bit older? They are still having active record sales. The fact is that there are more musically competent people who do NOT have recording contracts for whatever reason is because the industry is hard to break into. Those in the this industry will attest that it’s all about time, place & season. You may view yourself to be more musically apt than the present Christian rocker, however, it takes more than just musical prowess to make it in this business. If your phone isn’t ringing then maybe it’s not your season or you haven’t put the sweat in to make it.
      Of course I mean no disrespect with my words, however, before you make statements as fact, maybe you should make an effort to understand. Everyone’s journey is different and, for whatever reason that may exist, it’s possible that you haven’t taken the time to see all music for the beauty that it truly is.

  89. I agree with some of this, but you cannot forget the rediculous hymns like God of Earth and Outerspace. As I have taught my students it’s all about the words. New or Old, check the references and is the song scripturally sound? I had a lady in my church hold the hymnal up and say how the words in the hymnal were the inspired word of God. Which it is not, that is the BIBLE! So, we need to do our research even with hymns.

  90. You truly hit the nail on the head. I have found that many contemporary songs sung in worship today are uninspiring and repetitive ad nauseum. I am not edified. I interpret for the deaf in our church. I have found that I am most moved when interpreting hymns. Maybe everyone should have a course in ASL interpretation in order to really “get” and “understand” what the hymns are saying. So often we don’t “think” about the words and what they mean. We just sing along. Having to interpret for another forces you to think about and understand what the words are saying.
    There are only so many ways one can sign “Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love / Your love / Your love.” At some point even the deaf get distracted and bored with it.
    Reminds me of the joke: “Hello, I’m Josh. I’m the worship leader, I’m the worship leader, I’m the worship leader, I’m the worship leader at our church.” I think this pretty much says it all.

  91. I’ve watched our kid day dreaming, rolling their eyes, whispering,, playing, writing notes & bored to tears while the congregation sings the old hyms, what are they really learning from them? Yet when the contemporary music plays, I see them engage, I see arms lifted in praise truly worshipping a God they loves them, and I’ve seen them fall to their knees to pray. Yes, emotional, but engaging with God. They can learn theology & their minds can be engaged in a classroom where emotions do not come into play, but if they won’t listen to the words of the hymns (and most don’t), what’s the point?

  92. First of all, I’m a 64 year old pastor, trained in classical piano in childhood, ordained in Lutheran church. That might tell you something about my history. Today I’m head of a spiritual revival ministry to Haiti, a preacher, teacher, mentor, keyboard player and worship leader.
    I love old hymns. I’m from that era. But here is the issue that people do not often consider: Hymns are not Bible. The Holy Spirit anoints songwriters in each age according to what God wants to accomplish in His Church in each age. YES the old hymns have more theology in them, more intellectual considerations about our faith, more deep doctrinal teaching packed into verse after verse. And that’s exactly what the Church needed in that age, clothed in music styles contemporary to the age in which they were written.
    We can still sing those hymns and love them if we choose. There’s certainly nothing wrong with them…BUT the same Holy Spirit inspires countless thousands of worship songs today in various contemporary styles. What He inspires today is according to what God wants to accomplish in the hearts AND minds of His people as they seek to worship in Spirit and Truth TODAY.
    I have to stretch myself with some current music styles. I’m comfortable musically with Hillsongs but I have to work at even comprehending some Jesus Culture songs. But I see the immense supernatural revival power that pours from Bethel and I know this is what God wants to do in the world today. So I push myself past my own personal likes and dislikes and soon come to find myself reveling in new songs and new music styles…the ones my children seem to pick up as naturally as I did hymns when I was young.
    If I have a choice, I want to see congregations move under the CURRENT anointing of the Holy Spirit. No need to put down old hymns or to say what is better; that’s not the point at all. Fifty years from now people will cherish the memory of “Shout to the Lord” (already considered an old song), but the Holy Spirit will be inspiring whatever it is the Lord wants to accomplish through the worship of His Church in that age…if He hasn’t already returned!

  93. Thank you! Ian a member of a church that is now 4 years old. In the startup months our pastor, in his early fifties with over 30 years as an evangelist, said a church cannot be built today using traditional music. We are still struggling with a great turnover in attendees. I believe partly because we don’t involve people in singing the great hymns with their deep foundation on theological truths.

  94. As a musician and worship leader (and now somewhat well-known YouTube musician), I’ve been following this discussion/debate since the invention of the internet comment.
    What I see is the framing of worship music choices in terms of binary oppositions. Let me sum up what I’ve read here and elsewhere. Time-tested vs untested; stale vs fresh; intellectual vs emotional; left-brain vs right-brain; deep vs shallow; information overload vs repetitive; God-centered vs man-centered; objective vs subjective; vertical vs horizontal; lofty vs accessible; formal vs personal; singer-oriented vs accompaniment-oriented; sacred vs worldly. I’m sure there are many more.
    Some of the terms above are clearly value-laden. When people use them, they generally choose more favourable terms when describing their preferences/convictions in comparison to their opposites. This is in part responsible for the negative tone these discussions take!
    Individuals and churches do need to be discerning about the songs they introduce (and keep in their repertoires). However, I’m FAR more interested in evaluating my church’s repertoire as a whole, as well as the entire package of songs used during one service, or over the course of a month. I like to make sure we are engaging all of the purposes for church music, and as many people as possible. This means there WILL be repetition in some songs as well as doctrinal density in others. We must have the vertical AND the horizontal, the energetic and the majestic. We need songs of praise/thanksgiving, as well as songs of repentance and encouragement to the saints. Individual songs must of course be free of doctrinal error (with some poetic license – “emptied Himself of all but love”??), but they should be judged along with the sermon as part of the same message. Is that whole message faithful to what we are called to proclaim to the world?
    As for old vs new, a great many of my YouTube fans lean heavily in the direction of old hymns. Many referred to some of my a cappella cover songs as “hymns.” However, the oldest song was from the late 1980’s – a fact that surprised a few of them! I’ve taken a conservative art form (a cappella singing), combined with modern songs, and introduced these people to a realm of worship expression they otherwise would have overlooked. I love it when people are able to overcome their preconceptions. Feel free to look up my stuff – just search for David Wesley.

  95. Dan, your blog was obviously provoking. Simply, I agree with your concern regarding the modern church’s neglect of the hymns, and the banality of many modern worship songs; but I’d agree with Dustin that there’s a wisdom in picking songs lyrically and musically that help engage the whole person. I thought your response to his ‘either/or’ question was needed. That you’re tone “is either/or, but you’re really just more hymn-heavy” sounds like an important clarification and should have been written in the main article.
    My comment may seem ‘nit-picky,’ but I believe it’s more serious, especially in Reformed circles. In your first main point you refer to Christians who’ve written, sung, and gone before us as ‘giants’. I have some ideas, but why did you choose that wording? You aren’t the only Reformed thinker who refers to those men as ‘giants,’ so I’m curious why you chose that, and what your perception is of them.

  96. Before I comment on this article I will say that I am an avid lover of hymns but realize that there is a place and season for such.
    The point that is being missed in this article is not about hymns vs. contemporary. But that every church has a heartbeat and a vision, which includes a particular style of the services. In many churches, Hymns do not relate to the people and their connection with God. I was a former minister of music for the Assemblies of God and we used to infuse Hymns with contemporary songs [kind of like, My Chains are Gone] and that worked wonderfully; even to the point of creating contemporary music to accompany the verses to bridge the gap.
    Music and lyrics today are different than the ancient counter parts. Let’s face it, we’re competing against contemporary music that is quite infectious and were not for the newer contemporary Worship songs, I would gather that many wouldn’t have anything to do with church worship. Many contemporary worship songs have a way of taking a single idea/thought and bringing thematic clarity. Ultimately it’s about connecting the people to God in a setting that allows people to grow both spiritually and emotionally.
    In all things, there is a place and time for all kinds of music and the key is to blend the two so that a church can be also socially relevant. If a song doesn’t work, whether hymn or not, I would presume not to use it at that time and focus on what does work. It may not even be hymns for that matter.
    Ultimately, we cannot presume to compare Contemporary vs. Ancient because contemporary music doesn’t have the longevity to compare yet… It’s too soon to tell. Who knows, in one hundred years, the song [Your Love Never Fails] may be in ancient hymnals. 🙂

  97. Dan–your bio almost describes me to a “T”. We have alot in common!
    Can you comment on Sovereign Grace music? Not all of it is golden, but there is much of it that is as rich as the old hymns (btw, I love old hymns). I’m going to assume that many on here who bemoan the lack of lyrical depth in “all” of contemporary Christian hymnody, have not looked very far. There is a growing well to draw from, and it would be helpful if we met in the middle between blanket statements (e.g. all of contemporary music is bad) and only “approving” specific songs of specific artists.
    Followup question: if you reject Sovereign Grace hymnody based on any of their theological stances, can you comment as to what particular theological stances you are unwilling to overlook? Do you hold your “old” hymn writers to the same criteria?
    Thanks for your article–I agree in the main…just a little concerned that without some additional caveats, the baby (all of contemporary Christian music) will get thrown out with the bathwater. Not your intention, I know.
    Thanks.

  98. Very good article! My fleshly, carnal side loves CCM music but I know I’m loving it for the wrong reasons. It brings me back to my former life and the ungodly, secular music I used to love that pulled me away from Christ. I love to read hymn histories. The more I read them, the more I love hymns. It’s a matter of choosing to follow the Spirit instead of the flesh. We have to draw a line somewhere so I choose not to listen to CCM. Most people I know who listen to CCM also listen to ungodly, secular music. Not all secular music is ungodly though. A good book that opened my eyes to CCM years ago is “Why I left the Contemporary Christian Movement”. He also proves in this book that music IS NOT AMORAL. Our enemy is the prince of the power of the air (or airwaves). Again, thank you for the article! It seems more churches are going back to the old hymns of the faith.

  99. Love this article! It’s so well-written and from a perspective that is well-needed. If you will forgive me for making a grammar observation. Your article is making the rounds on Facebook, which is great exposure. I am noticing that you use the contraction “it’s” for the possessive, instead of using “its.” I know that sounds horribly picky, but your article is written at a level of education that will make it appealing to people who will catch that mistake and let it become a stumbling block. I want people to read your article and to appreciate the logic behind it. I hope I haven’t overstepped my bounds here. I love the article and want to share it. If this seems critical, please delete it. I’m not trying to stir anything up or detract from the excellent article. It is one of the best on music I have ever read, and I appreciate the tone of the article as well.

  100. I could not agree more. The words of the old hymns settle really deep in your heart and mind. I hope the new Christians don’t miss their blessings!

  101. The Psalms and Hymns were made to be sung. They were written in metre (a pattern or rhythm) so that they could be sung corporately and to teach the truths of the Word to believers. The problem with so many contemporary worship songs is that not only is the focus on me, but more noticeably they are not easily sung corporately. I think it’s wonderful that a talented individual can sing a song of praise to God using the voice God gave! It’s great to listen to, but cannot be sung by a congregation. This is why when you look around in a typical modern church, you will see few people singing along. Even old hymns sung to a ‘new’ rhythm cannot be sung together when the song leader randomly changes the length of the notes for artistic style. I’m sorry to say that going to a contemporary church is often like going to a rock concert where you can’t hear yourself sing over the booming music from the worship team on stage. It might be great entertainment, but I find that it does not lead to true biblical worship.

  102. Interesting article…interesting comments. Dan, I believe every congregation must choose music that works best, however, whether it’s new or old it should be chosen carefully. By definition, a hymn is a song of praise to God and has nothing to do with the age of the composition. My personal belief is a blended format works best for most churches, though larger churches seem to have success with different styles in different services; they just build separate fellowships in their congregations. With that being said I ask you the same question others have, why does it have to be either/or? There is a plethora of Christian music being written today, and yes, plenty of poor compositions, both musically and lyrically. Our small independent church works from a variety of hymnals and a library of modern sheet music and I can tell you there are plenty of old hymns which are poor from a musical or lyrical standpoint. If someone doesn’t understand what they’re singing, how could it be true praise to God? We’re not afraid to change a word or two in an old hymn so people understand it. (Sick the copyright dogs on me…) As for repetition, there are plenty of old hymn choruses that are quite repetitious (i.e. Bringing in the Sheaves). We seldom use all the repeats nor all the verses in any music and we cut out a part that doesn’t fit (such as a “la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la,la…..). We may also use a different meter or rhythm, whether it is old or new.
    I happen to love most all music whether it’s the old hymns from my childhood (over 50 years ago) or what I heard on the radio yesterday, but I understand that everyone has different tastes. That’s why for the past 15 years we’ve used three criteria for choosing worship music. We didn’t come up with these, just stole them from another church:
    1) It must be theologically relevant. Does it pertain to the message/theme of the week or sermon series? No doubt, plenty of contemporary music might work as praise to God but also a love song in a courtship, because there is no mention of God, Lord, Jesus, etc. (We don’t use these.) But there are plenty of new hymns that fit well, with lyrics directly from scripture.
    2) It must be singable by the congregation. Much of contemporary Christian music is delivered by talented vocalists and musicians and the common person can’t sing or play it easily. It doesn’t matter if it passes No. 1 or not, don’t use it.
    3) We want it to be a lyrical and/or musical phrase that they can’t get out of their head. When we teach a new song to the congregation it’s usually done three weeks in a row and we only add a half dozen or so each year. We know a song passes No. 3 when people come back the second week and tell us they’ve been singing the song all week.
    There have been good hymns for congregational singing written throughout the ages and to exclude them because of when they were written makes no sense to me. The tradition of using only those from a 500 page hymnal is largely because churches weren’t going to buy new hymnals every decade and/or we were only going to use the one our denomination chose.
    Pray about God’s leading in your church and choose wisely. Don’t put fences around your congregation if you want them to grow.

  103. You bashing on all these worship leaders is very concerning to me. when we judge other people’s motives and hearts in this area is very dangerous. this is an old argument that is just that, an argument that causes people to judge godly worship leaders and godly songwriters.
    My thught is to Let the people decide. if they can worship to it then so be it. if they don’t like it they can go to another church. but whatever creates an atmosphere where people can worship the Lord is the most important thing. I believe this article is extremely divisive. It causes people to judge other people for their style of worship and what they like and what causes them to worship the Lord.
    if moving back to the hymns has caused you to be this judgemental over men and women of God who write cHoruses whether you like them or not then I wonder if people should move away from hymns if this is the type of judgmental attitude that it creates in people.
    this article came to my attention by one of the people in our congregation and immediately it started a division. I believe we should try to bring unity in our faith and not division. we should sing to one another and hymns and songs and spiritual songs like the Bible says and assume everyone has a pure heart instead of accusing our brothers and sisters of trying to manipulate people with their emotions. God has emotions and we are not afraid of emotions in our church and worship is emotional whether you are singing hymns or cHoruses. if you like hYmns sing them. if you like Choruses sing them. I remember there was a time when people said that drums were of the deviL. as ministers we need to be very very careful how we talk about people’s motives and their style of worship. it’s always better to take the high road and look for the good in people otherwise it always comes back on us.

  104. Dan,Thank you for your insight and wisdom. Let me share a story with you…last night our pastors/elders met with the two worship leaders at our church concerning worship music and direction. I serve as the minister to students; have only been here for 2 months. Our main worship leaders made this comment, “I hate hymns!,” he then made a most provocative gesture in forming his hand like a gun and putting it next to his head. We are currently at that juncture where all hymns are being replaced and substituted for emotionally driven songs which,I do not think, are conducive to genuine worship. I say all of that to say, first, thank you for some insight. Secondly, pray for us.

  105. I believe you left out what in fact you already do when performing these great hymns. You keep the words and the basic melody but update the accompaniment. Open guitar tunings, electric lead guitar, keyboards and even drums or other purcusion can achieve the mutually worthy goals of message and music relevance. I’ve visited your church on a couple occasions and know this is what you practice. However you did not mention it and felt it would have helped the article. What I don’t think is necessary is to sing hymns with only organs.

  106. Wow- thought-provoking…and that’s a good thing. I am 50 years old, and except for a 4-year season of being out of fellowship with God in the mid-80s, I have been in church all my life. As a vocalist/guitarist, I have am a worship leader/worship team member of 25 years.Frankly, this topic is worn out. It’s not an “or” question, but an “and” question. ANY church would do well to incorporate a mix of old and new music. Not all “modern” songs are banal and mindlessly repetitious- 10,000 Reasons, Indescribable, and Unchanging come to mind. Not all hymns are theologically sound or relevant to a person living in the 21st Century. Don’t get me started on how unfit for acoustic guitar SOME hymns are. Not all, but some.
    If I may be blunt, I think much of the church- even the “senior saints”- are past this argument. In fact, though I appreciate your perspective, revisiting this topic does as much to divide the body of Christ as it does unite it. I wise worship leader is one who makes good use of all the resource available to him/her as is fitting for the occasion. In my experience, some sets are “hymn heavy” and there are rare occasions where a set may have none.
    Let’s not forget brothers and sisters that worship is not merely confined to music. In fact, too many times there are those who substitute their Bibles with music books, or there those who mistake a moment of emotion for a “worship experience.”
    Music is just one slice of the pie.

  107. Hmm, interesting post. I agree with the overall sentiment and spirit of what you are saying.
    However, and this is probably a small however, instead of completely throwing out all contemporary worship and only using the old hymns, how about we challenge the musicians and worship leaders of today to up their game? Why can’t current song writers challenge themselves and be challenged to write more Scripturally sound lyrics that also engage the mind as well as the heart? IMO, they are the ones who are dropping the ball on this one. Culturally speaking, we, the ones doing the consuming, are letting them off easy by accepting songs with milquetoast lyrics, even though many of the songs are quite good musically speaking. The lyrics/content should match.
    One other point, and I say this as a musician. While I really do appreciate the older hymns, I do understand why they don’t have as large of an appeal to the contemporary crowd. My church is a prime example: I believe I go to an amazing fellowship of like-minded believers, but, my main critique is the songs are 100% hymns, 24/7. I’ve never complained about this (other than to my spouse, privately), but I believe we have turned off a large percentage of the younger crowd due to such a hardline policy. IMO, and if I was the worship leader at my church, I would still include the old hymns 80-90% of the time, but I would also insert some relevant contemporary material (and by relevant, I mean not only musically but LYRICALLY, as well) to mix things up into the song rotation and keep things fresh. Additionally, at my church, we have only around 10 or so hymns that are in rotation any given Sunday. It gets old and to be honest, I see that attitude in not only myself but in the congregation, as well. Folks are often listless, even in spite of the worship leader’s attempts to pump everyone up by making us sing the hymn again with more enthusiasm. That’s the wrong approach, I believe.
    So I wrote all that to make this point: Just because a church uses the old hymns exclusively it does not equate to there being an automatic, amazing worship experience. Maybe I am wrong, but I got that impression from your post and it’s the one point I would disagree with. Again, hymns are great and truly cherished. But that whole saying “You can have too much of a good thing” is definitely in play here.

    1. I don’t read anywhere where he said to throw out all contemporary music. He’s just suggesting discernment in selections for corporate worship. I agree with him. Too many of the newer contemporary praise songs selected for “worship” are lyrically shallow and insipid. Not all of them, but many of them. Discernment is important.

  108. This is a touching and moving article you’ve written. It is also so true. Our worship leader has moved our church so far from these old hymns. I hope our pastor and he reads this. Thank you !!Dennis

  109. What is the purpose of music? It may be many things, but I know it is at least a way for us to express ourselves to others in ways that cannot be expressed otherwise, just as other forms of art provide. It is supposed to be evocative, not only for the singer/musician/composer, but for the listener as well. Music used for the worship of our Lord necessarily should be evocative and used to stir our emotions so that we can express our praise and adoration to Him. Throughout the ages, including the past 40 years, this has been successfully accomplished with hymns as well as the modern songs, and I would even insist on adding in chants and other ancient expressions, including liturgical and symbolic elements, used by other parts of the greater Church. Whatever the form, with or without repetition of thoughts, with or without deep theological statements of faith, with or without crunching guitars or majestic pipe organs, if it allows us to effectively worship and honor Him in spirit and in truth, if it allows us to use our entire being – both sides of the brain, our heart, our soul – to experience the presence of our Triune God, then what is really the issue? With that said, worship leaders need to critically review each song selection to ensure that it accomplishes this goal. Some of the new stuff really stinks, and some of the old hymns are just too dang hard to sing!

  110. Dan, wonderful thoughts, thanks for this!
    I have a somewhat jaded point of view here. I have come to truly loath contemporary worship music. Pretty much all of it. On the whole, it tends to be shallow, vacuous, even borderline creepy at times (Jesus is my lover).
    Whereas, much of the hymns challenge my mind to engage the tenets of faith.
    I don’t particularly think this is a matter of time periods (old vs. new), as much as a shift in the way the church approaches faith. The church is largely disinterested in serious contemplation these days. It’s no wonder our music follows suit.

  111. I agree whole-heartedly that hymns continue to have their place in our worship services today. Comtporary church or not, they need to be there. I don’t think anyone can disagree with the power that songs like amazing grace and how great thou art still have in our services today. I think what what I have to remind myself as a worship leader is, we are trying to bring people into a place to worship God with complete surrender and without any distractions of their day to day lives. That being said… In the very contemporary, liberal world that we love in today, we sometimes have to match the style and musical genres of the modern music today. For many years now, “non-believers” have looked at the church as, “stand up sit down, sing songs that I don’t understand, chant as a group about something I’m not sure about”. And that is how I’ve felt in services as well. In order to bring new people to Christ, we sometimes have had to mirror genres and songwriting styles of pop culture. You can call it selling out, or even (to the extreme) blaspheme, but I believe that our contemporary worship music is doing what it’s supposed to do, and making people realize that church doesn’t have to be old school and boring. I can attend a service that I understand. And once they get to a certain point in their walk with Christ, they can then respect the beauty of a hymn.

  112. A journey of two steps? Short, but sweet. 😉
    I can think of a bunch more reasons for why contemporary worship music comes up short:
    – yes, the lyrics are largely shallow, but so is the music. very little emphasis on uniqueness or creativity (this is an affliction of modern mainstream music as well)…but rather, it’s a cookie-cutter business…where most of the truly interesting music that might be generated as part of the writing process has the edges ground off in the name of accessibility
    – the worship music industrial complex: product must be created on schedule to ship on a regular basis. some of the material is stronger than others, but a lot of really weak stuff gets dragged along as filler material. not that we can ever measure up to God’s level of creativity…but it strikes me as somehow shameful that we barely seem to be trying to create something that hasn’t been done before
    – don’t rock the boat. everything is slave to moon/spoon/june (or rather fire/heart/spirit) lyrics because they “flow” so nicely with almost any teaching topic. and God forbid we should write a melody that stretches the vocal range a bit. in sacrificing the naturally human and flawed process of creativity, we rob the music of impact and passion…not to mention memorability. when you quit painting pictures with words that drop deep into the heart, you make the crowd more dependent on lyrics on a screen, and diminish the overall experience of worship
    – why does it seem that every song has to conform to narrow standards of me-to-God and me-about-God…when human experience can see God in nearly every aspect of life and growth? why is every problem presented as resolution, rather than being candid about struggle/dependence/need (where most of us live, most of the time)?
    Just some random musings…

  113. You bring to the Lord the offering you have, and knowing your heart, He will accept it and bless you.You will probably choose to come to worship in a group of folks that have and know about similar offerings.
    Just DO Bring it to Him!
    Don’t neglect the fantastic new KEITH and KRISTIN GETTY songs (hymns?)
    a hymn-heavy old geezer

  114. Dan, as someone with a similar background, you and I share some common thoughts. Rather than write a missal of comments on your article, let me provide a missalette on one particular thought you shared. Your example of “One Thing Remains,” while correct and accurate, shows the failure to recognize the benefit of fewer lyrics that goes along with the shortcomings. While songs with a greater amount of verbage certainly can provide depth and clarity, making them more formative than reflective in nature, they also require a much greater level of mental “activity” to process the lyrics while we sing (which I believe is part of your point). However, there is something to be said for “resting in the music” which can be achieved by fewer lyrics and more focus on a single thought that can be fully ingested by the repetitive nature of the song. For instance, when I go to the beach I may be inclined to get on a surf board and really actively interact with the water and environment. There is a certain level of experience there that can be very immersive (pun intended). But there are also times when I want to lay back, close my eyes, and immerse myself in the repetitive sound of the waves, letting my mind wander free unencumbered by a physical/mental activity. This experience can be equally fulfilling.
    My point is that while formative worship actions, such as singing deep theological hymns, are necessary, they cannot be used as an excuse to discard the power of reflective worship actions, especially ones that allow the mind and spirit to “sink into” the very presence of God.
    Here is an example. When I was a boy I could sit at my Grandfather’s knee and listen to him tell stories with my parents and aunts and uncles. I sat quietly and just absorbed what he had to offer. When I grew older I became actively involved in those conversations and my experience changed. But there was nothing like simply sitting and enjoying being in the presence of someone whom I held, and still hold, in high regard.
    To me, singing hymns is like being that “grown up” who actively participates in the conversation and shares the stories of faith. It is a vital part of moving from “milk to meat” and growing in my faith; able to tell the stories of Jesus in song. However, sometimes you need the music to help you just sit in the presence of God. much like the sound of waves at the beach, and allow your heart and mind to open up to hear what God has to say. I think that “praise choruses,” to use an older term, make that available much better than 18th, 19th, and 20th century hymnody. Once again proof that even in the churches song, a balanced diet is best.

  115. God bless you for listening to His Spirit that continues to minister through the Word and Spirit. Much of the ministry of music reaches the depth of our hearts.

  116. Thank you for presenting this, I quit going to church because of the music. Raised a ministers child and church was always what we did . I am 69 years old and my friends are also fed up with the absence of hymns and the addition of the contemporary music and no one cares what we think or like, maybe your thoughts will spark thought to others.

  117. I just love the old songsAnd you comment is well taken.
    Thank you so much for bringing this subject up I love
    David

  118. i don’t hate the old hymns, I just hate the way they’re sung nowadays. No conviction, no power, just tradition. If we were to sing these songs with the true mindset of even “How great though art,” it would change everything. I would agree that the majority of “contemporary Christian” music is shallow. But we also have to get away from singing these hymns as just tradition. Let’s ask God to open our eyes so that we can see him high and lifted up, and not just sing about him.

  119. Dan, this post saddens me. Why does it have to be one way or the other? A few thoughts I had as I read this:
    1. There is an ever-growing body of contemporary music that is theologically rich. Truly contemporary music (of the past 5-10 years) has equally rejected some of the shallower, “fluffy” music of the latter 20th Century. Don’t ignore the good stuff.
    2. Music doesn’t have to always be heavy on the theological content. You seem to elevate the role of the mind in worship while disparaging the role of emotions. But I think we should worship God with our intellect, will, and emotions (i.e. love with Him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, etc.)
    3. I’m sure that if you go back a few hundred years to when the great hymns of the faith were themselves contemporary music, there were probably many other songs being sung that were inferior that have not stood the test of time. It will be the same with the body of music being produced by the church today; a few gems will become part of the Church’s canon for centuries to come, but many more will fall by the wayside.
    4. You wanna talk about songs repeating lines over and over? Check out Psalm 136. It’s not always a bad thing.
    5. Speaking of the Psalms, some of those are pretty emotional (while still rooting their themes in worshipful reflection on God’s character and truth).
    6. We are united to the Universal Church of believers past and present by the blood of Christ. Yeah, it’s great to honor tradition and treasure the heritage that they’ve handed down to us (including music). But that doesn’t need to hold us back from expressing our faith and worship in ways that are meaningful to the culture in which we live.
    7. Yes, too many people of my generation have gone to the wrong extreme of rejecting our wonderful spiritual heritage. But the solution is not to go the opposite wrong extreme and live in the past at the expense of the present! God has placed in the in this day and age – to love Him, serve Him, worship Him, and proclaim Him in the here and now. Insofar as the singing of the hymns of the faith can edify us and serve as authentic expressions of worship, great! Insofar as contemporary music can edify us and serve as authentic expressions of worship, great! Don’t create this false dichotomy, please!

  120. Dan, I love your post & am delighted that you are using the timeless hymns in your repertoire. What an encouragement to me as an A/G University graduate w/both World Missions & Bible majors! One of our focuses & concerns is that our Bible Colleges abroad be taught sound doctrine & reverence for the written Word.
    The hymns do that for my husband & me. We feel our souls & spirits being refreshed & challenged as we listen to their rich theology & devotion. There are several newer Christian songs that bless us & hopefully bless the Lord as we intone them. But we just love it when we “chance to hear” a beloved familiar hymn. We long to hear them used more in the services we attend.
    However some countries who have been reached w/the Gospel in the last several decades do not have a rich heritage of hymns in their own language, apart from the ones translated from English & a few European languages.Our experience has shown us how the new praise songs from our American culture very quickly get translated into Spanish in the Latin American/Caribbean countries in which we serve.
    This is not to say that our wonderful, creative Latin American/Hispanic brothers & sisters do not themselves write beautiful, theologically sound songs. On the contrary, we especially love to hear their inspirations.
    However, it remains a fact that other cultures than our own are systematically being affected by the music created here in our nation. For that reason it is compelling to keep the pure doctrine of the Word of God in focus as new spiritual songs are forthcoming & translated into other languages.
    I’m happy to see so many responses & am praying that this exchange of ideas bear fruit that will last! Thank you again for your post, your dedication to God & Truth. Blessings! Carolyn Ward, Missionary Homemaker, Latin America/Caribbean Library Services/AG Missionary for 46 yrs and counting!

  121. I always loved the old hymns. They were the words to my prayers, and formational in the way I thought about God.
    But as one who has loved them long and well, may I point out that what you are calling “ancient” hymns are only about 500-600 years old. The ancient hymns are still sung in the Orthodox Church, however, and are incredibly beautiful, and unstained by modernism.
    This is one of my favorites; it was written by the Emperor Justinian, in ancient times.
    Only begotten Son and immortal Word of God, Who for our sake didst will to be incarnate of the Holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, Who without change didst become man, and was crucified, Who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit: O Christ our God, trampling down death by death, save us!
    That takes awhile to unpack.
    We need to not feel at home or at ease in worship, because this world in which we are so comfortable, so at ease, is not our home. We need to learn the language of heaven.
    Here’s another ancient hymn:
    Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth!
    Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!
    Hosanna in the highest!
    Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
    Hosanna in the highest!

  122. I look at the word “contemporary” and see its roots, con= with and “temp” referring to time. Thus contemporary is “with the times”. The sad part is that the word is also related to “temporary”. Once a hymn has stood the test of time it is no longer temporary or attached only to time. I believe we humans tend to be attracted to that which attracts for a time, and have more trouble grasping the eternal things.
    When our worship is more to please us than God, we have changed gods. I believe God of the Bible, the God of eternity is more interested in the thought and devotion of our heart toward Him than whether the song is performed with perfect melody, harmony, and beat.
    Worship from the heart is not created by a machine, but by a living being created by God.

  123. I didn’t think I would like this but I do appreciate it. My only “push back” would be to say that I support the notion of remembering and honoring the classics but the move toward replacing them is not something I would embrace. While many (though not all) of the contemporary songs are not theologically deep, most are deep declarations of the Lord’s ministry in the writer’s life and can affect worshipers in kind. It was the Psalmist who wrote, “Sing to the Lord a new song”.

    1. I agree. I sing new songs quite often. What I am encouraging is a much more careful selection process than just, “This one’s new, so I’ll use it.” In my follow up posts I give a list of several contemporary artists and songs we sing at New City Church.

    1. I haven’t. But I looked him up and read an interview he did with the Christian Post. I’ll try to pick up his book as soon as possible. Thank you the recommendation.

  124. I absolutely agree with you. I love both hymns and praise songs. I’m a 27 yr old who grew up in an extremely conservative world, hymns were mostly all I knew except for the occasional ‘Seek Ye First’ and ‘Step by Step’, etc. Then in college my choices of Christian music had greatly been extended and I fell in love with praise music. Now, the church I’m in sings both and I love it.The thing I don’t like about praise music sometimes is that it’s only for emotion and sometimes people rely way too much on emotion thinking that it must be the Holy Spirit stirring them….when that’s not the case, it’s just emotion. Then again, I’m a baptist that isn’t into calvanism or speaking in tongues and all that, but I do know that many folks out there are very confused about what they are feeling.
    What’s really cool is when we take an old hymn and remake it into a more modern version. So then we get the benefits of both praise and hymns.

  125. The body of Christ never ceases to amaze me…..it seemed as if the fruitless “contention that genders strife” over preference of style was dissipating…..but I guess not. The true test of true worship is “in Spirit and in truth” John 4:23-24″ But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
    I’m not sure why the propensity is always to try to convince others of what one thinks or feels personally as being the absolute criteria for worship when we all have different levels of walk and even response to that which touches our senses at any given time……and as long as our Spirit-man is God focused and the content of the song is based on truth there is none better than the other…. It is just a matter of preference and response. Oh, and by the way, I LOVE ALL STYLES as long as it is truth-based !!!!!!!!!!!!

  126. Haha…Not everything written in the last few years is Praise and Worship, or “contemporary”. Ever heard of John Rutter? There are fantastic hymn tunes and metered hymn texts being written right now in fact, by yours truly and many of my friends and colleagues. The key is that the sound of the tune is recognizably sacred and churchy because it carries the tradition forward, and so is the tone and quality of the poetry. It’s not about old and new, it’s about the purpose of the music. This debate is not contemporary vs. traditional, it is whether certain emotional expressions usually reserved for intimate moments with God – and are very close to emotional expressions shared with intimate partners or close friends – are appropriate for public worship. I observe that “contemporary” praise and worship style “songs” are frankly exhibitionist and emotionally manipulative. The purpose of Christian worship, in my mind, is to show up and be present to God in the midst of God’s people and in God’s house, and await God to speak to you through the ancient ways of the faith once delivered, that is, through the Scriptures and the Sacraments. You have all the rest of the week to speak to God and emote to God in whatever way you wish, and even in smaller devotional groups, but in church it’s time to let You step back and let God do the talking. The music must be character with this. And anyway, why are people so caught up in their own feelings? Get over yourself, be crucified with Christ, rise with Christ, and know that when all is said and done, there’s nothing left but Christ, the Beginning and the End. Ultimately your feelings about that are irrelevant.

  127. I prefer many of the older hymns and settings of the Psalms. One “modern” song I take great exception to is “Broken and Spilled Out,” by Gloria Gaither. It contains some Very Bad theology in the last few lines. “Used up and wasted for me.”
    The other side-effect I mourn in the predominant use of CCM songs is the vanishing of multi-part choirs. Choir singing was something I loved. Practicing each week raised my thoughts from my circumstances, but the congregation I attend has ceased to have a choir.

  128. If anyone wants to discuss the contemporary thing, drop me a note and I can sure fill you up on that thing that some people trys to pass off as music. Been in music for 50 yrs and seen it all.

    1. ROFL, not biased there at all are you.
      I suggest you go listen to the 50 years of Christian Music. Start with John Michael Talbot, Michael Card, Casting Crowns, Keith Green, Rich Mullins, Bob Bennett, just for a few.

  129. I miss our hymns!!! It seems that in our churches, the thing to do is to repeat & repeat & repeat!! The same phrases or words are sang over & over again. Another thing that’s being done is to change the hymn words with different music. What is the use in that? I sure don’t know!!! Sometimes when there is a complaint that there hasn’t been a hymn sung for a while, they’ll say that we sang one the other Sunday or other & it’ll turn out to be one of the instances where they changed the music to the words of a hymn!! A lot of the contemporary stuff that our teens hear sounds like your usual pop music that you would hear on the radio. You can hardly tell the difference.

  130. Great article. I was born in 1991 so i grew up hearing a mix of some old hyms and all that Delirious style music in church and I loved them all. I am not a musician or studying music or involved in the worship team in my church I’m just the soundman, but I have to say I disagree with you about songs being theologically rich. To me worship is all about you own heart, emotions, life and walk with God as a christian, and I personally could sing the most repetitious basically simple song for hours if it connects me with God and touches my life and i feel His presence during my worship. I believe no matter the song or the style, if you personally understand what you are singing, you believe what you are singing and you feel God move then it doesnt matter if its an ancient hymn or a modern contemporary song. Now i do personally love all the songs from the late 80s and the 90s because thats the music I grew up with in church but i do also love some of the more modern Jesus Culture ones and those styles too. Yes some new songs get sung over and over simply because they are new and the lose any meaning they had but so can some old hymns, but worship is a personal thing between you and God so even if the congragation are just going through the motions if that song touches one person where they are at and God speaks to them or touches them then that song is doing what all praise and worship is meant to do…. glorify God, and bring us closer to Him. Im sure almost everyone can agree that “Amazing Grace” is a great worship song and a powerful worship song and yet it has no theological richness. The song was written to express one mans feelings about giving his life to the Lord, it is about how amazing God in himself is and that is all…this to me clearly shows that a song can never be classed as a bad or good worship song because even though you as a worship leader may prefere the old hymns there may be people in the church who feel nothing when singing them and they feel Gods presence when singing newer songs. I personally spent a few months where i felt nothing in church during worship, the songs were a mix of old and new but each song was about needing God in troubled times and praising him even in those times, but i had gone through those times I was in a time of joy in the Lord and my life and those songs didnt touch me because of this, while at home listening to upbeat praise songs i felt Gods presence. To me the only way to decide which songs should be sang is that every worship leader takes time to seek God and ask what songs to do, and then songs that will move in Gods spirit will be sung. This has happened many times in my church where the worship perfectly expressed and matched everything that was being preached in the service and that only happens through the work of God. So stop compairing old songs to new songs, stop analyzing songs for their “theological richness” and simply worship the Lord with all you heart, mind, soul and strength, and then a simple song of one line repeated over and over can become the most powerful song ever sung….just like one of my favourites “Our God is an awesome God he reigns from heaven above with wisdom power and love our God is an awesome God”.

    1. For me, whether its contemporary or traditional, if the lyrics bring the truth about our God and our relationship with him, it still counts in the eyes of our Almighty Father. I am a fan of contemporary christian music but I never neglect the fact that traditional ones are also appealing because the Holy Spirit also works with it. The HOLY SPIRIT WORKS IN BOTH OF THEM. So no need to debate about what’s more appealing and what’s not because whatever we choose, we still glorify our Father. There’s no need to ignore one and choose the other, if we are a true follower of Christ we know that the Holy Spirit still works in both kinds because of the truth the lyrics brings. GOD LOVES VARIETY, HE LOVES ALL KINDS OF MUSIC THAT BRING GLORY TO HIS NAME.

  131. Part of the problem is that many of the hymns were written by theologians while many of today’s worship songs are written by pop musicians. There are some notable exceptions, Fannie Crosby for one, yet who can deny the depth of theology in most of her hymns. There are also some contemporary songs which are deep in theology. “In Christ Alone” for example. Recently in our church a contemporary song was used which included the lines, “Like a sloppy wet kiss.” I absolutely refused to sing such garbage. We need to ask ourselves “Who are we singing to?” If invited to meet the Queen of England we wouldn’t approach her with “Hi there, Queenie!” yet we think nothing of approaching our Savior, the creator of the Universe with a lot of cheap lyrics. I have learned from some of the old Hymns and I have seen peoples emotions stirred by the same. So I ask, “Whatever we are singing, does it engage the mind as well as the emotions?” Are we learning anything as we Praise Him or are we just making ourselves feel good?

  132. Thank you! The Holy Spirit used the hymn “O God our hope in ages past” to give me hope and draw me to Him while attending a church that had abandoned the gospel.

  133. For me, whether its contemporary or traditional, if the lyrics bring the truth about our God and our relationship with him, it still counts in the eyes of our Almighty Father. I am a fan of contemporary christian music but I never neglect the fact that traditional ones are also appealing because the Holy Spirit also works with it. The HOLY SPIRIT WORKS IN BOTH OF THEM. So no need to debate about what’s more appealing and what’s not because whatever we choose, we still glorify our Father. There’s no need to ignore one and choose the other, if we are a true follower of Christ we know that the Holy Spirit still works in both kinds because of the truth the lyrics brings. GOD LOVES VARIETY, HE LOVES ALL KINDS OF MUSIC THAT BRING GLORY TO HIS NAME.

  134. Yes, I think the “easy-living” 7/11 choruses are indeed theologically deficient and generally of very little value. Give me the great hymns of the faith, rather than “vain repetitions”! There are a couple old choruses I love: “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul…”; “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah, Praise Ye the Lord!” (the “exercise version, men/women rising in succession). But for real consecration and content, nothing matches the hymns of those like Fanny Crosby and the wonderful, century-old heritage hymns of my own background…the non-(anti-, really)-denominational reformation movement for Christian unity and biblical holiness. Church of God (Anderson), whose contemporary writers are Bill & Gloria Gaither. Instead of singing one hymn in our services, I think one contemporary song is more than enough: give me the grand old hymns: “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my God would die for me”! The “candy choruses” do not demand the crucified life that Jesus demands: “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and FOLLOW me.”
    And finally, what’s with all this applause in the services after every rendition of a “special” song, as if this were some sort of performance in a theater. Is that what we’re doing, performing? The important thing is not we ourselves or how we perform in church, but the message and how we daily respond to the will of God–this is what God sees and seeks in us: surrender to his will for us, which yielded consecration brings us the abundant life he desires for us as we continually abide in him in obedient surrender. That’s the kind of applause God seeks, and we are to focus on Christ, not on ourselves.
    (Paul Fausnight, Miami Beach)

  135. […] My Journey Away from Contemporary Worship Music Two important points: 1) The author didn’t speak in absolutes – ‘all’ contemporary music versus ‘all’ hymns, but in comparisons and generalities – ‘most’ contemporary music versus ‘most’ hymns. This is important because some contemporary songs are great. 2) Songs should engage or emphasize the mind which leads the heart, not the other way around. […]

  136. […] My Journey Away From Contemporary Worship Music I look for the day when we write articles entitled, “Remember ‘Contemporary Worship Music’? Me Neither.” […]

  137. Excellent points, Dan. I’ve been a worship leader for more than 40 years. We sang hymns, we sang scripture songs, we sang all the new stuff that came with the 80s, 90s, etc. You are right about making us think and using our minds. There is a richness in the hymns that I have grown to appreciate and love. Interestingly, I was leading worship at The Cove in Asheville, (Billy Graham’s Training Center) a few years ago, and wanted to “teach them some new songs”. I had that feeling that the old music needed an upgrade – but, I was challenged by the staff to make sure I played songs that the people could relate too. That audience is an older crowd so I put some hymns on the list AND THEN I noticed something. When we sang the new stuff, they stood there and leaned into the screen and tried to keep up – while I thought we were really worshiping. In contrast, when we sang a hymn they knew – it was by heart and from the heart – sung louder and sometimes with tears. The Lord really convicted me that weekend. Who are we to pick and choose the songs of someone’s life? I learned that weekend to start to play and them let them sing. It was such a beautiful time of worship and I learned to enjoy their voices and worry less about hearing mine.

  138. I really appreciate your post. Not because I perfectly align with what you said. But because I’m finding myself in the same place. I recently took a part time position as an interim worship leader. I have been a worship leader or played on a worship team for the past 30 years. As one who is picking songs again, with much prayer I might add, my attention has been again focused on lyrics. Not that I didn’t notice it while just playing, but now in a position where my thought count more. As I listen to a lot of the “newer” “worship” songs, I find myself asking would I sing these songs in the presence of Jesus? Funny but isn’t that what we’re supposedly doing in our worship? I am finding that at least for me that a lot of the songs are shallow and lacking. Maybe more like worship lite. Sometimes songs are really great for a particular situation that a church may be going through. Then there are songs like 10,000 reasons that seems like the lyrics come from an old hymn. Anyways, your commentary let’s me know that my thoughts are not isolated. May we as worship leaders, and or worshipers find out what pleases the Lord, and do those things. Thanks again, keep the faith and stay the course. And keep on singing for Him………..

  139. I cannot say AMEN loud enough after reading this article. So wish our churches would get this message and bring back the old hymns. Thank you for this article.

  140. I enjoyed reading your blog and I appreciate the argument. I don’t feel the same way that you do about the recent music. I did not discover this music until I was in my 30s. Before that, I sang hymns. These hymns have always been sung by me and the congregation with a passion (I worshipped in a Caribbean church). I do have an appreciation for them, but the hymns were not the instrument that the Holy Spirit used to reach me. I grew up singing Amazing Grace, but did not understand what it meant until I heard “You gave Your lifeIn place of mine, Called me your own” Gungor. The Holy Spirit still uses that music to speak to me, to strengthen my faith, to make me realize that I need Him.
    My point is this.
    1. God is capable of working with any medium possible to impress upon the heart of his children. God says he is not willing to let any perish and I believe this. For many people seeking, this may be a tool God uses, for other it may be a hymn. Theologically rich, repetition, simplicity- in the eyes of God are imperfect.
    2. Jesus used a variety of method to reach followers, some were simple parables, others were sermons. All were effective. He did not say this method is repetitive or this theologically rich, because his focus was on winning souls.
    3. There is a reason why the Psalms, which has most of the qualities you identified, is the most read book in the Bible.
    Keep on pushing for the Hymns to be sung. They are treasures.

  141. So good to read this! I attend a “contemporary worship” church, and have been more and more disturbed by the direction the music is going. Rather than directing worship to God, the majority of these songs seem to be “me” focused. I find myself asking God to forgive us during these songs, rather than singing along. It seems, and I may be totally wrong, that the main purpose of singing these songs is to induce a heightened emotional state, rather than to lead people to express their awe of God. One practice that I’ve seen recently is to sing through a song, and then the worship leader enters into “free worship” (which lasts longer than the original song), singing a “new song” that is usually only one or two lines long. This line is then repeated anywhere from eight to over forty times in a row. Needless to say, I’m finding it difficult to take part in this, and to be able to worship God in the middle of all of this.

  142. Thanks so much for keeping this OPEN for so long!
    ALL the input has been very helpful, and just expressing ourselves here is also healthy.
    A group from our church sings weekly in the main halls at a hospice house (mostly hymns, because that’s what they know).
    Often we are invited into patients’ rooms where the setting becomes much more intimate, and the unresponsive patient frequently begins to lip-synch the hymns with us. I have to look away in order to maintain a modicum of composure and keep singing. What a privilege!
    AND we appreciate much (NOT ALL) of the modern stuff with its fresh approach – Our choir is doing Rend Collective’s country-folk “Build Your Kingdom Here” this week, under a wonderful director who leans toward opera!
    Lovin’ it and praising and WORSHIPING God!

  143. Part 1: I’ve become disillusioned with the direction of the musical worship time at the typical church of today. My observation is that rather than at time of corporate worship where all of God’s people participate and sing His praises, worship has become essentially a concert that takes place at the beginning of a church service. The focus is on the band on the stage. The instruments and mics are turned up loud. The worship leader’s mic is the loudest, and you can hear his voice well above the entire congregation. For this reason, people tend to become passive and either don’t sing or sing very softly. Whats the point – you can’t hear yourself or anyone around you anyway. All you can hear is the band. Many prefer it like that anyway because the music sounds so good. So people tend to become passive and listen to the skilled musicianship. The church we attended actually distributes earplugs to anyone who wants them as you walk through the doors. There is something dreadfully wrong with that.

  144. Part 2: In addition to the volume issue, during songs meant to be sung corporately, the band typically features solo performers who sing while the others just play. This leaves the people in the congregation confused about whether to sing or not. Then the singers will sometimes go off and do some “vocal gymnastics”, departing from the melody while putting their skill on display, leaving the people confused about what melody to sing. I could go on, but I think you get the point. These are just a few of the signs that to me show that the worship time has become a man-centered concert rather than a God-centered time of corporate worship.
    We recently started attending another church, where there is just a piano and an occasional accompanying guitar, horn, etc. The songs song are rich with doctrine – a mixture of old hymns and some newer songs such as from Sovereign Grace. There is one song leader who is clearly there to do just that – lead the song. He starts the song and sings just loud enough to help people stay in rhythm. Its so simple compared to the band, and the difference is amazing! The people sing and sing loudly. There is nothing quite like the sound of the voices of God’s people singing praises together to Him. The praises fill the room! There is such a strong sense of true worship and God’s presence. The difference is extraordinary. What a pity when its drowned out by amplifiers.

  145. I recently visited the Baptist Church that my ancestor started in 1774. Let that sink in a minute pre-American Revolution. Generation 7, 8, 9 and 10 sat in the service inside the same building he preached in, 200 years ago.
    The Hymnal they had in the pew, featured songs from Martin Luther to Michael W. Smith. However, the day we went they didn’t us it, their Worship Band was on Vacation so we listened to CD’s. How sad. While I am SO glad the church is still around, it would have been more impactful to think these were the same songs he could have sang.
    Which, by the way is saying something coming from me. I LOVE Newsboys, and other Christian Contemporary music but there is something about singing Hymns at church. I think the biggest problem is like you mentioned, the story behind the song, or the meanings of the words have been lost over time and it is much easier to grab a song that is easy to play on guitar and drums.

  146. I would challenge you to sing the psalms. What better to sing than the songs penned by Almighty God? Sung by our LORD himself, by our church fathers…….and talk about theologically sound! I often feel that we are so proud of ourselves with our hymns, but we neglect the very worship God asks us for in his word.

  147. Good points made by everyone but it seems to me that there is a lot of talk about what is the “right” song for worship. We are teaching our children that whether they like all of the music in any given service or not they are called to worship the Lord. Worship is a condition of the heart, a desire to be obedient to the Lord and give Him all praise and glory. That is not dependent on a song choice.

  148. Thank you Shelley. I just discovered this and tried to read all comments rather than be redundant. I found Rod Haferkamp [Nov. 5] advocating singing at least one psalm each worship service. Lori Stevens [Nov. 6] insisted: “Use the Word of God. This is the crux of true worship.” That is the crux, and in context it’s what you’ve said. The Psalms are the Word of God. Comparing Ps. 117 and 119, I know which is brief and which is extended, even protracted; I even know which has more repetition; but I’m not sure which one is trendy and which is traditional, which is contemporary and which medieval, which is trite and which profound, which is new-cutting-edge-fresh stuff and which stale and passé; which is for the vision of church X and which not, which is classical and which rap, which is for youth and kids and which for old fogies. I’m simply wondering what would happen if we all lived with, pored over, invested in, and chose to be guided and controlled by the Word of God [rather than its Old vs New Testament, or its Pauline vs Gospel theology, or its “what exalts Christ” selectivity]. Our wonderfully argued preferences too often deprive us of so much more than they ultimately reward us with. Thus our moderator Dan may be stretching it too in the following quote [didn’t note the date], but he still gives us a gem: “ . . . comparing repetition from a Jesus Culture song with the repetition of a Psalm is like comparing Joel Osteen to the prophet Joel.”God’s Word is for ever, Amen!

  149. A common complaint is that worship songs don’t teach deep doctrine. Is the worship song to educate us or to worship God? Consider the simple, repetitive, worship chorus in Rev. 4:8.
    As one commenter on that article wisely said, “Those old songs were once new songs and had to be sung and enjoyed as new songs to become…beloved old songs.”
    Seems like recent articles about contemporary vs traditional is trying to take a us vs. them attitude. I say there’s a place for both, as our service aptly demonstrated last week.
    What there is no place for is one camp ridiculing the motives or preferences of the other.
    Our faith and our principles are threatened in our culture – even in some of our churches. In the last year, believers in the U.S. have lost their businesses and livelihood because they stood for what they believed.
    We’ve got bigger issues to address than worship music styles.

    1. Alan, I agree that there bigger fish to fry. But the point of this article is to address poor theology in what we sing, because wether we like it or not, when we sing about the LORD we’re learning something. It isn’t about style. I don’t prefer old music because I’m old (I’m only 31). I prefer music with lyrics that honor the LORD and are consistent with what He has revealed to us about Himself.

    2. Spoken like a foolish contemporary “worship leader”, which by the way has no basis in the New Testament. Man doing it his way because it is right in his own eye. You can discern how low ones view of God is by most of the contemporary “worship” songs or ditties heard today. By far most of them are man centered. There is absolutely no basis or need of “worship leaders” in the church, there is a need in the corporate body to worship together in Spirit and Truth. The only thing good about contemporary music is that it is temporary…..

  150. I agree , when I hear contemporary Christian music , it all seem melancholy the chord progressios sound depressing!!! I’m a musician Id love to play music in church , I’m white and I think I’m going to visit African American churches cause their take on music has life & energy

  151. That’s great! Welcome to the fold. i love the old hymns too and find a lot of current praise music to be overly simple, repetitive, and shallow. The local Christian pop music radio stations are so homogenized and saccharine sweet that i can only take them in small doses.
    Ironically a few weeks ago i was looking for Christian music podcasts to listen to on the road and came across Music Surge whose catch phrase is “Christian music that doesn’t suck”. They play a good mix of pop, metal, rap, hip-hop, punk, ska, and even some country tunes, and a lot of it is way more substantial than the peppy, sqeakey-clean ones you hear on most perky Christian radio channels. After screening it, i thought my grandkids might like it but now i catch myself listening to it pretty often, and i like the punk quite a bit more than you’d think a guy my age would.

  152. Praise God! I have teturned to play and sing the hymns of my childhood, experiencing the presence and annointing of the Holy Spirit as the first note flows.lets not forget where we come from.
    Kind regards
    tabita

  153. Thank you for your blog entry. But I must admit I feel like the church takes too much of a consumer approach to worship. You said that the church has been singing hymns for two millennium, but frankly this is an exaggeration. I don’t recall many hymns in the hymnal from the first 5 centuries of the church. Most of our sacred hymns come out of the the last two centuries. I agree that there are many wonderful hymns that have lasted the test of time; but most have not. Fanny Crosby herself wrote something like 10,000 hymns. Most are forgotten. You talk about theology. Check your hymnal. There are a few in there that make most theologians cringe. I too have been leading worship for many years. Over twenty. (eek) I jokingly tell people I’ve been leading worship before worship was cool. And one thing I have seen is this, it doesn’t matter how we worship, we just need to worship. Do I have preferences? Yes. Do they matter? Well, love matters. Not sure if my “worship in the key of G” does or not. The point is, just worship. Lead people into the presence of God. Choose songs that will do that in Spirit and Truth. Connect with people so they connect with God. Let’s stop making this a “this or that”. I love the sacred hymns. I love the modern. I love to worship a Holy God. 200 years from now this conversation won’t matter. Grace and peace to you.

    1. I would say it matters greatly how we worship. It is God alone who can say how He ought to be worshipped. I’ll say again, I’m not talking about style. And when i say we’ve sung hymns for two millenia, I am thinking slecifically of things like the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2, not How Great Thou Art which was just written last century.

  154. I find it interesting that you started leading worship music in an Assembly of God church, but eventually talk about “hymns that clearly teach the Five Points of Calvinism… the theology in the hymns is typically more sound or healthy than much of contemporary worship music.”I think there is a back-story you are not sharing here, that in your drift theologically from Arminian belief to Calvinist belief, you also began preferring hymns, which you said are “typically more sound or healthy than much of contemporary worship music….hymns engage our hearts by way of the mind.”
    You should have shared that part of your journey in this article, as Reformed theology colors the way one views worship in general, especially Reformed resistance to charismatic worship styles.

    1. Jacob, thanks for sharing your thoughts. First though, your method of quoting me is misleading at best. My mention of Calvinism in regards to the theology in hymns was exactly the opposite of your use of my words. I said a hymn doesn’t need to do that in order to have sound theology. I.e., a song may focus only on one attribute of God’s nature, and if it draws it’s lyrics from the text of Scripture, it is more likely to be theologically sound than if we simply write vapid love songs that could just as easily be sung about a boyfriend or girlfriend. Second, this particular post is not about my journey soteriologically, but in my choice of songs for gathered worship. If you are interested in hearing more about another area of growth in my life, please see my four-part series My Journey Away From the Charismatic Movement,” which begins with part 1 here. Finally, I agree: Reformed theology has most definitely shaped my theology of worship, but not because of tradition. The church at which I serve is far from traditional in the sense of style, but confessionally we adhere to the Three Forms of Unity. It is due though to my study of God’s Word that I have changed my perspective on what is acceptable in worship. Where many here in the comments and elsewhere advocate for worship that is pleasing either to the worshiper (consumer-driven), or to the on-looker (seeker-drive), the One who actually has the right to say how He ought to be worshiped is God. Thus my conclusion that the vast majority of what is being published as “worship music” does not meet the biblical criteria.

  155. I so appreciated your comments. I liked to blend the hymns with the newer worship choruses or songs with the newer songs being a compliment to the strong message of the hymns. The message should be much stronger than the emotion. My approach however, did not attract as large of a interest as measured in numbers of people so our “traditional” service was cast aside for the style of today. Maybe people are hungry for an emotional bond these days that is lacking in their lives rather than the deeper meaning and approach to the Christian life. If that is true, I would rather their emotions be tied to Christianity than other options our society offers. I will still sing the hymns if only in the solitude of my car. Thanks again.

  156. I think there are great comments, on all sides of the spectrum – and there is some truth to each and so it’s important to realize when we praise God, God sees our hearts extending to him, or he sees someone simply being affected by the emotional nuances of a song – ultimately, God knows and is the judge. Any spiritual enlightenment we get from the lyrics of a song comes from the spirit of God just as when we read the Bible or hear a sermon. So, I get all of that. Ultimately it is what God reveals to us on a level much deeper than the words. Yet, if it’s theologically based, we can’t go wrong to go in that direction. We are in a church age of mega church, feel good sermons, appeal to the masses, little discipline, pop theology — watered down messages … I think the content of a lot of modern music reflects that.
    A side … as a former student of English literature – I encourage others to be disciplined enough to read some classics, or to read newer award winning authors. It is elevating in many ways. When one develops an affinity for works of literature that are well written, then when they read the typical pop culture books they are unsettled and more critical. It’s true. I once loved John Grisham, and not saying I still don’t enjoy him …. but once I started reading out of that type of pop literature I realized that Grisham paled in comparison. Same with a lot of older hymns versus newer music. Now, Rita Springer’s This Blood is very old hymn like.

  157. I agree with a lot of what you have to say. Here’s some of my thoughts:I think that issues with topics like this is that terms like “hymns” and “contemporary worship songs” are so broad. This is a topic that is certainly not black and white.
    Hymns were once the “contemporary worship songs,” at one time it was a new song that someone had written, and as I’m sure you know hymns aren’t perfect either, several lack sound theology and good musical composition.
    There is definitely importance to be able to sing songs that we know past generations sang, but I do not believe that holds much weight in regards to worshipping God. It can be significant and effective to continue singing the same songs through generations, but we’re united in worshipping God with the entire Church through God, not the specific songs that we sing. Obviously, our primary focus is on Christ, not the history of the song we’re singing or who else has sang this song in the past.
    I am for leading our churches to sing songs with scripture and theology and meaning, but I think that is bigger than simply hymns vs. contemporary worship.
    Another factor is what we mean when we talk about emotions. Sure, many songs seem emotionally driven, which usually leads to them being not great theological songs. At the same time, emotion is certainly not the enemy: it is a natural part of what it means to be human and is an intrinsic part of music (show me a song with no emotion). But I agree, many songs are emotional fluff.

    1. Also, looking at contemporary worship songs is very broad.-I think there is sometimes a disconnect in referring to any song we hear on Christian radio as worship music. Yes, the song may be a form of worship to God, but that is not necessarily what we’re talking about when talking about congregational worship music. While there are many worship songs on the radio, some might be more closely classified as Christian pop (personal songs about daily faith/trusting God/grace) and others as congregational worship to God.
      -Looking at congregational songs, this is still a huge category, especially between different denominations and cultures. So sometimes I believe we think that we’re comparing completely different types of worship songs (i.e. Jesus Culture vs. Sovereign Grace Music vs. Passion), when on a larger scale we’re actually comparing different denominations. Are any of them wrong? I don’t believe so. Are they confusing and weird out of their context or denomination? Potentially. Can we still worship God through them? Yes.
      But in regards to your topic, are all of these songs equal in rich or sound theology? Certainly not, but that does not make them all bad songs. Simplicity and rich theology are both great forms of worship.
      In short, I am tired of worship wars and the disunity it can cause. May we seek to sing rich songs from the past in worship of God (from Psalms to hymns) and may we be inspired and lead by God to write new songs for the Church today and in the future

      1. Parker, while I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, please see the comment policy in the sidebar. Lengthy and multiple comments at once are not permitted.

  158. I am thrilled to hear that at least one of you “Worship Leaders” from the 90s have finally been able to grow up and see that the Holy Spirit has a wide repertoire! I liked the contemporary songs that sang scripture, but during those years that I was deprived of traditional carols during Advent, it never seemed like a real Christmas. The music he choose made it just another Sunday like any other. God instituted traditions for a purpose. They tether you to important memorial-events; the things we need to keep in remembrance. One Easter, I had to sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” to myself during the drive home because it just didn’t “feel” like anyone had celebrated a resurrection that day.
    I didn’t experience much “worship” at that church at all. Frankly, much of the time it felt like manipulation. The congregation was yelled at if we didn’t clap vigorously during the first three fast songs, or we’d be chastised if we didn’t lift our hands high enough during the last two slow ones.
    The church I am blessed to attend now has a music leader who prays until she has a sense of where the Spirit wishes to go. It shows.

  159. I love thee hymns and truly dislike that many churches have left them in the dusty hymnals on a shelf somewhere, but also dislike it when there is only one line of music such as hymns as well since the bible instructs us to have a balance of three types and the word instructed one main thing: it should make melody to the Lord. Ephesian 5:19-19 “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
    A lot of hymns make a melody in my heart to the Lord, but also psalms and “some” contemporary songs do as well. I don’t see the Lord being down on all contemporary since the hymns of yesterday were once new songs of that era, so some of the songs of today will be hymns to the next generations. We need balance but it seems that most song leaders chose what they want rather than letting the Holy Spirit direct in a bigger way of variety according to scripture.
    The songs I loved in the 70s when I got saved, are very precious and dear to me and cause me to make melody in my heart to the Lord.
    Hymns I love: Rock of Ages, Just As I Am, It is Well With My Soul, Amazing Grace and tons more.
    Psalms: “In the Hebrew Bible the title of the Psalms is Tehillim, which means “songs of praise.”
    Some Psalm songs that I l know and love that are not that old: Awesome God, Praise Him, We Bow Down, I Worship You Almighty God, You are Great, Lift up the Name of Jesus, I Exalt Thee and tons more.
    Contemp: Rise Again, Cry out to Jesus..

  160. Hymns can be useful sometimes but Worship must be always led by the Spirit and the Word says “Sing a NEW song to the Lord!” We cannot stay stuck in the past because of nostalgia and misplaced loyalty to the amazing “giants” that went before us. Chances are that right now they themselves are joining in with the choirs of Heaven singing a new song before the throne!The Holy Spirit is always moving on the Church to bring out fresh new anointed worship songs for the Lamb. We will do well to listen to Him otherwise our worship will become stagnated and religious and dead…

  161. i made a comment a couple of days ago and clicked the notification box below, so i read a bunch of the comments before and after mine. One thing i have discovered is a huge amount of pomposity and arrogance among “worship leaders”. With what seems to be the prevailing attitude, i can tell you exactly why the unchurched probably will not EVER go to church: the projected image of this kind of organized choreographed ritualistic church service is musty, unattractive, exclusive, ceremonious, and its appearance is nothing like actual worship is supposed to represent. i love the old hymns, but i like new music too. Secularly, i like Metallica and Brahms, Devo and Hank Williams, AC/DC and Buddy Holly. Pretty sure God does too.
    If you’re the only Jesus some people see, shouldn’t he be somebody they would like to know?

    1. I’m a big fan of Hank Williams and Buddy Holly too! Let me ask you this: do you think our worship is supposed to be an evangelistic thing?

      1. Evangelism is in the job description of all Christians. The point i was trying to make is that, as long as it’s Biblical, one style of worship music is just as good, important, integral, and necessary as any other. Not everyone has the same tastes. The attitude of several of the commenters is that their form of worship is the “right” one. My attitude is, i know what i like and i usually know what i need. i am just as fond of Fanny J. Crosby as i am Matt Redmon. Our church services are about 60% music from the 80’s to now, and about 40% the old standards. i don’t think this would be a good mix for a liturgical church, nor would it be desirable for a church made up of mostly thirty-something hipster yuppies. But it is perfect for us. It makes us comfortable and allows us to worship, refresh, and reload to face the world for another week.

  162. I think it’s important to note some of your assumptions. You assume that our worship should be rich theologically and appeal to our reason. But perhaps God wants us to get our emotions more involved in our walk with Him and contemporary worship is a way to do that. You can critique contemporary music (just like hymns can be critiqued) but using their “repetition” isn’t convincing. When I read the worship in Revelation and the hymnbook of the Bible, the Psalms, there is a lot of repetition. I wouldn’t dismiss it or emotion as nonessential to worship. But those are my assumptions. I appreciate the hymns and how they speak to many. But I love the vibrancy, richness, and challenge of modern worship, that involved our whole being, not just my mind.

    1. Lora, me thinks we agree more than you realize 😉 The point I am making in the article is that emotions divorced from our minds is not a good thing, not that emotions are inherently bad. I say several times that our emotions should be engaged, but not simply by the music; rather by singing about what God has revealed about Himself through His Word (as opposed to your assertion that I’m saying “our worship should…appeal to our reason” (I never said that, by the way). My issue with repetitiveness is when it is used because the songwriter couldn’t think of something to rhyme, or was perhaps trying to make a 1 minute song into a 5 minute song. Over against that, when the Holy Spirit uses repetition we can be sure it is not for those reasons just mentioned. It is more likely that a human songwriter is using repetition as a means to either manipulate emotions OR to fill time.

  163. The reason God left out the music in Psalms? It is the lyrics that matter. What they say in song is far superior than the music. Christian jazz is only good when you know the lyrics associated with the music.
    The music is just the packaging. Make it appealing to your ‘customer’. Just make sure the product is pure and has all the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy living.

  164. As sound engineer for many years I have seen many styles of music worship, but I always enjoy the old hymns. I see a disturbing trend though. Modern churches feel the need to add concert lighting and additional decibels to the service. I actually had one music minister get upset with me because I refused to run the service over 94 decibels. He said we needed to increase the volume so the parishioners could feel the music. I left.Time to get back to basics, and let the Holy Spirit move us, and not the volume!

  165. It has always occurred to me that I would hate to be the one who made the decision to remove the old wonderful hymns from the playlists of our spirit filled churches today. Where else willour children and teenagers be able to hear, learn and come to love them?

  166. Really neat perspective. I have really thought a lot about this topic over the past few years and have some similar views, but some that contrast. I feel as if the role of music in the church is to help prepare your heart and mind to receive the Word of God. Music, by default, evokes emotion and there is no way to avoid that. Take for instance a movie, one of the most important elements to a movie is just the background soundtrack alone. The writer of this article states that the repetitive nature of contemporary songs implies the purpose is to only “work listeners into an emotional state” not “engage the listeners mind”. I feel this mindset is the core problem with the concept of worshiping today. The church thinks “I’m going to engage the listener” while the listener/member sits back and thinks “okay…so engage me”. Worship is not about us…it is about HIM. In my experience, the purpose of repetitive songs is to create a UNIFIED environment. To prepare people to come together as one body. This is no different than the traditional songs “When the Saints Go Marching”, “God is So Good”, etc. These are all extremely repetitive, but their intent is to create simple lyrics for everyone to unify in. Where there is Unity there is power. I like all kinds of music and I feel like a lot of this debate could be negated if music was viewed as an incredible tool to prepare his body for worship.

    1. Toby, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I do not think reputation is only for the sake of working people into an altered state, but I think it certainly does that much of the time. I thought for a long time just as you’ve stated above, that worship is to prepare us to hear the Word. But I cannot find in Scripture where that is the case. Most often we see that singing is used to remind us and our children of the great things God has done for His glory.

  167. I just wonder how many people would like to hear the preachers lock in on phrase and continue to repeat it over and over? Or How many would like the same sermon every service? We get tangled up with music and many times the Word takes second place.

  168. The question is whether a church is looking to grow and lead new believers to become interested in Christ or is it trying to preach to the choir with the worship music. A worship leader that mixes the favorite old hymns with current CCM, like what is played on KLOVE and The Message, is going to have the biggest impact. Lead new believers to Christ, and they will learn to worship him.

    1. Todd, I’ve seen quite a few folks saying essentially the same as you’re saying here, but yours is the most explicit example. The position you’ve just expressed is one of the biggest problems I see with contemporary worship—it makes people the object rather than the Lord. It is not the job of humans to “lead new believers to become interested in Christ.” That is the work of the Holy Spirit. When we sing (and again, I’m not talking about style, but content), it is the object of our worship Who determines what is acceptable and what is not. Our worship is not evangelistic (horizontal), it is to be directed to the Lord and determined by Him.

  169. Dan, appreciated your comments until, “I would make the case for the abandonment of most contemporary songs,” Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater!Your two key points are problematic. “First, hymns sung…over the last two millennia. ” Two millennia? Musical instruments weren’t even used in vast majority of churches for about the first 1000 years! Though RC Churches still chant some of those truly “ancient” hymns. Western Churches are singing hymns that are predominantly no more than 300 years old, and most well known favorite “old” hymns were written in the past 100-150 years making hardly “ancient.”
    Then you wrote, “…hymns…more theologically rich.” Again, careful not to throw out baby and bathwater. We need music that stirs our hearts as well as informs our minds. There are many examples of contemporary hymns that do both.
    A word about repetitive singing. This is actually an ancient prayer technique (see music of Taize for an example). Repeating words can move us beyond simply singing to a form of meditative prayer, but if worship leaders don’t know this they can’t teach it, and if they can’t teach it then it does feel like we are singing “The Song That Never Ends.”
    Finally, it is important to employ diversity in worship music using multiple styles so as to reach the hearts and minds of all. The fact there’s so much worship music being written says the Spirit is at work today just as the Spirit was at work in other eras of the church.

    1. Ed, thank you for taking the time to discuss. Obviously I didn’t mean “How Great Thou Art” was being sung in AD 100. What I mean mainly is that when we only sing songs written within the last 5-10 years we are poorly unaware of the breadth of our heritage in Christ (the same concept Paul expressed to Timothy in 2 Tim. 1:1-14, showing that his heritage was not only from Paul, and Lois, and Eunice, but that his heritage stretched all the way back to before time began). I didn’t deal with it in this article, but I am a huge proponent of singing the Psalms and have been working to make them singable for our congregation. Now THAT is ancient. And hymns such as Philippians 2 (which has been sung for two millennia). Of course I used more modern examples, but my point was not to be exhaustive. My point instead was to urge my fellow ministers who have the duty and privilege of selecting songs for our gathered worship to remain connected to our family throughout the centuries.
      Now, if I hear one more person accuse me of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” I might scream 🙂 I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But the songs I’m suggesting we’d be better off without are the ones that either make absolutely no explicit mention of the godhead or any particular person of the godhead, therefore making the song essentially a sentimental love song that could be sung to anyone or anything. In my observation that covers a swathe of what is labeled and sold as “worship music.”
      Regarding repetition: my issue is not with the use of it, but dependance upon it in place of thoughtful worship. Also, when Scripture uses repetition it is never due to lack of creativity. I think conversely much of the repetition we see in modern worship is exactly due to lack of creativity. The Holy Spirit gets to things we don’t, and whatever someone may say or think, the Holy Spirit isn’t writing modern worship songs. If they are biblical, they are ancient.
      Finally, I have dealt with the issue of emotions vs. emotionalism is a brief followup piece titled Engaging the Mind and the Heart, which you may read by clicking here. I also believe that we should be emotionally engaged, but not emotionally driven. Our emotions will let us down much (if not most) of the time. Instead, if we are singing and meditating on God’s Word instead of on how we feel, we will be more equipped to continue our worship long after the gathered singing has ended.

  170. New vs old is not the issue, as pointed out several times in this article. The point is we do not think about the fact that we are focusing so much on creating emotion instead of feeding the people. We are here to worship the lord together as a community of believers on Sunday. We should not over personalize and have worshipers stumble over the lyrics of the song while trying to follow the personal pace of the worship leader. We also should not discard the songs that make us think or songs that reveal truth. I also would like to mention that we should not lead people through psychological worship. By that I mean creating moods during the worship to prep people for the oncoming sermon. This is done by using the volume of the music or the vocals, or by playing exciting songs first and then a softer song before the preaching starts (There are other things as well but I don’t want to mention them all). I attended a worship class that spoke specifically about that and have spoken to worship pastors who believe this is important to do. I have spent the past 6 years in a Bible College where I have been ridiculed by the worship arts students for loving southern gospel music and loving my hymns. I love some newer songs too but the old vs new is becoming too much of a hate campaign. We must choose our worship time as a COMMUNITY wisely. We are not going to church to worship privately or on our own. We are too focused on personalized, individual, emotional worship.

  171. It sounds from the blog post and discussion that people are not aware of contemporary hymn writers. You need to be looking, as well, at Mary Louise Bringle, Dan Damon, Richard Leach, Dolores Dufner, Adam Tice and many other fine text writers who are active today. Get involved with the Hymn Society in the US and Canada and your worship music will be enriched in many styles and ways. http://www.thehymnsociety.org

    1. Thank you, Wendy! Although I didn’t address it in the article, modern hymns are not what I am opposed to. Rather I am calling for the abandonment of the “Jesus Is My Boyfriend” genre.

  172. Wow. A big long list of people worried about what music others are listening to at church, and how what they listen to/like is better than theirs. Anyone see anything wrong with this?

      1. I thought surely the subject would be exhausted by now. But at this time, talking it out seems essential, even urgent. Again, THANKS so much for keeping this open for so long, Dan.
        Just a couple of lyrics that express my heart:
        “I bring an offering of worship to my King. No one on earth deserves the praises that I bring.
        Jesus may You receive the honor that You’re due! O Lord, I bring an offering to You.” – Baloche
        And from one that I, being very suddenly an OLD geezer, still consider right on:
        “When I look into Your holiness – When I gaze into your loveliness – when all things that surround become shadows in the light of YOU; When I’ve found the joy of reaching Your heart….
        I worship YOU!…..The reason I live is to worship YOU!”

      2. perhaps you missed my point. maybe you should make a comprehensive list of the songs you deem appropriate for an acceptable worship. that way we can all just know what is right and wrong, and everyone can conform to your tastes. surely that’s what’s needed, here, since our biggest concern should be getting people who know Jesus to act more like us (or you), certainly not reaching those far from God.

        1. Although your sarcasm is coming through quite bitingly, I’m still inclined to respond. Perhaps that’s foolish of me, but you represent a large population of those who have the responsibility of forming the liturgy of our gathered worship. I reject wholesale the concept that our worship should be concerned with those not in Christ. The problem is not with people singing songs I don’t like; the problem is with the mentality that if we worship a certain way more people will get saved. That places the onus on us, and not the Holy Spirit, who is actually the one who raises dead men to life.

    1. Pete,I don’t think anyone’s objecting to what music others listen to, at least I’m certainly not. I’m 70 years old and I listen to a wide variety of music, classical, marches, classic country, hymns, Southern Gospel and yes, a few contemporary, and I come from a musically gifted family. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so blessed. I do object to contemporary music being touted as the “way to draw young people” into the service. Unless I’ve missed something, our instructions were to go forth into all the world and make disciples. (Matt. 28:19) If we share the gospel message of Jesus Christ, then we’ve been obedient, and the Holy Spirit then draws men to Christ, that’s His job description.
      I also object to any music, contemporary or other wise, being called Christian music, which doesn’t glorify Jesus Christ. I examined the top ten contemporary “christian” songs from 2014 and found that only TWO glorify Christ. Some may mention god, however, that’s deceiving. Every religion has a “god” or in some cases, several. Even the atheists have a god, themselves. Therefore god doesn’t offend anyone, simply because the listener can substitute his/her god and it fits with their belief. Mention Jesus Christ on the other hand, and a large number of people get offended and begin name calling. So, ask yourself this question, “Does my music glorify Jesus Christ?” If so, right on! If not, it isn’t Christian music, it’s entertainment, listen and enjoy, if that’s what floats your boat.

      1. I think we have to be more generous than that. Remember, some criticisms of contemporary music could also apply to the Psalms. We still use them even though Jesus isn’t named and the gospel is not fully displayed. But for our worship to be Christian the Psalms need context. Most songs need context. Most could be misinterpreted. That’s one reason why music needs to be in tandem with exposition!

        1. Very good point, Rodney. Although since the Holy Spirit is the writer of the Psalms through human instruments, they can do things we shouldn’t assume we as modern songwriters can do. Isaac Watts wrote his hymns from the Psalms by explaining the Christological aspects of them.

          1. Yes – two excellent points. This is a personal area of discipline. I began to temper my criticism of contemporary music when I realized that Scripture “breaks” some of the rules we set up to evaluate our songs. I’ve tried to look at the larger picture rather than individual songs since then. You can’t say it all in a song, a service, a year or a lifetime of worship, but it’s a rich and rewarding pursuit!

        2. Perhaps more generous, so long as it’s not a compromise with the secular world.I’m reminded of a statement I heard half a century ago by a very old preacher who held up his bible and said, “The purpose of this book is to introduce a lost world to Jesus Christ”.
          It is a remarkable book, dealing with every noble aspect of human living, but without Christ, it’s just that, a very good book.
          I must disagree regarding interpretation because well over 90% of the hymns in our song book clearly lead the listener to Christ, His resurrection and/or His saving grace. No explanation needed.
          Music, in my humble opinion, without Christ, just music. Personal listening, no problem, one can put it in context to suit the listener. Corporate worship, Christ is why we are where we are, doing what we’re doing and He is why we’re called Christians.

          1. I wholeheartedly agree that Jesus is the center of our worship. My point is we should be careful our ideals don’t go beyond the clear guidelines of scripture. When we “improve” on the guidelines and examples God has provided we usually get into trouble. In this case we may lose our place in the conversation by offering unwarranted criticism.
            So, rather than criticizing a particular song for not mentioning Jesus, I encourage us to ask if the service points to Christ. A particular song or passage of scripture may not focus on Jesus, but it may still be a nourishing and helpful expression of worship.
            If we fail to celebrate our identity in Christ in a worship service, then we do have a problem!

  173. I have followed this thread and I have reached the point where I sincerely want to scream “ENOUGH”. God requires deep meaning to our worship, yes. He requires that we give worship to Him not because we are good, or righteous, or perfect but because He is good and righteous and worthy. He requires that we recognize that He is the only one worthy of our worship. He establishes the pattern for worship in the old testament in the building of the tabernacle and the process of preparation required to assure our hearts are truly ready to worship Him, This was modeled in the psalms of accent where at each step leading to the temple focused on a new and fresh attribute of our Holy God. As with many truths Israel turned God’s plan and direction for worship into ritual. There are so many aspects to worship that are clearly important to God and IMHO whether our praise songs are theologically deep enough isn’t one. The questions I believe God will ask you are “Were you worshiping me in Spirit and in Truth?” Do you harbor hatred or unforgiveness in your heart?, Do you despise your brother while you offer worship?, Do you hate your enemy?, Were you engaging in petty quarrels? Are you rejecting the authority God has set in place because it isn’t Christian? I do not recall God telling David that his dancing was not theologically sound and therefore he should stop…From the beginning God has been about our heart condition, relationship and restoration so for this topic I cry “ENOUGH”

    1. Jim, I hear what you’re saying. And I appreciate it. Let me ask this: does it matter if what we’re singing to and about the Lord is unbiblical?

      1. Dan,Of course it matters that what we bring before the Lord in worship is biblical. You cannot worship in truth if it is not, however if you review this discussion this was not your original justification for your journey. The criteria of biblical accuracy was never defined as a part of your rationale. You said you felt hymns provided a greater connection to the giants of the faith that had come before and that songs selected for a worship service required a deeper level of theological richness than contemporary music provides. There is a huge difference between singing heretical songs that are unbiblical and singing songs that do not accomplish your stated reasoning for your Journey away from Contemporary Music. If Holy Spirit uses your words to change the heart of a worship leader and they cease to play unbiblical music and begin to follow your suggestions then praise God. I fear what I am reading is far more people using highly visible, relatively superficial ideas of worship music to justify their sin in creating disunity within the body of Christ and to justify their pride in feeling more spiritual than someone else because they have a fine man of God on their side. Unfortunately what I see in the words of those who have responded is division, anger, pride and distrust of the body, not because the worship songs are unbiblical but because they don’t meet with your expectations. I love you brother and I pray that this blog brings about Gods glory in all things.

        1. Thank you, Jim. My point is simply that theological richness and biblical fidelity are one and the same. We cannot worship God biblically if what we are singing to and about Him is unbiblical. As Spurgeon once said, discernment isn’t being able to distinguish right from wrong, but right from almost right. That’s the theological aspect of my journey.

          1. Dan, Thank you for the response and this will be my last reply because I am truly not attempting to change your mind only to encourage you to take care to take your thoughts captive to the truth of Christ and His teachings on His desire for unity within the body based on foundational truth. In my opinion theological richness often becomes the intellectual pursuit of trying to understand the nuances and mechanisms surrounding scriptural truth. The Holy Spirit within a believer can provide all wisdom and knowledge but if it is truly from the Holy Spirit is will bear fruit that accomplishes Gods heart. We can be in total agreement and in unity that worship of God must be performed with a willing heart, should be performed using songs, prayers (the very incense of the saints) and teachings that are clearly biblical and that all tools all tools used in worship, both the heart of the people who lead worship, the music they sing, the prayers they pray should remain steadfast in communicating biblical truth. So I leave you with this question. As you read through your words and the responses to them do you see the fruit that God desires for His people? Truly you are a brilliant man of God and blessed with both intellect and a steadfast desire to serve Him. Serve Him well my brother.1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

    2. I do not recall God telling David that his dancing was not theologically sound and therefore he should stopHowever it did create a riff between him and his wife, that could have been avoided,

  174. This is continued from the last post due to word limits but the one thing not discussed here is that God does hate some music and it appears that is true not because of the music itself but the lifestyle presenting it.
    Amos told the Israelites that God actually hated their musical
    worship.
    “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your
    solemn assemblies… Take away from me the noise of your
    songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen” (Amos 5:21,
    23 ESV).
    Why? It was because he hated the music of their lives and required this.
    “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an
    ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
    We can be more like the Israelites than we think if we are living for self and practicing sin and then singing like we know and adore Him.

  175. God likes music that is offered out of a life of worship.I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present
    your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is
    your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1 ESV)
    A. God has never meant the music we make to be disassociated
    from the life we live.
    God likes music that is offered to serve others.
    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good
    stewards of God’s varied grace: (1 Pet. 4:10 ESV)
    God likes music that is offered in response to the Gospel.
    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish
    one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and
    spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you
    do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
    giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:16-17)

  176. I agree with the author. I am in my early 40’s so I grew up on hymns until the early/mid 80’s when we transitioned more and more to contemporary music. There are a number of songs from the 80’s and 90’s that are impactful to me however, I have noticed a sense of laziness, for lack of a better word in the leading of worship. I would much rather sing 4 verses of a hymn that has depth then repeat one word or phrase 20 or 30 times over. There is also a benefit to hymnals because you can actually see the notes/key and words in context so that people can participate much more confidently when the song is not familiar.

  177. Yes!And a very good point about the printed music and NOTES, etc being available in hymnals. I was surprised to hear a very good, hymnal-toting bass in our Hospice ensemble state that he does NOT read a note of music. I said something like, “Huh??” because he doesn’t miss a lick. He explained that he, like many others, has learned to follow the notes up and down, gauge the timing according to the density and flags of the printed notes, match them up with the words, etc.
    Of course, burying your nose in a hymnal can be counterproductive to uninhibited worship, so I REALLY appreciate having the lyrics projected as much as possible. Our leader announces the page number when we sings hymns that are also available in the book.
    Let’s praise HIM!

  178. Just ran across this priceless article in The Woodmen Journal, May 2010[Woodmen Valley Chapel, Colo Spgs]
    http://www.sheispriceless.com/downloads/Things-We-Dont-Talk-About-in-Church.pdf
    go to PAGE 34 – Worship and the Shining Burrito — by Don McCaleb.
    WELL WORTH the effort to scroll down and absorb Don’s wisdom!
    He starts with this quote:
    “Last Sunday’s new hymn — if you can call it that — sounded like a sentimental love ballad one
    would hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this — in God’s
    house — don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship.
    the hymns we grew up with are all we need.”
    The words above are from a letter written in 1863;
    the new song the writer referred to was “Just as I Am.”

  179. I understand the premise of your points, and I am not questioning the validity of Hymns in the 21st century, but I have a hard time agreeing with you on the topic of “working listeners into an emotional state” versus having lyrics that are “theologically rich.” Through my years as a worship leader and director, one of the biggest mistakes that can be made is to think the WORSHIP music is meant for the people. To think that the music is intended to make people ponder, or think, or learn theological truths is to undermine the true purpose of the worship in the first place. The purpose of the music is to praise, worship, and glorify our God, period. We were created for his pleasure, and the music we offer to Him is purely and wholeheartedly for Him. Take a look at some of the examples of what the angels sing to God in scripture, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and it yet to come.” Many might feel that those lyrics lack deep theological structure and are more repetitious that some. The purpose of worship music is to give God glory, nothing more nothing less. If we are depending on song lyrics to teach deep theological truth, we are also undermining the power of reading the Holy Word of God. Many of the hymns through the years are the most beautiful songs ever, and many of them are true offerings of praise and worship to a Holy God, and many of them still have validity in 2015. But we can’t change their purpose. “Not to Us, but to Your Name be the Glory”

    1. Justin,I agree that worship is totally for God, but I also believe that God has expectations of how His creation brings that worship to Him. As an example might I ask what the purpose of the original tabernacle was? It was a key element of worship directed by God and yet it seemed to have no purpose in worship as you define it. It in fact had nothing to do with God it was for the people of God. What about the alter, lamp stands, incense or even the Holy of Holies? God needed none of this for His benefit. They were all important to cause people to prepare for their encounter with God. God does not desire worship if it does not proceed from a heart and mind that are aligned with His truth. While I do agree that music during worship is not purposed to teach deep theological truths it is intended to prepare the worshiper for their encounter with God. God has throughout scripture focused on having our hearts prepared when we come in worship. I personally believe this is an old discussion and serves little purpose in the building up of the saints or the preparation of the bride. Does it matter what we sing? Sure it does…Should we sing only songs that are biblical accurate? I don’t think people will argue against that…My desire would be that people would look at what God says is important in worship and try to focus on how we, in the body can best assure our Worship is a reflection of those heart attitudes that align with God.

  180. Dan,
    I have heard this argument since I took over the youth ministry at my home church in 2012. I often disagreed with the points you made, because I felt like the music offered to replace contemporary was bluegrass and too backwoods for my taste.
    I love how you focused on the THEOLOGY in hymns. Colossians 3 talks about SPIRITUAL SONGS. So often today I hear music that lifts up the singer for all the wonderful things they are doing to God. Hymns TEACH.
    Thank you for making this point in such a professional tone.
    In Christ,
    Jesse Martinez

  181. Hey Dan, my sister-in law shared this link on Facebook, otherwise I never would have seen it. As someone who was raised in a traditional church, we sang hymns for every service. I wasn’t crazy about it at the time, but I came to equate hymns with church. Now, we can’t find a church anywhere (in Houston!) that sings hymns. I don’t listen to contemporary Christian music. The only name I recognized that you mentioned was Redman. (Loved his stuff with MethodMan!) What I’m saying is that the chanting repetitive shit that passes for music in church these days really sucks. When I go to church, I’m looking for the “church experience” – complete with hymns. If I wanted to go to a rock concert, I’d buy tickets to U2 or Metallica where I can drink beer or buy a t-shirt, not the same handful of people trying to further their Christian rock band career in the “praise (me) group”.
    I’m sure I’m probably not who you had in mind as an audience for this blog post. Here’s the thing though, I read it and I’d like to help you understand why more people like me don’t go to contemporary church. The music sucks, I don’t know the lyrics or the tune, it’s foreign, unfamiliar, and frankly dumb. However, you play the first chords of Amazing Grace and I’m on my feet singing my heart out with the congregation. I’m connected again.
    Christians have an insider language that most don’t understand. Hymns bridge that gap. Anyway, thank you for singing hymns, Dan. And sorry for saying shit.

      1. Is that honestly where you wanted to go with this conversation? It’s easy to be harsh. That’s what we actually all deserve. It’s much harder to be helpful in our criticism.
        Every human offering is flawed. But I thank God for everyone who is bold enough to sing God’s praise, even if they don’t do it all that well. I’m glad God delights in those who are not perfect. Otherwise none of us could be bold enough to lead, least of all me.
        I’m glad for this conversation. We must pursue excellence. But excellence is a matter of our hearts as well as our minds.

        1. Rodney, Wilson is talking not about people serving who have a low-skill level, but about bands who are at the root of it just trying to put on an impressive show. And my stating that his comment was the best was in regard to his candor and humor.

          1. I understand how Wilson feels. I’ve been in that same spot, struggling to relate with what’s happening in worship because the leaders seem out of touch with the people in front of them. In fact I’m very sure I’ve been on both sides of that venue – participant *and* leader!
            I think it’s more than musical style, though. I think connection has to do with authentic leadership. I’ve been put off by old hymns and new songs, and I’ve been radically changed by both, too. I’m grateful for it all.
            Many people serve with imperfect understanding or immature motives. I’m glad to count myself among them, answering the call because of grace, not my own sufficiency.

          2. This is a great illustration of how the power to affect change is not in our execution, but in the Word of God.

  182. Wow, great article. This topic is very close to home right now (has been really, for the past few years). I’m directly commenting on Dan’s article and haven’t read replies just yet…sorry if I repeat what might have been said. I would like to comment from a technical perspective on music (btw in total agreement with both Dan’s points)!
    What strikes me with ‘contemporary church songs’ is that a lot of the melodies/tunes simply don’t work for congregational singing. It is a mixed bag in my opinion: key of the song is either too low or too high (girls vs guys), the melodic intervals (or lack of) are uncomfortable (eg. dramatic jumps from low to high notes or vice versa, singing the same note too many times – often the note is not even in the chord for that particular bar or phrase creating unnecessary tension, etc…), combined with bad rhythmic patterns (usually too much syncopation/off beat notes) that the average person (not saying this in a demeaning tone) can find ‘un-singable’.
    And there is also the ‘let’s get out of the song writing mould’ trend, eg. half way through the song moving the next note a beat later; it creates sort of a ‘congregation domino effect’ until the music team actually sings the next lyric/note of the song.
    For me all of this is very off-putting.
    As someone who loves Jesus, a musician and musich teacher, music is very dear to me and the combination of the above ‘technical issues’ and lyrical shortcomings I too will say “…we need more hymns!”

  183. I enjoy both. Being raised in the church, the old hymns hold a great deal of meaning to me and many take me back to simpler times. But I also like up tempo praise songs that are singing TO God rather than ABOUT God.So I can see both sides. Older folks like me have a connection to the hymns, while younger folks may be drawn into the fold more readily hearing more upbeat praise and worship songs.
    The last thought was about whether folks are relying upon the Holy Spirit or not… That didn’t sit quite right with me. It seems to me that the Holy Spirit works in many different ways for many different people. For the ending statement to ring true, wouldn’t the conclusion be to feed the flock what THEY want and need and let the Holy Spirit work it out? And I would think a combination of the two, the selections led by the Holy Spirit AT THE TIME, rather than making a conscious decision to basically form a policy by which you select your music would make more sense. Me thinks we can overthink things to much.

  184. I generally don’t have a whole lot to say, especially in the Internet, but this topic hits home. I took a wild ride away from God in my early years. It was a charismatic church group that I was led to that brought me out of very desperate times, and it was the contemporary praise music that touched me in a huge way. I had never sung TO God before and it was through that very act that I met the Holy Spirit in a real way for the first time. I found later that type of church wasn’t for me, but what I learned and experienced there has stuck with me over these 25 years or so. So for me, to decide to move away from contemporary music almost completely seems like a big mistake and may cause you to miss out on one more opportunity that just might minister to someone’s heart like it did mine.

  185. Psalm 150150:1 Praise the Lord!
    Praise God in his sanctuary!
    Praise him in the sky, which testifies to his strength!
    150:2 Praise him for his mighty acts!
    Praise him for his surpassing greatness!
    150:3 Praise him with the blast of the horn!
    Praise him with the lyre and the harp!
    150:4 Praise him with the tambourine and with dancing!
    Praise him with stringed instruments and the flute!
    150:5 Praise him with loud cymbals!
    Praise him with clanging cymbals!
    150:6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! PRAISE THE LORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  186. I haven’t read the entire flow of comments, but one camera angle that seems to be missing in worship style dialogues is the equipping factor. The new songs of the last few decades are coming into churches and Christian radio stations so rapidly, like out of a fire hydrant, that no one has a chance to even listen to all of them, let alone incorporate them meaningfully into a ministry setting where the are likely to be committed to memory by congregants. There’s where Satan has to be rubbing his hands with glee, cause the pace at which we’re emphasizing new and fresh, guarantees that even if the tune sticks, the words won’t. And in the heat of daily battle its the words to verses and the words to songs that we’ve memorized, that support us in battle. The folks on the platform know and love the Lord, and they are the ones who know the songs. Meanwhile, the congregation listens, halfheartedly hums along, and then goes home, with little or anything in their cup to drink from during the coming week. Want to test this out? Get in a picnic setting with a group of believers with mixed ages, and try without word-sheets or projection to sing a Christian song together. Nothing memorized and nothing in common. I stand corrected, Happy Birthday to You possibly still works.

  187. Good word. Old or new you need to check the theological richness and content of the songs. Some older hymns are not theologically rich and some newer songs are. The music minister in my church sometimes schedules One Thing Remains, and other songs like it, but generally places them in the context of a theologically rich song, hymn, or scripture reading.

  188. There’s a place for both meaty and simple lyrics (both can be deep) within our repertoire, just as there is in the Psalms. So I don’t think it’s all that helpful to play off Rock of Ages (great hymn – I’ve even done my own retune) and Your love never fails (a song which really ministered to me in a time of stress and uncertainty a few years back). The important thing is the balance.

  189. My old church did two services, one with more traditional worship and one with contemporary. I played in both worship bands at some point. The older hymns seem more theologically sound to me. While I love a lot of the newer songs, in my mind some actually minimize God and make Him … what? Cuddly?
    But what’s so amazing is that God uses both for His purposes, and that transends all the worship wars of the world. Once I got to that truth, I realized the style doesn’t matter much.

    1. You’re absolutely right. Style isn’t the issue. But the content. The traditional/contemporary divide kills me because it usually ends up just making the older and younger people not be around each other. And I can say (as a still relatively young person of 32) that I NEED to be around older saints.

  190. I agree wholeheartedly. to me the new sonGS could be sung about anyone and doesn’t bring to mind Jesus or God to me. they don’t make me feel like I’m worshiping God like the old standard hymns. I don’t life the new contemporary music at all.

  191. As a professional musician, I no longer place music in a “worship” catagory. Worship being “what I give worth to” is so far beyond a few songs sung on a Sunday morning. It is how I express ultimate value to God. Singing a song pales in comparison to taking care of people, being compassionate, patience, kindness, generosity, etc. Those who argue passionately over music styles may want to simply ponder Jesus questions to Peter: “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” I doubt He will ever say, “Do you love me? Sing a hymn.” And who are we to decide what God prefers when it comes to music? But I’m pretty sure He’s okay with a gentle and contrite spirit.

    1. Ellen, while I agree with your statement that worship is something far beyond simply singing, it certainly involves singing since we are commanded to sing as worship in Scripture. Again, as I’ve said ad nauseum in the comments here, I’m not talking about style but content. And it is not we who decide what God prefers. He has told us in Scripture.

  192. Question: what’s the purpose of worship? Is it to assuage an angry God in the sky, that you have to do everything just right or you won’t please him? No. That’s not who God is, and that’s not what his grace means. The purpose of worship is to praise God and to connect with him on a one-on-one level. God wants a relationship with you, not just stern obedience. Different generations and different people within that generation will have different ways of worshiping God. Because each and every one of us is created in God’s image and some of us like to worship through singing while others like to worship through prayer and intercession, and still others like to worship by caring for the least of these, none of these diminish God. Heck, you can be worshiping God working in your garage, riding a motorcycle, or cooking. There is no right way or wrong way to worship God if it brings glory to him. Period. Worship is about your heart connecting with God’s. Putting all of these extraneous rules on ways to worship diminishes the power of God’s grace. I use singing as a way of opening up my heart to make it fertile ground for planting God’s word. Acknowledging God’s love and grace through song do this. Choosing hymns because they were written by people judged to be saints is foolish because it gives these “righteous” people glory, not God. (I’m not saying these people were not righteous, just that there is no spectrum of righteousness–EVERY believer is righteous because of the cross).

    1. There is no right way or wrong way to worship God?????? Do you honestly believe that..so we can just do what is right in our own eye if we “think” it glorify’s God? Too loosey goosey don’t cha think? Generally today man’s concept of God is so low, he has no idea how or what glorifies God.

  193. this is a very encouraging article. As someone who grew up with rock n roll, to me that has no place in worship. Why do churches think they must use hymns or rock style songs with a heavy drumbeat? What about selecting songs with acoustic guitar, violin and flute? You mentioned “two millennia” of hymns but referenced Martin Luther who lived just 500 years ago.

    1. So glad you’ve been encouraged by it.
      The two millennia is in reference to the doxologies we find in the epistles and of course the Psalms which have been sung by God’s people for even longer.

  194. Just came across this post…I shared with my husband that I find that I just don’t enjoy the contemporary worship music like I use to.
    I long to hear the hymns and purposely listen to them. I feel the need to look for another church as well.
    Thank you for your thoughtful post. It hit home.

    1. Martha, I’m glad you were blessed and encouraged. What is it that makes you want to seek a new church? What criteria will you make your decision based upon?

  195. Thank you for your comments, even though I am not currently involved on a weekly basis for leading worship, my heart and soul cries out for the deep truths of our glorious past. Coupled with that is the desire to see congregations singing harmony which words and music in your hands allows. In my opinion the church has lost its singing voice. As a child I listened and learned to harmonize which adds a dimension in sound which the contemporary songs do not allow. The loss of the choir to engage the listener in glorious praise to God is extremely sad. In many so called progressive chiurches the leading of worship has become a stage show and does not engage the listener, In fact it turns me right off. Self imposed worship leaders are ore concerned with ” all the effects ” and in my experience love the sound of their own voice. The excluding of naturally talented soloists, duets,trios from being involved has thwarted many from using their gifts and God given talent.

  196. HI: I truly love your comment and agree 100%, I also find the contemporary songs harder to learn for memory and that is what the world is trying to do to us, so if and when we no longer have the written word, (Bibles and Song books,etc) we won’t be able to rely on our memory to help us find comfort in them, I find the same with new Bible Translations, they are more difficult to memorize than King James Version.

    1. Thank you, Elaine. Although the only thing I take exception with is the ease of memorization of new translations of the Bible. I love the NASB and ESV among others and memorize mostly in the ESV.

      1. Concerning memorization, I think any of the more literal translations, such as KJV, ESV, NASB are easier to memorize than the more thought-for-thought translations such as HCSB, NIV, NLT. Why? I think the slight oddness of the phrasing activates different paths in our brains. If the language of the passage sounds just like everything else we hear, we understand it quickly, but it’s less likely to stick in our minds.

  197. It might be enlightening and more realistic to change from using the term “contemporary Christian” music to “Christian rock” or “Christian pop” music. After all, if “contemporary” means “now”, well hymns are being written now, as well as jazz, country, folk, classical, etc. Calling it what it more accurately is might cause some self examination.

  198. Great article. I left the drums and guitars behind nearly 30 years when I embraced Orthodox Christianity. Now the music I’m accustomed to is so completely different than modern mega church services that I’m lost when I visit. I wish you the best on your journey. As an example, here’s what I’ll be singing on Holy Friday. I don’t think you’ll find more depth anywhere. I recommend jotting down the lyrics as you listen.
    https://youtu.be/FZWl9BDbDrM

  199. Cherry picking songs doesn’t prove that one style of music is more “holy” than another. Please tell which chord progressions are more Godly. Can you share which rhythmic patterns or melodic contours Jesus loves most? There is nothing more holy about 18th century harmony or grandma’s church. There are lyrics in old hymns that are totally ridiculous if not heretical:1. “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses”. Are we going to a Jane Austin party?
    2. “Now I raise my Ebenezer” ???
    3. “Joyfull, joyfull we adore thee…. Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
    Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
    Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.” – I think I need to go to the dentist.
    4. “Some children see him lily white”. Is it okay to have your own racist views about Jesus’ ethnicity?
    5. “Beautiful Sabbath, we hallow the hours,
    Silently bearing the odor of flowers;” Fanny Crosby. What’s that odor?
    6. “And was the holy Lamb of God,
    On England’s pleasant pastures seen!” William Blake/Hubert Parry. They are singing this in church at the beginning of the film, “Chariots of Fire”. I think that was the initial trigger into my suspicion of old hymns.
    There is so much bad doctrine and sappy melodies in many old hymns. Not to mention the cultural barrier you put up between Jesus and the lost community by insisting on having your own special nostalgic feelings.

    1. Daniel, thank you for sharing. Yes, I agree that there are many bad old songs. Did you somehow get the impression I was saying we should sing bad old songs?

    2. Daniel..you obviously know little about metaphor or poetry. For example, “While the dew is still on the roses” means “early in the morning … this is the beginning of the day and I begin it with a quiet talk with God”
      Your entire tone was harsh and bordering on hateful. Cool down and re-read the article.

      1. Great discussion!!! So glad it’s still open.Right on, Tiffany, March 7.
        Yes, this IS an emotional matter, but in general, “it’s ALL GOOD.”
        (However, bonus points to Daniel for mentioning “sappy melodies” — that scourge is timeless!)
        In literary context, some concise expressions, such as “Here I raise mine Ebenezer,” require explanation It just “happens” that the very next phrase in the song does exactly that: “Hither by Thy help I”m come.”
        I’m NOT stuck in the past, but please bear with me, since I have suddenly become a grey-haired old geezer (It will happen to you, too, and soon!): my KJV Bible notes show, “hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” I have never forgotten the value of mental and physical monuments to God’s care, since LOOKING UP THE MEANING of that phrase!
        By the way, we sing Passion 2015 songs, Getty hymns, and traditional works with the same wonder and worship.
        (And I primarily use the more contemporary translations of the Bible.)
        Just don’t throw out the established works.
        The Little Drummer Boy is my favorite worship leader: “I’ll play FOR YOU!” = I’ll LIVE for You.
        I believe very passionately that ALL varieties of true worship please Him, and have posted other entries to that effect in this discussion, such as Jan 28, 2015.

      2. My 2nd grade teacher led us in singing this hymn every morning in her class! Just about every child who went through that school knew all the words to that hymn whether they knew what it meant or not. But even if we didn’t know what it meant, it sticks with you through the years, and as you meditate on it, you figure out what it means.

    3. “Some children see him lily white” The children of God see Jesus, pure white lily whitel has nothing to do with race, As Kay has already stated, you are a mite dense.

    4. Dew drops on the roses means ‘in the morning’. Many hymns were originally works of poetry, and were then put to music. 2. An Ebenezer was a stone erected in first Samuel to remind people of God’s deeds.
      That verse from ‘Ode To Joy’ takes us back to Psalm 19:1-2. What does the dentist have to do with it?
      This line has nothing to do with racism.
      The word ‘odor’ is not specific to a bad smell.
      Specifying Him being being seen in England shares little difference from us singing ‘America The Beautiful’.

      The origin of hymns are far from nostalgic feelings. They were written by Christians pouring out their hearts in song. And they are anything but sappy.

      Horatio Spafford wrote ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ when his four daughters died in a shipwreck.

      Jon Newton wrote ‘Amazing Grace’ after spending over twenty years out at seas as a slave trader.

      William Cowper, author or ‘God Moves In A Mysterious Way’ suffered from depression his entire life.

      These songs were given to them by God Himself. They have endured the test of time and continue to bless us today. God has placed His blessing on hymn and contemporary worship alike. Both have their places in people’s lives, and we do not need to attack them where they stand.

  200. I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts. There are some points I think are valid. However, I do not agree that most contemporary worship should be disregarded. I think that hymns, contemporary worship, and other styles of worship music should be favored equally. The body of Christ is dynamic and filled with people of all different walks of life. Shouldn’t our worship reflect that? To cast aside a style of worship music because it isn’t as “theologically deep” as hymns is potentially denying someone else’s way to worship our creator. I don’t think it’s right to ignore a worship style based on personal preference. I heard a professor of mine say that there should be at least one song your church sings that you do not like. Although you may not be connecting with the song, someone else in the congregation is likely worshiping intensely through that song. We as believers are called to serve and sacrifice for one another. Why, then, do we cling so tightly to our own ideas of what worship should be like? Some people need the deep theology of the hymns to ready their minds while others need the emotional intensity of contemporary worship to soften their hearts. I think it would be amazing if hymns, contemporary worship, southern gospel, Christian rap/rock, and other styles of worship were all used in the same worship gathering. Wouldn’t the Church be healthier if we were to sacrifice our own needs in worship to lift up the needs of others?

  201. I love hymns, but sometimes young singers struggle in the singing of those wonderful classics.
    My focus has always been on how highly the song values God. If the words shift the focus from God to me, suddenly I am tapping into more emotion than worship and while I may be filled in the moment, I may eventually leave devoid of any sense of God’s presence.

  202. I appreciated your honesty and thoughtfulness in the article. I find that much, if not most, modern Christian music is man-centered. Of hymns, Gloria Gaither once referred to them in interview as ‘portable pieces of theology.’ How true!

  203. I have been a “worship leader” for over 40 years. I was one of the progressive people who “blended” hymns and choruses in worship. I was marginalized for bringing choruses into the church. Years later, I faced the same marginalization for insisting that hymns remain in worship for the exact same reasons you have just enumerated. I am more and more concerned with the subjective nature of the lyrics and applaud your premise. Let’s keep or bring back hymns to our worship. If it means we have to educate people on the meaning of the lyrics so be it.

  204. Greetings!I discovered this blog while searching for something else, found the topic quite fascinating, and read all of the comments to date. This left me with a basic question that has not yet been mentioned by anyone.
    What should we do with all of those older hymns whose lyrics most definitely are not those of “worship hymns”? Should we stop singing such hymns altogether during our regular church “worship services”? Should the use of such hymns be restricted to “non-worship” occasions? Should we discard them altogether?
    These hymns may involve personal testimonies to either believers or non-believers; or exhortation, encouragement, and/or instruction in Christian living for fellow believers; or calls to non-believers to become followers of Jesus; or prayers to God that consist entirely of petitions but no praise. Should we exclude all such hymns from our churches, or perhaps translate such hymns into more contemporary musical forms while maintaining the same basic ideas and teachings as the original? However, that particular solution would still leave us with our basic question untouched. Since most of us seem to define “worship” as “praise directed toward God”, none of the hymns in question would be considered to be “worship hymns”, because praise directed to God is absent. However, the lyrics of such hymns often contain teaching of great potential value to believers and non-believers alike. How might we best handle this situation?

  205. Reading this evokes many things. I also grew up in a AG church but left because of the worship for one thing . I do love the old hymns too but prefer contemporary music and started going to a Calvary Fellowship group started by Chuck Smith, which is also a big part of the beginning of Christian Rock music referenced to hear 🙂 by the writer.
    In my ninth grade year back in 1965 I had a friend and we had a dream ,that ALL MUSIC SHOULD BE CREATED EQUAL to worship our God. We planned on singing hymns to ROCK MUSIC, a young man’s dream to change the world. My parents moved me to Pendleton Oregon and we lost touch but I soon became aware of others with similar interests. Eventually we moved to Seattle area ,near the Northwest Bible College, run by the AG church people.
    I remember one evening at church a singing group from NYC came to church. They sang some great tunes, one being a Coca-Cola commercial tune with worship lirics . An older man who had a big clan of kids ….jumping up he pulled his family out the door. Didn’t want anything to do with that stuff. His older boys were the prelude to the DUKES OF HAZARD, seriously. ….
    I love most music especially when it focuses on our faith. The older hymns were also contemporary also one time.
    I was telling my sweetheart today about my sister who was killed 1964 car wreck wrestling with a tree. She at 15 was the most on fire person for God I have yet seen. She also was our church pianist who loved to sing old hymns.

  206. Yes, nice discussion of this topic. Glad there are diverse ideas and it is done respectfully.
    My comment is this…the little “ditties” of contemporary worship that are quite repetitive can get annoying to me. However, during the week they pop back into my head and I find it is nice to have a meaningful refrain rolling around up there rather than the latest “junk” from a commercial.
    The hymns are meaty and I have a struggle remembering the words at times. But, again, it is meaningful to be meditating on songs lifting God than any thing else I pickup away from church.
    So to me, it’s all good. Each has it’s place in our maturity and walk with others. Let’s just not sing the endings of the “ditties” more than, say, 3 times???

    1. However, during the week they pop back into my head and I find it is nice to have a meaningful refrain rolling around up there rather than the latest “junk” from a commercial. Turn off the TV and spend that time memorizing the Word, and you wont have that problem, instead of a “meaningful refrain, you will have the Truth. God speed sister

  207. God has worked through men and women of every generation to create beautiful music that glorifies Jesus Christ. I contend that the most effective worship leader is one that blends the best music of the past with the best music of today, keeping the focus on the One that deserves all of the praise and worship!

  208. I love both hymns and Contemporary Christian Music. There have been contemporary songs that have left me bored with the repetition, like you say – same thing over & over. I particularly like hymns that have been brought into more contemporary music. The funny thing with contemporary music is that it quickly fades – probably not too many Christians today are familiar with the music of Keith Green, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Lamb, etc. And the “second generation” music of Amy Grant, Sandi Patty, Michael W. Smith, etc. also seem to be heading out. The hymns, on the other hand, seemed to last for much longer. One of the most important things in a song is that it has the basis of scripture. I can be reading along in the Bible and find very familiar words and think, “I know that! It’s a song!” That’s the best. I have been surprised by how much scripture memorization has happened through this method.

    1. Oh I know all those guys, to me they weren’t just fads! I love, love, love scripture based songs. My parents played them for me all the time growing up and yeah, I learned so much that way!

  209. My church’s music is very contemporary. My husband is a new believer and has immersed himself in it when he worships. I think that’s great! However, he tends to disparage the worship I do at the house. I love all kinds of music, and I especially feel the Spirit with some of the classic hymns, and I love singing them to God as I rock my babies. As a matter of fact, “Come Thy Fount” is one of my favorites because the lyrics speak truth and are anointed, Ebenezer and all!

  210. You forgot to mention the other (for want of a better word) inane line from “One Thing Remains”. The first line of the second verse goes “And on and on and on and on it goes”. Wow. I wish I could write worship lyrics like that.
    Last year I heard Graham Kendrick lamenting modern songs with their “key stage 1 theology” lyrics. To be honest though, as long as a song doesn’t JUST say how great God is, but also tells of our response to His greatness, that’s good enough for me.

  211. So much of this conversation misses the point of worship. Yes, our minds should be engaged and hearts too. I was raised in ultra conservative denominations and sang hymns most of my christian life, and still love them, but I love some contemporary christian songs too. When it comes to worship its not one or the other it’s both we need, and that’s what the article above states. As a basis for worship I like to look at psalms. Psalm 33 says sing unto him a new song, Ps 40:3 “And he hath put a new song in my mouth,” PS 96: 1 Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song: Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth. So, I think we are supposed to have new music, and contemporary writers. On the other hand, one of the elders of my church walked up to me and said “Phil what is your vision of what worship should be?” I talked about how it should include old and new songs, and he replied by quoting a scripture that talked about mixing old and new song together in worship and for the life of me I cannot locate that scripture today, but that is how I think it should be.We should put to rest the debate over old vs. new song as a frivolous debate in which we will no longer take part. we are one group of God’s children, saved by the blood of the lamb, and our desire is to worship God, from the basis of our faith. It is our faith that causes our hearts to be given to God in a thankful, be it sometimes solemn, act of worship in song.

  212. Its through those contemporary songs that lead me into healing and forgiveness. It is those songs tha the holy spirit moved in me and kept me from sucide. It fine to like hymns and i can see where people find peace but please becareful about critizing one or the other for you do not know what songs might speak life to someone

  213. Revelation Song…pretty powerful words, yet contemporary. Here is a short clip with the writer, Jennie Lee Riddle explaining her thoughts and how and why she wrote the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDK0oUfcQ9UI think we get in a slippery slope if we start making assumptions as to the purpose, thought and desire of the writer. I LOVE the old traditional hymns and wish we sang them more, but there is room for those who want to praise the Lord and worship Him though the gifts He has given them. We can not decide their intent and motivation without hearing directly form the writer as to their thought process in writing a song.
    Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
    Holy, holy is He
    Sing a new song to Him who sits on
    Heaven’s mercy seat
    Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
    Holy, holy is He
    Sing a new song to Him who sits on
    Heaven’s mercy seat
    Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty
    Who was and is and is to come
    With all creation I sing praise to the King of kings
    You are my everything and I will adore You
    Clothed in rainbows of living color
    Flashes of lighting rolls of thunder
    Blessing and honor strength and glory and power be
    To You the only wise King
    Filled with wonder awestruck wonder
    At the mention of Your name
    Jesus Your name is power, breath and living water
    Such a marvelous mystery

  214. As a long time former member of “The Church of Christ”, I feel I am qualified to comment. I grew up on the hymns you speak of, I’ve also played in a contemporary worship band and sang many of today’s songs. I still love hymns, and encourage them to be sang and used in Church.My question is: Is Jeremy Camp’s story any less tragic than Spafford’s? When he writes songs like “he knows” or sings lines like “I still believe in your faithfulness”, is it less a powerful to God than someone’s song from the 1500s or 1600s? I recently visited at a small town church of Christ. . They sang several hymns. And to be honest with you, it was brutal. About six people singing out of 80. No life altering melody, no majestic Luther or Calvin references. Just people going through the motions.
    See…it ain’t a hymn thing…or a Chris Tomlin thing…it is what it always has been …an issue with the heart. So while articles like this make the old timers clap…more than likely it’s the ONLY time they will….Sunday’s comin…arms folded, face stern, I guess they are “making melody in their hearts”….

  215. I’m in my mid 50’s and was raised on hymns. I love them but also love contemporary that speaks to my heart. Some may say it’s just speaking to the emotions. I’m not commenting to negatively debate the issue but just want to say there are so many songs of today that have helped draw me closer to God. I’m not referring to rock contemporary because it’s hard to glorify God when you can’t understand the words but songs like “Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave tell a story of how an individual overcame and was set free because of God’s redemption. Yes the song has a lot of I’s but not in a way to overshadow God but to send the message of what God can do when you’re struggling in this thing called life. Like I said I love the hymns but are they going to have the words that a desperate sinner are needing to hear when they first enter a church? It’s great to sing Amazing Grace & When The Roll is Called Up Yonder, but don’t we have to “catch” the fish before we “clean” them? Songs that let them know they are not a lost cause is going to draw them in to the fold. Then we as Christians are to serve as examples while they are still babes in Christ. Those of us who have always been in church may not understand those who weren’t. We can’t reach lost souls by saying it’s this way or no way.There’s only one way to God and that’s through Jesus but I may be blessed by a song that draws me closer and you may be drawn closer by a different one. What does it matter as long as God gets the glory?

  216. When I come to a WORSHIP service, that is exactly what I want to do: WORSHIP the Lord with my fellow Christians, WORSHIP the Lord in the midst of my sorrows and problems and difficulties, WORSHIP the Lord and give Him thanks and praise.But more than ever, I find that the worship leaders have us sing “informational” and “instructional” type songs, sometimes just full of emotion (“I’m desperate for You.”).
    Please, worship leaders, help us all to WORSHIP!!!!!
    THAT’S WHY WE ARE HERE!!!!
    Remember what Jesus said about worshippers: “Such the Father seeks.” (John 4)
    Help us worship in Spirit and in Truth. Help us lift our voices in praise and thanksgiving to our Lord and Creator.
    Please.

  217. Interesting thoughts, Dan. I also love the old hymns of the English-speaking Church. But consider:
    1. Most Christians are now in the global south: Latin America, Africa, India, China. Few speak English as a first language. While some of our old English hymns are translated, more new worship songs are being written in Portugese, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Mandarin, and many others. I am thinking their worship experience is at least as powerful as ours.
    2. I am a thinking and an emoting creature. I want to interact with His Presence fully in all my dimensions of me. For me, that means in my mind and in my emotions and even in my body. It means words and music and emotions that powerfully speak to places the Lord is touching in me (I’m no longer a slave to fear/I am a child of God) and it means words that remind yet again of the unguessable greatness of God (A mighty fortress…).
    3. “Geared to the times, Anchored to the Rock” has long been Youth for Christ’s motto for more than 50 years. It expresses well the reality that to effectively reach a changing world, we adapt to the times the ways in which we convey the timeless truths of the Gospel. For us in the English-speaking Church that means adding new music and lyrics to our musical repertoire.
    I honor your heart to lead your people to more of Jesus. We should honor those as well who have the same heart but use a different musical and lyrical approach for own their specific culture and focus.
    Blessings…

    1. ” reach a changing world, we adapt to the times the ways in which we convey the timeless truths of the Gospel. For us in the English-speaking Church that means adding new music and lyrics to our musical repertoire”……I have not found in scripture where God says to change the way I am to “convey the timeless truths of the Gospel”, would you please show me where we are to change how we convey the gospel, I do not find any details in the Word to be ready to change after 2000 years have passed. Seems the original way(God’s way) is the best way, man to man face to face, eyeball to eyeball, telling the truth and demonstrating God’s love thru good works and kindness. You contemporary music fans are determined to reinvent the wheel. It will wind up emergent and is getting us nowhere. Lucifer was a master muscian and deceiver, and has not come up with anything new since he began, he is leaving the invention of the “new” to us. Times have changed, sinful man’s root problem has not and the answer to that problem has not changed either.

  218. Thank you so much. When I discovered the old hymns a couple years back (a missionary asked us to lead the worship and gave me a list of hymns to prepare ) I went on Net hymnal and was most of the time in such deep worship that tears were streaming down my cheeks. When I learned: Jesus paid it all, I was transported to the feet of our precious and glorious Savior in renewed repentance and gratitude for delivering me by His own blood. Suddenly I heard the deepest gutteral sound like a combination of a growl of a grown bear and the hiss of an anaconda etc from the back corner of the room. I almost jerked my neck off looking at that corner and then slowly going to investigate but nothing. For a couple of weeks before that time strange things had been occurring in our house, but after that – never again. I then realised that the deep worship of my risen Savior had become too hot for this intruder and he left! !!

  219. I love leading with the great hymns of the past and with the best contemporary worship of the last 30 years.There are lots of great psalms, hymns and spiritual songs being written today as well.
    As predictable your theology of Worship is once again skewed by your Cessationism. Lighten up Dan!
    Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Psalm 96:1

  220. Beautifully written, and I think My husband .would have agreed fully with you. Neither of us were/are enamored by contemporary music or worship,for the very reasons you stated

  221. I continue to believe that some songs are meant for the radio. And others are meant to sing. Many of the “radio songs” are encouraging and great for the family to sing along to in the car, but somehow don’t seem to “work” when singing in church. Even with worship songs as recent as the 1980’s, radio seemed to pick from the songs the church was singing, and play those. Now it seems like the church picks songs based on what’s on the radio, and sings those.

  222. For a while my husband and I attended our church’s contemporary service but soon tired of the repetition in the song lyrics. The music in the traditional service comforts, educates, and inspires, connecting us to the church’s past and serving as a bridge to the future.

  223. Your story about rediscovering the good music that the church enjoyed in the past is refreshing and encouraging. But it seems to me we shouldn’t have to say “either-or.” It’s true that hymns and gospel songs are dense with meaning. But I’ve learned more about theology from worship music than I ever did from sermons.
    The reason is that worship music boldly goes where no hymn has gone before. Think of a hymn that says, “Take joy, my King / in what you hear / let it be a sweet, sweet sound / in your ear,” or “Broken, I run to you / for I know you satisfy. / I am thirsty, but I know / your love does not run dry. / So I wait for you.”
    The thing that I find missing from all of these discussions is the idea that emotional involvement is good. It leads us, if we are wise, to spiritual involvement. “Once in the dark of night / inflamed with love and wanting, I arose…”
    Old hymns speak in the third person, referring to God as “he.” “A mighty fortress is our God,” etc. They lift us to reverence. Gospel songs are in the second person. They speak to the audience as “you.” They are often a call to believe, to repent, to “Go, and tell the story.” But worship songs have given us a new understanding of how we relate to God. They speak in the first person, and the “you” they refer to is Jesus. They call us to “worship God in spirit” and understand him by revelation and love.
    Scripture tells us to “sing psalms, hymns, AND spiritual songs.” There’s no need to criticize one another.

    1. ” But I’ve learned more about theology from worship music than I ever did from sermons”……. Then you have not learned much theology. “Take joy, my King / in what you hear / let it be a sweet, sweet sound / in your ear,” Rich and deep, mentions the King which is important or “Broken, I run to you / for I know you satisfy. / I am thirsty, but I know / your love does not run dry. / So I wait for you.” Shallow, you could be singing this to your girl friend lover.The first phrase honors God the second is all about “I” mentioned five times, that is the problem with the “new” worship stuff, it is mostly about me myself and I, wrong focus.

  224. I m becoming more and more disillusioned with modern worship music. I also look upon a lot of these worship people with tons of suspicion, r they really doing it for God or for their own pride? ……….i wonder? I will never attend these secular type worship “concerts” either. Knowing mankinds pride and ego s i can see exactly whats going on. “I will oppose the proud but give grace to the humble”. There prob are a lot of genuine worship musicians, but still………. I ve just left our worship team because i think there was pride in me (amoung other reasons)And by the way, i m not a stuffy old fashioned person, i m an x metal head, but i know what mankinds all about, just look at the cars parked in the car park on a sun morning – there u go….. Look at me!

    1. I would let you know why Hymns are blessed and its blessings to all those who Love God and have fellowship with Him.
      1. It has rich, deeper doctrinal truths and strong words.
      2. It has Gospel.
      3. There’s always Jesus Christ’s name.
      4. Most of the English version of the Hymns are KJV King James Version, which is a blessed one.
      5. It transforms
      6. When we sing there’s reverence towards God.
      7. It gives us Hope, Comforts us.
      8. It’s backed by the Word of God
      God has blessed Hymns, they are powerful and transforms lives.
      God be glorified, Lord Jesus Christ be Adored

  225. I can’t stand it when people think they have discovered the heart of God when it comes to musical taste. You may think you have discovered some great new (old) music but please never confuse your personal limited and childish tastes with those of God almighty. Your puny views on music are merely your extremely limited experiences reveling themselves in your need to share what you think is some great spiritual revelation. May we never try to tell others what God’s musical tastes are. There is nothing sacred about 18th century harmonic and melodic structures no more than there is anything sacred about driving everywhere in a horse drawn carriage. Of course there are modern songs with poor theology. There are also old hymns with ridiculously poor theology and horribly sappy rhymes with excessively flowery gestures that should never be forced on a crowd of people seeking Jesus in the 21st century, unless of course you are celebrating Jane Austin day. Leave it to a millennial to think they have discovered something amazing when all they have really done is confused there own touchy feely grandma’s church music with a true move of God.Psalm 40:3a
    “He has given me a NEW song to sing, a song of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    You are not going to amaze the lost and hurting of this world by offering your best Amish-style worship. What’s next? King James only or Gregorian Chant?

  226. We join with Martin Luther? You mean, the guy who persecuted my ancestors to death while defending infant baptism? Why should we bow to the preferences of such “giants of the faith”? I think we should rather sing songs that move and speak to the specific group that is present. If that’s a song written by Luther, fine. If that’s a song written last week by my 13 year old son, fine. Who cares about the source? Content and singability are the determining factors, not who wrote or sang them a thousand years ago. Luther and Calvin sang contemporary songs. We’re allowed.

    1. Ryan Kargel “We join with Martin Luther? You mean, the guy who persecuted my ancestors ” you are aware bitterness will ruin you.

  227. Dan, I wholeheartedly agree with the lack of depth of many songs sung in the church. I disagree that we MUST go to the antiquated hymns of the past to re-engage. I come down somewhere in the middle. I agree wholeheartedly that when we sing the theologically rich songs of the past, we engage with God on an intellectually deep level. I would challenge, however, that there is much modern music which engages just as deeply (Rich Mullins, Mac Powell, John Cooper, Steven Curtis Chapman, Todd Agnew come to mind, to name a few). Unfortunately, worship leaders shy away from the intellectually stimulating music in favor of the repetitive, lyrically lame music we are all familiar with. I have always needed the intellectual stimulation that rich lyrics bring in music. I find that abundantly in modern Christian music. I wish I actually heard it occasionally other than on my own Ipod.

  228. I was raised on the old hymns. I feel like I’ve actually been to church when we sang those hymns. The reverence of being in church is gone. Let’s see if we can act and feel like we’re at a concert and not church. Sadly very few people go to church for spiritual reasons, now it’s a social event that we need to be seen. Oh God forbid someone see us crying and actually feeling the presence of the Lord.

  229. I’ve been struggling for several years over this issue between traditional hymns and contemporary Christian music. The more I deal with it, the more I realize the two arguments are between two man-made foundations. The more I deal with this issue, the easier exclusive psalmody appeals to me.

  230. I was away from church for thirty years…mostly because there was no place for me. But when I came back, only to serve, I was appalled at what I found. The beauty had been replaced with shallow and insipid nothingness. My being a classical musician probably played a big part in the repugnancy I felt. Oh well….At any rate, thanks for a voice of sanity….

  231. I challenge you to apply this logic for hymnody to Psalmody. It’s a wonderous thing to sing God’s very Word back to Him. What could possible bring Him more glory and us more edification?

    1. Lynn, you’re not far off 🙂 My most recent post was My Journey Toward Exclusive Psalmody. And while, if I’m being candid, I don’t think I’ll make a full switch, I definitely agree with your statement that it is indeed a wondrous thing to sing God’s own Word both to Him and to one another. I would only extend it to include other parts of God’s Word, such as New Testament doxologies.

    2. excellent point.
      Psalm 136 repeats the phrase, “His love endures forever” 26 times. Those hymn braggers must think the guy who wrote this was an idiot.

  232. Dan,I really like your post because it’s well-reasoned and certainly a I cannot argue your experience.
    However, I’ll take the contrarian point of view here.
    There are two subtle nuances to your argument about which I would like to debate.
    First, there is an assumption that songs are meant to be expressions of theology first and emotion second. I think this assumption is dangerous when applied to artistic expressions (of which worship music is perhaps the only enduring artistic expression in most churches) because it dismisses art as emotional and does not classify it as a worthy vessel for theological discourse. If a song is too emotional, it surely must not be theological. Foolishness, I say! Are we so arrogant (myself included) to think that Horatio Spafford wasn’t writing by and for the emotions when he penned It Is Well?
    Second, we idealize the songwriters of old. One of the core principles of the Reformation was the tearing down of the wall between clergy and commoners, thus revealing to the people they had just as much access to holiness as priests. Was Horatio Spafford any more spiritual than Matt Redman? We have absolutely no idea, yet we’ve been lulled into thinking in this way because Spafford’s lyrics are more elevated.
    Also: The idea that all songs should be given 50 years to see if they stick around is a defense mechanism by gatekeepers who fear modern art (church music, in this example) is just as spiritual as art of decades past.

    1. Agreed. This post makes the most sense. Also… Worship is so much more than music and lyrics. It’s a heart response to the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit. I can worship with NO music. Hymns or no hymns? Irrevelevant. This is a divisive argument. Focus on Jesus. Focus on the mission of seeking and saving those who are lost. It’s not about your preferences. Lift up Jesus. He will draw all men to himself. ~ Peace

  233. Right on sister…..you so very nicely put into words what I have thought …. It’s not always just the beat. There is a message. Blessings❤️

  234. It is my observation as a story teller and leadership coach that worship far exceeds the depth and delivery vehicle of music style, tempo, pace and volume. When training speakers I remind them that only 7% of all communication is actually delivered in words. It might be worth mentioning that many of the early hymns were liturgy laced over the melody of drinking songs made famous in bars and brothels. Reaching the common people in a common language. Touching the heart with the familiar to deposit the unknown for subconscious recall at a time of crisis. (It’s the same way we train cops, fire fighters, athletes etc.) See Caroline Leaf.
    While I whole heartedly agree that songs, hymns and spiritual songs should all conform to Phil 4:8-12, I am afraid my opinion of the need to teach theology through worship music is really a cry that reveals the weakness in teaching and discipleship that seems too common in many of today’s congregations.
    I am not a theologian, I am not a pastor or worship leaders, I do not, nor have I ever served as a staffer for a church, but I am a lover of Christ, and a faithful servant to His calling. One of the best books I have ever read is on the subject of worship and I recommend it to anyone who is brave enough to grow in worship. “How To Worship A King” by Zach Neese – I believe an understanding of its content would change the tone, tenor and taste of this thread of comments.
    I love you all. I appreciate the willingness to broach the subject.

    1. Daniel, the tenor of all the comments you’ve posted here on my website have all seemed very angry; even demeaning and sarcastic. I have tried to be very loving, gentle, and patient with all who post here, but when a pastor comes on my personal blog and speaks with sarcasm to me and others regarding a secondary issue, I will not abide it. Stop now. Feel free to discuss intelligently, but do not resort to sarcasm or you will be banned.
      To your “question:” that’s not the point. The point I am making in this article is that a majority of contemporary worship music is theologically vapid and emotions-driven. The Psalms? Those are theologically perfect and evoke emotion rather than depending upon it.
      I fully believe that new songs can be written and be biblically faithful and be used in worship. But the criteria has to be strict and based upon the clear teaching of Scripture.

  235. Psalm 136 repeats the phrase, “His love endures forever” 26 times. Those old hymn braggers must think the guy who wrote this was a “no talent”.

  236. I love that the church I found incorporates all of these. It is an ode to the ancestry and engaging the youth of today to switch their dials to learn of the word through song I would have never found God if it weren’t for music and I found God through a song in a movie. beginning to think I should write a book about it!
    The fact is we are all on the same team. Worship is worship — no one is standing and banding together for Christianity as a collective. Not sure how a Christian can criticize the fact that we are seeing record numbers of people in attendance and being risen to life

    1. Hey, Drake. Thanks for taking the time to interact with my article. All of the concerns you’ve raise