Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

When Worship Music is Neither


My wife and I were a little late for church one Sunday in San Diego about 10 years ago. In the lobby we saw an elderly lady, frail and looking lonely, sitting against the wall. We paused to ask if she needed assistance.

“No,” she explained, “I always wait out here until that awful rock and roll stops. It’s always so loud, and I still can’t hear the words or sing along.”

That poor lady’s reply encapsulated something I had felt, myself, for a long time; and even more so in subsequent years. I have groused before friends and in speeches. I have listened to laymen and argued with pastors and worship leaders. These are not the words of a cranky music critic, but from someone who is concerned that church music in America has morphed from Worship to Watching; from Praise to Performance; turning the congregational worshippers into concert audiences.

It is not even a matter of wanting arbitrarily to preserve ancient music and traditional hymns – my readers know that I enthusiastically offer up Christian music from chants of the Middle Ages to Southern and Black gospel. Rather, the transformation of church music says something about the culture in general – not just our expressions of spirituality. It reveals something that should have us troubled.

The transformation of church music across the American landscape (not in every church; but every Christian will know what I mean) has been rapid and fundamental. It goes to the notion of corporate worship. It is essential to our identification as believers in God and followers of Christ. It is a manifestation of the nature of our faith, the validity of faithfulness, the object of our faith.

Well before I encountered that “orphaned” elderly lady a decade ago, I was talking about this general topic to Dr Bill Bright, founder of the mighty organization Campus Crusade for Christ. Agreeing with my critique, he referred to “7-11 music,” which I assumed meant the ubiquitous Muzak we hear in stores and elevators. But he said he meant church music that repeated the same seven words 11 times. That states the formula.

In formal terms, hymns are sermons in song, stating biblical themes or exhortations. Look at the words of traditional hymns: they describe the situation of the world and the position of Christians in it; challenged, threatened, but hopeful. The difference with songs – gospel songs, revival tunes, camp-meeting music – is more than the simpler harmonies and popular melodies. Gospel songs that live today in white Southern Gospel and Black Spirituals feature choruses to which singers return between verses.

The “contemporary” “worship” music we refer to here is similar to the earlier forms… but far different. Some of it purports to praise God, but its praise is diluted by the lack of focus or substance, characterized by those endlessly repeated lines. In truth, much of it is “me” oriented. Examine lyrics and see how often the first-person pronoun “I” is used. The emphasis is on the singer (more than God?), on how we feel (instead of worshiping or understanding Him), or what we receive from the musical experience.

None of these impulses is wholly bad. Of course. But the up-ending of church music does not end there.

In the Apostolic days of the young church, music was not particularly encouraged. Saint Cecilia reversed that attitude (and is honored as the Patron Saint of Music) and for a thousand years or so, music accompanied worship. Sometimes somber, sometimes joyously, eventually in certain liturgical orders. In Luther’s time the congregation was encouraged to sing, in ever-expanding portions of the service; beyond chanting and the liturgy, to hymns. For almost half a millennium, church music has included settings of the service; cantatas; anthems; choruses; and hymns. And it has been inclusive of worshipers… an integral part of our service, our worship.

But the new music that has overtaken traditions so quickly has done more than supplant Luther, Wesley, and Fanny Crosby with Pop, Folk, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. It has changed the essence of music’s role in Christian worship.

Plugging in the amps has unplugged the purpose of musical worship.

From that AG church in San Diego to my daughter’s Lutheran mega-church in Michigan, from “Seeker-Sensitive” churches in the heartland to evangelical churches in the South, the stages are set the same:

Worship leaders who instruct the listeners when to smile, when to clap, when to stop and hug their neighbors;

Musicians who wear casual, even dirty, clothes;

Solo singers who attract the spotlight, musicians who take “hot licks” between the choruses;

Words sometimes projected on screens – never the music, never the music, which leaves newcomers confused and makes the words confusing;

Hymnals are almost regarded as toxic relics, and printed songsheets without music are worthless… but they would serve futile purposes anyway, because few people sing in their seats (or, when instructed to do so, standing);

Audiences – because that is what they literally have become – seldom sing. They might clap and sway; and, in some churches, raise their hands. But they are audience members of Sunday-morning concerts, plain and simple.

Do you disagree? See how often these audiences applaud after each performance’s song (it used to be anathema to applaud in a church). Take note of the elaborate (if deceptively sparse) staging and sets; the lighting, the video effects, the close-ups where cameras “kiss” the soloists. Listen to your neighbors’ comments about the singer’s voice or the guitarist’s solo riffs (compared to the comments on the sermon).

Too many of us are going to shows, not church. We savor presentations, not prayers. We are presented with performers, and we are less concerned with seeking the Savior. People are encouraged to love the worship… but how often to love Jesus?

Yet the formula is followed as rigid dogma would be: drums, loud solos, emotional effects, a concert atmosphere, sloppy dressers, regimented applause. Who needs those old hymns? OK, they touched people and turned souls to Christ for 500 years? But… this is the 21 century!

These churches reveal a Post-modern mindset about eternal standards: they regard few things as eternal, and standards can shift with the times. Heretical, really.

The churches are saying that they will change almost anything in order to be “relevant.” No matter if those kids visiting the pews are bored by the Contempo Lite up on the stage. Even youngsters realize that today’s American church has few standards, and is willing to stand on its head – even to offend lifelong Christians like that old lady in San Diego – to put on a good show. “How sincere are they,” that young visitor might ask, “about their theology, too?”

Good question. Bad music. The Gospel message itself is sweet enough – sometimes hard enough, yes – to draw all people unto the Savior. Traditional musical, mighty hymns, persuasive songs, support the Good News preached to all men. “Music” that drowns it out… works against the Message people need to hear. The Church’s one foundation… is cracked?

+ + +

In the world… of the world. Post-Modern, Post-Christian. What’s the difference?

Click: The Church’s Worshiptainment

Category: Life, Worship

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33 Responses

  1. Sad but true. Thanks, Rick, for saying what needs to be said.

  2. Mark Dittmar says:

    In some eastern religions worshipers use repetitive music to enter hypnotic states making them receptive to spiritual experiences and eastern culture has been influencing American culture for 50 years.

    Since in certain churches 7-11 music is the prescribed way to usher in the presence of the Holy Spirit, it makes one wonder if the Church in America has been duped.

    We have definitely shifted from a work-culture to an entertainment culture; from a culture that once valued a man’s character to one that prizes his personality.

    Martin Luther King dreamed of the day his children would be judged by “the content of their character….” I hope it’s not too late.

  3. Carol says:

    This is so well said. Thank you, Rick, for saying what I have been thinking for years. The video is a hoot!

  4. Thank you, Rick! Very well said.

  5. Caroline Ford says:

    As I read this article, I watched as it gradually went from unbiased and polite to angry and judgemental. All of your “observations” cause me to suspect that you, too, are not worshipping the Lord, but looking around you as a bitter man.
    I’ve been to many-a-megachurch in my days, and I’ve yet to come upon one that does not treasure hymns and incorporate them into worship. I’ve yet to walk into a church and hear people giggle about guitars, or find myself surrounded by an applauding audience. Perhaps it’s because I’m not looking for it– you know, I’m actually worshipping the Lord instead of looking for faults around me and pouting? You should try it.

    That being said, there’s a pinch of truth in every criticism… but nothing nobody already knows. As someone who leads worship in these “heretical” churches, we’re already aware of the tendency of congregations to become too caught up in aesthetics– and actively fighting and praying for them, doing our best to bring their thoughts back to God alone. Does this surprise you? That even rock and roll worship leaders sincerely want God to be glorified?
    Don’t be so defensive, brother. We’re in this faith together, and we both love the same Savior.

  6. John Hutchinson says:

    Mr. Marschall:

    While your comments regarding the subjectivist vacuity of modern “Christian anthems” worshiping an Islamic-like inscrutable god is valid, this is a reflection, and not a cause of the general state of modern Evangelical mindlessness.

    My concern is that in counter-reacting to this attempt at “relevance”, one will draw on the tried and true traditional means of exegetical evangelizing – You have sinned and come short of the glory of God…

    The problem with this is that the exegetical method requires an assumption that the Scriptures are true without furnishing incontrovertible and sufficient proof. This is disrespectful to the interlocutor. And in fact, even God suggests first tasting before accepting. Secondly, sin means nothing until you establish that there is a true and good within the true, and that these things are epistemologically ascertainable and reliable.

    The thing is that Scriptures do address and confront these more basic issues of truth, epistemology. But the tried and true seminarians refuse to draw upon these Scriptural gems and are stuck in a Jerusalem mode and method that cannot reach an Athenian culture.

  7. Falcon 78 says:

    And throw in the visual for part of that discussion on music. Upon entering more of the “modern’ evangelical churches, the center point of the church that the eyes are drawn to is the rather large drum set of the “Praise” band, instead of the altar, a crucifix, and the Word of God. Often flanking the drum set are the key boards and even screens for the “Power Point” slides to be shown with the lyrics–that the author correctly notes–often are overflowing with the personal pronouns of “I, me, we, us” etc. These services are all too often more of performance, entertaining the audience, and keeping their attention. So, the fundamental question–why does one go to church? Even the good Lord would need ear plugs for so many of the rock concerts by these so-called “Praise” bands.

  8. Great Is Thy Faithfulness….Lord Unto Me….Amen

  9. Dave says:

    Thanks Rick for the insights ant the courage to take a stand. CCM is music only at the margins. Those of us trained in the “classic/traditional” sphere know very well about the shallow nature of this music and the lyrics . CCM breaks almost all of the rules most of the time in areas of music theory.
    CCM also is weak in basic theology and therefore it does not only fail to lead people to Christ but it also sadly does not teach the young Christian any of the essential doctrines of the faith.

    I have predicted the slow demise of CCM for years now and I believe the pendulum is finally swinging back in the right direction. Sadly, we may have already lost a large portion of one generation.

    God is still on the throne.
    Soli Deo Gloria,
    Dave Eaton

  10. I am somewhere between astonished and incredulous that, with the wide experience you cite, have never noticed this shift in worship modes, musical styles, and such. In fact, I am jealous. Your comments remind me that I did go toward extreme descriptions in order to make my points. You evidently are versed in judgmentalism, and I confess that I do judge the manner, and the effects, of the assault on hymnals, liturgy, traditions, reverence, intelligibility, and such, with which you are not acquainted. (“By their fruits…”) But I imagine I would profit from your worship leading. Thank you for the comment.

  11. Jack says:

    It is also amusing that the projected songs frequently get verses or songs out of order. They don’t take it serous enough to prepare.
    A friend said the songs are simple so they can be sung around a campfire. But they still have to be projected.
    Fortunately, I am part of a congregation that sings profound songs acappella and we use songbooks.

  12. Greg Jones says:

    I’m a worship leader who leads a church every week in contemporary worship music.

    I’m concerned about the old lady Mr. Marschall referenced. But I’m concerned about why she would say she can’t follow the lyrics when they are projected on the screen? I’m concerned when she says she can’t understand the lyrics when they are in front of her eyes. But more importantly, I’m concerned IF a believing Christian is withdrawing from congregational worship simply because they don’t like the music style.

    I don’t want to be insensitive here, but why wouldn’t someone like that simply go to another church? There are plenty of good churches doing traditional and I support them 100% for this reason amongst others.

    Modern worship music doesn’t have any ‘hot licks’ (referencing the ‘hot licks comment about musicians). Modern worship music is very purposefully very simplistic.

    The formula for modern worship isn’t ‘sloppy dress’ (although yes there are a lot of ‘hipsters’ who love modern worship music and are playing it). But the music doesn’t CAUSE the dress. That’s a deeper product of just one generation attracted to it (and there are plenty of exceptions within the younger generation on that front).

    The formula isn’t loud solos (presumably this means guitar). Most worship music doesn’t even have guitar solos but if they did, why would we assume the guitarist has an ego? Whatever happened to a community of believers celebrating the gift God has given them together, so long as the recipient of that gift is humble about it? Is the only acceptable solution for a believer to instead suppress/hide such a gift?

    Is modern worship music ‘me centered’? I don’t see that. I DO see the prosperity Gospel as being me-centered but it isn’t inherently tied in with modern worship music. As a worship leader, I purposefully reject songs that don’t have lyrics directed towards God. I’m not alone in this practice either.

    Mr. Marschall wrote:
    “These churches reveal a Post-modern mindset about eternal standards: they regard few things as eternal, and standards can shift with the times. Heretical, really.”

    No heresy is when we hold to the standards of MEN as if they are the standards of God. Matt 15:9.

    Instrumentation, dress, style…. aren’t all of these and more the standards of men? If so, then why should we let these things distract us so much from the substance of our faith, found in the message of the Kingdom?

  13. Glen Miller says:

    The change in music presentation and performance was a big reason for me to quit attending church. As a life long Methodist, the hymnal and its music meant a lot to me in worship services.
    I tried attending the local church after moving here, Northern California, and was hugely disappointed to see the crumby screen with the song words projected on the wall. As you said, no music!
    There are evangelical family members who are part of the performance, rather than worship, group. I see little meaning in the music presented. I’m not surprised that Caroline Ford is defensive about her music styles; it isn’t Marschall who is defensive, or even judgmental.

  14. john brown says:

    I’m surprised to some extent we are still fighting this. I understand and respect that people have different preferences…but that is all they are…preferences. I can’t get into the head of those who worship with hymns wrote in the 1800’s and 1900’s to the accompaniment of the organ . I certainly don’t doubt their sincerity in singing the old hymns. I like them as well. But nor do I question the sincerity and worship of those who sing songs to drums, guitars, and words on a screen sans musical notes. I personally don’t get the angst with not seeing the musical notes but then like most, I don’t read music.

    Hurray for tradition. I love the old songs of my youth like At Calvary, Rock of Ages and Blessed Assurance. But some “high church” folks would look down their nose at those too. As a Baptist I believe in soul liberty of the believer on issues that are not specifically spelled out in scriptures.

    I will add that more of the liberal mainline churches are much more apt to play hymns than contemporary praise music. I’ll take the conservative evangelical churches hymns or not.

  15. I am tempted to think Mr Jones in fact might be insensitive to the lady I described. Her whole life in one church, one tradition, comfortable with (or perhaps dependent upon) hymnals’ close-up words. And some people still read music! I myself learned to read music by singing in church, from hymnals. That contemporary worship effectively banishes these things might not be spiritual arrogance; but it is social rudeness. “If you don’t like it here,” when lifelong traditions have been turned on their heads, “Get out — go elsewhere,” is scarcely welcoming to congregants.

    I do NOT presume anything about Mr Jones, nor his church nor his worship leading — I cannot and I don’t, but this leads me to a point — that many of the churches who have committed, lockstep, to new musical styles and paradigms, are eager to announce themselves as “Welcoming.” In the contemporary church world, that is a code word (with rainbow flags unfurled and special blessings) for invitations to homosexuals; usually, not merely for attendance, but for marriages, ordination, etc. How significant that some churches welcome homosexuals and discourage traditionalists. THEY can find other churches, right?

    As with another Commenter, I am almost jealous that you seem to be unfamiliar with the churches and attitudes and practices I described. many other readers have echoed my reports and share my unease. Does Mr Jones and I have similar complaints? — I think so! This blog’s archives will reveal jeremiads against the Prosperity Gospel and Post-Modernism. Ultimately, to end where Mr Jones ends, we simply have different definitions of “distractions” and the roles they play in, or against, worship.

  16. Terri says:

    “Hymns are sermons in song.” Good point. I have long lamented that we stopped singing our theology. Hymns are our theology in song, too. Over 20 years ago, I was attracted to the trend of Scripture songs set to music. That was also very good, but I believe it also started the trend away from hymns. Hymns and choruses in typical hymnals began to become old, tired. I found the new songs, Scriptures set to music, stayed with me all week repeating in my head. I found myself meditating on the Word almost without realizing it.

    But everything “new” becomes old, and newer, fresher, must take its place. Thus began an unsatisfied hunger for the next “new thing”. Suddenly the old hymns are now refreshing again. I join the chorus of those crying out for Biblically sound, doctrinally solid, good new hymns. The Getty’s have done some great work; we need more!

  17. John Brown says:

    as we discuss the instrumentation no should a drum solo or guitar solo be differentiated from an organ solo? One just sounds more traditional…well unless it’s a Hammond B3. 🙂

  18. Jan Baynes says:

    I said something to this effect to two Elders in my home church some 20 years ago. But they labeled me an complaining, unhappy Christian. They did not listen to me at all. Unfortunately for new people and our children and grandchildren ,they will never know the comfort God uses through the old hymns. Sad, very sad.

  19. Ex Worship Pastor says:

    I’m sorry but this conversation is like watching a married couple fight for 30 years. I love the church and I love people.

    But watching conservative traditionalists continuously bring up this rhetoric of “an oldy but a goodie” and “sing our theology through hymns” is getting tiresome. It’s growing tiresome because people don’t connect anymore, people don’t read music. Yes there are those in high school bands that read music, but I hate to burst your bubble most kids nowadays on learning hot to play instruments through youtube, guitar hero and garage band.

    If you think this rock and roll stuff is bad, just wait until the next thing comes along because it will. It will be dubstep worship or hip hop worship or something that will catch like wildfire and you’re going to still be preaching this same old sentiment.

    It’s time for people to realize IT IS NOT a genre issue, it’s not a performance issue, it’s not a lighting or visual projection issue, it’s not a “how dare they wear that” on Sunday fashion issue.

    It’s a heart issue, the sooner people learn to see beauty (God) in all these things the sooner we will learn to truly worship. It has to be both, it has to be traditional music with contemporary flair. It has to be contemporary music dialed back.

    Both sides are need to compromise.

    I’m so sick of people masquerading their personal agendas/preferences as gospel truth. If you don’t like it don’t hold the church hostage, don’t make a big scene. Do something else, prepare the coffee, volunteer in children church, bake some goodies and then come down for the sermon. Find a some way to connect with the community, to give to the community instead sitting outside or boycotting like a spoilt child.

    I actually think that the church needs to innovate, we need to move away from music or at least reduce our reliance on it. We need to shrink churches and become more community focused. We need to spend more time with the people around us, we need to spend more time in nature, we need to spend more time supporting those who are struggling in the church. Perhaps that means not meeting on a Sunday and everyone focuses on a neighborhood need on their block.

    This infighting is like watching a married couple fight for 30 years (I’m 34 by the way) so this argument has been like watching my mom and dad fight my entire life.

    But maybe after 30 years it’s time for a divorce.

    Maybe we need to separate and find other ways of connecting with God. I know personally that’s where I am at. My guitar has been sitting under my bed for 3 months. I walk my dogs, I listen to podcasts and I cook. All of which are forms of worship, they provide me with mental/spiritual, physical and emotional restoration.

    And that is why I’m an ex-worship pastor. And to be honest, probably and ex-church goer. Church doesn’t fulfill me anymore, why because these liturgies we perform are somewhat meaningless.

    They don’t have tangible impacts on the community. They are a concert and a ted talk with a spiritual component.

  20. Well, I guess I — and the suddenly frozen-out — must plead guilty to be among your characterization as “spoilt children.” It is interesting that when 2000 years of tradition is turned on its head (so: obviously I don’t mean baroque hymns and Grandma’s favorites, but liturgy, structure, meaningful symbolism that was fashioned in the very early days of the church) it is interesting when this all of a sudden is thrown out… that some people invite the disaffected to leave the church, prepare coffee, or bake goodies. Wow. If you want worship to change so much, why don’t YOU go to another church? Or start one? Listen to you — you slam those who don’t like the music you evidently initiated as a worship pastor. And, you say, an imminent “ex-church goer.” So you diddle with traditional worship… you slam the people who miss the forms they’ve known all their lives… your problems with liturgy are with you, and not with liturgy itself, which by definition is meaning-full… and then you leave your church, your guitar under the bed even, for three months… and left a church, it would seem, somewhat tattered, with people on both “sides” now un happy. Congratulations.

  21. Ex Worship Pastor says:

    Actually the church I left was happy, they were no ill feelings. People were sad to see me go they felt that they had an extremely balanced worship.

    The point is an will always be genre is subjective, taste is subjective. We need to stop judging or valuing worship in style.

    I sang old songs. I love old hymns. I value peoples history and identify that we need to sing songs that affirm their faith, but when we start to boycott things because we don’t like them I don’t have time for people like that, there is no room for that. It’s childish.

    No one is asking the disaffected to the leave the church, we are asking for alternatives. We limit God “worship” to these limited experiences that don’t encompass the full character or mission of God.

  22. Lindsey says:

    Today I attend a contemporary worship church, but I previously attended a church that worshipped traditionally. I left the church because of the hardened hearts of the people there, not because of the worship style. That does not mean churches who worship traditionally must have hardened hearts. What it DOES mean is that worship style does not determine the heart of person. I cannot find anywhere in scripture that we are told specifics about our worship music or instruments. I do see Jesus continually changing things…revolutionizing the world he was in. His message was continually harsh towards the pharisees because they got caught up in details such as these, and then completely missed the point of the matter. Worship is about the heart. Plain and simple. Sure, I’ve seen contemporary worship leaders turn Sunday morning into their personal pedestal…but I’ve seen the exact same thing from traditional worship leaders. Clothing choice, music choice, lyrics, and instruments are not the determining factor. The heart is. Does the worship leader seek to worship and praise his maker? Do the people in the congregation desire the same thing? …or are we stuck on personal preferences, making the lyrics in our head filled with the word “I” that you speak of….no matter what worship style is happening around us? As the church, we are entrusted with representing God in all of his glory, truth, might, and LOVE to the world around us. Arguments like this over trivial things like this are not doing that, and the world sees it. As a result, they not only loses faith in the church…but they assume God must be just as trivial as we’re being and lose faith in Him. I’m praying we’d resolve to be filled with truth AND love as Jesus was, and reclaim the magnetic draw that the early church had as a result.

  23. You will find this odd, I think; but we might be closer than you think. You just reckon that I have an attitude defect as a worshiper; I think performers have attitude problems as “leaders.” Where is Jesus in this? Too often, we say it is hard to hear Him…

  24. Lindsey says:

    Hmmm…yeah, I see what you’re saying. Strangely, I agree. Many worship leaders have attitude problems as leaders. However, I don’t think it’s entirely their fault. Instead of being mentored, discipled, and taught what it means to lead in the church, most worship leaders are urged on stage once their musical talent is recognized. It’s my desire to see those worship leaders lovingly taught how to lead…just as we all had to be taught in some form or fashion, to be where we are.

    About Jesus being hard to hear…gotta say that’s us, not him. 🙂

  25. Emily says:

    Great article. I have no problems with rock music, but I don’t think it is appropriate for public worship. God is holy and our worship of Him should reflect that. However, I do believe the instruments isn’t the problem, but how we use them And no matter what, the music should never overpower congregational singing
    I would like to add, while hymns are wonderful (even some modern ones), do not forget the psalter! While I do not advocate exclusive psalmody, there is something beautiful about a congregation singing psalms. The Psalms, in my mind acts as a great doctrinal guardrail. You can never go wrong singing the bible.

  26. When I teach my history students in the University System of Georgia (presently at Georgia Gwinnett College), I talk about the Puritan practice of unaccompanied psalmody sung by the congregation. Congregational singing was one of the rediscoveries and hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation, and it was largely fostered by metrical psalmody, in contradistinction to chanting by monks. I note that the so-called contemporary worship is really a return to the Middle Ages, when only the “professionals” would do the singing. Let me urge your readers to consider not only the benefits but also the Biblical fidelity of singing as did many of our Protestant forebears–without musical instruments, and sticking with God’s hymnbook, viz., the psalter. This is the way that various branches of the church, including the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), still worship.

    For Christ’s crown and covenant,
    Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D.D.
    Minister, Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship (RPCNA)

  27. Rusty says:

    Brilliant article. I wholeheartedly agree. I do however, disagree with some of the commenters that there are plenty of other churches that use traditional hymns in their service. Those churches are rare and getting harder to find.
    So many churches today that see their attendance falling use the “music the kids like” as some magic bean to get the attendance to grow again. The purpose of worshiping God through music is to please a Holy God, NOT to make unbelievers in the audience feel more at home. The church should be a sanctuary set apart from the world. Much of the “contemporary” music today is worldly music with some Christian lyrics.

  28. Roger Lau says:

    Your article, like Gen. 3:1, is filled with half-truths. You have nothing but criticism for modern worship music, and nothing but adulation for hymns, revealing only a personal subjectivism of the whole concept. And why wearing ties, suits and fancy dresses is put forth as innately more “spiritual” than casual clothes, is fallacious as an argument, and merely condescending towards your Christian brothers and sisters.
    The weakness of lyrical depth in contemporary worship music is a valid criticism. I too, often struggle with groaning inwardly at a song that feels narcissistic to me. But I’ve also had the experience of someone next to me expressing how moved and uplifted they were from the lyrics of the same song. So….does this person need me to correct their naivity? Or am I (and you) just being arrogant and judgmental?
    Your comments on “performance” are equally just a subjective opinion. Some of these worship experiences can be “performances,” but not all, and probably not most. A church I attended had a fabulous electric guitarist who hated the limelight, but dutifully provided a “riff” in between verses. Some members (like you) groused that he as “showing off.” Word got back to him about, and hurt him deeply. What these church members did was gossip. It was judgmental. It was sinful. Plus, a guitar riff in between verses is no less “spiritual” than an organ interlude.
    I’ve also been a member of traditional hymn-singing churches. Many times, the congregation was just as much of an “audience” as in a contemporary worship setting, if not more so: little emotion demonstrated, and no ability to lift your hands in spontaneous thanks to God because you’ve got to hold the hymnal. I can’t read music, so viewing musical notes is distracting for me, as is archaic wording (“For him to whom God hath purveyed…”). I know I’m not alone is that experience.
    Both hymns and contemporary worship music have their strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned to enjoy both. But cherry-picking aspects of both, as you have done, in order to bolster your subjective opinion, doesn’t do a service to the kingdom of God. It merely divides. Even if you have seen many churches pursue one form of worship resulting in a division within the congregation as a result, you shouldn’t contribute to it. The old lady you mention at the beginning of your article who refused to worship God with the congregation because of that “awful rock and roll” you describe as “poor” and a “victim.” Unfortunately, she was also judgmental, and undermining the pastor’s authority by her public refusal to participate, hardly qualities that should be admired. Romans 14:19-15:1 are very relevant to this discussion, and need to be taken to heart by all of us.

  29. I think you ascribe things to me inappropriately. First (to help readers who see someone dropping Bible citations without actually quoting them), the “half truths” of Genesis 3:1 — “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” I assume you do not say that any of the Bible is comprised of half-truths, but you liken my to the serpent. Well. I am not sure I can proceed with hopes for a rational discussion.

    But, here we go. Yes, my opinions are subjective. Rather a component of opinions, generally. I aimed to persuade, not describe. Jumping to your condemnation of the old lady who remained in the lobby until the concert was finished each Sunday, I am afraid you have less compassion than I do for a lifelong Christian who found it uncomfortable to join the fan clubs of Lecrae or The Gospel Gangstaz. Quietly reading her Bible in the lobby for a while seemed, to me, to display more loyalty to her home church and less what you call judgmentalism, “undermining the pastor’s authority by her public refusal to participate.”

    Basically I am trying to have people think of what inspires the dress and music in contemporary churches — I cannot gainsay what people take away. God bless them, if it is genuinely spiritual… and that is a matter between them and God. But I have another anecdote: My wife and I once attended an Easter worship service (Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania) where the worship leader wore sneaker, cargo shorts, and a T-shirt. I knew the guy, and knew where he worked, and that his clothes in the shop, five days a week, were cleaner, more “formal,” than what he chose to lead worship. On Easter. You probably think I am being legalistic, but he made what seemed to me a conscious decision to show what is conventionally regarded as lack of simple respect. To God. To his fellow worshipers. I suppose you think I militate for cowls or backward collars. But that would not even be a half-truth.

    I am a Pentecostal but born a Lutheran, so I have liturgical roots (and strong affections) but also am touched by worship exuberance and spontaneity. In my writing career, I have worked on a book about Jimmy Swaggart, written a biography of Johann Sebastian Bach’s faith life and compositions, and interviewed Bill Gaither, Joni Earecksen Tada, Bev Shea, Jake Hess, David Crowder, Chris Tomlin, and Paul Baloche; some of them for a proposed PBS documentary series I worked on. All of which is to say — I am not a worship-music Luddite or Puritan. I have tried to speak to the spirit of Exclusion and false values. The Epistle to the Romans’ condemnation of legalism and empty shows of biblical wisdom, indeed.

  30. Robert Nidever says:

    Hi Rick,
    I somewhat agree with your assertion of what’s going on with praise and worship, but if I may say I also disagree with what you’ve written. I’ve been a professional studio and session musician for 30+ years. My earliest years were spent hours learning my craft living in a Christian communal environment in Northern California, I’m a preachers kid, some of our praise and worship would last 2 1/2 hours or more and none of it was hyms or traditional music or contemporary music, It was mostly improvising off of major chords with little singing but the music was aestheticly
    Pleasing to the ears, so I guess what I’m getting to is it really has nothing to do with the music it’s what’s in the hearts of the congregation, are they truly seeking Christ. I’m 56 years old and I can’t relate to hyms because I didn’t grow up singing them, I can’t even remember the verse or chorus 5 min after I’ve sung them, believe you me I’ve tried. Give me something soft and moving and I’m in. Hyms are so stuccado and blunt it’s difficult to stay up with it. I’ve been asked by our church to help our P/W leaders to try and morph hyms with a light sprinkle of contemporary music, because there is much new blood attending services they can’t relate to hyms and its music, I wish they could and I wish I could but that’s where I feel there’s room for both. Thx for your insight


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About The Author

... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More