Roar A New Song

6 May

By Amy Sondova I’ve recently come to this startling conclusion–I don’t like worship music, at least most of it. I find the driving, happy beat annoying, the simple lyrics uninteresting, and the loudness of it all less than “worshipful”. I’ve always been a girl who thought God appreciated the simple song of a little child as well as a giant rock concert. In fact, I often thought that heaven is a rock concert. That was when I was young and foolish, when I thought I knew everything–now I realize the presence of God is going to be much more incredible than the best concert I’ve ever attended.

However, that doesn’t deal with the issue at hand, which is worship music. Since I do music reviews, I get a lot of pre-releases to peruse. Every time I get a new “worship” album, I feel annoyed. Yet I give each album a chance. At times I am pleasantly surprised and other times I am inclined to propel the album out the window (actually it gets thrown into the “reject pile”).

Just like I find the same plot in 10 different books or the same tired advertising gimmick repetitive, so I find worship (as well as other types of) music. Because the new releases I listen to tend to be in the “Christian” genre, that is where I find most of my criticism. Sometimes it’s difficult to sing the hip new song in church when I’ve just “rejected” the album three months prior. I don’t mind that other people do like worship music. I’m glad that it meets people where they’re at, that their hearts are enlivened with words of truth, and that they feel connected with God when they sing these songs. Truly, I am pleased that God gets all the praise.

The problem seems to be the fact I don’t like worship music. When I close my eyes and focus on the Lord, things are generally OK. It’s when I’m forced to give my opinion of “worship” to others or when I review an album that I feel the rub. When I tell others I don’t particularly dig that genre, people look at me like I’ve grown an extra head. I half-expect someone to throw holy water on me or perform an exorcism.

Ironically, these are the same individuals who talk smack about the “traditional” service. I don’t understand why it’s acceptable for the “contemporary worship” folks to shun the “old hymn” traditionalists, or vice versa. “That’s just the way they want to worship,” they say knowingly as they head into their service of choice. I have a couple of problems with this.

First, why is “worship” defined as the music sung on Sunday mornings, at youth group, or at fellowship gatherings? Shouldn’t worship be a lifestyle? Aren’t we to do everything for the glory of God, even eating and drinking, or am I misreading Paul (1 Corinthians 10:31)? True, I didn’t do a contextual exegesis of this verse, but the concept is still very much the same. We are to be about the business of glorifying God through worship in action and in spirit.

Second, music is supposed to unify, not divide. Isn’t music the universal language? We all have our preferences, but why is it so hard for us to come together as a church to worship, even if we’re singing dusty ol’ hymns, the latest Hillsong tunes, or rockin’ out to David Crowder? If I can suck it up, surely everyone else can, too. Put aside preferences for universal worship, and use your favorite music as a private worship experience (with the understanding that music is only one facet in a limitless realm of worship possibilities).

Speaking of singing, it’s OK to be a horrible singer. A few years ago, I was at a conference where the worship music was being led by David Crowder. At the start of his set, Crowder said, “This isn’t about singing great; this is about praising the Lord! So sing loudly!” He also mentioned that any praise position was possible–sitting, standing, jumping, lifting the hands towards heaven, and so on. Suddenly, the people around me felt free to sing badly, write poetry, silently pray, dance, and explore various avenues of worship. This is one of the distinctions between a worship leader and a person who plays worship music–a worship leader understands the intricacy of worship, ushering people into connecting with God.

Unfortunately, worship has been reduced to a category of music at the overpriced Christian bookstore. The album covers are plastered with the faces of incredibly good-looking people who all sing for the glory of God (and I don’t doubt that). Yet God’s “glory” is dumbed down to a few simple chords, the same rhythms, and a few tired lyrics or another cover of “Here I Am to Worship”, a phenomenal song which has been simplified to the point of tears. Perhaps it’s time to reread Bob Briner’s classic Roaring Lambs to remind ourselves of the integrity of the arts as a worship medium to the living God (or a listen to “3 Minute Song” by Josh Wilson).

I’m not saying that only the best singers should sing or the best painters should paint; I am merely trying to urge against formulaic music to make a buck. I am not saying that worship music is bad; I just don’t prefer it. I am saying that God being God deserves all our glory, praise, and honor whether singing in our car, talking to our neighbor, or shopping for groceries. The outward expression of our worship should be evident in our lives, and we should be using the best of our talents to serve God.

While heaven probably isn’t a rock concert, I still like to think of it in “musical terms”. I envision it as a music festival hitting every genre of music possible and then it comes together in a holy chorus singing the praises of the Living God, who reigns eternally.

*Author’s note: I want to emphasize this point. I am not doubting the hearts of worship musicians, just analyzing the music some artists produce. I also realize that just because I do not like a certain genre or a certain musician does not mean that someone else does not or should not. My opinion is just that, my opinion. Actually, I find it difficult to write less-than-stellar reviews and do so with caution because I don’t want to “knock” an artist who is praising God. I try to be careful and use my words sparingly as well as honestly.

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No Responses to “Roar A New Song”

  1. Clay May 6, 2008 at 3:53 PM #

    What about guitar solos in worship? Can they be worshipfully done or are they something done for the edification of the one doing it?

    Great stuff.

  2. drivebymedia May 6, 2008 at 5:23 PM #

    Very honest and thought provoking. I have a couple of thoughts.

    Our church several years ago adopted a blended worship style (using both hymns and more contemporay songs) and it caused some on both sides to leave, but overall those that stuck it out now have a greater appreciation for both the richness of the past music and the ability to see how the Spirit is continuing to work through music.

    I also thought about worship albums and I believe that worship music is meant to be experienced live.

  3. Amy May 6, 2008 at 5:47 PM #

    Clay, I sometimes cringe at guitar solos during worship. Generally, they are part of a performance piece at a concert or orchestral event or whatever. I still think they often have that connotation. Everyone I’ve asked about your question has said the same thing–they seem personally edifying.

    However, I do believe that guitar playing (ala Phil Keaggy) can be fantastic and showcasing talent in worship is fine. There are two things to consider–what is the heart motive of the person doing the solo (worship of God or worship of self)? That’s a question that’s hard to answer. The other question–is this guitar solo helpful and conducive to worship? It’s probably an issue for individual congregations.

    What does anyone else think?

    DriveByMedia–I do like blended worship. It marries tradition to contemporary, which is pretty fly.

    Most music is better live. 🙂

  4. Sarah May 6, 2008 at 6:01 PM #

    I think the problem with worship is that it’s so “me-focused”. We go to church now to listen to the music that we prefer, and it’s not about God anymore. The worship is too old or too new or it’s just not what *I* want. Instead of working it out, we move on to get what we need because we live in a consumer culture. We just leave God out of worship, which is such a contradiction.

  5. ishallbereleased May 6, 2008 at 11:00 PM #

    The worship team at the Wesley Foundation made t-shirts this year that said “worship is life”. I have to say that I am thankful to be surrounded by adults and close friends who believe this passionately. We also have a mix of music, using both contemporary and traditional music, and there is usually an emphasis on the belief that music is a type of worship.

  6. Spiritrax May 19, 2008 at 3:06 PM #

    Amy, thanks for a deep article on the status of (worship) music today. The same problems with music run across the board no matter what genre you look at. The masses have been re-trained over the past century or so to appreciate increasingly simpler melodies and harmonies, and to connect with less and less talented artists – those who may sing well, but have little to offer in terms of compositional craft and lyric writing. That being said, if that’s what stirs people’s hearts, then I guess it’s not that bad afterall!

    Download Hymns and Worship Backing Tracks and Karaoke MP3s at Spiritrax.com
    http://www.spiritrax.com

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