Patience Testing Trends in Current Church Music

What I saw and heard at a Christian school chapel service recently left me wondering about the current trend in church music.

Youngest daughter Cheryl teaching an adult Canela neighbour to read his own language.

It also reminded me of our Adults Only policy when we started teaching Canelas to read and write in their own language. When Canela young people went through the traditional coming of age puberty rites, they abandoned all the practices of childhood and became working, responsible adults. We, therefore, focused on reading being an adult, lifelong practice, not something for kids that they would abandon when they became adults.

That policy flashed through my mind as I joined in the singing led by a group of young teens before being called on to speak. The students were sitting in rows starting with the lowest grades in front and the higher grades at the rear. The grades 1 to 6 students sang along with the worship team while those in grades 7 to 12 mostly just stood there and listened. I wondered why.

At the end of the chapel service I discussed this with one of the teachers. Our conclusion was that the 6 higher grades were simply following the example of the adults in church.

It is a plausible theory since most of the adults in the various churches I attend during my travels simply stand and listen as the worship team performs. A few sing along, some mouth the lyrics as they read them off the screen, but for the most part they act as if they are passively listening to a concert.

I don’t blame the adults for not participating.

Church music has changed much in the past decade or two. The tendency in current church music is to have plenty of rhythm, but few sing-able tunes. Too often the lyrics are devoid of meaningful content, endlessly telling us to praise God, for instance, without even once mentioning what we should praise Him for. Frequently some line is repeated over and over until my eyes glaze over. Far from helping me to focus on who God is, what He has done, does now, and promises to do in the future, these songs make me long for it to be over. Did I mention mind numbing repetition?

I used to take pride in coming to church long before the start of the service. Not any more. I now deliberately come 15 to 20 minutes late in order to avoid at least part of the misnamed “time of worship.” And I’m not the only one. As I park my car and walk to church, cars continue to pour into the parking lot.

I feel guilty about this. Surely the highly trained worship leaders with their skilled volunteer musicians know more about music than I do. I am a mere layman, not a musician or song writer, and in order to receive grace and blessing during the musical time of worship I need to humbly recognize myself in CS Lewis’ description:

“The stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect.”

Lewis goes on to write that if we laypeople silently endure music we dislike we are offering a sacrifice to God for which we can expect His grace. If this is true, then by escaping some of the pain by arriving late, I am doing myself out of blessing.

Yet this whole current church music situation flatly contradicts the traditional three-fold training I received in Bible school:

  1. Communal worship singing should involve the entire congregation, not just the trained choir or worship team.
  2. The lyrics must leave people thinking about God, His attributes, and His actions.
  3. The whole experience should prepare the congregation to hear God’s Word and have His Spirit apply it to their lives.

Personally, the only item that fits is #3, but for the wrong reason. I am so relieved the singing is over, I welcome the preaching.

Is it just me, or do some of you feel this frustration too?

4 thoughts on “Patience Testing Trends in Current Church Music

  1. Jack, I agree with the three tenets of what worship music should be. I actually see this happening to a large extent at the church that I attend. There have been times when the selections chosen by the worship leader for that Sunday, are ones that I love to sing and are particularly uplifting,therefore, impacting me significantly as God is truly glorified. At other times we may sing one or two selections that are completely unfamiliar to me or too repetitious (yes, it does happen on occasion) to lead to any meaningful interaction with God. I love to sing the great hymns of the faith and quite often these are included in the praise time. I honestly think that a Worship Pastor whose heart’s desire is to see the congregation worship God can impact praise singing in a church service in a very positive way.

    I hear many voices singing around me but that is not to say that everyone opens their voice to God. The voices that I hear, however, do fluctuate when we are attempting to learn a new selection. I would suggest that unless Praise and Worship singing is actually doing what it says in those words, then God is not glorified and people are left empty.

  2. Wow, you missed the boat on this one. There are many amazing contemporary worship songs out there that really draw my heart into love and worship of my Saviour. Perhaps you should be feeling guilty for refusing to enter into worship unless it’s just the way you like it.

  3. Besides the three comments above, I have thus far received about 40 responses to this posting, all emailed directly to me. The respondents were of all age groups, from many different denominations, all over North America, and both pro and con. I plan to do a follow up column to go into a little more depth. Amazingly NO ONE commented directly on the killer quote from CS Lewis!

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