Is it possible to use too much new music in our worship services? Here are some thoughts on developing a balanced and effective approach:
C.S. Lewis once observed that it is difficult—if not impossible—to think about something objectively while experiencing it subjectively. We can either enjoy it or analyze it, but we cannot simultaneously evaluate it in our minds while feeling it in our hearts.
Worshipers asked to learn a new song are faced with a similar challenge: they can either be preoccupied with learning new words and music or fix their hearts on the object of their worship. At least initially, doing the former will come at the expense of the latter.
Learning new music is a necessary joy. But we must recognize that introducing too many new songs at once may hinder us from our ultimate goal of worshiping with—and through—these songs.
That’s why it’s important that a worship leader systematically teach new songs to a congregation. By carefully choosing how and when to introduce a new song—and then repeating that song periodically over the coming months—the congregation can quickly move from learning (an act of the mind) to true worship (an act of the will and spirit).
Many contemporary songwriters have addressed this “mind to heart” issue by making the words simpler and the melodies more predictable. Beginning in the ‘70’s, the church experienced an onslaught of simplicity. After all, the goal was to get our heads out of the hymnal and our hands in the air. And to some degree, we succeeded. But we’re learning that accessible isn’t necessarily excellent.
Along the way, we also adopted a “pop” music mentality, mistaking culturally relevant for spiritually enduring. It’s easy to forget that very few of today’s CCM radio hit songs will be remembered 40 years from now. And yet, songs which strike a deep spiritual chord are still being sung hundreds of years later.
We should resist the temptation to fill our worship services with lots of new music just because we think it stylistically resonates with the world we’re trying to reach. They will not be drawn to Christ simply because of the style of our music, but rather because of the substance of our message. One reason we’re seeing so many traditional hymn texts showing up in new modern worship songs is that these lyrics have an undeniable truth that transcends generations.
New is good. But newness for newness sake misses the point. A new song can be the perfect embodiment of what God is saying and doing in our midst. Likewise, a familiar worship song or traditional hymn can bring back memories of God’s faithfulness months—or even years—ago.
All of us come to church with our own worship language, with our own spiritual history. When we constantly emphasize new songs over familiar ones, we’re—in effect—telling people that their own stories and songs aren’t important. And yet they are.
When we sing the familiar hymn or chorus, it’s as if God’s people are raising their Ebenezers—their memory stones (1 Samuel 7:12)--in testimony to God’s faithfulness in their lives. Will we miss the opportunity for our congregations to sing, “This is my story, this is my song”?
So just as it is important for worship leaders to systematically introduce new songs to a congregation, it is imperative that we be good stewards of familiar ones. For many of our people, these songs bear profound witness to God’s mercy and grace—timeless themes for any and every generation of worshipers.
The rush to make “All Things New” in worship may do a disservice to the ultimate goal of worship: to create an environment where people are released to give God the glory he is due.
--For more helpful articles about blended worship services and the issue of musical style, check out www.discoverworship.com and these articles:
- Arguing the Merits of a Blended Worship Service
- How Can We Add Musical Diversity to our Services?
- The Non-Issue of Style: It's Just Worth It
- Can Too Much New Get Old?
- Variety for Variety's Sake?
- 5 Compelling Reasons to Do More A Cappella Singing
- Worship on the Radio
- Expanding Our Worship Playlist
- The Age of the Top 25 CCLI Worship Songs
- The Both/And of Worship