Every Revival Has Its Own Soundtrack (New Music, Part 2)

guitarWell, that was fun!

Monday’s post, God Has Never Done a New Thing Using Old Songs, received more comments than any other post over any two day period in the history of this site. It also stirred things up on Twitter, Facebook and my email inbox.

Yet, in spite of all the passion, the commenters were civil, thoughtful, reasonable and very helpful. No name-calling, mean language or accusations of heresy in the whole bunch. Whadya know, maybe we can have disagreements on the internet and still respect each other. Way to go, everyone!

If we keep doing this, they might have to give the Worship Wars a new name – like Reasonable Discussion About Differing Views On Worship Music Styles. That’ll catch on, right?

Since there were so many great questions and comments raised by Monday’s post, today’s post is a collection of questions and responses that added something new to the conversation. This way, you won’t have to scroll through everything just to see where the conversation went.

So, with genuine thanks to everyone who participated in the conversation, here’s how some of the Comments and Responses went.

(I’ve edited the comments to their essence, and I’ve edited my responses to fit this format. If you read your comment stated more bluntly than you wrote it, I’ve only done that to make this a shorter, more readable post. It’s not my intent to misrepresent anyone’s comments, questions, or the gracious attitude with which they were originally written.)


Where is the evidence that church revivals are always accompanied by new music?

I have yet to find a true church renewal or revival that used old songs as a central part of that revival. Look at the Reformation songs, the Wesleyan revival songs, the General Booth / Salvation Army songs, the Great Awakening songs, the Azusa Street revival songs, the Billy Graham Crusade songs, the Jesus Movement songs… the list goes on and on. Every revival has its own soundtrack. Most of them use, adapt and reinterpret a few older hymns too, but one of the hallmarks of every revival is the new music it birthed.

I’m not saying old songs don’t work. But I have yet to see a Spirit-led spiritual renewal or revival that hasn’t had new songs and contextually relevant musical styles and instruments in the forefront.


I agree with your premise, but the title rubbed me the wrong way

I debated using that title since I knew it would cause controversy. Then I stuck with it because I believe it and because I knew it would cause controversy – and that controversy would bring in readers and spark convos like this.


Why does it have to be one or the other? What’s wrong with blended worship?

I’ve seen new and old used well together, but only when the new stuff is leading the way. I’ve never seen “blended” music work when new and old are used just to appease everyone. It ends up pleasing no one – God included, I would imagine. If anyone has truly seen a 50/50 blend of styles work, I’d love to know, cuz I’ve never seen it. (But then, my knowledge has yet to be omniscient.)

One of the great, new modes of worship is the convergence of styles like what Chris Tomlin and Casting Crowns are doing. If we’re combining the best of both in order to do a better thing instead of just trying to appease people’s stubbornness, we may be doing one of the new worship modes the Lord is leading the church into.


Do you really believe we’re losing this generation because we’re not singing new songs?

I don’t believe we’re losing this generation because of worship styles. We’re losing them for a ton of reasons, from cultural shifts to church scandals, to spiritual warfare and more. But I do think using culturally and contextually relevant musical styles instead of insisting on old musical styles, is an one of many important tools we must use.

New music alone won’t refill the churches with younger people. But I think it has to be a part of the equation. 


Worship isn’t a church growth or evangelism tool – it’s for people to draw closer to Jesus

My premise isn’t that worship is a church growth or evangelism tool, but that new and not-yet believers will respond more deeply to worship that’s done in a musical style that touches their heart.


In many Small Churches, the old songs are what the musicians know how play

I sympathize with the musicianship challenges faced by Small Churches. I faced it for a lot of years – decades, actually. But one thing I insisted on, even when we had limited musicianship – sometimes no musicians – was that we weren’t going to settle into old, stale forms of worship just to get by.

For a couple years, I had a very nice woman offer to come from another church to play piano and lead in worship for us for free. But I knew her style of music would only appeal to her generation. And it would make our worship a carbon copy of that other church’s worship. I thanked her and went without her high-end musicianship. Sometimes we just sang a couple new choruses a capella, or with me playing the guitar badly, but it was always with forward motion in mind.

I sometimes think about how different our church would be today if I’d taken that musician up on her offer. I think our church would be older and probably better off financially. It would probably even be bigger. But we wouldn’t have the newness and freshness we have today.


We can’t sing old hymns in our church because the musicians only know how to play the new ones

I’ve seen that, too. Not long ago, I was at a minister’s conference and was talking to the drummer before the service. The band had been brought together from various churches. The leader wanted to sing one of the older songs which happened to be written in 6/8 time. That was popular for a lot of older hymns, but 6/8 is never used now. The poor drummer had never done 6/8 and had no idea what to do.

They eventually pulled it off, and it went over very well, but I kept looking at the pain on the drummer’s face and could barely keep from laughing through the whole song.


God does new things using old music – people are still led to faith through old hymns

Of course, old hymns and songs can move people deeply, and people still come to the Lord through them. It happens in my church, too. But, as wonderful as that is, that’s not a new thing. The new thing I was referring to is a wider renewal or revival in the church. That has never happened, and I don’t believe it ever will happen without new songs and new expressions of worship being in the forefront.

If you go to places where old hymns is all they’re playing, you won’t find church renewal. Check out a Gaither concert. Great songs, wonderful worship and amazing musicianship. But it’s not a new thing as much as an affirmation of some great older things. That’s valid. It’s just not the new thing the post is addressing.


What do you consider to be old music?

I don’t have an expiration date on anything. But I was in a church not long ago whose entire worship set could have been sung in any church in 1981. And not because they were singing ancient hymns or revamping older tunes. The entire set, including instruments and chord progressions was from the late 1970s. And all the songs were from the 1960s and 1970s. Hopefully that gives you an idea of what “old music” means to me.


Ministering to seniors is as valid as ministering to young people

Yes, there are healthy churches that minister to seniors. Seniors need great pastors and great places to worship and be cared for. That’s why I kept “new thing” in the title. New music isn’t needed for every healthy church. But it is needed for a church wanting to do a new thing for a new generation.


Many of the new songs have shallow lyrics and repeat the same phrases to manipulate emotions

The problems with shallow lyrics apply to songs of any age or era. Poor lyrics are poor lyrics. There are a lot of songs with great lyrics being written, along with the poor ones. It’s always been that way.

I don’t have a problem using some songs with repeated phrases. I think mixing those songs in with songs that have more complex lyrics, allows people some time to concentrate on God’s presence instead of concentrating on lyrics the entire time. Sure, manipulating emotions is wrong, but allowing people to relax and express an emotional response instead of having to keep up with the words is a nice change of pace.

For those who think today’s lyrics are shallow, how about these lyrics from Jesus Messiah, by Chris Tomlin (2008).

He became sin, who knew no sin
That we might become His righteousness
He humbled himself and carried the cross
Love so amazing, love so amazing
Jesus Messiah, name above all names
Blessed redeemer, Emmanuel
The rescue for sinners, the ransom from Heaven
Jesus Messiah, Lord of all
His body the bread, his blood the wine
Broken and poured out all for love
The whole earth trembled, and the veil was torn
Love so amazing, love so amazing

Nothing shallow there, right? There are a lot of songs with strong lyrics like that being written today.

Sure there are many shallow songs being written today, too. There always have been. I’d offer an example of banal lyrics from the 1500s, but bad songs don’t survive. That may be the best news we’ll all hear today.


Why do you despise the great old songs of the church?

I don’t despise the old songs at all. I’m just tired of people from my generation despising the new ones.


And finally, this exchange…

Reader: Finally something we disagree on! I am 35 (and on the upper end of “young”) and I am drawn to hymns for reactionary purposes. I grew weary of the modern worship thing a long time ago. Hymns are rich in theology, use words that make me engage my mind while I sing them, and are distinctly separate from other forms of music.

Granted, there are some terrible hymns out there (just as their as some terrible modern worship songs), but given the choice, I would land in a hymnal 9 times out of 10.

Me: I like them too. In smaller doses, though. Serious question for you – have you found a church where the hymns are predominant that is reaching people your age and younger? If there are any, I’d love to know how they’re doing it, because if it’s possible I’d like to pass that information along to others.


  • Red Mountain Church in Birmingham AL
  • Mars Hill
  • Grace EV Free, La Mirada
  • John MacArthur’s church
  • Look up the band “Enfield”

Then he attached this video


Me: Love it! To me, that’s new music. Built on the foundation of an old tune and old lyrics.

U2 does hymn #327.

We may agree on more than we thought.


So what do you think? Do these comments and responses raise more questions and comments?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Guitar photo from Irish10567 • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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6 thoughts on “Every Revival Has Its Own Soundtrack (New Music, Part 2)”

  1. Thanks for aggregating all the responses. I do suspect that most every revival created its own music. However, I think you’ll agree that music/style was the result of not the cause of. Music may play a part in extending a revival or particular move of the Spirit.

    I suppose my issue is the idea that in the midst of a revival I continue to sing non-revival songs that I somehow am NOT a part of the revival. Maybe you are not saying that but that’s how it feels.

    I’ve studied the Welch Revival http://www.liverpoolrevival.org.uk/1859.htm
    and a few others–it was prayer and then preaching and then maybe music. By the time the music was codified that particular revival was waining–at least as revivals go. The next step was denominationalism. The ultimate codification. Hence the Calvary Chapel then and now; the Vineyard then and now; Asuza Street then and now.

    ‘New’ does not last long.

    Bless you Karl…

    1. Agreed that new music is more the result of revival, not its cause. Prayer, preaching, then music is probably the normal causal order of things. But chronologically, they probably happen more-or-less simultaneously.

      The reason I got on my soapbox about new music, instead of preaching or prayer, is that there are very few people who would admit that they’re opposed to more prayer or better preaching, but they’ll wear their grumpy opposition to new music like a spiritual badge of honor. There’s an attitude of being open to God doing a new thing that is necessary for renewal and revival. Being closed to using new music is often a sign of people being closed to God doing other new things as well.

      No, I’m not saying that continuing to sing non-revival songs means you’re not a part of the revival. Like I said, most people remain moved by the songs of their youth. But that’s more about remembrance than anticipation. Both are good and necessary, but very few people from my or your generation need to be nudged to remember the past. We need to be nudged to cheer, pray and sing the church towards a better future.

      The only problem with old songs is when they’re used as a roadblock to the new – something I know you’re not guilty of, for sure.

      And you’re right that “new” doesn’t last long. Only until the next “new” thing.

  2. Great! We sing Jesus Messiah, too…right along with “When We all Get to Heaven!” The only thing that I would, “tilt my head at” is the suggestion that doing a 50/50 worship is to “appease” and never works. If we sing all new songs wouldn’t we be tyring to “appease” the younger crowd or the new song loving crowd? If we sang all old songs, wouldn’t we be trying to appease those who love only the old songs?

    What if it’s motivated out of LOVE? Use NEW songs for the LOVE of the younger generation (or those who like them). Use OLD songs for the LOVE of the older generation (or those who like them). Use songs, both old and new, that are sung with SPIRIT and in TRUTH – surrounded by LOVE, should be very pleasing to the Lord.

    I’m the worship leader at our church, and usually, not always, I pick songs that I love…which is ok, because there’s a lot of them. But one time, I was talking to someone and they mentioned a song that always really speaks to them, Potter’s Hands. I said, “Well, we do that song.” But they were fairly new and hadn’t heard it yet. So next Sunday, guess what song I played? Why? Out of love! And I loved seeing them smile when the music began to play…and it did minister to them (and others as well) So that got me to thinking…what are some other songs that are especially meaningful to people that we could sing…why leave it up to me all the time? So I handed out song suggestion sheets. Not everyone replied but some did. It was funny. We had “Amazing Grace, My Chains are Gone.” and “The Old Rugged Cross” – suggested. New and old. 😀

    1. Hi Cindy. You can re-tilt your head back upright again. I didn’t actually say churches do 50/50 to appease. I said when it is done to appease, it never works. Subtle difference in wording, but big difference in meaning. I know there are churches, like yours, that blend the two because it’s what works, not to appease.

      The premise of this whole thing wasn’t to dismiss old songs, but to push back against those who resist or insult new songs. New songs don’t have to be exclusive, but I’ve never seen a renewal or revival that didn’t produce a lot of new songs with contemporary musical styles and instruments.

      Keep loving your people. What works musically in my church wouldn’t work in yours, or vice versa, because my church isn’t the same as yours, or vice versa. Except where it matters – the loving God and loving others parts.

      1. Gotcha. Thanks Karl. You know this dialogue is so important…it doesn’t really get brought up within a small church framework…thanks for leading the way. My head is in normal position now.

  3. Great example of what I think of when I think of blended worship. Our small church in a small village of a 1000 people is ten years old and our worship ‘style’ has changed five times in that ten years–each change coincided with the arrival of a new worship leader. One constant has been a focus on ‘contemporary’, Another constant I that I asked for is one traditional hymn each service; not to appease older Christians in the congregation but to provide a point of connection for guests who have absolutely no familiarity with contemporary Christian music. Since we don’t own a organ that works, nor do we own an acoustic piano, the musical setting is not traditional. But the words are still a point of connection. What I’ve always believed is that hanging on to anything for the sake of tradition makes tradition our god, but when we worship in Spirit and in truth, whether it is a song taken from the Contemporary Worship top 40, or a 1000 year old prayer, then God uses that worship to draw others to Himself. For what it’s worth, I’m in my early 60s, I love great hymns of the church accompanied by a pipe organ, Chuck Girard and Love Song from the 70s, the Vineyard songs from the 80s and early 90s, and Hillsong from 10 years ago. But I couldn’t tell you what’s ‘in’ right now. In thinking about that I sort of stumbled into the realization that most church leaders think of ‘good contemporary’ music as the style that was current in their 20s – 40s.

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