I wonder who the first worship director was who said “hey, I like that new song John Newton wrote,” before introducing Amazing Grace to the church.
Whoever it was, he probably had to deal with complaints from church members who didn’t think it was as good as the hymns they were used to singing. “In six verses the name of Jesus isn’t mentioned once, but it says ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘I’ thirteen times! Today’s songs are so self-centered and shallow!”
In a recent post entitled, Six Reasons Some Churches Are Moving Back to One Worship Style, Thom Rainer tells us that, according to some of his recent surveys, the contemporary vs traditional worship wars may be drawing to a close.
I hope new music won.
No, I don’t hate the hymns. And I’m not a kid. I’m a mid-fifties Small Church pastor who’s been in the church all my life. So I understand that many in my generation and older are touched and drawn closer in worship through the songs of their youth. But the youth of today need to be touched by songs that speak to their hearts, too. And not just in their own, segregated youth services.
Before you scroll down to the comment section to complain about spiky-haired divas leading worship teams, hear me out. First of all, why does everyone who complains about new music seem to have a problem with spiky hair? I’m OK with it. I’m sure God is too. Second, in my 35 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve met far more divas leading or singing in robed choirs than on worship teams.
Ego knows no age. And it’s wrong, no matter the style of music.
UPDATE: This post has stirred up a lot of passion! And some great conversation. To get an overview of the comments and my responses to them, check out my next post, Every Revival Has Its Own Soundtrack (New Music, Part 2).
A Message for My Fellow “Mature Believers”
We sometimes use the term “mature believers,” when we’re referring to older Christians. But if we really are mature believers, we should be able to worship Jesus in any situation, no matter what the style of music is. Like the Apostle Paul, we should learn to be “content whatever the circumstances.” Or, as I once heard an older pastor say, “I’ve learned to worship Jesus in a style of music I don’t like.” Now that’s a mature believer.
The styles and methods of outward-reaching churches cannot and should not be directed towards the long-time members. If we really are mature in our faith, we shouldn’t need things to be done our way.
So who should our methods and musical styles be geared towards? How about new and not-yet believers? Especially the young ones. Those are the ones who are at risk and are leaving the church in record numbers.
We’re losing this generation! Yes, losing them. But, instead of asking ourselves “what can we do to keep our own kids and grandkids in church?” not to mention the at-risk kids in our neighborhoods, we complain that they lack commitment, they’re consumer-oriented, or they’re shallow and selfish. All because they don’t want to do church the way we want them to do it.
Of course they’re selfish. They’re young, they’re immature and/or they’re unbelievers. Selfishness is practically their job.
Instead of demanding the impossible – that those who are immature in their faith stop wanting things their way – mature believers ought to act like mature believers. We don’t teach selflessness to immature people by demanding it of them, but by being examples of selflessness among them.
Instead, we criticize today’s consumer-oriented generation, then stomp our feet and complain, “I want my church to sing the worship songs and hymns I like, or I’ll leave this church and take my tithes with me!”
Oh, the irony!
The younger generation is going to hell, while the previous generation complains that the new church music on our first-class ride to heaven is not to our liking. Ugh!
True servanthood ministry doesn’t flow from the immature to the mature, but the other way around. Mature Christians shouldn’t be coming to church to receive ministry, but to do ministry. And to support the ministry that’s being directed towards those who need it the most.
Invite God to Do Something New
There’s not a drop of nostalgia in me for the songs we sang when I was in church as a teenager – even though they touched my heart then.
I don’t want to worship Jesus the way we did years ago, because Jesus never repeats what he did years ago. He wants to do something new, NOW!
But how can we be ready for what God wants to do now, if we’re not willing to do something as simple as singing the worship songs God is giving to today’s songwriters?
God has never done a new thing using old songs.
Oh sure, you may be able to point to the occasional renewal that used an old hymn or poem as a jumping-off point. But every real, lasting church renewal or revival has always been accompanied, even driven, by new songs and new forms of worship.
“But isn’t that watering down the Gospel? And isn’t that the problem the church has today?” No. New instruments and musical styles do not water down the Gospel. Shallow lyrics and preaching waters down the Gospel. Strong lyrics and solid bible preaching/teaching in an enthusiastic atmosphere in which people are singing a new song unto the Lord isn’t shallow at all.
This Is About Willingness, Not Ability
If you’re in a Small Church and are having a hard time finding someone (Anyone?! Please?!) to lead in worship at all, let alone find and sing new songs for your older congregation, I sympathize. I’ve been there. For a lot of years I was there. This post is not about churches who are trying to move forward while fighting some serious battles to get there. You have my prayers, my encouragement and my sympathies.
But if you are one of those churches that has the ability to move forward in your worship, yet refuse to, then you may be guilty of what you’re accusing the new generation of. Putting style before substance and personal preference ahead of real-world ministry.
People need Jesus! Young people especially, are leaving Jesus and need to be brought back to him. When we’re capable of singing newer songs, but insist on singing old ones instead, we’re making the on-ramp for the new or not-yet believer just that much harder.
But What About Our Parents?
This biggest complaint I hear when a church moves towards newer worship styles is that the older saints feel left out. I understand that and I sympathize. We need great churches that minister to our aging population.
And yes, I’m also aware that some churches, in their desire to move into new modes of worship, have pushed seniors aside instead of valuing their wisdom.
But if you’re at or nearing retirement age and are attending a church whose worship has changed in ways you don’t understand, let me assure you, we’re not changing because we want to push you aside. We need you. Here’s one way you can help us.
My dad pastored for over 45 years. If I become half the pastor he was I will consider my ministry a huge success.
My parents are in their late seventies, now. They attend my church one weekend and my brother-in-law’s church the next weekend. Both churches sing new music. And my parents love it! No, they don’t always get it. But they see the need for it and they support it with all their heart. They, and other senior saints like them have made our church’s move to newer music a lot easier than what most pastors face.
It’s not unusual, following a worship service, to see either of my parents (especially my father) pull our church’s worship director aside, or a member of the worship team, to congratulate them on a job well done. They make a special point to do that when we’ve been introduced to a new song with strong lyrics. (Yes, there are a lot of them.)
If you ask my dad why he does this, he’ll tell you “first of all, I really like what they’re doing. They love Jesus and it shows. Second, they need to hear from people our age that they’re doing a great job. Third, it’s working. Look at the front two rows of your church. They’re filled with teenagers. That won’t happen singing, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Go get ‘em, mom and dad.
Just One Part of a Bigger Battle
No, this isn’t intended as an angry rant against ancient liturgical communities. I’ve been in wonderful, old liturgy communities – especially in Europe – that have their pulse firmly on reaching a newer generation. Many young people and nonbelievers are more attracted to a 500-year-old worship style than a 50-year-old one. Ancient and honorable can work. Old and stale never does.
Do what honors Christ and reaches people for him. Not just what appeases grumpy tithers. That’s the bottom line.
The so-called Worship Wars aren’t a fight between old people and young people – at least they don’t need to be. It’s a spiritual battle. And it’s part of a larger war that’s being waged for the hearts and minds of a generation that is being stolen right under our noses.
Music isn’t the only battlefield in this war. In my previous post, We Can Whine About the New Generation Or We Can Minister to Them – But We Can’t Do Both, I wrote about how we have a similar struggle around clothing styles.
The real problem isn’t new songs, spiky hair or skinny jeans. It’s when we allow any of that to distract us from our true mission. And we have let the Worship Wars do that.
No, I’m not naïve. Singing new songs isn’t going to magically reverse the spiritual slide. It’s just one small element in a much larger transformation that needs to take place within the church. But insisting on the old songs won’t even slow the slide down.
If singing a few songs that some of us don’t like is the price we have to pay to reach new people and to keep our own kids and grandkids in church, we should all be grateful to pay it.
Want more? Read my follow-up post, Every Revival Has Its Own Soundtrack (New Music, Part 2), made up entirely of my responses to comments that came from this post
So what do you think? What can you do to support new forms of worship for new worshippers?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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