Style, Substance, Emotion, Theology
Choosing new worship music is, like, hard.
One topic on which we spent considerable breath in Worship Arts IV was the theology of worship music. The general consensus was that the majority of worship music out there today is theological baloney and therefore, useless and an abomination.
I’m going to agree and disagree. Yes, I think there is a lot of music out there that is theologically poor and musically shallow; No, I don’t think it’s useless or an abomination. To be perfectly honest, I think you could say about much of the Psalms what you could say about many church songs, hymns included. There isn’t a whole lot of substance behind them. Does that mean they do not have a place in our worship? Absolutely not.
I recently had a discussion with a friend wherein she stated her decided disdain for modern worship music, notably that it was repetitive and lacking in theology. While we were having this discussion, the new worship song by Michael W. Smith (of whom she is a GIANT fan) came on the radio. She then proceeded to say how much she liked this song. Now, personally, I enjoy a little Michael W. Smith (Christmastime is a favorite of mine); however, I am not a rabid fan. That being said, I hate this song. It’s horribly repetitive and the theological equivalent of Riggy’s: Cheap and you might find a used band-aid in it. Will we be doing this at Westside? No.
But do I think that it shouldn’t have a place in worship? Yeah, I do. But that’s because it’s not really a corporate worship song (It falls squarely in the “red and Yellow, Black and White, They are precious in His sight” category, except it has less theology.). It’s more of a good example of what CCM should be. But it’s not complete trash, either.
The thing we fail to realize in our quest to do what’s best for our congregations is that emotion plays a huge part in what we do. We are not called to worship with just our brains or our voices. So while it’s important that the songs have a good theology and are singable, they must also speak to our emotions. The songs of our worship sets must not be judged solely on their own merits; they must be judged as part of the whole. Where are we now, where are we going, and how is this song getting us there?
So yes, I might not like “A New Hallelujah,” but if I were needing the emotive power of that song to get the congregation to the “worship destination,” I would use it. The same holds true for songs like “Trading My Sorrows,” and “In the Garden.”
There are three criteria I use when selecting new worship music:
1. Theological Foundation (Does this song teach us something about God?)
2. Emotional Tug (Does this song engage our hearts?)
3. Singability (Can someone with no training easily learn and sing this song?
A good song will have all three characteristics. “Forever” by Chris Tomlin is a good example. It takes basic tenets of the nature and character of God, dices them up into bite size pieces (Forever God is faithful, Forever God is strong) and serves them up with a singable melody and a connection to our hearts (His love endures forever). Is it incredibly deep? Yeah, actually, I think it is. We’ve just heard it so much that we lose sight of the depth of that statement. Plus, it gets bonus points for being almost straight out of Scripture. But the real question is, does it get the job done? Absolutely.
So, if you’ve stayed with me through this ridiculously long and probably incredibly boring blog, here’s what it all comes down to. When faced with a song you don’t particularly care for, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is worship about God or about what I like?
2. Can God use what I don’t like?
3. What place could this song have in worship?
It may be that the song you’re actively loathing has no place in worship. Not every song is a winner (as someone who’s tried to write her own worship music, I’m fully aware of this). But by taking a moment to truly consider the song’s value, we’ll be able to make a more informed and considered decision regarding it’s place in worship.