The Faithful Way to Sing to God? Mine.

Photo by glamhag on Flickr

On more than one occasion I have heard praise music called “7/11 music,” the same seven words sung eleven times. Because I tend to run in mainline church circles, this commentary is often served with a hearty serving of condescension and a generous side of superiority. After all, all that silly “praise” music is theologically shallow and in no way brings glory to God.

While the battles about worship and music are traditionally focused on the use of organs, guitars, hymns and drum sets, I have heard this same thing from those whom I would say have very creative music and worship expressions. So what it really comes down to is that many of us believe that the only true way to worship God is the way we do.

Now do not get me wrong, when I hear praise music that has a “Jesus is my boyfriend” vibe or organ music that seems better fit for a carnival, my skin crawls and my soul is not moved. And yet for some, that is where they meet God. Personally, I love a little bit of everything as I worship. Powerful organ music, deft guitarists, rocking bands, swaying choirs and the singing of Taize (And yes, Taize is basically the same seven words sung eleven times, *cough* *cough*) all can stir my soul. This musical buffet is not for everyone and not every community can pull it off, but this is how I meet God where I worship and I am grateful.

One of the reasons that people are so passionate about music is that this is where and how we often connect to the holy. To mess with or critique that choice is to mess with and critique the very nature of our relationship with God. Sometimes this may be needed and appropriate, but most often it only creates unwarranted conflict, cultural entrenchment and calcification of the Spirit. Whether it’s music or any other parts of our worship lives, the sooner that we embrace a reality that one music style is not more faithful than another, the sooner we will liberate our minds and hearts to experience God in new ways.

So when we so easily mock the ways in which others sing praise to God, we are buying into a culture of self-centered bullying, exclusion and judgement that have no place in the church. If anything, even in the face of theological differences, we should be finding ways to model to the world ways of dealing with difference that does not always lead to disembodiment of the faithful, but to the building up of the Body of Christ . . . and in achieving this, maybe we will truly be worshipping God.

Pass it on.

  • Wendy L

    Reason 37 why I like Taize better than Praise Choruses: No one makes me stand up and/or clap while I sing the same 7 words 11 times.

  • a. smith

    God is my father. May God’s will be done through me. I am yours dear God; may You do with me what you will.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Agreed! Most things of personal preference are given too much power,

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Very much agree with you, though I do think that part of the gift of legacy and longevity is that WE do keep talking about these things lest we fall into traps of the past. I don’t think that discussion, theory and practice should be mutually exclusive, but are rather in a constant cycle that might seem repetitive to some, but us important for the future.

  • rodgermceachern

    well said…music may facilitate our response to God, yet music isn’t in itself any more ‘holy’ than my dog’s bark…like any thing we do as we worship God [sing, pray, fast, read, think, act, live] what makes it acceptable to God is our hearts intent and motivations [or at least this is how I might apply Isaiah 58 to this issue...music like much else we do can be pleasing or not pleasing to God]…we need to remember as you remind us that music is very much culturally derived and driven by our preferences…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alyce-Morgan/100000795584108 Alyce Morgan

    As a church choir director and director of music, I’ve learned to approach it from this direction: We offer God what have and who we are. If we’re flute players, we play flutes. If we’re trained tenors, we sing arias from MESSIAH during Advent. If we’re guitar players, we strum, and if we’re three, we sing, “Jesus Loves Me.” REAL LOUD. We do that when we’re 70, too…because we need to say it again and again. We honor the tradition and the path of the pilgrims who went before us when we sing out of an old hymnal once in a while. We learn from them and know more about how we got to where we are today. Being Presbyterians, we are sure we are made in the image of a creative God and so encourage the talents of current faithful artists who bring us great, moving music right now and force us to look to the future. We also read Psalm 33 and know the goal is to play skillfully…giving our best to our creator. We model that for our kids and we let them sing or play their hearts out during worship from the time they’re T-tiny because…well because we’re all bozos on this bus together and it’s simply right. Could it ever, then, make sense to even begin to choose a form of worship with a label like traditional or contemporary? If we are who we are and we give what we have, we are involved in intrinsically organic worship that moves us all closer to God. And isn’t that the goal? I’m sure our energies could be better used than discussing this for so many years. (That’s my sermon and I’m sticking to it.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mary-Raine/1634994532 Mary Raine

    Well said and a good reminder!

  • JRS

    The ultimate “Jesus as boyfriend” selection is “In the Garden.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Well said!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    I do love me some campy praise songs every once in a while!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Thanks for sharing. Music is such an interesting thing.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Love the “Red Clay Worship” just sounds indigenous. Hope it goes well.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    I hear ya. As our 15, 11 and 9 year olds operate as our lens, it’s interesting to see what they like. Having to learn to use a hymnal, navigate congregational culture and different folks. In the end, a solid traditional service is where we ended up and our oldest is joining the choir.

  • Garrett Anderson

    I’ve experienced both traditional and contemporary music in the same ways…sometimes engaging, inspiring, catchy, heart-rending….and sometimes perfunctory or performance/performer oriented. What makes the difference between these experiences? I’m not sure. My openness to the Spirit. The Spirit-groundedness of the leaders? I wonder if its whether there is any silence around the other pieces of the worship….still, small, sifting silences….God spoke out it once.

  • http://twitter.com/elfslinger Kurt Esslinger

    I recently had my sister visit my home church in Chicago. After worship she asked, “Why didn’t you sing any ‘praise songs’?” Clearly the implication was that she could not imagine an interesting church ever singing mostly hymns out of the PCUSA hymnbook. I thought about mentioning theological drawbacks of contemporary praise music, but really the best answer was, “Because these are the songs that engage us.” I also feel quite the outsider in young adult circles when I admit, sorry, gospel and praise music just don’t do it for me. Yet, I still try to include praise songs in our Agape House worship times on campus because despite my inclinations, those songs still resonate with some of our students. Thanks, Bruce for keeping me honest.

  • Carol

    I actually had my epiphany about this at Montreat west. I was classically trained but when I went to worship there, I loved the music and it was very clear to me that what we were doing was indeed worship. We use all kinds of music – contemporary with a band, gospel, old hymns. We have a men’s quartet and a country gospel band. We use which music best fits the theme of worship. People have responded very well to it. Thanks for the post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nikki.c.macmillan.3 Nikki Collins MacMillan

    Over the next few weeks, watch for Red Clay Worship – a movement beginning in Middle Georgia that reflects our local, emerging worship culture – a rich and faithful fusion of ambient rock, Taize chant, praise choruses, sung psalms, reggae, blues, and music from the popular culture. Through a partnership between a Presbyterian new church development (www.barebulbcoffee.org) and a music ministry hosted by an Assemblies of God congregation, a new pattern of worship is growing up that is not about the style of singing but a heart that is open to God and to one another. The website should be up in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter @redclayworship.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbaranixon Barbara B. Nixon

    Bruce,

    We had a discussion like this in our family not long ago. We visited a mainline Presbyterian church that had a GREAT message, but the traditional music (hymns, pipe organ, choir in robes) didn’t resonate (heh) with us. And with three young adults (ranging from almost 13 to 21) in our home, if the music doesn’t click with them, it’s tough to get them to listen to the message.


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