4 Ways Modern Worship Should Shift

4 Ways Modern Worship Should Shift February 14, 2023

Until very recently in church history, one’s musical worship times could only happen on Sunday mornings at church, or at home if you happened to have musically gifted people in the house who could sing or play an instrument.

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In today’s YouTube-dominated, Spotify-enchanced, instant-streaming world, we have infinite access to pretty much any worship song or album ever recorded, allowing us incredible opportunities to glorify God and draw closer to Him through praise.

This really is an amazing time!

The musical quality of modern worship is also, I think, better than it has ever been. Major worship ministries certainly rival any popular non-Christian band in terms of musicality, songwriting, and skill. Gifted musicians with passionate hearts of praise lead the way to lifting up the Name of the Lord and guiding us into His presence.

I deeply love musical worship, and I am happy to live when we live when it comes to it. Although I almost never lead any more, I was a worship leader for many years, and this is an area of passion for me.

That said, every era has challenges that it faces. In this post, I will avoid talking about musical styles or production values or many of the other things that commonly get discussed in this conversation.

And while I know that different expressions of the Church define “worship” in various ways, I am referring to musical worship in this article.

What follows are 4 ways that modern musical worship could stand to change, in order to bring greater glory to God and greater blessing to the Church.


1. Proclaim the LORD more, and ourselves less.

Years ago, a mentor asked me evaluate a recent worship setlist I had led on a Sunday morning. “Did these songs focus primarily on God, His holiness, His attributes, etc., or did these songs focus on all the things that He did or can do for us?” he asked. While many songs have elements of both, I couldn’t deny that most of the songs were focused much more on what He does for us.

And to be clear, the Psalms are full of both types of worship, so one is not wrong. Praising God for who He is is important (e.g. Ps 95; 100; 150; etc.). Thanking God for the things that He does or has done for us is also important (e.g. Ps 40; 107; 146; etc). But I was out of balance. When looking at modern worship songs, we are in general out of balance on this one, with most songs being about what God does for us, rather than simply worshiping Him for who He is alone, or rather than simply expressing our praise and our love for Him. When out of balance in this way, we can subtly be making worship more about our blessings than about Him. Notice how many times “I” or “me” shows up in worship lyrics, and you won’t be able to unsee it. That being said:


2. Emphasize “we,” not just “I.”

The vast majority of current worship songs will use “I” or “me” instead of “we” or “us,” making praise time a very personal expression of worship, instead of a corporate one. We sing to the Lord together, but express a very individualized worship. While it may seem like a small thing, singing about “my” devotion to Jesus all the time instead of “our” devotion to Jesus robs us of our connection to one another, and the opportunity to publicly proclaim our shared faith, building faith in one another.

Again, you can find Psalms where both happen, so one is not wrong. It is important to praise God from a personal context (e.g. Ps 23; 51; 138; etc), and it is important to praise Him as a community (e.g. Ps 33; 65; 90; etc). But again, look for the “I/me” as opposed to “us/we” in modern worship, and you’ll see it everywhere. The overemphasis on a highly individualized and personalized expression of worship inadvertently makes us focus on ourselves, disconnecting us from one another, when communion and community should be a major part of what shared public worship is all about.


3. Recapture the richness of theology through music.

Modern worship songs tend to be simpler than older hymns, and that is not necessarily a bad thing – simpler worship is more accessible for most people, especially the unmusical members of our churches. But speaking broadly, it’s hard to deny that many of our classic hymns and choruses often contained a richer theological expression than modern worship does.

Paul’s charge to Titus was to ensure that the church was taught what was in line with “sound doctrine” – faithful teaching from the Scripture (Titus 2.1). Musical worship is one of the most important ways that we teach doctrine – people will be humming the words of a worship song long after they’ve forgotten a sermon’s main points. The things we learn through worship lyrics tend to stick. What we teach through our music is crucial, and worship is a beautiful time to glorify God and instruct the Body at the same time.

As with the previous points, there’s a balance here. It’s not the simple songs or the rich ones – it’s both/and, together. The addition of deeper expression of God’s Word, rather than only simple expressions, will build up the Church greatly.


4. Remember the great anthems of the historical Church.

Even as we consider that last points relating to newer songs, let us also not forget those great hymns and anthems of the Church that have stood the test of time. Not every older song was automatically great, and those songs fell away – but the great ones stuck. It is often rare to hear them in current worship services, but these songs have stood the test of time for a reason. They often unite rich theology with beautiful and inspiring poetic lyrics, as well as simple and accessible musicality, and combine these things into songs that glorify the Lord, stir the soul, connect us to one another, and renew the mind with truth. What is more, they connect us with our broader history and connect us with the broader Body of Christ around the world. To integrate these classics into our modern setlists will bring the “old and the new” of the Kingdom together in a beautiful way (Mt 9.16-17; 13.52).


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