At our church we are in the process of creating a new worship service that begins in March. A huge part of most worship experiences is the music, and we have determined that our service will have, for lack of a better term, “contemporary” worship music.
Wait…Did you feel that? I felt a great disturbance in the Mainline Protestant Force, as if millions of seminary-trained ministers suddenly rolled their eyes at once.
Let’s face it. Contemporary Christian Music – especially worship music has a bad reputation in our corner of church world. In the last couple weeks this comic has appeared on my Facebook feed several times:
Or maybe you’ve heard or even shared the “7-11” joke: “contemporary music is just the same 7 words sung 11 times” (keep in mind this same thing applies to Taize music which is a darling of many “proper” church-goers).
Then there’s the stereotypical content of this type of music. Of course, we all know that it’s “Jesus is my boyfriend” stuff that is devoid of theology, or worse filled with “bad” theology.
Well, as someone who has been on the periphery of contemporary Christian music for decades, since Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Amy Grant, Petra, Stryper, I will admit that these stereotypes ring true for a number of songs and artists. But to reduce all contemporary Christian music to these stereotypes really demonstrates how little someone knows about the breadth and depth of Christian worship music today.
I’ve been doing a lot of listening to Christian music as we design our new service. My current Spotify “Worship Brainstorming” list has over 600 songs on it. And I’ve come across a number of songs that engage and move me in meaningful ways.
Today I was driving to work listening to a song by Matthew West called “Do Something” and the lyrics really struck me in a way that no hymn ever has:
“Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”
I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
And there are many more songs out there like this.
Right now I have close to fifty songs on my list of possibilities for our new worship service. They vary in musical style from loud and fast to simple and quiet, they cover a wide variety of themes and subjects, and the theology presented in the lyrics would fit into any hymnal published by the mainline denominations today*.
So can we please retire the 7-11 jokes? And while were at, can we stop referring to multimedia in worship as using PowerPoint? Both of those reveal just how out of touch we might be with worship possibilities today.
Instead of making fun of different worship mediums, maybe we could live into the open-mindedness and education that we say are hallmarks of our tradition, and actually be willing to learn from what others are doing.
*Speaking of hymnals, I don’t need any more reminders to buy the new Presbyterian hymnal. I’ve been getting these reminders for over a year – the 37th one isn’t going to change my mind.