Upon listening to/reading this piece on the NPR program All Things Considered on how some modern worship songwriters are doing away with contemporary worship songs and reverting back to hymn-style writing, at least lyrically, it would be easy for me to jump on board with a big hoorah! saying ‘take THAT worship songs!‘ and ‘finally some depth to our praises!‘ However, doing so may not be the right thing for me to do. As a composer, it wouldn’t be smart of me to say that we should limit our worship to a certain style. I certainly compose across a variety of styles; some songs are very minimalist in chords and lyrics, and some are rather maximalist and even chromatic. More than anything, disregarding style, I would hope that they simply glorify God. As a guitarist, it wouldn’t be smart of me to be ALL in favor of resorting back to hymns completely…well, because it’s technically difficult as a guitarist and an ensemble in general to play these “chord. chord. chord.” hymns. But it goes beyond that…
The general argument from the article is that there’s not much substance to praise & worship songs. A friend of mine would call them 711 songs – same 7 words eleven times. Others proclaim that there’s a more proper way to speak to God. Then again, some say hymns are archaic, out-dated and out-of-touch with cultivating a relationship with God.
A composer contemporary of mine would often say “do everything in moderation, even moderation.” I reference that to make the point that we should use the talents we are blessed with to write songs like hymns, like praise & worship songs, as well as a hybrid of those two and everything else in between; there is no “right” style. We as worshipers give these songs breath and rightfully so, we should let “everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Considering these two contrasting styles, I have not forgotten that our past and present experiences often dictate the likes and dislikes of us as well as our congregations.
Often, some individuals associate a negative connotation with traditional hymns due to an early negative encounter with the church. Unfortunately, while the church is supposed to be welcoming, many fundamentalist churches whose repertoire is mostly hymns, have negative attitudes to people who seem different, whether it’s gender orientation or even simply clothing/makeup preference. On the other hand, some may have a nostalgic experience hearing hymns now. Many have come back to church since the advent of the post 9/11 & recession periods. Having memories of hymns as a child may connect them better with God now. Some in the generation Y and generation WE only have had experiences with praise & worship music making hymns inaccessible and irrelevant to them. The thing is – as worship LEADERS, we have to know how to cross over.
Worship leaders are needed more than ever to cross this divide and operate as both a composer and arranger. Both sides, hymns and praise & worship, need to be explored for the sake of engaging all experiences within the congregation. We can’t let our own preferences dictate what the congregations experience. I can’t say how many times I’ve looked out into the congregation and seen everyone worshiping and singing with their hands raised high except for an elderly couple sitting over in the corner – and it hurts my heart. Likewise, I’ve seen the teenager dressed in black in the middle of the congregation – still seated while everyone stands singing from the hymnal. The worship pastor has…. shall I say… not been very pastoral. That’s messed up. If this is a war of worship, then THAT is our collateral damage – and like in any war, the collateral damage may really be souls lost.
Let’s not make this about us, but about praising the King and leading others to Him.
Listen to the orignal piece on All Things Considered HERE