Pitfalls in Worship Music Today
Editor’s Note: I suspected the wonderfully musical and always thoughtful Bob Kauflin would have a helpful contribution to make following on Greg Gilbert’s last post (as well as the many good commenters), so I asked Bob to respond. He doesn’t disappoint! Bob is the director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries and the author of the soon-to-be released Worship Matters (Crossway). Visit his blog worshipmatters.com. Here’s Bob:
Let me begin by expressing a hearty “amen!” to Greg’s comments about the place of music in the church today. Insightful thoughts. Greg mentions the “pursuit of excellence in praise and worship music,” as a major contributor to the problem. A few other factors come to my mind.
The commercialization of worship music. I thank God for the proliferation of worship music over the past 20 years, otherwise known as the “modern worship movement.” Sovereign Grace Ministries, of which I’m a part, has played a small role in that development. On the bright side, we’ve seen a fresh influx of new songs to the church, people young and old are singing more passionately, we’re more aware that what we sing matters, and more young people are using their musical gifts to serve their congregations. On the negative side, worship music is now a
product to promote, songs are often chosen more for their identification with an artist than their theology, and songs that were written more than five years ago can be viewed as irrelevant and not worth singing.
Influence of the rock concert culture in the church. Passion conferences and Jesus festivals have both had positive effects on the church. Neither one of them, though, is the same thing as the church. The first two are events meant to draw a large crowd, hopefully to encourage people to live worthy of the Gospel. The church is an ongoing assembly of the worshipping community, being built into the Gospel, God’s Word, and each other. Technology plays a secondary and serving role. I once heard a woman describe how Bono and U2 taught her more
about worship than any Sunday worship leader. That’s alarming. Our goal on a Sunday morning is unlike any concert and far more significant. We’re seeking to build a worshipping community whose lives demonstrate they are more impressed with the greatness of the Savior than their surroundings and modern technology. It doesn’t mean we can’t use electric guitars, drums, creative arrangements, and effective lighting on a Sunday morning. We just have to view them as potentially helpful rather than unequivocally essential.
Lack of teaching on worship in the church. The effect of the first two points has been increased because pastors don’t always teach the church how music “works” in worship. Too many pastors and church members can assume that everyone understands what’s happening when we sing songs of praise together on a Sunday morning. Greg’s observations and my own experience show that’s not the case. Congregations need to be taught that being emotionally moved by music is not the same as being morally changed by the Spirit. That misunderstanding can occur both in both modern and traditional contexts. Churches must be taught that worship is not the same as music
and extends far beyond it, and that Christ’s accomplishments matter more than ours when it comes to worshipping God. They need to learn that it’s the Gospel that unites us, not a musical style, and that truth outlasts tunes.
Lack of musical variety in the church. God’s glory is too great to be contained in one style, whether that’s pop-rock, folk, classical, traditional, or praise choruses. Also, the range of appropriate responses to God’s greatness can’t be expressed in one style of music. We need many styles, many genres. We need to have the heart of Charles Wesley who longed for a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise. Obviously, the ability of a church to use different styles and kinds of music is limited by the gifts of the musicians in the church, among other things. But at the very least, we can vary the instrumentation, drop out a guitar for a verse, and even try singing a verse or chorus a cappella.
When it comes to worshipping God, no Bible believing Christian should really be “against music.” Music is a wonderful gift from God, enabling us to combine doctrine and devotion as we praise God. But as Greg makes clear, it’s possible to be too much “FOR music.” And when that happens, music turns from a tool into a god. It’s my prayer that more churches will help their people use music in a way that draws attention to the matchless beauty of the Savior, not simply the moving accompaniment of a song.