We All Have Issues

Recently on a facebook group, I asked the question: “what is the biggest issue in our corporate worship services today?” to a group of ministers.

Here are their responses:

  • Generational Disrespect
  • selfishness
  • consumerism
  • idolatry
  • distracted worshippers
  • men not participating in singing within worship

I would have added to this list

  • a lack of overall singing (with both men and women) within worship
  • lack of unity (with staff and congregation)
  • lack of scriptural backbone thematically throughout the service

…just to name a few.

One of the minister’s responses caught me off guard for a couple of reasons: one, because I thought he was spot on and two, its something I have been trying to label within our worship, but have been unable to do.

His response was… “generational disrespect”.

Think about it…generational disrespect.  The label itself says all you need to know, but the general use of the label would indicate this is a huge issue the church faces today.  And, it makes sense.  Who’s to blame?  I’m not sure which area of disrespect he was speaking of, but if we are speaking about the music/worship aspect, I believe partial blame is on our dependence on the Baptist Hymnal as our primary source of music within the church since as far back as all of us can remember.

Take a look at “new” music in the hymnal releases over the past 30-40 years.  What was “cutting-edge” to the 1975 Baptist Hymnal?

  • Because He Lives, © 1971
  • Set My Soul Afire © 1965
  • Tell the Good News © 1968
  • Share His Love © 1973
  • Sweet, Sweet Spirit © 1965
  • Take My Life, Lead Me Lord © 1969

…just to name a few.

Then, Convention Press goes sixteen years before releasing a new hymnal edition.  What were some “cutting edge” songs in the 1991 Baptist Hymnal release?

  • Worthy of Worship © 1988
  • Holy is the Lord © 1991
  • Great is the Lord © 1991
  • Bless His Holy Name © 1990
  • God is So Good
  • How Majestic is Your Name © 1981/1991
  • In His Time © 1978
  • Carols Sing © 1990
  • The Blood Will Never Lose its Power © 1966
  • O How He Loves You and Me © 1975
  • My Tribute © 1971
  • In the Name of the Lord © 1986/1991
  • There’s Something About that Name © 1970
  • He Is Lord © 1986
  • Soon and Very Soon © 1978
  • The King is Coming (chorus) © 1970
  • We Shall Behold Him © 1979 (that was a good year, BTW)
  • I Love You, Lord © 1978/1980
  • We Will Glorify © 1982
  • Majesty © 1981
  • Holy Ground © 1983/1991
  • Behold the Lamb © 1980

…just to name a few.

And seventeen years later, LifeWay produces yet another hymnal, this time blending newer songs into the foundational hymns of old.  They did a good job of not removing any “standard” from the 1991 hymnal, and added many great songs. The issue, to me, is that the church leaders already found an avenue to sing the songs they added from other sources.  And by the time they published the hymnal it was already outdated.

Check out a list of LifeWay’s data here.

But, the issue is the dependence on the book (the hymnal), itself.  To say that we can’t sing anything other than songs in the hymnal would mean that God didn’t move in a writer’s heart after the publication date of 1975, 1991, or 2008, which we know isn’t true.

So, the overall attitude of the worship wars may be subtle now, but there is still a general disrespect for those who only believe churches should sing from the hymnal.  Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  I am not saying that singing hymns is bad.  I love hymns, I grew up singing them and they are a huge part of my life and ministry.  I plan hymns in every worship service we have.  But, I am saying that it isn’t Biblical to say that we should only sing from the hymnal.  The hymnal isn’t a Bible.  It is a book published by LifeWay, who publishes it to provide a tool for churches, but they also make money from it.  That’s something we shouldn’t forget.

I say all of that to say this: God is continuously moving within hearts of composers and writers even after publication dates of hymnals.  We should be open to newer songs because “Amazing Grace” was new once, too.

A lot of this boils down to the older generations looking down upon the music of today because:

  • Some are louder
  • Some are more upbeat
  • Some are syncopated
  • Some are flashy
  • Many are non-strophic
  • They don’t understand them
  • Songs they’ve never heard before
  • Not introduced to them properly

The younger generations may look down upon older songs because:

  • They grew up only singing these songs their entire lives
  • They don’t understand them
  • They all sound the same to them
  • They aren’t saying/singing anything new

To me, the common denominator is that both groups don’t understand each other.  There is a generational gap of misunderstanding because one group typically lies with tradition and one group tends to break from tradition.

As ministers of music and worship leaders, we should communicate more.  It isn’t good enough to just please people by singing 2 hymns and 2 modern songs in each service.  We aren’t called to be people-pleasers within worship.  If we are led by the Spirit, then let’s show the scriptural truths to why we plan the way we plan.

We need to communicate:

  • why the hymns are crucial to believers
  • why singing songs of the past can encourage our present
  • how current songs are sometimes actually hymns (v/c/v/c format)
  • what modern hymns are
  • the scriptural backbone to all songs (but especially new ones)
  • the similarities to old and new songs with same themes (How Great Thou Art/How Great is Our God)

Just because a generational disrespect exists in some churches, doesn’t mean it should be accepted.

Our churches should be a place of unity, understanding, and acceptance.  Not bitterness, turmoil, and pain.  There are so many other things to focus our attention on, other than the music selection in the church.

If you have a problem with the music selection, you have a problem with your heart.  The bottom line is God isn’t concerned with the music selection as long as the text glorifies Him and is true to His Word.  Any other issue is a preference.  Our churches need to put “purpose” over “preference” in all avenues of ministry and life.

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9 thoughts on “We All Have Issues

  1. You give the impression that most of the generational disrespect is coming from the older crowd who think the hymnal is the source of all good music. Maybe you deal with that a lot in your context; I certainly have a few of those people in mine. Nonetheless, your argument is unduly weighted against the older crowd and the reliance on hymnals (which is normal for all denominations, not just Baptists, by the way) when the reality is there is an increasing pressure from youth and young adults to keep up with the latest musical fads, to completely abandon hymnals (and music literacy in general, since most churches only project words on a screen), to turn away from the organ (the king of instruments, but not in the blueprints of new churches these days) and to craft songs that are successful mostly because of how catchy they are or who performs them.

    To be fair, this is an issue that is not new to our modern age. Even in 1854, when William Walker was writing his preface to Southern Harmony, he mentioned that he was striving to include new songs for the sake of the youth. Conservative church musicians blasted the advent of the gospel hymn (Fanny Crosby, Ira Sankey, etc.). The black church wrestled with the more bluesy “devil’s music” being promoted by Thomas Dorsey and the hip-hop culture that Kirk Franklin brought with him. The difference in our modern era is in the way technology is completely reinventing the way church music is performed and consumed and experienced.

    I am only 31 years old and I honestly love all styles of music (including a fondness for jazz), and I fight to please youth and octogenarians like any other blended worship leader, but I fear more than anything else the rapid turnover of new music and the decreasing reliance on the musical foundations of the church. Surely the Baptist Hymnal and most hymnals will be another casualty of an electronic age, just like newspapers and phone books, and this is not anyone’s “fault” as your post suggests, but when the senior citizens who idolize their hymnals die off in 5-10 years, who will fight to retain the music of our spiritual mothers and fathers? This is what I fear more than the white-headed old man who gripes when we sing too many contemporary songs.

  2. P.S.

    I do agree with your overall conclusions, including the need to communicate the reasons why we choose certain songs and the need to look to Scripture as the authority for our lyrics. Generational disrespect doesn’t have to be accepted, not bitterness, nor division. Keep fighting the good fight.

  3. I agree with both comments to a certain extent. As a bi-vocational music minister whose Monday through Friday job is as a high school music teacher, I am also concerned with not using the hymnal and reading the music, but singing by rote. Music education in the US started in the church and I fear for most people it will end in the church. In my church I am facing not only a lack of men participating in singing, but a decreasing attendance in choir of both male and female singers. The dedication just isn’t there and I am looking at ending a 106 year old tradition of choir in our church and moving to a worship team lead service for that reason only. We also struggle with a blended service and incorporating NEW songs, not the 15 year old new songs in the new hymnal we purchased.

  4. I know Dennis very well and I know him to be a thoughtful minister who is very pastoral and seeking to deepen the readers thinking on the subject at hand. I believe he provided thorough background to the article and wasn’t picking on any particular generation. He was simply laying out all sides of the argument.

    I understand the concerns about musical proficiency being lost, previous generational methods being tossed out, etc. Those are very real concerns. However as minister we must major on the majors. How are we carrying the baton of the Gospel and handing it to the next generation?

    I love traditions, I choirs, I love churchy things but what gets lost in this discussion is the next generation coming behind us. In my opinion, we must be more concerned about winning our kids and grandkids for Christ than preserving our grandparents traditions. Don’t get me wrong I love my parents and grandparents traditions – I actually prefer them in some ways. However my preferences shouldn’t distract me from the task at hand.

    • Excellent comment, Zach. I know when I get into discusions like this my words end up sounding like fighting words, but please know that I mean no ill will toward another minister of the gospel. We have enough to worry about without pulling each other down.

      FYI, it is possible in our modern age to have our Hillsong United and our music literacy too. I will gladly train anyone how to put music notes on a screen.

      Also, I would like to lovingly remind Zach that our people need to be discipled after they are evangelized, and that includes the veterans of the faith who have been saved 10, 20, 30, 40 years. Every generation needs a form of musical comfort and expression. Forty-year-olds have very real spiritual needs and struggles, as do fifty-year-olds, sixty-year-olds, etc. so hymnals, choirs, etc. are not just churchy traditions or a “distraction from the task at hand,” they are tools for ministering to people who didn’t grow up with Hillsong United. I have a lot of those people in my church. They like Hillsong United in small doses, but their interests are deeper, and mine are too.

      God be with you all this week as you minister to the flock.

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