In the Worship Leadership Masterclass, I said that one of the things worship leaders must do is balance the prophetic and the pastoral. This means that we have to keep breaking new ground but not run too far ahead that our people can’t follow us.
One of the ways we break new ground is in the songs we deploy during worship. The sources of songs are widening, not only in terms of who is producing the songs, but also in styles and expressions. In the 80s and 90s, there was a clear “praise and worship” clean-rock-ballad style of worship music. It was defined by the church. But as the church began to recapture (and I believe, also to spearhead) the arts, secular sounds were being redeemed and used in worship. Not only that, the church also began to produce original sounds, sounds without any antecedents.
Some of us lament this and long for the good-ol’ days when worship music was, well, more worshipful. And simpler to sing. And more melodious. Actually, when it was more Biblical.
But the question is: do you know where you are in the spectrum of history?
Think about slavery. Not long ago, the church strongly defended slavery through Scripture, but it took some brave revolutionary soul, using those same Scriptures to challenge the accepted norm. Today, the pendulum has shifted to the other extreme, and it is widely accepted now that slavery is wrong.
Those of us who love hymns might not like the fact that worship music these days is starting to sound like electro-pop world music. But check this out: in 1723, a pastor wrote a Statement Against the Use of Hymns as a response to the use of Isaac Watts’ hymns in church worship. Here are the objections:
- It is too new, like an unknown language.
- It is not as melodious as the more established style.
- There are so many songs that it is impossible to learn them all.
- It creates disturbances and causes people to act in an indecent and disorderly manner.
- It places too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than on godly lyrics.
- The lyrics are often worldly, even blasphemous.
- It is not needed, since preceding generations have gone to heaven without it.
- It monopolises the Christian’s time and encourages them to stay out late.
- These new musicians are young upstarts, and some of them lewd and loose persons.
Sound familiar? They sound like objections we might make today.
So we need to keep an open mind and an open heart. You don’t know where you are on the spectrum of history. The very things you object against today may well be the norm tomorrow. Then you’ll look sad and ironic like the pastor who opposed hymns in 1723.