How do we use worship music?

A friend of mine raised some questions about how we use worship music in our services. This was precipitated by the fact that my faith tradition is publishing a new hymnal this year–and so there are concerns among many people as to why kind of music will be in the hymnal…what will the theology be…how will we use the hymns?

I remember the first time I heard someone call our hymnal “a book of scripture.” Huh?? But the more I’ve thought about that–and the older I’ve grown–the more sense that statement makes!

Worship music–especially for those of us who have grown up in a faith tradition–is part of our DNA. We absorb it from our earliest days–and, at least for me, when I am hurting, confused, wondering, the words of hymns and some praise songs are often the first thing that come to my mind. Sometimes those hymns are biblical scriptures put to music; other times they are what I would consider inspired writings by poets and hymn writers that speak to my needs and concerns with the impress of God’s spirit.

They carry our theology, whether we intentionally think of that or not. Sometimes that can be valuable, but sometimes…as we grow in our understanding of God and our relationship with God…that can be problematic. There are some “golden oldies” that have long tentacles into my mind and soul because of the places I sang them and the situations I sang them in. But I don’t believe that theology any more. There are new songs that are much more expressive of my beliefs–and I have no doubt that they will also develop long tentacles that will also cling to my mind and soul. But I am also sure that as my relationship with God–and my relationships with others–continue to grow, eventually their theology will also no longer express my beliefs…and I will need to look for new statements.

I hope that our hymnal launch will initiate some good discussions on just how we will use these new songs.

Too often I have seen our worship music misused in ways that I believe abuse the songs:

  • “We need a hymn here in the service…let’s just pick a favorite song.”
  • “This is a familiar song–it will work for our opening / closing hymn.” (Never mind that the words don’t have anything to do with the theme or the focus of the service!)
  • “Here’s our standard order of service. Just pick a couple of hymns and we’ll print it off.” (What about intentional service planning instead of just “fill out a form”?)
  • “I know that’s not what we believe any more…but everyone loves this hymn, so let’s go ahead and include it.” (If we don’t believe it, why should we sing it?)

I know there are other concerns…we could each add to this list. But if music enters into our hearts and souls in such a significant way, should we not really consider how we use it in our worship?

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3 thoughts on “How do we use worship music?

  1. I don’t want to leave behind the good feelings I get from old hymns. I understand your desire to move ahead with new theology, but aren’t some memories worth saving and experiencing?

    • Yes, I think some memories are definitely worth saving. But I’m more ambivalent about continuing to experience them–especially if they are no longer things I believe. I can appreciate how they have helped me in my spiritual journey, but I want to continue moving forward, and sometimes the theology of the old hymns move me backward. I still have good feelings and memories about them; they just no longer are where I am.

  2. We can start thinking that the “best” corporate worship context is characterized by bright stage lights, a dimly lit congregation, Intellibeams, fog, high end musical gear, multiple screens, moving graphics, and loud volumes. We can start to think the ideal leader is good-looking, sings tenor, plays a cool instrument (usually guitar), sports hip hair, and writes songs. And by the way, the band members and vocalists should be near studio quality, if not actual studio musicians, and look pretty good themselves.

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