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Music Myth: Lyrical Content

July 17, 2017

I’ve been involved in worship ministry in one way or another since I was 4. My parents led the congregational singing and choir at my home church for years, and 36 years later, my mom is still preparing the music there for each Sunday. I’ve been in either part or full-time ministry as a vocation for the past 19 years, and in that time I have seen both the good and the bad of worship ministry. Over that span, I have worked in several different churches with several different Senior and Associate pastors. While each had their own unique leadership style and personal interaction with congregation members, each one of them had a similar thought. The good and the bad of ministry all revolves around people. The BEST  and the WORST part of ministry is working with people! We love to see people “get it” and grow in their relationship with Christ, but we also grieve when people “just don’t get it” and continue to struggle with the symptoms of an un-surrendered life.

That struggle manifests itself in many ways, and can create “myths” that lead people to take their eyes off Jesus and put them on selfish desires or personal preference. One of the most popular areas where myths tend to crop up is that of music in the church. Music is a deep and powerful gift from God that can be a great aid to spiritual maturity. However, it can also become an idol that takes the place of God and must be destroyed. If music is to be used for God’s purposes rather than our own, the idolatrous mythology that often surrounds it must be exposed and removed. With that in mind, I’m going to use the next few weeks to post on some of the most popular music myths in worship. Hopefully, this will shed some light on these issues and create opportunities for honest dialogue. This week’s myth deals with words.

Myth #1 – Lyrical Content

One of the largest fights I see in church congregations today is that of lyrical substance in worship music. Perhaps the largest issue here is the misconception that “modern” or “contemporary” music in worship has no true substance to it. Rather, it is simply a mindless repetition. Often, this manifests itself like the picture below:

 

Make no mistake, there is a valid point here. No one would argue that the lyrical content of “Be Thou My Vision” is much more rich and meaningful than the chorus of “I See You” when taken out of context (the song was written by Rich Mullins, and the verses are rich in content and imagery!). Even so, this instance (and others like it) are used on a regular basis to bolster the argument that the well-known hymns of the faith are “better” or “more powerful” or “more meaningful” than the stereotypical contemporary worship song. As a worship leader who sifts through both classic hymns and modern songs to build meaningful worship experiences, there is no question that some newer tunes simply cannot compare the the rich tapestry of songs found within the standard church hymnal. In fact, I’ve heard the term “7/11 song” attributed to modern worship music more than once. The idea there is that modern music uses the same 7 words 11 times in a row rather than having some real substance. The 90’s were filled with such songs, so I can understand the sentiment.  BUT… we must remember that there are two sides to every argument, and in our case, every myth. Take a look at this:

Now, before I suffer the slings and arrows of those who love Handel’s Messiah, please understand that I do as well. I’ve sung the first tenor part in the Messiah more times than I can count, and it is a wonderful experience. Even so, we must focus ourselves on the point of this post, which is the lyrical content. Musical composition aside, Handel used one word over and over and over again. In fact one might say that the Hallelujah Chorus is the epitome of a 7/11 song! Andrew Peterson is a modern worship writer, and just look at the word tapestry he created!! If someone had never heard the Messiah and simply looked at this meme, how would they respond to the 7/11 modern worship song myth? You see, we can make anything fit our own personal paradigm when we take it out of context and cherry pick for our own purpose. Taking things out of context is exactly what got this myth started in the first place! The fact of the matter is that both classic songs of the church and modern songs of the church have instances of repetition and instances of deep lyrical meaning. The question, then, becomes less about the lyrical content of the song and more about the personal preference of the listener.

Perhaps the largest reason this myth needs to be debunked has to do with the very people who make up the Church. I grew up in an era when traditional hymns were the norm in worship, but the switch to a more contemporary style of worship was happening. From birth to middle school, I attended a very traditional church with a very traditional music selection. But, when I got to high school, I started attending a youth group where more contemporary music was used in worship. Now, I serve in a church that utilizes both, and can easily switch back and forth because of my upbringing. However, there are those who grew up in a time before mine where traditional church music was the only way they connected to God in song. There are also those who came up after me who only connect with modern worship songs. There are also some adults my age who came to know Christ as an adult, so modern worship songs are all they know! They have no church tradition to hearken back to, so the lyrical content argument doesn’t make sense to them. If we are really honest, it shouldn’t make sense to any of us, because it doesn’t have anything to do with spiritual growth or kingdom building. Rather, it stunts spiritual growth and thwarts kingdom building.

If our lives are truly surrendered to Christ, then this myth becomes a non-issue because our personal preference is supplanted by a posture of submission to the Lord and to others. Only complete submission to Him will allow us His people to follow the instructions given to believers in Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:1-4 – “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

As believers in Christ, we must put this myth to rest for the sake of other believers and other non-believers who are searching for something real and authentic in Christ. If all they see is church people grumbling and complaining about songs, how will they ever see the true freedom and joy there is in Christ? Let’s put selfish preferences aside, destroy the idol of lyrical content, and worship God together in spirit and in truth!

 

 

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