I have been on quite a journey these past few years discovering what musical worship in a church service should look like. While I have found little answers, I have uncovered some reasons behind why most worship music in contemporary services has the tendency to bother me.
I used to think that the simplicity of the chord progressions and mundane instrumentation were what bothered me. That we had taken away the beauty of the music in order to please the listeners. I used to think that it was because I’m a musician and I naturally analyze everything about a song while it rings in my ears, leading to the fact that I am never satisfied with music in church. But none of these things cured the curiosity in my head about why the worship music in church didn’t seem sufficient.
It took a refocusing on the purpose of musical worship to realize what the problem was. What is the point of music during a service? To proclaim the name of the Lord and worship Him for who He is. One of the main problems with the contemporary music of the church now is that the music is incredibly self-focused. The song “How He Loves,” made popular by the David Crowder band, spends more than three fourth’s of the song saying “How He loves us, oh, how He loves us.” “Oceans” by Hillsong states in the chorus, “I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine.” These statements are not in any way contrary to the truths of the Bible. I would say they are encouraging things to remember and that our connection with God is largely based on His open arms and unwavering love for us. But this “genre” of lyrics has taken the worship music industry by storm, resulting in a jarring unbalance between worshipping what God does for us or how His love makes us feel, and worshipping God simply for who He is.
Because of large success of former worship songs, like those of Chris Tomlin and Hillsong, there is an incredible amount of lyrics that are repeated countless time in modern music, such as “there is power in Your name” or “we will not be shaken” or “I am Yours.” Before you take offense to my disapproval, hear me out. These lyrics, again, are not bad lyrics. In fact they are true and good and I say, heck, if you feel led to put these lyrics in a worship song you are writing, be my guest. The problem here is not of truth or even self focus, but rather the fact that popular songs with these lyrics seem to be filling in lyrical blanks in order for the song to be produced rather than using a beautiful form of art to proclaim who God is. Often making this evident is a lack of coherency between phrases of a popular worship song, where there is music and lyrics that hold true to what the Bible says, but the lyrics seem nearly commonplace and random, as if the song was thrown together for the sake of business. There is shallowness about this music that I almost cannot describe. Although I know nothing really about this topic, I often wonder about the behind the scenes of the worship industry, and if it is as corrupt and self-serving as the secular industries of the world in that we are producing what people want to hear rather than what will bring glory to a complex and mighty God.
Not all worship music produced these days is self-focused and fill-in-the-blank. There are some songs that do worship God truly for who He is. What I see happening, though, is the purpose of worship music being twisted into something that makes us feel good and serves our emotions. Musical worship can be emotional and it can be something through which we praise God for what He has done, but we must not forget that no matter how we feel, who God is still stands and will stand forever.