Why I’ve Stopped Singing In Church

Well, I haven’t, but Bill Blankschaen has in the churches he attends. We still sing hymns in my church and I love them. Hymns offer a lot of great theology, they are singable without the need of a melodramatic worship teams and boy wonders on the guitar. They also connect us to the church that sang them in the past. No, you won’t hear them on the local Christian radio station. But you won’t hear any great truth about God on Christian radio stations since most of the songs are written for dreamy eyed 14-year-old girls, and nerdy 16-year-old boys.

Enough of what I think, here is what Bill has to say on the topic. He has written his article to those who insist on the latest praise tunes to come out of Nashville:

To be candid, I know how to behave in your church. I’ve been raised in it my entire life. So I know how to fake it when necessary. Lately, it’s been very necessary when the music is playing and we’re supposed to be singing, you know, to God. Frankly, I’m tired of it. Maybe all the “seekers” are enjoying it, but I’m finding it hard to sincerely engage in anything resembling worship.

Instead of feeling the joy of joining with other believers in offering praises to the Almighty, I often feel insulted, bored, and disconnected from 2,000 years of worship history. And just when I think that maybe it’s just me having a selfish and sinful attitude — a very real possibility — a flamboyant electrical guitar solo breaks out. I’m left deciding whether to waive my iPhone and buy the t-shirt or just shut up and go home.

This was the beginning of the end for me when it came to praise music. I always felt like the praise teams in worship were trying to rip me along emotionally, but never gave me any other reason for being moved emotionally except that we were supposed to be emotional. There was never any real content to the praise tunes, just repetition and drivel. But let’s get back to Bill since he puts it much better than I do.

As best I can sort through my own muddled and messy thoughts, I think there are three things that really bother me about the worship music in many Evangelical Christian churches today:

1. They’re really, really simplistic. There, I tried to keep the words small. You certainly put a lot of work into doing that for me each Sunday. It’s not just that most of the lyrics are simple — as in easy to understand. It’s that so many of the songs remind me of the ditties we sang at camp — when I was ten. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure the theology in some of those camp songs was more advanced than the ones I’ve heard in some of your services. But, hey, everybody else seems to be really, really enjoying it so maybe it’s just me. Unless, of course, they’ve also learned how to fake it.

2. They’re all pulled from the latest Top 40 Worship channel. Or so it seems. Most songs I hear in evangelical churches of late have been written in the last decade, if that. I know I’m painting with a broad brush here because there have been some really, really (is this helping?) awesome songs written in the last two decades that deserve a place on the all-time worship songs list. We just usually don’t sing those. Maybe because they’re so three years ago.

What ever happened to the previous 2,000 years of church music history? Oh, I know, every so often you toss a token “hymn” (meaning within just the last century or so) into the mix. But even then, it’s a remix that requires melodic jujitsu to keep up with the quicker pace and fancier chord progressions. One distinguishing mark of the worship music of centuries past is that it generally focused more on content than today’s  simplisitc style.  Songs like “Arise, My Soul, Arise”; “Immortal, Invisible”; “Rejoice, the Lord is King”; or even the simple “I Sing the Almighty Power of God” typified a depth of doctrine that taught us as it revealed the glory of our Lord.

3. They repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And rep — all right. See what I mean? Really, really annoying. Really. The first time we sang the simplistic ditty, I could tolerate it though I thought the infinite God of all creation deserved better. By the fifth time, I was hearing echoes of Jesus warning about vain repetitions. But once you went softer and slowed it down on the seventh time, it really began to resonate with my soul.

Not.

I love the comment about good praise songs that have come on the scene but are no longer sung. He writes “they are so three years ago.” That is what I tried pointing out to a lady in charge of worship at an area church. She won’t be singing the same songs in three years. It’s all about what is cool and hip. When that drives your worship, you probably are not worshipping in Spirit and Truth any longer, since you are not concerned about what the Ancient of Days might have to say about how we worship Him.

Bill continues:

I confess I don’t have a well-developed strategy for modern worship. I’m just a guy in the pews, a husband, father, and former pastor, frustrated that I just don’t feel like singing by the time the worship music ends. It seems that focusing on three things would at least be helpful so take it for what it’s worth.

So here’s what I’d like songs in church to be:

  1. Truthful. Rather than trying to get dumber than a fifth-grader in the worship service (no offense to my fifth-grade daughter), offer truth that grows my understanding of God as we glorify him. He is truth, after all, so it shouldn’t be that difficult.
  2. Written for adults. We’re not camp attendees giddy about it being our first time away from home. Well, maybe some of us are — but the rest of us don’t always want to have to choose between clapping our hands in rhythm with the group or wrestling with the guilt trip you put on us.  Go ahead. Give us songs with deep doctrine that excite our souls. We’re not seekers anymore. Come to think of it, I never was.
  3. Timeless. Let’s sing songs that reach back into the archives of songs proven to have been used by God to edify His people. Mix them in with modern songs, by all means. That’s fine. But don’t feel as if you have to make them sound like they just hit the airwaves last week. Imagine Mayberry today on MTV. Modern? Yes. Watchable? No. Sometimes classic is really cool. Really.

I could mention the need to play the music well, of course, but, frankly, I can live with the best you can give on that one. Make it as excellent as you can, please — just don’t make us sing it ad nauseum or worship your musical talents instead of our musical God.

I think Bill might be on to something. Maybe we should be more selective about what we sing in worship before the Almighty God of Creation. Maybe our worship songs should actually be based upon Scripture truth, that deepens our understanding about Him, His grace towards us and our need for Christ. I would say that it should deepen our understanding of His love for us, but we have so abused that attribute of God for the past 30 years that we should probably give it a rest for a while. Maybe we should focus on His holiness for a while. After all, the attribute of holiness is mentioned in the Bible far more than His love. (I know, this disappoints the love-sick 14-year-old girls, but they don’t read blogs like mine anyway).

Therefore let’s stick to the hymns, or at least not forge them. The church might actually learn about God again if we start singing of His rich truth. You can read the rest of Bill’s article here.

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13 thoughts on “Why I’ve Stopped Singing In Church

  1. Although I’ve never actually attended a church that signed, every church I’ve ever been in certainly sang. (Sorry. Your funny spelling typo made me laugh.)

    This has been a concern of mine for decades. When I was worship leader at my little church (yes, they were actually that desperate), I operated off the Col 3:16 principle. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Thus, in worship I incorporated the Word and used the music portion by construction and execution as a time of “teaching and admonishing” rather than trying to build up warm emotions towards God. (Trying to provide a memorable performance for our little group was not an option.) I made heavy use of doctrinally sound, theologically rich hymns and songs to cover a theme of the day and wound up with more emotional tunes to respond to the theme.

    It was, of course, greatly appreciated and warmly received by all … except, of course, the congregation … and the pastor … and a good part of the worship team … and just about anyone else. Sigh. What have we come to when doing it the way the Bible says is not appreciated?

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  2. I absolutely love old hymns. A couple of my favorites are “It Is Well With My Soul” & “How Great Thou Art.” I also love contemporary. I disagree that “you won’t hear any great truth about God on Christian radio stations.” There are many very powerful songs with good lyrics that aren’t teeny-bopper. Consider “Jesus Friend Of Sinners” by Casting Crowns or “Overcome” by Jeremy Camp; two songs that recently have been among my favorites (and both could be used in church worship). That being said there are several songs that I really dislike because of style or lyrics that don’t match up with the Word of God and I generally change the station when they come on. I believe that it is a preference if we choose to worship in only hymns or only contemporary but I prefer to have a combination of both. There is great history in hymns but in the same way the great contemporary songs will also last through the ages.

    I came across a good article a few months ago that discusses the extremes of both sides.
    http://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/2012/04/my-7-pet-peeves-about-worship-music-in-church/

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    1. Alysa,
      Thanks for the link, more good stuff.

      I know that there are some great songs out there in the contemporary world (Jesus Friend of Sinners is really an old hymn), but much of what takes place are people just latching on to the latest song, regardless of content, quality and singability, which is what Sheila pointed out:

      2. Performance Songs are Not Congregation Songs
      Look, I love contemporary Christian music as much as the next person. I download Christian music off of iTunes. I listen to Christian radio, and I sing along. But not all songs are congregation songs. Some are meant to be solos.
      Just because a song means something to you, and has a great message, does not mean that it works well in a congregation. To be sung by a bunch of people at one time, the tune should be obvious, there should not be numerous pauses, and there should not be weird timing. If there is, then it’s better to use it as special music.

      Great post, thanks for sharing the link, gives us more to think about. It’s really hard to set down rules about what makes a great hymn and what doesn’t. But the church should strive to do its best when it comes to worshipping our LORD.

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      1. I agree. I can’t focus on worshiping if I can’t follow along with the song style and/or lyrics. Usually for me it is a problem with hymns that I am not familiar with. For others (and for me on occasion) it may be the newer contemporary songs that have all the runs and instrumental breaks. If I find myself being distracted by that, I often will just close my eyes and hum along instead of trying to figure it out.

        I didn’t know Jesus Frend Of Sinners by Casting Crowns was a hymn. I googled it and although other songs with the same title (but different lyrics) came up, I didn’t see reference to their song being a previously written hymn. If I’m not mistaken, at some point I heard on the radio that it was written by Mark Hall (CC lead singer).

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      2. Hi Alysa,
        That is not the song I thought it was… Nice song too, but I don’t think that would be very singable in worship.

        I like your idea of humming along, but probably not a good idea for the pastor to do. 😉

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  3. Frankly, I’ve got a lot to say in regards to this topic, but I’ll try to be brief.

    First, the modern church MUST come to grips with the question, What is the church’s mission? If you see your congregation as simply the avenue to bring lost souls into the body, then without VERY careful planning what you will do is adapt your music (a form of corporate prayer) into a form that will, on the one hand, be (my least favorite word in the English language) ‘relevant’ (spit!) to the seekers while on the other hand, starving those more mature members who are looking to grow in the faith they’ve been nurturing for years. If you see your body as the gathering of God’s people to lift up praises to Yahweh, being shaped and formed to live a cruciform life, you will adapt your music to that which allows corporate prayer to take place, that praises Yahweh, and that prepares us to be (Monday-Saturday) the ARMY of Yahweh. This is the root question when developing a philosophy of music in the church.

    Second, why are we introducing the music of an alien culture into the worship of the living God? For, like it or not, that’s what ‘pop culture’ is: antithetical to the counter-culture of the church. Now I’m not bashing CCM or claiming that listening to it is sinful; I have it on in the car quite a bit as I drive around. However, THAT DOES NOT MEAN IT IS APPROPRIATE FOR THE GATHERING OF THE SAINTS FOR CORPORATE WORSHIP! I venture to say that most churches who use pop-culture-inspired music rarely include traditional hymns or the Psalms in their musical menu on a regular basis. Why is this? I’m of the opinion that it’s because pop music is easy; easy to perform, easy to listen to, easy to digest. It doesn’t take much thought or meditation.

    Third, and this grows out of my answer to the first point, music should fulfill the role of providing an avenue for CORPORATE worship not for promoting a celebrity mentality by lifting up a few over the many; (James 2 and all that). I can’t say it better than James K.A. Smith, so please take the time to read the following link.

    http://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/2012/02/open-letter-to-praise-bands.html

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    1. Lance,
      Well said. Thanks.

      BTW, tried to get tickets to the Arkansas game yesterday, but my father is going to be out of town that weekend. Had to settle for tickets to the South Carolina STATE game instead. My Dad said this was probably better since I will be taking Andy to see his first game. Hopefully we can count on a win that Saturday. 🙂

      The tickets to the South Carolina STATE game were half the price of the tickets to the Arkansas game. I wonder why? 🙂

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  4. Melissa

    I have to say this article hit the nail on the head. For the past several weeks I had wondered whether or not our worship songs were really praising God, because they seemed quite repetitive, something you had to do because everyone else was doing it. I couldn’t believe that our songs were really worshiping God because I felt nothing from them. Except yesterday where I actually did feel something.

    I believe that often we become bored with the same type of worship songs and praises. They become old to the soul and less of an empowered influence that allows us to truly worship Christ as King. In fact, they become mundane. I know God prefers praises that come directly from the heart, not from a textbook where we have to learn the words, which then becomes more of a task that we focus on.

    Worship doesn’t just begin with church. And it certainly isn’t just contained through hymns. In fact, originally worship occurred when God’s people fell to their knees and prostrated themselves before Him and honored Him above all others. Today, we seem to think worship is only through praising His name. But no! It’s more than that.

    It truly is maddening to know that our songs of worship may mean nothing from us at all, when it should mean everything. Because after all, we’re suppose to be singing to God. These days it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

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    1. Melissa,
      Thanks for stopping by, please do so some more.

      It’s funny that you say that “it doesn’t feel like it,” when so much of the praise songs are based on “feelings.” The very thing the praise song intends to do, ends up not doing it. Great point!

      But sing the truth to God, now that is something!
      Blessings

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