The Tragedy of (Most) Modern Worship Music


I’ve been thinking a lot about “worship music” these days. I’m very suspicious of the term. I’ve been suspicious of it for a long time, so much so that at a point during my time at Wheaton College, whenever I’d get a “worship” CD in the mail (I was A&E editor of the newspaper; I got lots of free CDs), I’d rarely even open it.

Here are just some of the reasons why I’ve become so jaded with what modern evangelicals have come to call worship music:

  • It’s 90% crappy, knock-off Keane or secondhand U2 (i.e. it is usually very predictable and unoriginal)
  • It’s an industry. How bizarre and kind of disgusting that branding your music as “worship” and selling it as an “experience” earns the most money in CCM.
  • It’s a very fickle, trendy industry. Every month there’s a new “it” song that eventually filters down to every evangelical church across the world… only to be replaced by a new “it” song a month later. No more standards, no more canons.
  • It turns its nose up at good writing. Most worship music wallows in bad water imagery, fire metaphor, or pseudo-sexual verbiage (“Jesus your love is ravishing, intoxicating, orgasmic, etc).
  • It’s more about creating an emotional response than eliciting a profound spiritual reflection. The measure of a good worship leader is often how many in the audience stand up or raise their hands out of their own volition.
  • It’s much too happy and self-satisfied. “Make a joyful noise” does not mean “don’t worry, be happy.” Some of the most beautiful (and yes, joyful) hymns have come from places of sorrow and brokenness (e.g. “It is Well With My Soul”)
  • It’s much too focused on the words. Can’t the music be worshipful on its own? Could not an all-instrumental song be just as worshipful as one with lyrics?

So, as you can see, I have issues with modern worship music. It really pains me, because I want to like it; I want to think that God is pleased by it. But I can’t get over the fact that it is mostly just mediocre, conservative, and stuck in a box. Worship is so much broader than just a “genre” of music that can be “entered in to” as a corporate, religious activity. Worship is much bigger than that—so much so that perhaps the question we should be asking is what isn’t worship?

Here is my non-traditional definition of what we might call worship: Any music, art, or experience that moves us in a transcendent way.

This includes things made by Christians and things made by secular hedonists.
This includes wordless music, formless painting, and R rated movies.
This includes books, poetry, and just talking. Yes, just chatting with friends.
This includes silence—the simple, still, do-nothing, unmediated experience of God.

All that said, this article is about worship music, so to get back on track: Worship music should be first and foremost honest music, and excellent music (artistically). It should come from the same place any musician goes to when writing a song. If that place is dark and has only a glimmer of hope, then that is your worship, and God rejoices in it (see Pedro the Lion sing “Be Thou My Vision”). If that place is effervescent and giddy about life, and that is honestly where you’re at, sing about it. Don’t force your music into formulas. Let it come out organically, creatively. There is nothing more worshipful than using our creative minds and talents to create the best and most creative thing we possibly can. Not the most commercial—not what is easy listening or reductive. No, our worship music should not be made for the masses.

Even as I’ve been ranting and raving about worship music and how bad it is, there are signs that it is beginning to get better. Thankfully there are Christian musicians out there beginning to realize that God is also honored by music that doesn’t have His name in it! Music can be about so much and still, in the end, be about God.

Here is a sampling of artists who you might not have heard of, but who consistently make artful, forward-thinking music that is also rather worshipful. Some are more obviously “worship” artists, while others are just Christians making beautiful music. But most importantly, all are good.

Derek Webb
This Holiday Life
Future of Forestry
Sandra McCracken
Jimmy Robeson
Thomas Torrey
Mark Mathis
Half-handed Cloud
Liz Janes
Joshua Stamper
Jason Harrod
Jake Armerding
Edison Glass
Mars Hill Church music


124 responses to “The Tragedy of (Most) Modern Worship Music

  1. Hey, Brett. I’d been planning to e-mail you in the next few days, but just saw your recommendation of the musica at Mars Hill Church. I’ve been attending that church since 2000 (it was a LOT smaller back then), and the music, and their dedication to originality and excellence in it, is one of the most striking things about the church. I’m good friends with many of the musicians. I’m glad you like it, and I hope your readers check it out. I think Team Strike Force is the group there with the best music, and the new band Red Letter is doing some amazing work.

  2. I was hoping to find Sufjan Stevens in your list. His “Seven Swans” album is like nothing else out there.

  3. I just returned from a conversation about this very issue. For a truly exemplary example of just how terrible the “Jesus as my boyfriend” genre can be, make sure to check out “Your Love is Extravagant.” Even though the pastor with whom I serve loves that song, I flatly refuse to use it. One additional frustration regarding current worship music: It seems to be a few steps behind when it comes to the shift (at least in certain circles) from inward piety to social justice. I plan services for students every week, and I’m hard-pressed to find any song that talks about how an encounter with God affects our engagement with the world.

    • Hey, Becky… I stumbled onto this site…. your thought: “the shift (at least in certain circles) from inward piety to social justice. I plan services for students every week, and I’m hard-pressed to find any song that talks about how an encounter with God affects our engagement with the world.”

      Have you heard “The Power of Your Name” – Lincoln Brewster?


      Caution on the “social justice” thing. Charity is a personal responsibility of individual Disciples of Jesus. Free will, and all that. Have you read “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat? Please do. Christ commanded us to feed His sheep, but not to swipe the food from our neighbors.

    • The church needs to wake up to the way in which the Enemy is using some music as a Trojan Horse to create mayhem. A few years back I attended an international fellowship in Beijing when in front of a packed auditorium a female believer witnessed to French kissing Jesus in her thought life. Not by coincidence but by design the worship leader had a penchant for precisely these kinds of “Jesus I’m so in love with you’ type songs. I communicated my concerns to the leadership who seemed to be unperturbed by it. Heaven help us.

  4. To the comment re: Sufjan Stevens (from ‘The Space Between’): I didn’t include him in my list simply b/c I figure he’s well-known enough as it is (I hope!). But yeah, “Seven Swans” is exactly what I’m talking about as an example of truly beautiful and worshipful music. There are some Sufjan songs that should become the new staples on Sunday mornings.

  5. That’s awesome to see Mark Mathis on here! I went to high school and played basketball with his little brother. And his sister was married to the brother of some friends of mine. Good musician.

  6. kudos on Webb, waterdeep, and Sufjan. I went to a concert in seattle to see Sufjan and it was a “worship experience”. Maybe it’s too worshipy for this article, but Enter The Worship Circle and 100 portraits are at the top of my list as well.

    Is it alright to drop the f-bomb in a worshipful song… like Over The Rhine’s Changes Come?

    To me it seems like we’ve moved from having too small a concept of worship to having too large a one… don’t call that which is clean, unclean… nor that which is defiled, sacred. Grace as truth, not as an excuse.

  7. Justin-
    I do think that it’s valid to question whether the f-bomb is okay in “worship” settings. In know for me, that song (Changes Come) was an intense experience of worship for me, especially live. And I’d be remiss to not mention film too–in which several of the “holiest” experiences I’ve had have come through films that include more than one f-bomb. I suppose it’s a case-by-case basis.
    But I hear you about the whole “too small” shift to “too large.” I think that’s true. In some ways the history of Christianity can be seen as one long series of pendulum swings… from one extreme to another… always reacting against what came before.

  8. I was surprised to see you say that worship music is too focused on the words. Then, I realized the problem is not that it is focused on the words, but that it’s not focused on the right kind of words. It’s a lot of pseudo-romantic language and a lot of talk about us (we’re going to praise You, we’re going to blah blah blah), instead of words about God (who He is, what He has done, and what He will do). Give me a rich hymn with some modern music attached and I’ll be happy.

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  10. Thanks for a very good post. I’m still chewing on it enough that I can’t respond with anything but “thanks”…but I wanted to at LEAST say that.

  11. I agree and would also add Jill Phillips as well as Songs from The Voice. A number of artists you list are on that project.

  12. Relient K has written SEVERAL songs that fit your definition. Written from where they are. Personal. Honest. True. AND good music to boot.

    One of my most favorite worship moments was hearing the secular band Trans-Siberian Orchestra playing Christmas Hymns. There, in the middle of a secular rock concert, I was able to worship God for sending His Son. Awesome experience.


  13. I think John is onto something.

    I’m not sure that the focus is ON the words as much as the focus is NOT ON the music, for the words themselves tend to be insipid and dull. If there is a focus on the words it is in a censorious sense, but not a sensibility that examines the theology of the lyric.

  14. Interesting thoughts, Brett.

    I’m a member of a “Modern Worship Music” church, and there are times when I wince in pain when I listen to what we’re being asked to sing. Is it too much to expect noun/verb agreement and something other than the most banal of cliches? I’m certainly sympathetic to your criticisms.

    That said, there is a place for emotional responses in worship. Many people in my church are familiar with the classic hymns, and we sing them occasionally. But as Christians, we are, in theory, also in love with Christ. And love, although far more than an emotional response, is also not less than an emotional response. The classic hymns are surely superior from a theological standpoint, and probably from an aesthetic standpoint, but they are not necessarily conducive to a response of love. They are, if you will, all head and no heart.

    I would submit that worship should involve far more than thinking orthodox thoughts about God. And, like it or not, many contemporary worship songs/choruses have got that part right. “I’m desperate for you/I’m lost without you” won’t win any prizes for poetic expression. But it’s an expression that happens to be true, and that captures the heart better than any six verses from Watts or Wesley.

  15. Andy-
    Thanks for your thoughts. I hope it didn’t come across in my article that I am not in favor of emotion having a place in worship. It certainly should. But I’m not sure I agree that hymns are not as conducive to emotional response–that they are “all head and no heart,” as you say. For me, singing hymns is INTENSELY emotional, especially knowing that, in some cases (e.g. Gloria Patri or other Doxologies) they have been sung for hundreds, even thousands of years by saints of other days. That said, it is unfortunate that we even have to look towards older hymns for examples of theologically-rich, aesthetically superior church music. Why aren’t we making it today? Is it too much to ask that we make worship music that is BOTH emotionally “conducive” and thoughtful, and well-crafted artistically? I would hope it wouldn’t be.

  16. I agree with you, Brett. It ought to be possible to create worship music that is both emotionally conducive and well-crafted artistically. But I’ll note that the music that’s intensely emotional for you has negative connotations for others. That’s not to say that you’re wrong in either your taste or your desire for more substantive worship. But for people who grew up in the Church, left it for whatever reasons, and came back years later, drawn to a more “relevant” approach, the idea of singing the Gloria Patri or the Doxology smacks of what they ran away from, and what they want no part of. It reminds them of church services that were decent, orderly, deadly dull, and supremely irrelevant. And these are the people who are primarily drawn to “Modern Worship Music” churches. Are they correct? Not for you, and not for many others. But they may be correct in terms of their own experience.

    For these people, the notion of “connecting with God” is paramount. God is not a series of theological propositions couched in flowery poetry. He is a living being who can be known, and experienced in worship, and the aesthetic expression has nothing to do with that experience.

    This is a caricature, and let me emphasize that in no way do I think your worship experience with the Gloria Patri or the Doxology is in any way inferior. But I’m trying to explain what I suspect are some fairly dramatic differences in the way “Modern Worship Music” Christians approach church, and the worship experience. They’re not looking for aesthetic excellence. It’s not even on the radar. They’re looking for an experience of the reality of God, and they’re looking for music that is most conducive to that experience. It’s experiential vs. propositional church. We could debate endlessly about which of those should be emphasized, or whether they should be separated at all. But those are the dynamics. And as someone who is frequently caught in the middle — longing for an experience of the reality of God, and yet wincing when the grammatical errors of the swelling, hyperventilating choruses are flashed on the big overhead projection screen — I can assure you that most people care far more about the experience of the reality of God.

    I’d welcome emotionally conducive and well-crafted music as well. I find it all the time when I’m not at church, and it bothers me that worship is the aesthetic nadir of my week. But I’m also surrounded by people who desire to know God, and serve Him. That still trumps aesthetic excellence, and what I and many others have experienced in more traditional, mainline churches.

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  18. I definitely agree with the idea that worship and connecting with God is achieved in vastly different ways by different people. There’s no question about that. Within the broad spectrum of Christianity in America, and especially if you go to Christian churches in foreign countries around the world, there are beautifully diverse expressions of worship.

    Still, there is a part of me (and perhaps this is archaic) that still believes in standards and some expectation of excellence, regardless of how diverse it is. Can God get glory out of trite chord progressions and insipid lyrics? Of course. I’m not sure the relative aesthetic merit of worship matters as much to God as does its ability to foster our experience of His holiness, peace, and joy. But I do think there is a correlation from OUR perspective in the extent to which aesthetics inspire an experience of God. It is fascinating to me that in some people’s concept of their experience of God in worship, aesthetic expression “has nothing to do with it,” “isn’t even on the radar” as you say… How can aesthetic expression NOT be on their radar? If aesthetics don’t matter, why do we have music at all in our services? I think that as much as we might not be conscious of aesthetics when we worship, we can’t really deny that they play a BIG part. The fact is, some songs are better than others, and subsequently deepen our worship.

    It may not be a popular sentiment, but I do think that well-developed taste and aesthetic appreciation (which is learned) has a place in this discussion. Frank Burch Brown is terribly insightful about all this in his book “Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste.” I don’t want to denigrate anyone for the way that they worship, or suggest that I have some superior taste or understanding of it. It’s all very mysterious and I hate to complicate it any more than I have.

    But I do know that just as there are people who fled the “mainline” churches of their youth (b/c of stodgy and dispirited traditions like “Gloria Patri”), there are many people I’ve witnessed who’ve left the church b/c of the trite and “relevant” praise music of today-because of our apparent disregard for aesthetic excellence. But people are always finding excuses not to like church, and not to like worship. At the end of the day, worship is not that difficult. If we want to experience God, we will. He’s a generous God.

    My perspective is simply this: if we are going to worship God (and we should be… constantly), we might as well give it our best, right? We might as well make it as good as we possible can.

  19. Brett wrote:

    “How can aesthetic expression NOT be on their radar? If aesthetics don’t matter, why do we have music at all in our services? I think that as much as we might not be conscious of aesthetics when we worship, we can’t really deny that they play a BIG part. The fact is, some songs are better than others, and subsequently deepen our worship.”

    I agree that some songs ARE better than others. But it’s a profound mystery to me why everybody doesn’t agree with me, and simply accept my definitions of good and bad. :-) I know many people who genuinely prefer “I love you, Jesus” and three chords to “Crown him the Lord of Lords, the potentate of time/Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.” Strange, but true. They find the latter to be pretentious and stuffy, and they find the former to be simple, direct and more “heartfelt.”

    I’m not one of those people. But there’s no accounting for taste. And as much as I would like to argue for objective standards here, I’m not really sure that they exist, at least in terms of clear rules that could be followed to more or less ensure aesthetic excellence and an encounter with God in worship. For now, I’d settle for adherence to grammatical standards.

    By the way, I appreciate the discussion. Thanks for your comments.

  20. Though I don’t think most rated R movies are worshipful, I do agree that most worship music is more like a pep song. A feel good crunchy lightness that gives an immediate response with little substance. The book of Psalms has beautiful poetry, words of encouragement, uplifting, as well as sadness and doubt focussed towards God because they want to know Him more.

  21. I’m surprised Sovereign Grace music didn’t make your list.

    theological satire

  22. I just discovered this site last night, and will be a regular reader! I’m a full-time Minister of Worship who loves not only music but film, thinking, and writing, and so I will be keeping an eye out here for inspiration.

    This post grabbed me for a couple reasons; my primary work is in worship and music, and I feel the same tensions that you describe. Your point #2 is one that I have been dealing with for years – worship as an industry is something that constantly gives me tension. Though I read through “trade” magazines like Worship Leader, Church Production, and the like, I always feel uneasy when I do. I know that there’s valuable information, yet when I see things like “worship artists” endorsing brands of mics or manufacturers talking about the “exploding church market”, I get queasy. We have CCLI license for legal reasons, but every time I visit the site and see “featured” music or the top-25 lists, I get queasy. I have a lot of queasiness sometimes…

    Much of my unease stems from the fact that “worship music” is “sold” to the local church context for use in regular worship services. Yet the same music also is then “performed” by artists on tour, chosen for awards, etc.. Prominent worship artists are made to be like rock stars, and the local church ends up competing with its own industry, because most churches don’t have world-class sound systems, light shows, full-time musicians, “award-winning” songwriters, etc..

    Lately, I think I’ve been able to get a better handle on my own thoughts, and I want to bounce this off of you and your readers. My “solution” (if I may be so bold) would be to define “worship music” in two different contexts, because we so often define “worship” in two ways: 1. that which happens in a local congregation on Sunday morning, with preaching, Holy Communion, etc. (I would label this “1 Corinthians 14 worship” or “regular corporate worship”), and 2. lives lived in response to God’s grace (I would label this “Romans 12 worship” or “vocational worship”). So then “worship music” becomes one of two varieties: music written for the local church, and music written by an artist for the glory of God. Ideally, all songs in the former category are also in the latter, but there are many more songs that would only fall in the latter (which I think would match more with your non-traditional definition above, Brett).

    I think that writing music for the local church is truly one of the most demanding types of songwriting. It must be theologically sound, musically and lyrically interesting, and yet able to be sung by mostly non-singers. Yet very little of what I see and hear meets these criteria. As you imply, much of it is packaged in top-40 formats to be “relevant” and to sell records, which rarely translates to appropriate congregational song. I don’t have a problem with record companies and artists doing that as a business, but my wish is we would let the industry be the industry (ie. vocational worship music), and let the local church use music that is fit for the regular corporate worship context. If some songs happen to fit both contexts, fine. But my sense is that not much would (or even does currently).

    It’s my own opinion, of course, but this would solve much of my tension. It deals not only with musical quality, but also licensing (why should churches need to pay royalties for worship music? More queasiness…), recovering a “folk” understanding of church music and singing (we could learn a lot from African culture and church…), and much more.

    I hope some of this makes sense. I know it’s a lot, but it’s an area I’m very passionate about, and it’s my hope that, through some dialogue on this, we can be the proverbial irons being sharpened.

  23. I have really appreciated this article and discussion thread. We in the Catholic worship dept. are a bit behind in the praise music area; most Catholic churches do not use this music week-in and week-out like a “Vinyard” or Community church with a full time “minister of worship” paid a living wage to develop excellence — besides, the mass does not offer a large block of uninterrupted time for deeper worship. Those of us that praise the Name of Jesus in this way, with rockin’ joy and heartfelt worship are operating mostly in youth ministry and/or the Charismatic (Spirit-filled) Renewal.

    One advantage of this, however, is that I am not under pressure to use “this week’s hottest praise ditty” — after listening to new stuff and praying through it, I have more time to discern if it truly glorifies the Lord and not my range/praise band/instrumental skills/sound guy. Also, it gives me time to further break down songs within classifications: I love Draw Me Close (although it is about “me” a lot) but only use Breathe in a ministry setting, since it doesn’t really worship the Lord, it talks about what I need. It also gives me time to lower many worship songs a step or so so folks don’t have to work so hard to enter into His Presence.

    Yes, we’re behind a bit (some new music is coming out of the Catholic worship movement), but that’s not such a bad thing. I figure that folks have been worshipping the name of Jesus for about 2,000 years, so some of the stuff that has stood the test of time HAD to have been anointed, and can still stir my heart to cry out to my Savior. THAT’S what I want to use to minister to my brothers and sisters.

  24. Wow, great post and comments. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can coherently say everything I want to, so I’ll just share a couple of thoughts. Quick background… I was not religious at all for most of my life, but I’ve always been a musician. I’m 36 and lead the band ServantSong. We released our debut album last year and are set to tour New England Christian Coffeehouses while also ministering events at Catholic churches. We all have lives that give us a certain point of view, so you can now see where I’m coming from. I really just want to sare a few thoughts from the point of view of the songwriter/artist. I’m not really disagreeing with anything, just shedding some light, hopefully. Songwriting is hard. Really hard. Just about every chord progression, melody, and lyric has already ben written. It might sound cliche, but I don’t write songs, but rather, God uses me as an instrument to write them. Basically, they just come to me. Some are really overt praise (Glory Be) and some are more personal stories about my faith journey (Black Crow on a Wire). I think a point to be made here is that most Christian songwriters would say the same thing. And we’re pretty much going through the same journey, that of a sinner struggling to live the righteous life, failing over and over, but perservering, keeping our eyes fixed on heaven. Personally, I’m not satisfied with the general status quo out there. For the new songs that I’m writing, I have a bunch of ideas flowing through me. Once I get the inspiration, then I try to find new and different ways to express them through song – interesting chord progressions, melodies, harmonies, and new lyrical twists and turns. I don’t know, I’m sorry, ths isn’t elegant writing at all. I guess from my post, you can just take the point that I’m one Christian songwriter that’s trying to create worshipful experiences through music that are so personally true and real to me, that I hope my listeners share the experience and take th faith journey with me. And surely, there are thousands more songwriters like me out there. So maybe the future is not so dim. God bless you.

  25. 1. Interestingly I think worship, however understood, must always be seen in context with contemplation.

    2. All prayer and specifically worship must begin by “being present” to God.

    3. We can and must worship God with our entire selves.

    4. Each human person has an emotional part and a rational part.

    5. Thus, each part must be present to God to worship.

    Moreover, our emotional and rational parts must be made present to God.

    6. This “being present” may entail something different for each part, but should be complementary. That is, the “being present” of each ought not eclipse the other from “being present.”

    7. In fact, our worship is incomplete if some part of ourselves does not become present.

    8. The emotional part of ourselves delights in the object of love. Emotional worship is perfected in the experience of loving and desiring God.

    9. The rational part of ourselves properly delights in the truth. That is, apprehending truth is the manner in which reason worships.

    10. Actually, each part should lead the other be present as well.

    That is, one’s personal love of God ought to call him or her to understand who God is. Likewise, one’s knowledge of God ought to call him or her to love God.

    11. Of course, at times, due to our own weakness, limitations, sinfulness, etc. our ability to be present is compromised. Perhaps I know that I should desire God above all because nothing is more worthy; nevertheless, my emotions have not been trained or habituated to follow my knowledge. Thus, my worship may be dry or even distasteful, though authentic. Here knowledge must begin the task of reforming the emotions to follow the truth.

    For many just coming into faith, the love of God is already present. But this love of God ought to lead the person to know God. As above, this can be arduous especially at first, perhaps even distasteful, and must be formed through practice and patience.

    12. Finally, the worship of each part of ourselves is perfected through the worship of the other.

    For example, my love of God is perfected as I better understand God’s unsurpassed worthiness for my love. Likewise, my understanding of God as Good is perfected by my well-formed emotional response — that knowledge elicits love of God.

    13. [The following claim will go largely undefended for now. I expect some may take issue with it depending on their perspective.]

    Our rational worship is superior to our emotional worship because it makes us present to God in a superior way.

    Even though our intellect cannot exhaust the mystery of God, it more fully make God present to us.

    At the very least because it directs us to love God by showing the “why” — reason presents God as lovable to the emotions and the emotions respond with love.

    One might say, “I know God is awesome because I feel awe when I worship.” But this does not satisfactorily answer the question, “Why is God awesome.” God is not awesome because I feel awe, i.e. my feeling does not make God so. Rather, something about God is what stirs the awe in my heart.

    Reason can apprehend the “why” God is awesome while emotions can at best apprehend “that” God is awesome.

    Having the “why” reveals God more than just the “that.”

    14. I offer this reflection as pointing to the foundations of the present discussion. We need more meat on the bones of our worship in order to be satisfied. Our worship must fully engage our reason and our emotions. Even trite songs can lead us to become present to God, but a praise song hardly is sufficient for making one entirely present to God. At best it is a step, an invitation.

    If we want to continue to love God and give our entire selves to him, we must engage every aspect of ourselves to the fullest extent. Thus, we need more rational worship that leads to contemplation, i.e. being present to God with my entire self.

  26. Aaron Stumpel, Kate Hurley, and others associated with Origin in Boulder and Enter the Worship Circle have some really great worship music. Aaron’s album is amazing…

    Modern worship has it’s place, but I do find the idea that one must only sing the modern worship songs or original songs rather troubling. There is an entire spectrum of worship music written the past 500 years, not to mention songs written in other languages and from other cultures. Why not draw from all of it?

    I do see power in worship, but it’s ultimately whether we put our hearts into it or not. For the worship leader, one could argue that one aspect of putting your heart into writing worship songs and leading worship would be to develop your craft.

    It seems like a lot of worship music falls in line with the music industry’s focus on youth-oriented pop music. Again, it has it’s place, but as I get older, I’m thankful there is more than just popular worship songs.

  27. John Zak wrote:

    “14. I offer this reflection as pointing to the foundations of the present discussion. We need more meat on the bones of our worship in order to be satisfied. Our worship must fully engage our reason and our emotions. Even trite songs can lead us to become present to God, but a praise song hardly is sufficient for making one entirely present to God. At best it is a step, an invitation.”

    Worship songs are only part of a church service. I would think that the teaching/sermon would be an appropriate place to focus on reason. “Trite,” of course, is subject to personal interpretation, but my experience is that a praise song is entirely sufficient for making one present to God. And since numerous psalms focus entirely on praise (e.g., Psalm 150) it seems dangerous to argue otherwise, or to denigrate them because they don’t fully engage our reason.

    My experience of worship/praise music is that it also expresses the full gamut of experiences found in the psalms — lament, unbridled praise, confessions of doubt and uncertainty, etc. The only psalm-like sentiment I haven’t heard in contemporary worship music is a desire to dash the babes of one’s enemies against the rocks. I would probably struggle to sing that anyway.

  28. Brett,
    I grew up with both hymns and liturgy, and modern worship music in both liturgical and charistmatic settings. I have an appreciation for all good music. More importantly, I take the idea of worship very seriously.

    That’s why I’d like to make two comments– first on your “non-traditional definition” of what we call worship: “Any music, art, or experience that moves us in a transcendent way. ”

    It pains me to realize that most people think that worship is about us and the benefits we receive from it. Yes, we do attend worship services to be fed. And yes, when we worship God for who he is, we do benefit. But the point is, we worship God for who he is, not for what we hope to get out of it. We cannot continue to view our worship services from a consumeristic standpoint. Worship is not a song, liturgy or hymn. Those are tools that we use to give honor to God. What’s important is that our hearts are focused on serving Christ.

    I’d also like to comment on your perception that modern worship songs are an industry. When some people are moved to worship God, they write songs. Often when they share the song with someone else, that person can be moved to worship God because of the song. Rather than view the songs as an industry, why not think of them as one believer sharing their realization of God with another believer? The “trickle down” effect of good worship songs today can be a beautiful gift from God.

    Yes, some songs aren’t worth our voices. It’s important to be choosy and match them with Scripture and aesthetic wisdom. But it’s impossible to make a sweeping generalization and say that most worship songs fall into the “worthless” category.

  29. To briefly respond to Andy Whitman…

    It seems you take my use of the word ” trite” too broadly. It of course means, “Lacking power to evoke interest through overuse or repetition.” I in no way refer to ALL praise songs in this way.

    Perhaps I could refer to some of the same songs I have in ming as “silly.”

    OF course we need to distinguish songs of praise from teaching, sermons, homilies, classes, etc. A praise song’s purpose and function certainly differs in the scope of its instructional and contemplative capacity.

    But let me add this…

    Mentioned above also is the notion of aesthetics. Appreciating and worshiping with much beautiful music differs in kind from praising in a praise song.

    Often a praise song engages our emotions primarily — it is a way we form our emotions by allowing them freedom to praise God. Often the emotional act is outwardly physical beyond mere singing — dancing, cries of repentance and joy, etc.

    True beauty engages our emotions, but also our reason more properly. It activates and perfects our reason in a way that an exclamation of praise does not. Ultimately, one is even more moved, even if not with the same outward expression, by an encounter with something more aesthetically perfect.

    To close, a person once told me, “I love songs, but songs that lead to silence.”

    I love even silly worship songs — they engage my emotions and direct me toward God. I find that the movement of worship usually begins with songs of praise, move to songs of worship (practically deeper, more intimate lyrically and slower tempos), and finally climax in SILENCE. In this silence our whole selves, emotion and reason can be present to God most fully I think. We can truly listen to God, we can contemplate his Truth.

    Thank you everyone to your thoughts on these matters. I think they are of profound importance.

    After silence, we conclude in songs of thanksgiving and praise, often of the “silly” variety.

    [Of course, as I am Catholic, my spiritual experience draws most deeply from the liturgy which engages and feeds every type of prayer: adoration, repentance, petition, and thanksgiving. Moreover, I believe Jesus becomes present to me through the Eucharist in a manner much more profound than a song could express .]

  30. To Amy,

    Yes. Jesus comes to us so that we would come to Him.

    Even though my worship is beneficial insofar as it feeds me, it is only worthwhile when it is a gift. I give my worship to God and every moment, every thought, every action, because I want nothing more than to give to God. I give my worship because when it has all been said and done, that is all I have to give.

  31. John Zak wrote:

    “Often a praise song engages our emotions primarily — it is a way we form our emotions by allowing them freedom to praise God. Often the emotional act is outwardly physical beyond mere singing — dancing, cries of repentance and joy, etc.

    True beauty engages our emotions, but also our reason more properly. It activates and perfects our reason in a way that an exclamation of praise does not. Ultimately, one is even more moved, even if not with the same outward expression, by an encounter with something more aesthetically perfect.”

    You’re going to have to define “aesthetically perfect” for me, John. I think I know what it means for me. But you’re throwing around these terms as if there is a general consensus about their meaning. And there is not. The truth is that I know many Christians involved in the arts, and who probably know something about aesthetics, who genuinely prefer praise songs to traditional hymns, or other forms of Christian music. In the context of worship, these praise songs simply help them to worship God more effectively, more wholeheartedly. They don’t listen to them on the radio, or compare them to the works of Mozart or Beethoven. They hear them only in the context of worship, and within that context they help to bring the worshipers into the presence of God. And that’s the point. God shows up. And when God shows up, nobody’s thinking about aesthetic perfection, at least in the sense that you are using the term.

    As I’ve mentioned in this discussion, I struggle with the aesthetic expression of much of contemporary praise/worship music. The rational/reasonable part of my being rebels at much of what I hear. But what I can’t deny is that God shows up through this music — in my life, and in the lives of others in my church. And that’s at least partly why I’m there. I’ve been membered in other churches where the rational/reasonable was much more highly emphasized, and God didn’t show up. Guess where I’m going to go?

    And that’s the bottom line for me, and for many people. There are issues that trump aesthetic excellence. An encounter with God is one.

    For what it’s worth, I have an M.A. in theology, can discuss it in a reasonably nuanced way, and write about music for several national music publications. And I’m at the church with the praise choruses. And that’s because there are issues that trump aesthetic excellence. I’m surrounded by people who desire to love Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and who have formed a community with enough depth to encourage openness and transparency with one another. The fact that they string three chords together and sing “I love you, Jesus” is fairly far down the list of concerns.

  32. Brett,

    I’m curious about your last bullet point in regard to the emphasis of words in modern evangelical worship music. If limiting the conversation only to a congregational setting, it is hard for me to reconcile how music can avoid creating false spiritual experiences by being emotion-driven, if there isn’t an intentional emphasis on the lyrics. I agree with you that instrumental selections are just as beautiful and worshipful as songs we sing, and this is not the type of music I am referring to in my argument for special attention to words in music. I’ve noticed a trend in “worship music” that is self-contained and fails to give praise to the Creator. I don’t think this form of music is bad or unholy, but perhaps it helps to contribute to a church culture that seeks to be therapeutic rather than worshipful.

    I think I understand what you’re saying in terms of music focusing too much on words, but at the same time I think there’s a good argument for being very intentional about the words in music that is selected for a corporate church setting.

    Just for the record, I dislike most Christian music that I’ve been exposed to since my pre-teen years, especially the modern worship music that is sold in 2-disc sets on daytime TV commercials. My argument for intentional selection of worship music stems from many years of witnessing the abusive effects of music when it isn’t carefully selected for a church.

  33. In reply to Andy Whitman,

    I appreciate and enjoy our dialogue on these matters — as I mentioned before, I think these matters must be discussed.

    1. On aesthetics, I certainly do not presume to be an expert in this arena, nor while I really try to define what I mean by aesthetic perfection. I do think there is an objective hierarchy in aesthetic quality; not everything is up to taste.

    I no one takes offense when I make this claim, but I think that often we need to form our personal tastes with what is beautiful in itself. While some do not find what is more beautiful in itself more pleasing, this does not mean that there is no objectivity in such regards.

    2. Different kinds of activities allow God to become present in different manner. That is, the way God becomes present through an act of alms giving is different than the way God is present in the singing of a song.

    I argue that the different kind or style of song also makes God present differently. This has to do with the nature of the activity itself.

    As I think praise music centers on our emotions most directly, through the pulsating music and easily memorized lyrics, God becomes present in an particular fashion. As other forms of music in particular engage reason more properly and then may spill over into emotions (as our reason is or at least should rule in us), this form of worship makes God present in a different way.

    3. To recognize this difference does not suggest that one should entirely replace the other.

    As praise songs have their own proper way of allowing God to become manifest for us, we should foster this style of worship.

    Likewise with what I would call more aesthetically perfect forms of worship.

    (For any Catholics out there, I find the Rosary to be something like a mixture of contemplative silence and praise music. The repetitiveness and rhythm of the phrases and the meaning of the mysteries provides for a profound kind of worship.)

    4. I think that certain styles of worship have greater potential for allowing God to become manifest through how the activity engages our being and personhood.

    While validating all styles of worship as good insofar as they reveal God in their own proper manner, I think certain styles which better reveal God should be fostered.

    I present this as a challenge because often those activities which better reveal God and are perhaps better forms of worship can be distasteful for those not practiced in them. Just as at times I find it undesirable travel to pour areas of the city and distribute clothes, it can be difficult for many to appreciate higher forms of worship before first changing themselves.

    5. This is to say, ultimately, our desire to worship and give ourselves to God often is a call to reform ourselves, to change our tastes in order to allow God to become more present in our midst.

    (This cannot be done by putting on airs — I hardly believe someone should pretend to find Gregorian chant more beautiful because he or she thinks it is expected of him or her. Rather, I think this person may just spend some time giving it a chance.)

    6. Finally, I hesitate to mention a final concern, but it must be said. Sometimes I wonder what it means for a person to say that God was present. I say this because I fear many times people mistake an emotion for God’s presence. Sometimes one sees the same spontaneous bursts of emotion at everyday rock concerts that you see in times of praise. Sometimes I wonder what is from God and what is not. I think we need to be more discerning sometimes.

    I say this will the full belief that grace perfects nature — that good aspects of a rock concert can be transformed by grace to make God present in a special form. God can use the same emotions that would be actuated at a concert and uses them to reveal Himself to us.

    Nevertheless, sometimes I think people mistake their own natural emotions for the promptings of grace when they are not. I mention this also because I think there is a far greater potential for this in modern praise music as it taps most directly into our emotions. As someone who engages in this kind of prayer regularly, it is something I always keep in mind for myself.

    To quote Brett: “It’s more about creating an emotional response than eliciting a profound spiritual reflection. The measure of a good worship leader is often how many in the audience stand up or raise their hands out of their own volition.”

    The disenchantment we have at judging a worship leader in this fashion in part draws from this suspicion about the nature of such emotional responses. A fine rhetorician, like the Protagoras, can persuade and elicit emotions. A skilled worship leader can do the same thing — the hope is that this is from God and not just from the music.

  34. If you would like to have a more technical discussion on these matters, I would enjoy the exchange. I say this not to promote myself, but I am working on my dissertation to finish my Ph.D. in philosophy and am interested in the finer details and arguments in all these issues. A continued dialogue might be very fruitful.

  35. Pingback: Decompose » Further Thoughts on Worship

  36. I’ve skimmed most of this, so if what I say has already been touched on, forgive me.

    I am a part-time worship leader and a seminary graduate. I’ve noticed that many of the posters here have been “professionals” or seminary educated, but the people I’m leading every week are not. The tension I experience with what Brett has written is that I agree with most of what he’s saying. The problem is how to deal with that practically.

    While the songs that are coming out now aren’t great, they’re singable. I’m dealing with a generation of people who grew up singing along with the radio, have little or no musical training and a very limited vocal range. They’re used to repetitive refrains that they can pick up easily. If I go too musically “interesting” it end up being a performance with no participaton. I don’t want to pander, but I don’t want to go over their heads.

    They also don’t think theologically, for the most part. I want to lead them in that direction, but I don’t want to come across as smug because I’ve put thought into this and I think some of the songs they love are trite, which I do.

    I look for songs that are strong in both spirit and in truth, but also that work in the real world. Not easily done.

  37. To Becky Pruitt (if you’re still reading)

    We just had Noel Richards from England at our little church, and he is one of the first I’m seeing that is writing worship songs with the horizontal aspect of justice in them. Some of these are brand new from him, so they may only be on his MP3 on his website. His website is

    Interesting thoughts in a very interesting debate.

  38. What an interesting Blog with many and varied responses. I just found it, and maybe no one will read my comments because I’m weeks behind.

    I am the pianist (yes, pianist not keyboardist) at my church here in Pollock Pines. I’ve been a church musician from my teen years. At 16 I was the church organist. I’ve said that to lay the groundwork for my comments. And by the way, I’m old.

    I am part of the “worship team” – practice every Wed and Sun for the Sunday AM service. I’m not going to make too many comments on the songs – it has already been mentioned that much of it is mediocre. I find it also awkward in the chord progressions, and quite boring for the most part. Instead, I’d like to focus on the results of the current music.

    I remember when people really sang. They don’t any more. I also remember worship that was reached not as a “plan of action” but as a result of God’s word being preached and hearts being touched. I remember remaining after church was over to sing quietly and reverently, and then reluctantly leave to go home feeling like I’d been in the Presence of God.

    I recently read an article about alters and invitations (which were common back then). The discussion centered around the dangers in the structured “invitation” and the resulting emotional response to “accept Christ” which rarely had a lasting effect. It was hard for me to read that, but I had to agree because I saw those results firsthand.

    There is a parallel here that the structured “worship time” could give people a false sense of having done their worship duty for the week. And with the focus (as mentioned in previous comments) on the “me” and what “I” need, we become like children saying “gimme” to a parent with our list of what we want.

    A small comment about the songs. No longer can you visit a church of your own denomination in another city and be able to sing. You won’t know the songs. And I know of at least two people in my small church who arrive late on purpose so they won’t have to listen to the loud drums and guitars and amplified voices of the performers (aka the worship team).

    I believe the changes in the church music have far-reaching effects. I perceive that it has taken us to a somewhat dangerous place where we are trying to make the church fit the people. Emphasis is on making people feel comfortable and unthreatened, and they can feel good about themselves. The Message of the Gosple is diluted and sometimes directed at social issues rather than the human need of salvation. Thankfully in recent months my pastor has left the stock outlined sermons where they belong on the internet, and begun preaching from the Bible.

    As for the music, God probably thinks all of the music created by humans is horrible. After all, he listens to angels. My humble opinion is that what he really wants is for us to be conscious of Him and His absolute sovereignty, and for us to desire to belong to Him and “be in touch” with Him. “Worship” is a matter of the heart, not a program in the church.

  39. Beverly:
    Thanks for your comments. It’s nice to have the perspective of someone like you, who’s been “living” and a part of the changes in worship music over the years. I especially resonate with your comment that “I remember worship that was reached not as a “plan of action” but as a result of God’s word being preached and hearts being touched.”
    Today, worship music almost seems like a tool of utility–carefully crafted to attract more of the “type” of audience a church is after (nowadays that seems to skew younger, and more informal). Most of it seems preoccupied with our own small, petty notions of “what God is to me.” Very little of it seems to stem from a response to God’s majestic greatness. And yes, I also agree that the chord progressions are extremely boring!

  40. Brett,
    Thank you for reading my comments. These days sometimes I feel like a voice lost in the noise. I have learned that many people don’t care that the music is poorly written, nor do they care that about the lyrics, and then they think it is wonderful to sing the same verse or chorus or bridge a number of times. They are uninterested in and uneducated about good music.
    I remain part of the music program at my church, though I don’t care for it very much, because otherwise where would I be able to play. And because I choose to be a part of it, I do my very best. It “broadens my horizons” in that I learn more about other people.
    But I worship God in the quietness of my car.
    Thanks again,

  41. One lost, but known

    I do agree and I do think a lot of “worship” music today is made to make a profit or to promote an artist’s status…

    However I’d say that if a person likes what they’re hearing (whether others consider is good or not), and it causes them to really open their hearts to the love of God, really causes THEM to know God’s majesty and ability then I’d say it is good for them…maybe only that person, but at least it’s touching someones heart… (therefore allowing them to “experience” God).

    Music that is made from the depths of a person’s soul will have a much more profound effect on that person or others who have been in the same place…this usually is good music, but very few people might see it as such. Therefore, (from an evangelical standpoint I guess) a far less amount of people get “touched”…
    But yes… music designed not necessarily to touch people, but to provide personal worship in any form, is the best. Even if, dare I say, its crappy music. -.-

  42. One lost, but known


    Which it’s usually not…It often is quite profound. ^^

  43. see Brian and Jenn Johnson, Kim Walker, John Mark McMillan, and Misty Edwards (

    these are all excellent PROPHETIC worship artists.

    listen to for the cutting edge in worship of Spirit and Truth.

  44. I’m a worship leader in college, still learning a lot. I agree with you that too many songs use somewhat hazy imagery and sluggish themes, but sometimes the simplest songs are the best. And whose to say that your personal view of what’s good music is different for other people? Personally, I get a lot out of acoustic worship…just a guitar and a djembe. Keeping it simple keeps people focused in on God, in my opinion. But as long as it doesn’t become a self-serving field, I think anything’s fair game. Some young people may not get a whole lot out of an old hymn, but if you play modern praise and worship music, they might be able to connect. Just a thought.

  45. Oh and by the way it was great to see Waterdeep up there. My band did “Those Who Trust” a few weeks ago…great music.

  46. Hey thanks so much for this thoughtful article. I am a worship leader and song writer myself (I was a featured artist on Enter the Worship Circle: Third Circle which evidently you’ve heard those CDs) and I couldn’t agree with you more on some of these points. The vocabulary used in most worship songs is very limited, and often not very creative, and often the music is the same way. I have noticed lately that if I’m switching radio stations, I can often tell that it’s a Christian station before I even hear the WORDS! That’s how in a box a lot of the music is. That doesn’t seem right.

    I know that I myself have to make sure I am not trying to write a song that will simply bring an emotional response. I want my songs to express people’s hearts, but not be formulaic. I know one of the guidelines of the Worship Circle CDs is that if it would sound weird coming out of a pre-believer’s mouth, don’t use it. In other words, don’t use the secret code words for our little club. All that does is make people feel like they don’t belong. I like that rule.

    I know that I would love to hear and write more worship songs about the poor, about our role in loving the people in the world. I think it’s important to have some worship songs about our relationship with God, and that there is therefore language like “I” and “me,” but when that is all that there is, I think we are missing the point. Jesus did come to change us personally, but he talks so much about his love for those who have been abandoned and lonely. I wish there were more worship songs addressing this.

    I am amongst a network of friends that are really trying to change some of this….to write some joyful songs but also songs about not understanding things, songs without an answer tacked on the end. Jesus sometimes wants us to search rather than swallow an easy answer. I hope that I can be a part of a worship movement that is organic and real, more concerned for the people singing the songs than the royalties I will get from them.

  47. I can’t believe that you have Half Handed Cloud on there! They are so wild! I love them though….

    “If your father’s getting naked in the pup
    Walk in backwards and cover him up.” Nice. Very nice.

  48. I’ve randomly stumbled upon this page and this article caught my eye. I feel you, man….man, I totally feel you, and I won’t go into a sermon on how our feelings are similar.



  49. I just want to remind everyone that the “hymns” a lot of you speak of were written in the popular style of the day and often to the tune of “drinking songs”. I think it is important to stay relevant to the people you are ministering with/to.

    While I agree that some Modern Worship is over the top, I truly believe that many of the popular worship artists today have genuine hearts.

    So the music is popular – Big deal – is singing about God a bad thing now?

    I love Derek Webb (one of the artists on the non-suck list) – his music has actually caused me to stop and re-evaluate my thinking on some social issues, but I also happen to really like Mercy Me as well. Does that make me an experience driven sell out who doesnt understand what worship is? I dont think so.

    • Thank you Russ. You’ve expressed what I’ve been feeling as I read everyone’s replies. I sing on the worship team at our church. We sing a mix of contemporary Christian songs AND hymns. We do this because we know that there is a nice variety of ages and backgrounds at our church, and we want to make sure everyone can sing at least a few songs that are most worshipful to them. To give my personal opinion, there have been hymns, contemporary Christian “pop” songs, and songs sung (made up) by my own children (in the wrong key, I might add) that have all given me amazing worship experiences with God. (And I don’t think anyone should be judging whether or not my experiences are authentic or truly worshipful, only God and myself can speak to that.) Others in this post have mentioned that what really matters, is loving God to our fullest, He is our focus…can we do that through “crappy” music? We can if our hearts are set on Him. That’s what matters. So to criticize other’s choices in music, or the God -fearing, God loving hearts that wrote that music, is judging something which should be left for God to judge. Brett, If you are worried about the direction fellow Christians (and Christian bands) are headed concerning worship music style, I would only ask that you put as much if not more effort into helping others “know” Christ. For their lifetime… until eternity. (And let them decide what form of Christian music they like ). We are all created far too unique to assume our definition of,( in your words, Brett,) “excellent music (artistically).” should be another person’s definition. I sense that your need to be “right” about this one, is far greater than your need to feel humble. We are all different. I appreciate your love for the depth and musicality of hymns and other Christian bands that you listed above). I think what makes us all different, allows us to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth. I just hope it can be learned to humbly accept other’s differences, and truly appreciate how God made each one of us, rather than attack the motives of people (crappy Christian bands) that God knows better than we do.

  50. Pingback: Bibles and Airports » The Tragedy of (Most) Modern Worship Music The Search

  51. Wow, just to note I am in the process of writing a paper that will somewhat compare and contrast the music of Luthern hymns and modern day worship. These comments have really sparked my interest in my paper.

    I have been leading worship for a few years but more importantly I have been a worshipper for much longer but as I started to read these posts and comments I felt a pain in my heart. The words that echoed in my head were “us, we, and I.” As a post earlier written by Amy, I am in total agreement that worship is NEVER NEVER about us, me or I”
    We talk about asthtetics (i can’t even spell it) and what is pleasing to the ear, but what can we produce that God has not already heard? What can we sing that is good enough for the Creator of the Universe? All we can do is come to Him in humble adoration offering him a sacrifice of praise.

    Brett you wrote:
    “It really pains me, because I want to like it; I want to think that God is pleased by it.”

    God doesn’t need our worship, all creation worships him, I am referring to the rocks. He wants it! God can glorify himself through the worst song ever.

    I do also believe that in everything we do we do it to the best of our God given ability. God has given us talents and we don’t want to squander them away, but before we over analyze how we make worship music we should first look at how we walk with God.

    So many thoughts:

    We talk about being filled. It is totally important to be filled, but firstly how can we be filled by God when we ourselves are not empty?

    Final thought, worship is never about us.
    Romans 12: Therefore I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing TO God…

  52. I’m sure this thread is too old for a response if even for a read but… 2 bits. I like the discussion in this thread, very refreshing. I actually assumed it was going in another direction as I have read so many Calvin/Luther blatherings on the “dangers” of modern worship. I also have my preferences/concerns with worship music. I think there is WAY to much emphasis on music and WAY less emphasis on a worship lifestyle. I am a worship “leader” (I like worship inviter better) and it is a huge part of my life but VERY unimportant compared to the everyday sacrifice, service, love, adoration we should be sending heavenward. I am also very tired (read more exhausted than angry) of the criticism surrounding worship music. Heck people, let’s get all ruffled up and anal about people doing their best to love God. I was really blessed by my 2 year old son singing a sweet yet technically awful worship song to God. I dare a Calvinist to blather away the value of that sweet, sweet moment between my son and God. Anyway, these comments in no way reflect anyone on this thread, it just sparked some thoughts. Blessings all.

  53. Hey, I like what you have to say about “worship” today. I love Mars Hill. Right on.
    Worship doesn’t seem worshipful so many times. I just want to sit and pray or kneel down and listen sometimes. It makes me sick that we have an industry revolving around Christian music. It should be free to everyone and there should still be plenty of time to work a paid position elsewhere but still find time to write, sing and play music to help people as a gift from God.

  54. Ricardo de la Cruz

    Hi. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa. I stumbled upon this thread by accident and read most of it and you know what? All of you are right. This is God’s way of making us all see what He intends for us to see. All of you should take from this what is important for you, because that is what God is revealing to you at this point of reading this. I especially want to echo what Amy and Kory said already, so no need to repeat that.

    Let me add what I’ve experienced. As a guitarist and singer in our worship team, I’m also responsible for getting the new songs and teaching it to the team. I have a variety of cd’s with all types of and genres of praise & worship music. I’ve been following all the trends of the various styles of praise & worship for years now and have somehow been undergoing the changes as they came along, like: recently changing my hair colour and wearing it long and spikey(’cause that’s what the artists are doing all over the world). Created my own MySpace account (’cause you have to have friends in the same circles all over the world)… you probably get the point by now… it’s no longer about God, but about us… thank God I realized this in time… the line is so thin between gloryfying yourself when you become better and people say you are good, than gloryfying God.

    To get back to this discussion, the modern worship (not all, but most) has gone “rock ‘n roll” – just listen to the latest albums from Integrity Music, Vertical Music, Vineyard – you name it… even our best loved christian artists are dressed like “Rock stars” with tattoos etc. Most of the songs are featuring screaming guitars and loud drums… For sure we should “make a joyful noise unto the Lord”, but since we’ve been playing these types of songs in our church, I’ve seen a decline of participation from the congregation – they’ve now become the “audience” (just staring at us with big eyes) and we became the featured artists or “Rock Stars”. See this website that discusses these type of problems:

    The point I’m making is we should be careful how we lead people into God’s presence and not out of His presence. I once heard a pastor say that God accepts any type of music as long as He knows your heart is pure. So my call to all of you is to make sure you are honest with yourselves where you stand with God. And those artists that you admire: do a Google search on them and discern if they are doing the right thing, but be true to yourselves and inform as many people when you see something is wrong.

    Michelle Bythrow: I can’t agree with you more – writing songs should be free because God gives you these gifts and talents (and it can so easily be taken away). Matthew 10v8b: “Freely you have received, freely give.” I’m in the process of delivering my songs on the web for free with no copyright and expecting no royalties – I’ve learned that is the thing that keeps our artists trapped in doing all weird kinds of stuff, because of contracts and copyright laws. It also prohibits christian listeners to download your songs when they see the copyright word. Don’t worry if someone steals the song – God will deal with them accordingly… this is exactly the reason why the Bible is not freely available anymore, because of copyrights.

    Oh yes! And one last thing. Oneday, while flying in an airplane at about 30000 feet from the ground, I saw how small the houses were from up there. I was immediately reminded how great our God must be to even see us from heaven and still think of us. When I was a kid I always found an ant, walking by doing it’s thing, a nuisance. I would take my index finger in push deep into the sand to hide it and sometimes if there were no sand, just kill it. This airplane experience made me realize that God can do that to me at anytime. So don’t seek FAME – “seek ye first the kingdom of God… …and all these things will be added unto thee”.

  55. God looks at the heart not the song. How are any of us to judge the heart of the songwriter when they wrote the song. It is sad to see Christians judging others musical worship by the content of the lyrics and their personal preference of musical style. Thankfully God doesn’t judge us by the offerings that we bring or we would never measure up. This article misses the heart and meaning of worship completly. If God’s name is glorified it doesn’t matter how it is done.

  56. In reading your article and the following comments I sense an over indulgence of personal taste, and comments about modern worship being boring.
    The key for worship in these days is the progress of the Church, not whether our Ipod or CD collection is hip or not. The need for the Church to keep bringing forth new songs is essential in equipping us all for the future.
    I appreciate the fact that we live in a day where the Church is writing songs for their congregations, and most of these songs are written by a younger generation, who traditionally in the past would have nothing to do with Church.
    I believe in the ‘new song’ and thank God for it, because I personally have seen tens of thousands find Jesus because of and through these songs.

    Let’s get over our personal tastes and opinions about whether we like a song or whether we think it’s boring or sounds like U2 or Keane – all that is irrelevant in regards to God’s purpose on the Earth, compared to whether or not the music or musical style is helping to build, increase and establish the Church.

    Let’s focus on what the Church is doing in worship, and give praise for what is happening these days, because it’s awesome, and forget our personal small minded trips about this style or that style.
    Let God be praised and let it fill the earth through the Church, not some cute, fashionable christian artist.

  57. You should check out John Mark McMillan.

  58. I have a few problems. The definition of worship is actually to prostrate yourself before the Lord, to lick the hand as a dog toward its master. Worship is not singing and dancing. Singing is singing, dancing is dancing. Worship is the humbling of your heart before your master and serving Him. Now to get to the matter at hand, the purpose of any “worship” song or leader is not to bring attention, or focus, to either the words or the lyrics but to our God. It is not about the artist, vocalist, choir, musician, or team but to our Lord Jesus Christ. And as a worship leader we are to bring the atmosphere of heaven to earth. That is the purpose and function of worship in a corporate setting. We are to behold the glory of the Lord with an unveiled face and be changed into that glory. We are to celebrate the work of the Lord in our lives daily but to come together and celebrate corporately. We are kings and priests unto our God and thus we are to bless and serve the Lord. The goal is not a “fill up” or to get something from God but to bless our King. If you don’t like the intimacy of the Lord then check who your king is. If you can’t get your religious pharisaical mindsets changed then don’t call yourselves christians. Jesus is the greatest lover you will ever find. He is our husband and is wooing His bride in this time. Besides, if you would study the words for praise and worship you would find that there is nothing about personal taste in there. God commands us how He desires to be praised and worshipped and is very, very specific about the ways we are to come to Him. I can think of a couple of people who didn’t come correctly in the scriptures. Cain and the sons of Aaron. Cain then murdered Abel and was cast out and the sons of Aaron were burned by the fire of God. We must learn to worship as the Lord desires and not as we desire. I don’t expect many of you who read this to agree or like it but it is not my command but God’s. Take it up with Him and quit complaining about those who truly desire to worship. Just remember that behind every shout, lifted hand, wild lyric, or dancing feet there is a story that you do not know. God commands extravagant worship. Not bored, tiring, repetitious singing of the same old hymns verses one, three, and five without engaging any energy or heart so you don’t look bad in front of your friends and so to keep face. That insults our King and is a sure way to never enter His courts or change the world. Just some food for thought.

  59. This great. I am a worship leader and I am sharing this with my praise team tonight. Thank you so much for sharing.

  60. I am, by God’s design, a songwriter/musician. I’ve been around since before the begining of the contemporary praise and worship music genre. I have had many discussions with the Lord about the subject of music and its purpose because I seek His face and His truth. Not what man has turned His truth into. The Lord said that HE is the one who created music. Every possible note, or combination thereof, that could ever be played begins at His hand. We, as Christian songwriters, artists, and praise/worship facillitators, can choose to ABUSE His music by bowing to the edicts of the secular world or the desires of our own flesh, or we can USE His music for His purposes alone. The Lord further explained that music is the ink that I put in My pen to write My words on the hearts of My children. The Lord has shown me that all of us who have been called into the ministry of His music have a responsibility to His children. To deliver ONLY the message He has for them at any given moment, regardless of the venue. If we truly seek His guidance before we write the songs, then the song will truly be of Him. If we seek His guidance before we play any song for His children, then that song will be played as the fulfillment of His will. None of these other issues that have been discussed here will have any merit whatsoever if we will simply seek His direction first.

  61. Pingback: Looking Closer » Blog Archive » Specials: McCracken on worship music that sucks, westerns that rock, and Over the Rhine; U2 update; Interview with Bale

  62. To Keith! Amen brother. Intimacy with Jesus only makes those who do not have it uncomfortable. Praise ye the Lord!

  63. Brian and Jen Johnson, Misty Edwards, Kim Walker….all lovers of Christ and modern worship and it’s most sincere.

  64. Wow, I’ve heard this before! “If you HONESTLY believe it then it is true for you.”

    “What is right for you is of paramont importance, you must be true to yourself”

    “Your experience is what defines truth for you”.

    This is called relativism, and comes directly out of the mystic Eastern Religions. It is contrary to the Bible, which defines truth in the absolute nature of God rather than the passing whims of man.

    What makes a song like “It is Well With My Soul” great is not the fact that it came from a place of sorrow. Rather it is great because it relates that sorrow to the overwhealming and unchanging attributes of God even in that dark place. What makes a song like “Amazing Grace” preserve through the years is not the feelings inspired by salvation, but again the relation of God’s attributes and His glory.

    We simply cannot take any “real” or “honest” song and plug it in as worship. A worship song must focus on glorifying God above all else. Not glorifying the person who wrote the song, because that person was being “true to himself”!

    As far as excellance goes, I have heard this all to often as well. I should at this point introduce myself as the son of professional musicians who are indeed excellant. So I certainly appreciate excellant music, and my ears are quite pained even by some of the popular “musicians” who need to take some voice lessons!

    But excellance is certainly not required to glorify God. In the conentration camps of Hitlar’s Germany some of the most amazing corporate worship was sung, out of tune, and far more glorifying to God than the concert-style “worship” we see in many churches today. In the house churches of China, more honestly God-glorifying worship is offered than anything we see here — and I guarantee much of it does not qualify as “excellant” from a musical perspective.

    I’m not saying that anybody who can screach out a few words should be leading the church worship. We are blessed with talanted musicians in our churches, and we certainly should use them. But we must recognize that the goal of worship is to glorify God, not to produce an excellant performance.

    And thus, the real problem with modern worship emerges. The real reason for the symptoms you describe. The core problem is that we have lost sight of the true reason for worship, as well as the true measure of it’s effectiveness. We have lost sight of the fact that real corporate worship is about putting our selves aside — our own desires and personal preferences — in order to focus on our God standing side by side with Brothers and Sisters who are doing the same thing.

  65. You know praise and worship is to usher in the presence of God! If you have received the Holy Spirit he is the critic or your guide. Even if you know nothing about music the spirit will let you know if a song is a good song for worship.

    Most pop christian music I hear today doesn’t stir me or rather stir the Holy Spirit that is within me.

    Really I don’t have a big repetoir of songs or worship music but when I do hear a good one it is not because I like it, it is because I feel the anointing very powerfully or intensely being stirred within me!

    Many songs that are popular with people today are not always very successful or popular with God! And the only way I would know this is how intensely the spirit is stirred within me!

    I have also found some secular music anomolies that carry a powerful anointing. Sometimes it is “the key” or the chords some up beat or fast tempo and some slow secular or it may be a lyric or phrase. An old song by the Doobie brothers Taken It To The Streets the chording You don’t know me but I’m your brother! It is powerful and makes my hair stand on end and the anointing flow within me and it really has little to do with worship. But there are other songs as well.

    I call it a “spiritual ear” but it is not really “my ear” or my sensation or what I like I have just learned to recognise the songs God likes through his Holy Spirit. You would to if you truly had the Holy Spirit!

  66. Hi, just reading this really old blog post and I couldn’t agree more with everyone has said. Just from my point of view, I am 19 years old and lead worship for our youth ministry, I feel that God is glorified whether we use hymns or modern worship music as long as it’s from our hearts. I’m sure this has been touched on before. I’ve found myself coming to tears singing “Look To You” from Hillsong United, “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus” or “Come Thou Fount,” and even “To Be Alone With You” by Sufjan Stevens. I’m glad so many people are passionate about worship and how it should be done but I pray that we can all just come together and sing hymns and modern worship songs and not worry about the technical aspects of it and truly just sing our praises to our wonderful, saving, merciful, loving, powerful, amazing Dad. Our Father. One day, our personal preferences won’t matter because we’ll be too busy just praising, praising, praising. In the meantime, I want to bring everyone to praise God and I don’t mind using hymns and modern worship to do that. Just some thoughts. =]

  67. This was a great discussion. I’m glad that I stumbled upon it. Another thought…

    I love the idea of writing music that would naturally come out of a “pre-believer’s” mouth. On the other hand, there is definitely a place for “old standards” that have been sung for hundreds of years and use offbeat words that are atypical for pre-believers or believers alike. There is a time when overt lyrics are appropriately used to guide people to specific thoughts about God. Other times it is best for space to be made with general statements or questions, or no words at all, giving the congregation some freedom and personalization to pursue Christ from their own state of mind that day/season. As is true for much of life, the art of balance must be sought.

    More than anything I think we need to cultivate the skill of recognizing beauty. We don’t recognize it enough, so we get fooled too easily. Let’s recognize true beauty and talk about it, write about it, design around it, LIVE in it. I think when we step into the realm of reflecting what is deeply affected by beauty, THAT is when we transcend. That is when worship happens through art, and when others can recognize and agree and join in.

  68. I understand your sentiment, although I have to argue that the predictability and repetitiveness of the music is an essential part in the process of worship. Usually we want to lead a song, not perform it. The quality of the music should always be the best, but I know that most weekends that I go out for a beer most bands I walk by are not at all worth listening to. As far as Christian musicians making money, I have to argue again that the free market system has and always bring out the best humanity has to offer whether it be a restaurant or a CD. If this trend is a problem then you have to understand that money is making it happen. Why criticize something that is successful? When I release my CD it is ok if you do not buy it, it would be fine if no one would. No one but my own mom would pick up a CD without knowing if it was any good or not from me. I just think it is dishonest and shallow of you to offer so much criticism to something you obviously don’t understand. I mean if it is making money doesn’t that speak for itself? Besides you said you never even opened most of the CDs. In the end this article is the fraud, offering criticism beyond your knowledge of commercial music or and simple principles of economics and business.

    God Bless

  69. I wrote a nice eloquent response and then decided to scrap it because God told me to let him handle it. Honestly we need to just pray, study scripture and worship Him in any way that brings us closer to Him. He’ll provide the wisdom to help you discern the world’s influences. Unfortunately, if you are feeling jaded it is likely that something else is the issue, not the music.

  70. I think what has happened to worship today is that it has become too much of a production. Huge worship teams with lights and fog, etc. At our church we don’t even have ‘worship team practice’. We simply come with what God has given us and worship simply for who He is and what He has done for us. :)

  71. You guys sound like snobs.

    “When I first became a Christian…, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to
    my rooms and reading theology, and wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; … I
    disliked very much their hymns which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate
    music. But as I went on I saw the merit of it. I came up against different people of quite
    different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began
    peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were,
    nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in
    the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets
    you out of your solitary conceit.” -C.S. Lewis

  72. You know… I was with you during the first part of this article. I think that worship has morphed into something very commercial and ‘feeling’ oriented.

    But I have to say, you lost me at the end… “Music can be about so much and still, in the end, be about God.”. While this statement is technically true, your article is specifically about WORSHIP, not “music”. And this statement can not be applied to worship as you have done here. Worship is not our opportunity to become ‘experimental’, ‘fringe’, and ‘trendy’. It’s not an outlet to show God how talented and creative we are. Worship is our response to what He has done for us on the cross. I think in light of that your statement leaves a lot to be desired.

    And your last comments “…forward-thinking music that is also rather worshipful…” “…just Christians making beautiful music. But most importantly, all are good.” Again… showing off your talent or writing ability really has nothing to do with worship.

    I was really excited to listen to the artists on your list thinking… wow great. We need some fresh music and a new perspective. But the first two on the list use excessive profanity in their music and the next couple are just not worshipful in the slightest. I couldn’t even get through the list. I’m sure they are good musicians, but I’m actually looking for something with some spiritual depth and insight.

    I think you’ve missed it with this article. Sorry.

  73. Pingback: Worship Music, Inc. -

  74. I thought I was alone on this subject. As a singer/musician/creative sort who became a Christian after the fact, most worship music is so cringe-inducing that it takes everything I have to push past it to focus on the actual, you know, *worship* part. Meanwhile, I find examples of worship everywhere–even, as you rightly pointed out, in the creations of non-Christians (Leonard Cohen, anyone?) and Christians-in-the-broadest-sense-of-the-word (hello, Nick Cave’s “Hallelujah”!)

    My mom sent me the link to your post, and I’m so glad. Thank you!

  75. I suppose the question is whether feeling transcendent about something can deceive us into something wrong. There’s an example of that in the bible about a crowd being mislead by beautiful music.

  76. Umm, I’m trying to figure something out here.

    A. Christian music must follow the strictures of the Bible. It MUST glorify God, it MUST exhort to a Christian Lifestyle. Unless it accomplishes that, then it doesn’t work. Instrumental pieces that accomplish that in church are already defined by the words that the song played has when sung. You can’t just conjure up a rythm that describes God. You must have words to convey the meaning of the song. Otherwise, 8% of people in the world are in the dark. That might not sound like many people, but 8% means that just short of 1 out of every twelve people do not know what u r talking about. A lack of words would leave up to 4.81 million people without the ability to know what you were moved by. The lyrics of music define music in today’s culture. and lyrics have defined church music since music was first recorded on paper. Lyrics are all that Deaf people “hear”, whether through interpreters like myself or through captions and subtitles.

    B. I have yet to find a band that describes anything in the Bible as “orgasmic”. At least, not a band that is accepted as a CCM artist by the CCM community.

    C. Most of the reasons that the top lists change the “it” songs are because of the fact that leaving one song on the top of the list brings too much attention to the song, and not enough to the Creator for whom the song was written.

    D. Music in most CCM that I listen to teaches a lesson. Slow Fade warns of the dangers of not following the warning in the Bible. “Be sober, be vigilent, for the devil prowls around as a roaring lion, seeking those he might devour” (paraphrase). Does Anybody Hear Her reminds us that the Great Commission was to reach ALL people, not just those that fit our social cliques.

  77. dont know if you will even see this considering there are so many freakin comments! lol

    But I have to put a plug in for my fav- Phil Wickham. LIVE he is just down right annointed. His newst record is creative and solid and jsut makes you excited for the comming of Christ and spending eternity with Him.

    Check it out.

    BTW: Jimmy Robeson played at the bible college I attended and he is really good as well!

  78. Nathan Remmers

    Well, I want to say first that I agree with you on the mark of modern worship being disappointing from a musical standpoint…and I totally agree that music by itself can be totally anointed and worshipful. So…almost whole heartedly I commend you for this article…

    However, it seems like this article is speaking ill of a lot of worship leaders and artists out there who genuinely love God and make music for his Glory. Yeah, it might all sound the same and might be boring and unoriginal…but this is THEIR worship. Who are we to say its not good enough? God loves our worship, whatever it looks like…because he loves US individually. Who are we to pass judgment on God’s anointed?

    Personally, I can’t stand most CCM music out there…people in the church look at me funny when I say I don’t like Third Day or Casting Crowns…but that’s my personal opinion…and not a judgment I can pass off as truth.

    To the commenter speaking of “Your Love is Extravegant” honestly…his love IS extravagant, it IS intimate, and he IS in love with us. He is truly a romancer, as he invented romance and wants to share it with us. From him to us, individually. I’m not sure why you’d refuse to acknowledge this song…

    I guess thats all I have to say, thanks for reading my $0.02. Be blessed, if anyone was offended by what I had to say, please know it was not meant in that manner.


  79. Excellent blog about an issue that has been bothering me ever since I became a Christian. Something that I’ve always had difficulty putting my finger on and describing clearly.

    As was mentioned by another commenter, the word translated ‘worship’ in the Bible is the Hebrew word ‘shakkah’ which literally means to get down on your hands and knees and lay your face on the ground. (Hebrew language always deals in concrete concepts as opposed to abstract concepts like in English a whole other rabbit hole.)

    Now that’s quite far removed from the “Jesus as my boyfriend.” as one of the first posters put it contemporary worship music.

    I could go on and on about this. So I’ll summary some points.

    The originally culture of the Biblical authors (ancient near eastern) is a culture based on ACTIONS rather then subjective experience. Too much of Christianity is about subjective experiences, the worst of which leads to false spiritual and false supernatural experiences, confusing the truly divine with hypnotic phenomena. It’s seems today worship is about some subjective experience which I would argue is extrabiblical.

    I mean that’s the pagan/occult way of altering one’s consciousness and state that they would do in their “worship”.

    One the one hand we have modern music which for the most part consists of a pseudo-erotic language and atmosphere. I might use such language in expression of love for a female human being. But I express my love to a sacred heroic father figure like God Almighty the Creator, the Holy one of Israel in more appropriate subtle deep language just like in the book of Psalms.

  80. Totally agree with you, Rick,……..i’ve had the same dilemma in my life……….i was brought up with welsh language hymns too……just to complicate matters!!!!…………God is always looking at our hearts…….that’s the key thing i guess……God wants us caught up in worship……and not with the love of worshipping in any particular language or style……..i adore the lyrics of the old hymns just as i love more modern hymns!….let us give thanks for the freedom we have to worship in our lands….and get on with it…lets invest our time in praying for
    the persecuted church…..who would love to have a book full of hymns or modern songs in their hands…………just a thought……..

  81. hello to all my brothers and sisters in Christ
    if i may introduce myself i was at sydney christian Life center Australia latter which became Hillsong church as a drummer and now i play drums in a evangelical anglican church plus i play drums in the healing ministry ive been learning from the Holy Spirit how to write songs from using the psalms that God shows me to play on my piano at home and now ive been able to put together that presents to Christ that new song of revival and songs that will give testimony and Glory to God in worship by using the write words with the right melodies with feelings of the Holy Spirit that others can also join and also be led into Gods pressence and sing to God with our hearts open to Him God saved me from a professional rock n roll world of deception but God placed me in His praise today to write songs about Him and for Him alone [ something ive learnt with some christian music out there and i keep right away from it mixing professional music with praise and worship only to make millions of dollars by using the Lords name ] rather every christian should be making music for God with matthew 28;16 ive been given just like all you have been given by the Lord to play your musical gift and how to write songs for Jesus and when we want to share that new song to a pastor or other song leaders they dont want to hear that song that God put on your heart ive met people out there
    that do these things to stop the flow but now is the time to a rise and get that new song that God wants to hear that will save souls that bring healing and a prophetic message to our lost world we as musicians and singers have every right to use our spiritual gifts that God has given to us in these end times please keep in touch brother

  82. I am going to address every point above respectively:
    1. The idea that 90% is junk knocked off from Keane and U2 is subjective. while it may be accurate to the stylistic approach of many musicians who choose to perform music for the glory of God, it does not in any way change the fact that it is worship. Christian music is stylistically diverse. The prominent groups you are speaking are just more popular due to the familiarity of their sound with popular secular groups.
    2.Yes I agree it is a industry, but does that negate the intent behind the worship leaders and Christians writing and performing the music? I would argue that it is no more an industry that the church and if it being an industry causes the worship being illustrated in the music to spread across the world, what is so tragic about that?
    3. The idea of a new “it” song is not just unique to modern worship music. History will show that the church once was the innovative force behind musical progress. Some of the greatest composers and lyricists were writing new songs everyday to perform at their church. The mind set that the church should slow down musical development and writing comes from relatively recent church history where rather than encourage talent and expression, it acts to stop imagination and expression by stating what is good and Godly as already been done. Its the classic example of tradition over inspiration.
    4. I can see a debate here on the topic of “good writing” however you fail here to explain exactly what good writing is. It is clear what you think is not good writing so I will address that issue. Your comments about “wallowing in bad water imagery, fire metaphor, or pseudo-sexual verbiage” are all subjective. I understand you may feel that way but many do not. What is done intently for the glory of God should be left for his glory alone unless it is Biblically unsound. You does not address a Biblical basis as a reason for the short comings of the songs you may be thinking of. Also, why is pseudo-sexual verbiage bad? Biblically sex in the proper circumstances was created as a good thing. It is one of the most intimate, pleasurable, physical and tangible experiences we can have with a partner in life. It only seems natural that such a pleasurable experience may be in some way related to the pleasure and joy we have in God grace. (granted that last statement stinks of subjection on my part) You may say it is no different than relating God’s qualities to anything beautiful in creation. It’s simply a means of communication a writer chooses to relate what joy or pleasure is found in God. One random note, intoxicating would be more notably a reference to intoxication by substance lets says alcohol rather than a pseudo-sexual remark.
    5. All of this is subjective. I could say it is about breaking down barriers and developing a sense of comfort within a community just as easily as you can make your comments. You will find many people don’t physically allow themselves to express praise and worship because of fear of judgement. Knowing that emotions can soften or harden resolve it isn’t clear why you would not appreciate using God created avenues to guide or lets say “lead” people to worship. Emotions act as a catalyst for intimacy.
    6. I can’t find any Biblical principal that states a Christian should not be joyful when worship his Lord and Savior. Also in kind I can find a plethora of verses that state you should not worry. Matthew 6, Isaiah 41:10…etc.
    7. While I will not say that they are much to focused on the words, I can agree that music can be worship with no spoken language involved.

    I must strongly disagree with the idea that everything is worship for God. Worship is defined as the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity. I person making a porn film for the glory of man is not making a worship of God. It would be considered idol worship of man. Not a justifiable argument based on scripture. Read Romans 1.

    – Robert

  83. what a fascinating debate. i am ‘worship leader’ at my small church (20 people on a good day, and that discription really just means i choose the songs and play the piano).
    i deliberately choose more comtemporary music on my days, as the rest of the time we sing wesley hymns et al, and there is a general feeling in the congregation that they like the variety. also the words are simple, easy for younger kids to understand (and sing thanks to largely simply melody lines).
    an industry? yes, probably? simplistic, yes often.
    but i would NEVER dare to call one genre more superior to the other.
    As far as I am aware, God judges us on intention, not the quality, merit, or theological soundness of the songs we sing.
    If singing Michael W Smith or Matt Redman gives us a different experience, or telling God we want to love him intimately is wrong, then so what.
    Most people sing ‘modern’ music becuase it’s easy, it’s enjoyable, and it provokes an emotional response. for me, that is enough. let God do the work!

  84. You know as I read this blog I was like “yep, I agree… and that and that and yeah, I totally agree… ah, i see your point but it’s up for debate… yes, agreed” and so on and so forth… But then it came down to your list of bands that you like or whatever and I thought “BS… I see where this is going”. Style has nothing to do with this… so, what if a lot of Christianity has lost the idea of creating good art… one of my big gripes too. But so what if the style seems contrived or you don’t exactly like it. What is the heart of the worship? I don’t like that “worship music” has become and industry either… but what hasn’t? All of the bands you’ve mentioned are apart of the industry if they like it or not… they are just a different style. All you are talking about is a personal opinion and that doesn’t make anything more valid then anything else. I even like most of the bands you mentioned… but again it’s style… I could even argue that they are more valid then the more contemporary bands… but that’s only how I see it. Worship is about surrendering to God… it’s about surrendering everything …including what I like to the father.

  85. I think you’re wrong. I think that for the most part, modern worship artists are people who genuinely want to honor and praise God in what they do. For them, and for us, it’s not just an industry. It’s a way to praise our creator, and I don’t think you should be so quick to criticize those who are simply trying to follow Him.

  86. i want your blog..appreciate it intended for sharing..

  87. Tomorrow is a new beginning on this subject for 2012. For me, this is especially significant because after nearly 35 years of letting others lead the spiritual song portion of the service, I have been given but one opportunity(with prayers to God) to choose the music to sing for a service. What criteria did I use? Certainly not from this blog since I just read it! Perhaps It might have been better I had been exposed to it a week ago. But I digress, the choice of CCM or Hymn style was clearly in on my mind. Phillipians 4:8 came to mind, also Proverbs 17:10 Iron sharpens iron and am oft reminded that as individuals we have our own style(s) of private worship and then we have those styles, words, etc. which we believe (in all our hearts, soul, strength, and mind) will minister to the congregants and prepare their hearts for the message delivered throught the minister of God’s Holy Word. And in the abundance of counselors is victory. God also rains on the just and on the unjust. It is unfair to expect that anyone would comment about the music worship after the service – I would prefer that if there is anything – good or bad said – that I would be discerning and deflect their praise to God as I am only His instrument. The Spirit of the Lord is not in a song but is in the soul of everybeliever. I would rather be just than fair. May our faith be justified!

    So these were a few thoughts that my mind the last few weeks, and we know that we should lift all of our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (Cor 10:5). None of us should be in a vaccum when making these decisions (Proverbs 21:1) Least we offend our brother or sister, because when one part of the body suffers it affects the whole body. God would have the whole church body have Christ as the head. In so doing, God’s spirit will tarry and guard us and those entrusted to our care.

    God Bless all of you

  88. Eloquent words to the same thoughts rumbling around in my head about worship music. The other point that continues to stick in my skull is that Christian art (in any form) once drove innovation and style. Now it seems content to simply follow and copy.

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  90. When will the church (believers in Jesus Christ) stop complaining about what other believers should be doing differently, and focus on more important issues to further the Kingdom of God? It is such a slippery slope to say how one worships is not bringing glory to God, or isn’t REAL worship. Who are any of us to say whether or not someone is truly worshiping based on their style of music, or words to their songs?

    Under some of your bulleted reasons you said, “It’s much too happy and self-satisfied. “Make a joyful noise” does not mean “don’t worry, be happy.” Some of the most beautiful (and yes, joyful) hymns have come from places of sorrow and brokenness (e.g. “It is Well With My Soul”)” …. David himself wrote about how majestic our God is through Psalms (example Psalm 8:1).
    Worship is not nearly about suiting what you THINK is real worship. Worship is about giving ourselves to the Lord in sacrifice. If that’s by listening to who you’ve listed for us, or by listening to other modern worship artists then that’s wonderful!

    Romans 12:1-2 says “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We’re called to worship him. Plain and simple. I pray that we all will grow a little more open to seeing what God sees. That way we can be joyful through others’ worship, no matter how they choose to do so. If it is true worship, it will be from the heart, and no man knows another man’s heart except for God himself.

    Read more:

    What’s with the swearing?
    Does not make sense after your post….

  92. I do warn you that even in the Bible people were putting conditions on people’s faith. Now let me clarify things for those fundamental Baptists out there. JESUS is the ONLY WAY TO HEAVEN and NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. If you love the Jesus Christ the Lord with all your heart, and mind and soul you will be welcomed into His kingdom. It doesn’t matter if you read an NIV bible and use Contemporary Worship Music. You don’t have to like the music, but would you please stop condemning people who just want to worship their Lord and Saviour because you don’t like the music.

  93. The solution to the problem is an online aggregate of worship music that allows listeners to access music alternative to typical contemporary Christian. The entire purpose of my blog is to showcase awesome sounding artists and music that is good, pure, lovely, honorable, etc. Check it out and make music submissions there!

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  95. It’s funny to hear different points of view concerning music. I mean no disrespect to you at all in this, but I want to share something that is a “counter” argument. First of all, you talked about standards in church music and asked why do we not have them done anymore. Personally, I believe everything should be tested by scripture. So for starters, 6 times in the book of Psalms, a “new song” is mentioned…usually in an imperative statement like a command: “Sing to the Lord a new song”. I know that most people don’t think of Psalms as a book of commands, but this is a command. Also, about the emotional response…you sound like many Baptists that I know of who are perfectly fine with the pastor preaching a message that brings about an emotional response, but it better not be the music that does so. When we look at scripture, it tells us to worship in spirit and in truth. I know no other way to break that down other than emotion and logic: a balanced approach to embrace all that God is with the two core psychological perspectives of humanity.

    John Piper said it best:

    “Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a living). On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.” – John Piper

    ***As a side note, I think there are implications there to the ongoing debate of faith vs. reason.***

    So, why is it ok for someone to have an emotional response to their favorite team winning the superbowl, but not to realizing that God is who He says He is and that He came to do what He promised He would do? If a person can’t hold it in when they watch their team get a touch down, but can warm a pew for an hour and a half with no emotional response, something is wrong. Try that with your spouse sometime… Also, you say it is an industry. I’m not upset, but I could easily get offended by that. As a writer of worship music, I typically don’t make a dime off of anything that I have written. I have no record label. I am just a humble musician and worship pastor in the deep confederate south in the US. The only people who hear the songs I write now are those who come to the church that I am employed at. Now, when it comes to the new “it” song you described, I want to make the distinction between the 2 types of music that are called “Christian music”. First is the Christian “listening” music. All I know is that a good half of our local radio station’s music where I am at does sound the same most of the time. However, I saw no mention of people who are known for their worship music. Names like: David Crowder, Michael Gungor, Joel Houston, Kristy Knockels, Kerri Job, Christian Stanfill, Matt Redman, and I saved this one til last because I want to talk about him for a second…Chris Tomlin. It has been said that more people sing Chris Tomlin songs in the world today than all other writers, both secular and Christian, and both traditional and modern. I know a big part of that has to do with the fact that modern technology is in place now. Do you just not know any of these people? Let me give you their definitions of worship:

    “To worship is to respond to something for its greatness. When they see just how great God is and what He’s done for them, they will respond to Him with love. Worship can also be defined by the way we live our lives, and by the way we demonstrate our love to others.” – Chris Tomlin, Worship leader of Passion City Church (Atlanta, GA), Singer/song writer

    “Worship is about people’s hearts being opened up to the Spirit of God through His Word that is preached.” – Joel Houston, Creative Director/Worship Leader of Hillsong Church (Sydney, Australia), Singer/songwriter

    “The best worship leaders lead strongly enough so that people follow, but not strong
enough to make themselves the focus. Ultimately let the Holy Spirit be the worship leader. Worship is the all-consuming response to the all-deserving worth and revelation of
 God.” – Matt Redman, Singer/songwriter, Worship leader

    “If leading worship is just about bringing a group of people into a room so we can get goosebumps and sing songs together, there’s not much value in that. But if leading worship is a means to an end, that we leave this place as a different kind of people, as part of a new humanity that God wants to create… then that matters.” – Michael Gungor, Singer/songwriter, Worship leader

    “A great worship leader must first be a great follower. In order to lead people in worship you must first know how to listen to and follow the Holy Spirit. That is something I’ve been learning over the past few years, just by observing how people respond to what God is doing at any given moment.” – Kristian Stanfill, Singer/songwriter, Worship leader

    “[I want to] take the steel rod that is God’s Word and wrap my emotions around that, as opposed to taking truth and wrapping it around what I feel.” – Mike Donehey, Worship leader, Singer/songwriter, Lead singer for Tenth Avenue North

    I believe that people are complacent in the church. That is our biggest problem as Christians. We want to be pampered with what we are comfortable with. But this is not scriptural. For the love of God, get outside the box and just worship Him like you know His truths are real. Does this mean do away with old music, I don’t think so, but we must do it in a way that people of our culture can connect to. Paul’s trip to Athens was basically his way of leveraging the culture in Greece. For those reading this who may not know the story, Paul went to “The original Mars Hill and saw that there were many statues of the god’s of this people. He observed that there was one statue with this inscription: “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Rather than condemning them all for having false god’s, he simply offered to tell what he knew of this “unknown God”. That day, he reached some of that culture. He spoke their language. If we want to reach people now, we have got to stop cutting ourselves off from the world and start meeting them where they are… Christ did for us.

    I want to say lastly that the writer of the original post here definitely made some great points. Worship music should be born out of creativity from the heart. Worship is also bigger than music… is a lifestyle. The music of worship should only be a reflection of the heart of worship. The music itself should be honest and excellent (artistically). I promise this was in no way intended to undermine anything that was originally said. Hopefully people can take this for what it is worth and apply it somehow to the way they worship.


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  97. I like your article but you left out a couple of major things. Modern day worship has a serious lack of reference to scripture and also key elements of Bible/Christian Doctrine eg the cross, the blood, warfare and many times even Jesus himself! It all boils down to increasing numbers and Church membership. Many of these churches are ecumenical and trying not to offend so the lyrics have become watered down and replaced with a stage show with lights off etc. The best praise and worship era for music orginality and of course the anointing has to be the hosanna integrity era but now Don Moen and co seems to have lost all of that and are following what we have today. Its really sad but then again true worship comes from the heart and that we can do alone!

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  99. I love reading these types of rants because (1) it challenges me to make sure I’m thinking through what I’m leading as a worship leader and (2) I love making fun of non-sensical arguments. :). Nothing personal, but here are my criticism of this:

    1. “It’s 90% crappy, knock-off Keane or secondhand U2”
    I don’t have a clue who Keane is & I don’t listen to U2 – does that mean I’m “knocking them off?” Should I stick to only knocking off Bill Gaither, Fanny Crosby, Charles Wesley, etc . . .

    2. “it is usually very predictable and unoriginal)”
    “usually predictable?” – should it always be unpredictable? Throw out a hymnbook – talk about repetitive progressions! And get rid of Southern Gospel for sure

    3. “It’s an industry . . . earns the most money in CCM”
    What kind of world are we living in where a lot of people like to buy and listen to music that worships God. People should be buying more Keane and U2 . . .

    4. Every month there’s a new “it” song that eventually filters down to every evangelical church across the world”
    Well there are still quite a few churches that haven’t got the memo yet that our culture has changed. Either way, why is this bad? If churches across the nation are singing the same new songs together in “one accord” – that’s awesome!

    5. It is “[bad] writing. Most worship music wallows in bad water imagery, fire metaphor, or pseudo-sexual verbiage . . .”
    I’m not sure what you consider as “bad” water/fire imagery, but ever genre ever created is full of relatively “bad” writing and “good” writing. However, someone writing from a heart of love does not care who thinks they’re writing is crap. If it’s that bad, why do people buy it? They must like it or relate to it somehow.

    6. “It’s more about creating an emotional response than eliciting a profound spiritual reflection.
    Some certainly are. Honestly, I think I’ve heard more preaching that I would say about this than music. Music is intrinsically emotional, though, good luck walking that line. Wouldn’t a “profound spiritual reflection” in and of itself bring an emotional response?

    7. My favorite: “It’s much too happy and self-satisfied.”
    We really should be
    8. It’s much too focused on the words. Can’t the music be worshipful on its own?
    Nope. Okay, maybe – depends on your view of music, I guess. But “Christian” or “worship” music in general is set aside as “Christian” because of (mainly) the words that are glorifying to God.

    Thank you for prompting some thought, though. Better to think things through than just accept blindly.

  100. I stumbled into this conversation rather late, thanks to you being “Freshly Pressed” for another entry. Congratulations, by the way. Did you say, “silence?” I would love to see more of that in our worship times. Our pastor seems to be terrified of silence! He insists on the worship leader playing something during the prayers. Also, I was pleased that your list started with Waterdeep and Derek Webb. Been a fan of both of them for years. I didn’t take time to read all 103 of the previous comments, so this may be a repeat question…have you heard Gungor?

    Thanks for your reflections on this touchy subject. I look forward to more.

    Grace and peace,

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  106. I “happened” upon this blog and wanted to share my biblical view on the matter (although late in the convo).

    Worship comes out of a place of LOVING GOD. And has less to do with the rhythm, quality or any other man made logistics. It has more to do with glorifying God with a song from your heart. Even if the band had a broken two-string guitar, a pot to beat on and a singer that wasn’t even gifted to sing – this would honor God (if they played with their hearts to Him).

    Of course man gets in the way and tries to glorify himself with cd-sales, reviews and media. But there are true Christian artists out there that have a heart to glorify the King. (Laura Story is a great example- Check out her testimony.

    Check your heart for God….once that is right, the music may sing to your soul no matter the human quality.

    In Jesus Love,

    John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, for who-so-ever believes in Him, will have eternal life.

    Psalms 66:4 All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.” Selah

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  112. I agree the industry is messed up. But a large portion of these songs that you criticize come from prayer closets and difficult times. Think about the levitical priesthood, they most likely sang the “popular” music of their day. Same with the old hymns (which I love), but they were the popular music at their time. Then in the 80’s we had those songs with 2-3 sentences that people repeated over and over. People worship with music they can relate to. Most of us don’t like alternative, weird music that sounds like they recorded it in their basement with a wood box for kick drum. I checked out many of those artists listed, Mark Mathis, as far as I could tell is singing with Elevation worship (as far as I can tell, the epitome of modern worship, not to mention Steven Furtick, promoter of prosperity gospel and faith movement!).
    The Seven Swans thing, yeah, not happening in my local church!

    Bottom-line, you just don’t like the style and you’re confusing a bad music industry with modern worship music. Not everyone singing and writing modern worship is in love with money and just trying to sell songs. I’ll sing the songs that compliment the sermon and allow people to express their feelings and emotions to God, and we’ll also sing songs that uplift the majesty of God and declare His glory. The style … eh, acoustic, piano, synth, guitars? Doesn’t matter. God is looking at our hearts and receiving our praise whether Chris, Misty or Swan-boy wrote the song.

  113. Confused and saddened

    Hi, I have to ask. Is there a criteria that we should know about for finding these worship songs that are pleasant to God? How does it matter if a song was popular? Doesn’t that mean a lot of people wanted to sing it? If that’s the criteria, then Waterdeep or Elevation can’t be involved, I know they’ve had some popular songs. Nor half the songs on your top Christian songs list. I love (most) of them, at the ones that Christian and love the real God. (Side note: radiohead, armstrong, the beatles, dylan, really worshipping Yahweh? our God? are you insane?)
    Is it U2 delay on the guitar? That’s gonna be tough, cause I think some of the bands listed use delay.
    It almost seems like you’ve looked at some of these songs or writers and decided that they aren’t doing it for the right motives or something, or that the style of music wasn’t to your taste. Almost like you just picked out your favorite bands and decided that others aren’t worthy. No one is worthy. And how can we all get your taste, so we can as a local church revolutionize this crooked industry?
    Bro, that definition of worship is not God’s definition. Do a word search on the word worship in the Bible. You won’t find Rated R movies, or chatting with friends in there. And seriously, you can’t pretend that something made by pagan is worship to the one true living God. You’re dealing with Baal here. I’m sure that’s what you believe, but it’s not grounded in the Word, and that’s all that matters.
    Let me just mention the difference between some of the stuff you’ve listed and “Corporate” worship. I’m sure there’s a class on this at Wheaton. Corporate worship is for the masses. We don’t all have songwriters with talent in our churches. What do you think the Psalms were? Do you think that only one body of believers sang those? It is for the whole body. You can call it the mass if you want, but it’s the Body of Christ you’re talking about. This music cannot be complicated and technical to play, it can’t be weird and off beat or no one will sing it except the 3 teens at the front with tattoos. 50 year old people do not want to listen to jembe’s and banjos, and gather in a circle with candles. While I would have no problem with that, my 18 year old guitar player is just learning bar chords, our electric drum set doesn’t have a jembe setting, and our organist doesn’t know how to stop playing. Corporate worship is a time for the local church to gather and sing together in unity to God. We need songs that can accomplish that. Paul Baloche, Jared Anderson, Riddle, Ortega, and yes even Tomlin are writing songs for a corporate setting in the local church, not for you to blast in your car (although you could do that), and start a cult following (derek webb). How can I corporately worship to any of Gungor’s latest? How would I teach anyone on my team to play it or my congregation to sing with it? How can we sing a song that’s just music? And then, how do I know it’s worship? Do I just judge their hearts? Sure, in my quiet time, I can listen, but I can’t sing with it.
    You are entitled to your opinion, says America, but either way I’ll stand and lift up my hands singing Holy is the LORD! God is great! Oh, how he loves us! He’s is everlasting! Beautiful savior. I will follow you! I surrender all! Blessed be your name! You are Glorious!

    This whole time I couldn’t understand how you could mix Christianity with the world so blatantly and not realize it, then I saw the blogroll: relevant magazine. Nevermind. There is no truth right? It’s all relative. The only question left is, why are you judging other’s music so harshly, if we are supposed to tolerate everyone?

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  115. Hey Brett,

    Really amazing stuff man. I’m all about everything you said. I share the same passion. I moved to Nashville to just see what God would do. I feel like a real change could be on the horizon. And God will be right in the middle of it.

  116. Looking forward to hearing you in Brighton in July. I am a classical musician and am often wrestling with the lack of creativity in the music of worship. At the moment I am learning Messiaen’s epic piano cycle called Vingt Regards sure L’enfant Jesus. There are known examples where the audience was moved to it’s feet, to it’s knees, to tears as this wondrous portrayal of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was played. Also I recommend Arvo Part’s music. So simple and profoundly moving pieces based on his own Christian faith and living out in a former communist context. Thankfully there are signs of change within the church in our day

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