“I Wish They Played Songs I Like”

I’m a card-carrying member of the critical fraternity. My instinctive reaction in far too many situations is to evaluate something according to the only obvious standard of the good, right, and true: my personal judgment. But I’m positive I’m not alone. I say that simply because, from time to time, I interact with other human beings. And based on that interaction, I’m going to say that virtually everyone is a critic.

In Christian circles, there are few places where our, let’s call them “critical faculties,” more consistently spring into motion than when we encounter the music in our church. For example, how many times have you said, or heard someone else say, something like the following?:

“I just can’t worship to that stuff.”
“Why don’t they play songs that everyone knows?”
“In my old church, they….”
“I don’t like it when they use (insert instrument name here).”
“I wish they played songs I like.”
“It’d be great if we could just listen to the sermon and cut out the music.”

If these comments sound familiar in some way to you, it might be worth stepping back to consider a few important points. By no means is this list comprehensive. And remember, I offer these as not just as a pastor and someone who generally appreciates music, but also as chronic critic.

1. Worshipping by means of music and song isn’t just something we do in church because it’s something we’ve always done. It’s biblical. In the Old Testament, you can see example after example of God’s people praising, petitioning, celebrating, confessing and otherwise glorifying God in song. In fact, the Psalms constitute an entire book of inspired direction to that end. And tellingly, Paul instructs the Ephesian church: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19-20).

2. Nor do I think we can say the musical parts of our services are merely there to cater to those who particularly like music. My guess is that ancient Israel or the various New Testament churches also had their fair share of “non-musical” people. And yet we still see the examples above. It’s perhaps a subject best left to discuss more fully in another post, but I think we can safely say that God can use musical worship to edify and mature even the most unmusical among us.

3. If you have in mind some idea of what kind of music that belongs in church, it’s helpful to ask yourself where that standard came from. If my conversations with people are any indication, it seems most often to originate from past experiences: “that’s what my church did growing up” or something to that effect. Of course, there may be nothing wrong with the way your old church used to do things. But it doesn’t follow to maintain it’s the only way to worship through music. I would add that the Bible doesn’t have a great deal to say about musical form or genre.

4. That’s not to say that anything goes. All worship music should seek to glorify God. And most of us can think of examples that don’t meet that criterion for one reason or another. However, we can easily fall into the “I don’t like it, so it’s obvious that anyone else who wants to follow/honor/worship God doesn’t like it either” mentality. I would suggest we should strive mightily to avoid that mistake. Instead of complaining about not getting much out of a particular song you don’t like, try to rejoice when others seem to be encouraged by it.

5. Getting a bit more specific: some of you are traditionalists that don’t like to stray from songs the church has sung for years, generations, and centuries. To you, this music has become the appropriate way for the people of God to worship. Just remember one thing. The odds are good that someone along the line used to think the music you now love was an unwelcomed change. For them it was untraditional and hard to appreciate. After all, the history reveals that the some of our more cherished songs took their melodies, etc., from the popular music of the day.

6. On the other hand, there are those of you who recoil in distaste when you hear a word like “hymn.” You’d like very little to do with your parents’ church. If a song wasn’t written in the last few years, you consider it on the level of a mullet—a bless-your-heart monument to a time in which we weren’t nearly as cool as we are now. You also need to remember something important: long after the vast majority of contemporary worship music has been consigned to the ash heap of history, odds are the church will still be singing songs like “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.” There just might be a reason why some songs continue to survive the long march of history.

7. One practical suggestion: if you don’t like the melody, arrangement, etc., try to appreciate the verbal content of the song. Let the lyrics teach and encourage you. For example, there’s a particular Christmas carol sung this time of year that I don’t particular care for (I’ll withhold the name to avoid the inevitable outcry). But I just revisited the lyrics and was reminded of their considerable value.

8. Finally, give musicians and worship leaders the benefit of the doubt. Most often, they sincerely desire to help people grow closer to God and more mature in their faith. And I can vouch for the fact that, at least here at The Crossing, they work very hard at it. They’re certainly not trying to play music that disappoints you!

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