Much of the church music we sing on Sundays is inspired by the Psalms.
Typically, from a single verse. Typically, from near the end of the Psalm.
The only problem with this approach is that the entire Psalm is the song – written by one of the original songwriters, King David.
And when we pull a single beautiful line from the Psalm, and center a new song around it, we lose all context of the original.
Because often in the Psalms, David expressed doubt. Fear. Anger. Confusion.
Real emotions. The reality of his heart in the midst of the reality of his circumstances. And only after that emotional release – his honesty before God – is he eventually able to return to a realization of the sovereignty of God – the love of God – despite his circumstances. And give us those beautiful one-liners we focus our songs around today.
But we have removed the prelude. The doubt. The fear. The anger. The confusion.
Because those emotions seem inappropriate for Sunday morning. Yet, they are real.
There are those of us who wish our church music would revert back to the glorious hymns of the past. I want to go back much further – to a time when the original Psalmist was writing angsty hipster music – and bring back true outcry to the modern worship experience.
I recently stumbled across Quiet Company’s new album, “We Are All Where We Belong.”
And it’s like nothing I’ve heard before.
Taylor Muse, originally part of the girl-led band Eisley, which opened Coldplay’s Rush of Blood to the Head tour a few years back, leads this Austin Band. And it’s indie rock at its best.
But, you won’t get through the first song without being jarred by the lyrics. Lines that not only portray an individual’s lack of hope – but that evangelize this non-belief. Using rhyme, rhetoric and repetition aimed at persuading us there is nothing bigger than ourselves to believe in – and to embrace the beauty in that.
It honestly hurts my heart to hear someone so passionately sing these lines. And I can’t stop listening.
It’s fascinating. It’s an entire new genre of lyricism.
Secular is no longer the antithesis of spiritual. This new album from Quiet Company is. Parents should be frightened. I’m astounded by the honesty – and devastated by Muse’s devastating lack of hope.
Yes, it might be the British accent. But, everything this man says sounds right.
For those who saw the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ brilliant book “Moneyball” this past year, you probably shared my reaction when you saw the old baseball scouts sitting around the table talking about how to find the next great ball player.
Superstitions and traditions based on the best technology available 40 years ago – their gut instinct.
And we smile and shake our heads realizing that our own industries we work for suffer from the same myopia, because they too were created before the dawn of the technological revolution. We write press releases the way we did 40 years ago. We teach children the same way we did 40 years ago.
And if Moneyball has taught us anything, it’s that, rather than tweaking, the only sensible thing to do is say,
“If were starting over from scratch today, what would we build?”
So, what about the church?
If it’s possible to forget about our recently created Americanized traditions, start over and say,
“If the role of the church is to create disciples, what should our weekly gatherings look like?”
And if you start from scratch, with no preconceived notions, do you really put music there?
Church song selection has a lot to do with your philosophy on the power of music.
If you merely want songs to be theologically accurate and emotionally powerful, most CCM songs will do.
But, if you believe that music can be more powerful than the sermon – that the words in the songs we sing can be more impactful than the big 3 takeaways on our handout – song selection becomes a greater responsibility.
Then you choose songs with lyrics that match the spiritual reality you want your congregation to embrace.
For a church struggling with humility, sing songs about the depravity of man and the need of repentance.
For a church struggling with faith, sing songs about the sovereignty of God.
For a church struggling with love, sing songs about community and connection.
And if you can’t find songs to match what your congregation needs to cry out, write them.
One common argument I hear from both Christians and not-yet-believers is the idea that worship music can wrongly catch people up into a emotional trance or tizzy in which they too readily accept anything being said from the pulpit.
This is absolutely true.
But, removing music doesn’t solve that problem.
Consider Martin Luther King Jr.’s unique speaking ability. Is it manipulative? Absolutely. The cadence. The repetition. It’s breathtaking. It sounds so good that it immediately sounds right.
But neither does removing rhetoric solve that problem – in the sense that we might disqualify a pastor based on their speaking gifts, which might too easily manipulate the masses.
The problem only rests if truth is not being spoken. If our worship music soars with lyrics that simply aren’t true. If our pastors’ language stirs our hearts with words that are empty.
Historically, church music seems to follow/mimic/react to mainstream trends.
So, if we look at indie music today, can we predict what our church music will look like 10 years from now?
Here are two potential paths I see the evolution of indie music performance taking us.
Foster the People – Pumped up Kicks (Live on SNL)
Typhoon – Sickness Unto Death and The Honest Truth medley
Both great songs. Incredibly different performance styles.
Which one would you prefer your church be 10 years from now? And did you know you get to help decide?
Having average taste is helpful as a songwriter.
It’s not a bad thing. It means you know what people like.
Your focus isn’t on “art”. Your focus is “accessibility”.
You create easy-to-sing songs that people remember.
“Sunday is the most segregated day of the week.”
Historians often point to the beautiful unity in the early church, which I had partially attributed to its homogeneity – the fact that it’s easy to be united when you have the same personal and cultural preferences anyway.
But in the book “Fresh Power”, Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church takes issue with the “homogeneity” argument, bringing up how the early church created tremendous unity between Jew and Gentile, groups with cultural chasms between them.
So, since Pastor Cymbala refuted my first argument, I thought of another.
How many options were there for the 1st century Christian in terms of finding community? Because today, there are 25x the number of churches in America than there are McDonalds. And if there were only 1 church nearby, that’s probably the one I would go to. But if there’s a God-fearing, Bible preaching church down the street – that also plays music closer to what I’m familiar with and can more easily participate in – I’d be stupid not to go here, right?
Unless I’m intentionally trying to make a point that music doesn’t matter and unity is more important than anything else? But if we all did this, then we’d end up with 1 mega-church per town, right? Is that what we’re going for? I can’t remember now.