Is it just me or are a lot of worship songs mediocre?
I was reading a recent Musicademy blog post which had some interesting (and controversial) thoughts about worship songs. Here are some snippets from it:
“Now you will notice that I said “very poor”, not terrible, not abysmal, not “from the very pen of Beelzebub himself”, just poor. Honestly I wish they were completely awful, because there is truly nothing worse than a mediocre song. You don’t love them, you don’t hate them, they don’t challenge you, they don’t raise any particular emotion. They aren’t too noisy, the guitars are very smooth, you probably more-or-less agree with the lyrics and the man playing them looks like a rather nice chap who you would very much like your daughter to marry. It’s all just terribly, terribly nice…
I want songs with edge, with attitude, songs that challenge, songs that express real emotion – everything from true, uncontainable joy to total dark despair – because that reflects reality. I don’t want the same old cliches about tongues confessing and lambs being slain. I don’t want guitars with some lame, gutless, poor-imitation-of-U2 effect”
I found myself agreeing with a lot of what this guy was saying. As a worship pastor, I hear a lot of worship music and I have to say, a lot of it sounds the same. Same style, same format, same builds, same instrumentation, same lyrics… However, I do have some questions as to whether this is because the songs are ‘mediocre’ or if the problem is actually me?
Have I become too familiar and desensitised to worship music?
Have I made the worship experience too much about me and what I like to feel and listen to?
Should we even be critiquing worship music the way we would any other music? The thing is, when you are critiquing a worship song, you are not just judging the song’s music and lyrics in a distant and detached way, you are critiquing that person’s revelation of God and how they have recorded it. You are judging how they relate to God and describe their experience. And whereas I might not like the song, to another, it could bring the words of life.
Worship music is such a tricky thing to balance. Whilst we want to strive to give God our best musically- which of course we should, it is about so much more than that. It is about drawing people to worship Jesus. If worshipping in Spirit and in truth is to become so lost in God, that we lose focus of all else around us, then whose responsibility is it to get us to that place?
Is it the song writers?
Is it the worship leaders and the band?
Is it the worshipper?
Or is it God himself drawing us into his presence?
I would argue God uses a delicate balance of all of us involved in worship to have an encounter with him. I guess we have to try and do our bit well and the best we can. Whether it’s the writing, the music, the leading, responding or receiving.
As a writer of worship songs myself, I know it is easy to fall into the trap of being lazy with my lyrics and using over-done cliches. We can give in to our own ambitions to try and write that worship song that everyone will be singing at the summer conferences, so we try and come up with a killer hook for the wrong reasons. We can try and write what the publishers are after with wrong motives. I think we can also be tempted to try and imitate other worship leaders (who are more successful) instead of bringing things from our own hearts. I think we can turn song writing into a fun project instead of an articulation of all that God is and what he’s done. We can get caught up in the music more than his presence. Maybe the reason we are not that excited about some of the new worship songs that are out there is because they are a product of the Christian music industry rather than a product of an encounter with God? (I hope that this is not the case)
At the same time as wanting to bring something real and authentic into my songwriting, I don’t want to try and add anything to the gospel message. I want to stick to the amazingly profound yet simple truths and I want to make sure my lyrics have a biblical foundation. There are always going to be lots of songs about the Lamb upon the throne- but is this a bad thing? This is how John saw Jesus in his vision of heaven- the most clear description we have. Surely if in heaven, they are singing “worthy is the lamb” again and again for all eternity, we should reflect that on earth and not grow tired of singing it. If we are growing tired of it, maybe we should look at our own hearts to see whether the reason we are bored of singing ‘worthy is the Lamb’ is because we’ve forgotten just how worthy the Lamb is…
Shouldn’t we, as worshippers, be learning how to worship even if the music/ singing is bad, the song is in a style we don’t like and we’re not in a great place in our lives?
The blog I read (above) is definitely controversial, but it has inspired me to write from my heart and to the best I can. It’s also challenged me to not give in to the temptation of becoming a worship music consumer and remember why we sing.
What do you guys think?
Sarah de Jong is Worship Minister at St Gabriel’s Church, Cricklewood, London
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