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a word about “church music” | Ryan Johnson

As of about two weeks ago I began to lead worship in our corporate worship services on Sunday.  It has been an immense blessing and challenge for me as I have thought and learned about what it means to the lead the body of Christ in worship through singing on Sundays.

This year marks the end of my first decade of serving in the ministry of a local church.  As you can imagine, I have seen many churches and many different ministries in the local church.  I praise God for giving me all of these opportunities, as well as the grace to continue serving and not get bitter when bad things happen.  Through the years God has convinced me of the reality of balance.  In everything in life, there is a balance.  God has shown me that all truth is a balance between two errors.  Being imbalanced on either side has its own set of errors and falsehoods.  In theology, we see this to be true.  

The deity of Jesus Christ in Scripture is an affirmed fact, but in the reading of Christ’s life we see both elements, or ends of the spectrum.  On one end, you have an over-emphasis on His humanity, which will lead you to think that He was merely a good teacher, or maybe even a prophet of God.  Many New Age philosophies, Islam, and Jehovah’s Witnesses fall into this error.  On the other side, if you fail to recognize that He was fully man and just look at His divinity, then practically you fail to embrace Him as your high priest, which Hebrews 4 shows us that this truth about Him assures us that He knows what we are going through when we are tempted.  There is a balance to be had in which the full biblical record about Jesus’ nature and life should be taken into account, and in that balance we are to dwell.

This can be taken into many other areas to illustrate the principle of balance.  Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Christians drinking alcohol, and other hot button topics in Christianity can be rightly held through approaching them in and seeking to maintain them in balance.  Ultimately, there is a balance of grace and truth in which we hold all of our convictions.That was a long introduction into my topic, but I want to share with you a place in which there is no balance.  There is a place that the contemporary church has sought to manufacture and insert a balance, but none is needed and that is in the area of music.

I have never really been involved in a “worship war.”  Maybe you have.  I know that many people have left churches because of a refusal on the part of the older generation to embrace change when it comes to music.  In fact, a church that I recently attended for a period of time was a split, or at least a “timely church plant”, simply for this purpose, that they would be able to use contemporary music in their worship services.  In other cases, older adults have exerted an undue amount of pressure in persuaded music ministers to “stick with the hymns”.  Overall, we have made an issue out of something that should never have been one in the church.

As a 28 year old youth pastor/worship leader, I find myself in a bit of a dilemma.  I love hymns, and yet musically I am definitely more attracted to guitars and drums.  So, as a mediator between the older and the younger, I would like to make an admonition to my brothers and sisters in Christ who would not fall into the senior adult category.  Basically, if you are between 15-65, this one is for you.Can we stop falling into the trap that Satan has set for us when it comes to music?  Can we also stop being just as ungracious as those who would say “The only musical instrument that belongs in a church is an organ!”  Here is my proposition: let’s sing truth.

Let’s face it, there are some amazing hymns that are power-packed with truths that contemporary songs just can’t even begin to articulate.  Good songwriters are hard to find these days, but for some reason, a lot of the hymn writers could saturate a song with truth so that it just explodes out of every word and phrase like that gum that has the jelly-stuff in the middle.  And in the same vein, a lot of contemporary Christian music is filled with fluff and unspiritual, maybe even heretical, junk that is not helpful to the church at all.It is for this reason that whenever I get asked about why we are singing what we are singing on any given Sunday, my response is simple: We sing it because it is true, and the truth is what is going to make our hearts burn for Christ.  Truth sung and truth spoken makes a great worship service!

I will end with this.  When we went to Student Life Camp a few months ago our worship leaders were Billy and Cindy Foote.  They have written some of the greatest songs that I have ever heard!  When they were introducing themselves to the youth pastors on the first night, Cindy communicated their philosophy to us.  She told us that for the first couple of sessions we would probably here some moaning and groaning from the kids because they didn’t know any of the songs that the Foote’s sang.  They said, “Isn’t it kind of telling that the students complain when they are at their home churches because they don’t know any of the old hymns and when they come to camp they complain just the same because the worship leader doesn’t play the songs they like.  It is the same kind of Pharisaic mentality that says, you exist to meet my preferences and needs.”

Isn’t that the truth!  The songs we song in church shouldn’t be about preference, they should be about truth.  As younger church members, let’s focus on that reality and not slip into the same trap when our kids want to worship to hardcore thrash music or rap! 

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