I've Changed on Contemporary Music in Worship

Posted by Kelly.Staples on February 11, 2014

Long before I gave any thought to attending seminary, becoming a pastor, or even moving to the great state of Texas, I worked at EMI Christian Music in Nashville. 

I wanted to be a music publisher, and it seemed like working in royalties was a great opportunity to break into the publishing world. Spoiler alert: It was not.

It also instilled in me a deep hatred for contemporary Christian music. I had my reasons. Most of it was drivel (seriously, how many times can we compare God to a mountain?!), some of it was sneaky and dishonest (we had an artist add a chorus to “Amazing Grace” and expect to collect royalties on a public domain hymn. Do we sing it at every youth conference I attend now? (Yes… but that’s a separate rant) and some of it was just annoying.

Seriously, there's nothing more frustrating than trying to sing a theologically sound, great song that was written for a particular vocal register that no one in the congregation can match.

In seminary, my thoughts on the subject intensified. I got into "high liturgy." I fell in love with our blue hymnal and day dreamed about serving a church that sang the "sanctus" every week during communion.

I may have become a little bit of a church snob but mostly I was traumatized from my internship where the confession of sin was followed by singing, "Jesus is a rock and he rolls my sins away. Bop she bop, she bop, woo!" (There were hand motions.)

I thought I'd never recover.

I didn't consider contemporary – or worse, secular music – to be "appropriate" or "worthy" of use in worship.

Then I arrived at NorthPark, and a few things happened. We had a jazz quartet play during a service one Sunday, and it was awesome. We had guitars, flutes, and an oboe tackle some of the Sing The Faith worship songs (a hymnal that I refused to acknowledge until that point.)

A trio with twangy guitars gave a moving rendition of "I’ll Fly Away" at a memorial service. Side note: I realize that's not super contemporary, but it was new to me.

I have twice heard songs played at youth conference worship that I immediately purchased because I found the lyrics to be profound. And three times since I've been in the ministry, a service has used "Awake My Soul" by Mumford and Sons as a congregational hymn. Each time it's been a heart-warming, soul shaking kind of moment – most recently at the SHYC conference. Seriously you have not heard our teenagers sing till they jump up and belt out that one.

My final assessment? There's a lot of bad theology in contemporary Christian music. There's also a lot of bad theology in secular music, and not all of it is appropriate for worship. But writing off everything because it's not in my beloved blue hymnal was not the way to go. 

And who made me the Worship Referee anyway? Songs are a little bit like people, after all – you have to see them as individuals.

These days you're more likely to get me to consider using it, rather than 2011 Kelly who would roll her eyes (or 2006 Kelly, who would have run screaming from the church.)

This is a change I'm okay with.

Now excuse me while I go introduce myself to the new Glory to God Hymnal… I think we're going to be great friends.

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