The Worship Phenomenon

It has been millenniums since King David (and others) wrote the book of Psalms, 150 chapters of songs about comfort (Psalm 23), praise (Psalm 103), thanksgiving (Psalm 100), and prayer (Psalm 28). These songs were not just about lifting God up in song but also “going through the valley of the shadow of death”.

Take a look at this excerpt from Psalm 32:

Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
    My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. 

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

This was written by King David who was guilty of murder and adultery. This is an example of how transparent David was in his Psalms. These words aren’t empty. They are filled with meaning. Despite David’s shortcomings, God considered him a “man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).

Fast forward to a few centuries ago. Writers such as John Newton, who penned “Amazing Grace”, began to write songs known today as hymns. These writers would look at the Psalms as a model to produce a song. Many songs written hundreds of years ago are still sung in churches today. Hymns like “How Great Thou Art”, “It Is Well with My Soul”, and “Be Thou My Vision” have stood the test of time.

Horatio Spafford

Let’s look at some of the lyrics of “It Is Well With My Soul”.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

These words were written by Horatio Spafford, whose story sounds like a modern-day Job. He lost his only son to Scarlet Fever in 1870. He lost his business in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. While his family was traveling to Europe, the ship they were on sank and all 4 of Spafford’s daughters drowned. Spafford soon traveled to Europe to join his wife who survived the shipwreck. While the ship was near where the tragedy occurred, Spafford penned the lyrics to “It Is Well With My Soul”. These lyrics are especially heavy and are comforting to anyone who has ever been through tragedy.

Having said all that, there has been quite the growth of worship music over the last decade. In the early to mid 90’s Hillsong began putting out music for the church to use. This evolved into more of a modern worship movement later on in the 90’s. Bands such as Delirious and Sonicflood incorporated their own take on worship. Soon after, it seemed like every band began putting out their own unique spin on worship. From Third Day to Skillet, there was a saturation of worship music. Not all of it was bad but it soon became the ‘model’ to putting out a money-making album. And soon all of the music that had a unique spin to it began to blend together…. And that brings us to today.

It’s a sad day when I shudder because I hear that a band is making a “worship album”. I am not ever going to claim that I know a certain band’s heart. But I am highly aware that right now in the CCM market, worship music sells. It’s one of the only genres that contemporary Christian radio stations will play anymore. And a fair amount of it is cookie-cutter music that all sounds the same. The main problem, in my eyes, is worship music is no longer being written for churches. Now worship music is being written for radio.

In the Scriptures, both Solomon (who is considered the wisest man to ever live) and Paul (who wrote a majority of the New Testament) write similar lines:

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” Ecclesiastes 9:10

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…” Colossians 3:23

Music can bring glory to God in ways that nothing else can. It is an amazing medium. In the context of a “worship” song, it can be breathtaking. It can be just as breathtaking in a thought-provoking rock song. Both songs can bring equal amounts of glory to God.

Having said all that, I constantly put worship in quotation marks when we are talking in the context of music. Worship is a lifestyle, not just a song. Songs can help edify and glorify God. But the lyrics in these songs are mere words if our heart is not in the right place. Thankfully, through grace, we can let the great lyric from Psalm 19 be our prayer:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

About Gabriel Jones

Podcaster with a random Bachelor's degree in History (yes I'm a nerd). I'm passionate about music and social justice. Follow me on Twitter: The_GabeJones
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1 Response to The Worship Phenomenon

  1. Nice article, but it’s a little bit short. I kinda wish you expounded why writing for the radio is, well, frowned upon.
    Let me start: songs on the radio tend to be sung by exceptional vocalists in ranges higher than the average congregant on a sleepy Sunday morning. Pushing these newer songs into our vernacular makes the songs not-congregational-friendly, and discourages singing.
    (Before you say the folks can just change the key, it doesn’t account for those songs which have an excruciatingly vast range as it is, such as them octave-jump songs like “One Thing Remains”).
    A second problem is that these songs tend to not have a whole lot of theological depth. Not that there aren’t theologically deep songs, but the radio listenership is a stubborn bunch. Plus, if it strays away from a theological centrist worldview and into a denominational-specific thought, then it would automatically be cut (lest those of other faith traditions be offended).
    A third problem is that it creates a fast-food worship culture. Just try playing a Chris Tomlin song that has dropped down the charts. Even though there is hardly an iota of musical difference between what came out last week and what came out twelve years ago, the latter song would instantly be regaled as “dated”.
    Lastly, and this is most worrisome: Christian contemporary worship music is a major personal scandal away from being irrelevant. Excuse the metaphor, but all it would take is for Tomlin, Matt Redman, Darlene Zschech, Paul Baloche and the members of Jesus Culture to become this decade’s Amy Grant, Sandi Patti, Michael English, Randy Matthews, Kevin Prosch, etc., and people will write off their music entirely. Since nobody is perfect, and since Christian musicians are held to a higher standard that nearly nobody can fully live through, their lives are nothing but a ticking time bomb until they do fall and garner unrelenting media coverage.


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