Selecting Your Music
Psalm 40:3) [GW] He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see this and worship. They will trust the LORD.
Rick’s greatest regret about starting Saddleback was that he didn’t understand the power of music when he started the church. He minimized the use of music in their services. He challenges us that music is an integral part of our lives. We eat with it, drive with it, shop with it, and relax with it; and some Christians even dance to it. He says that the great American pastime is not baseball; it is music.
A song can often touch people the way a sermon can’t. Music can bypass intellectual barriers and take the message straight to the heart.
Notice the above verse. When the many/the unchurched see us/the believers singing our worship it will cause them to worship, and put their trust in God.
Notice how various translators have rendered the last half of this verse:
[GW] Many will see this and worship. They will trust the LORD.
[BBE] numbers have seen it with fear, and put their faith in the Lord.
[CEV] Many will see this, and they will honor and trust you, the LORD God.
[GNB] Many who see this will take warning and will put their trust in the LORD.
[MSG] More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to GOD.
Notice the clear connection between music and evangelism.
Aristotle said, “Music has the power to shape character.” The rock lyrics of the 60s and 70s shaped the values of most Americans who are now in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. MTV is now shaping the values of many who are in their teens and 20s. Rick challenges, “If we don’t use contemporary music to spread godly values, Satan will have unchallenged access to an entire generation.” Music is a force that we should not ignore.
Rick also initially made the mistake of trying to appeal to everyone’s taste. They sang a variety of styles, and they didn’t please anyone. The task is to use music that appeals to the unchurched, our target, and quick trying to pick music that everyone in our church will agree on.
Psalm 103:1-2) [GW] By David. Praise the LORD, my soul! Praise his holy name, all that is within me.
2) Praise the LORD, my soul, and never forget all the good he has done:
Choosing Our Style of Music:
This will be one of the most critical, and controversial decisions we will make in the life of Walk of Grace Chapel. It will most likely be the most influential factor that determines who our church will reach for Christ, and rather or not our church grows. We must match our music with the kind of people God wants our church to reach.
The music we pick will position our church in the community. It will define who we are. Once we define the style of music we will use in our worship it will set the direction of our church in more ways than we can imagine. It will determine the kind of people we attract, the kind of people we keep, and the kind of people we lose.
Rick insists that if we were to tell him the style of music we use at Walk of Grace he could describe the kind of people we are reaching without even visiting our church.
Rick rejects the idea that music styles can be judged as either “good” or “bad.” Who gets to decide this? The kind of music you like is determined by your background and culture. Some types of music appeals to Asians, some to those of the Middle East, some to Africans, and others to South Americans.
No style of music is sacred! What makes music sacred is the message. There is no such thing as Christian music, only Christian lyrics. To insist that all good music was written in Europe 200 years ago is cultural elitism. THERE IS NO BIBLICAL BASIS FOR THIS KIND OF THINKING!!
It’s simply isn’t the beat or the arrangement that makes music sacred; it is the message. No style of music makes a song spiritual; the message does. If I were to play a tune for you without any words that you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell if it were a Christian song, or not. It takes all kinds of churches, using all kinds of music styles, to reach all kinds of people. To insist that one particular style of music is sacred is idolatry.
In Psalms we read that in Biblical worship they used drums, clashing cymbals, loud trumpets, tambourines, and stringed instruments. That sounds a lot like contemporary music to; and it sounds a lot like what we’re doing.
Psalm 33:3) [GW] Sing a new song to him. Play beautifully and joyfully on stringed instruments.
Psalm 144:9) [GNB] I will sing you a new song, O God; I will play the harp and sing to you.
Sing A New Song:
Throughout history great theologians have put God’s truth to the music style of their day. The tune of Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is borrowed from a popular song of his day. (Today, Luther would probably be borrowing tunes from the local karaoke bar.) Charles Wesley used several popular tunes from the taverns and opera houses in England. John Calvin hired two secular songwriters of his day to put his theology to music. The Queen of England was so incensed by these “vulgar tunes” that she derisively referred to them as Calvin’s “Geneva jigs.”
Songs that we now consider sacred classics were once as criticized as contemporary Christian music is today. When “Silent Night” was first published, George Weber, music director of the Mainz Cathedral called it “vulgar mischief and void of all religious and Christian feelings.” And Charles Spurgeon, the great English pastor, despised the contemporary worship songs of his day – the same songs we now revere. Handel’s “Messiah” was once condemned as “vulgar theater” by the churchmen of his day. It was condemned for having too much repetition and not enough message – it contains nearly 100 repetitions of “Hallelujah.” Today’s contemporary music often receives the same criticism.
Singing hymns in church was once considered “worldly” in Baptist churches. Benjamin Keach, a Baptist pastor of the 1600s, is credited with introducing hymn singing to English Baptist churches. He first began by teaching the children to sing because they loved it. The adults, however, didn’t enjoy singing hymns. They believed that singing was “foreign to evangelical worship.” In 1673 he got them to agree to at least sing a hymn after communion, but he allowed those who objected to leave before the hymn was sung. Six years later, in 1679, the church agreed to sing a hymn on days of “public thanksgiving.” Another fourteen years passed before the church could agree, in 1693, that hymn singing was appropriate in worship.
It took Pastor Keach over twenty years to change his congregation’s worship style. In an average church it’s probably easier to change the church’s theology than its order of service.
Because most of us don’t know church history we confuse our current traditions with orthodoxy. Many of the methods and tools we use in churches today, such as hymn singing, pianos, pipe organs, altar calls, and Sunday school were once considered worldly and even heretical.
Today we have a brand new blacklist. Today’s objections are aimed against innovations such as the use of synthesizers, drums, drama, and video in worship.
Dr. James Dobson once admitted on his “Focus on the Family” program, “Of all the subjects we’ve ever covered in this radio program, from abortion to pornography to whatever, the most controversial subject we’ve ever dealt with is music. You can make people mad about music more quickly than anything else.”
Rick says, “I guess that why Spurgeon called his music ministry “The War Department.”
Why do people take disagreement over worship styles so personally? It’s because the way you worship is intimately connected with the way God made you. Worship is your personal expression of love for God. When someone criticizes the way you worship you naturally take it as a personal offense.
When Rick had everyone write down on a 3 X 5 card the call letters of the radio stations they listened to he discovered that 96% of his people listened to middle-of-the-road adult contemporary music. Their ears were accustomed to music with a strong bass line and rhythm.
For the first time in history there exists a universal music style that can be heard in every country of the world. It’s called contemporary pop/rock. The same songs are being played on radios in Nairobi and Tokyo and Moscow. Most TV commercials use the contemporary/rock style. Even country music has adapted it.
Rick says that once they made the strategic decision to use contemporary music in their seeker services, within one year their church exploded with growth. He admits that over the years they have lost hundreds of potential members because of that style of music, but they have attracted thousands more because of that style.
Psalm 98:1) [GW] Sing a new song to the LORD because he has done miraculous things.
Rules For Selecting A Music Style:
Rick suggests a few rules we need to follow.
1. Preview all the music you use. Don’t have any surprises in your service. Rick learned that the hard way. He once had a guest singer decide to sing a twenty-minute song on nuclear disarmament.
He tells us that if we don’t manage our music, our music will manage us. We need to set up parameters so that music supports the purpose of our service rather than working contrary to it.
When we preview music that we intend to use, we should consider both the lyrics and the tune. We should ask ourselves whether the lyrics are doctrinally sound, whether they are understandable to the unchurched, and whether the song uses terms or metaphors that unbelievers wouldn’t understand. We should always identify the purpose of a song. Is it a song of edification, worship, fellowship, or evangelism?
Saddleback categorizes songs according to the target.
- Songs on the crowd list are appropriate when unbelievers are present (they sing them at their seeker services).
- Songs on the congregation list are songs that are meaningful to believers but wouldn’t make sense to the unchurched (they sing them at their midweek worship service).
- Songs on the core list deal with service and ministry (they sing them at their SALT rallies).
Regarding the tune, we should ask, “How does this tune make me feel?” Music exerts a great influence on human emotions. The wrong kind of music can kill the spirit and the mood of a service. Decide what mood you want in your service, and use the style that creates it.
Saddleback believes that worship is to be a celebration so they use a style that is upbeat, bright, and joyful.
Even when Saddleback invites a popular Christian artist to sing as a seeker service they insist on previewing every song they intend to sing. They believe that the atmosphere they are trying to maintain in their seeker services is far more important than any singer’s ego.
2. Speed up the tempo. The Bible tells us:
Psalm 100:2) [NIV] Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Many services sound more like a funeral than a festival. John Bisagno, pastor of the 15,000-member First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas, says, “Funeral dirge anthems and stiff-collared song leaders will kill a church faster than anything else in the world.”
3. Update the lyrics. There are many good songs that can be used in a seeker service by just changing a word or two in order to make them understandable to unbelievers. References to metaphors and theological terms in a song may need to be translated or reworded. If the Bible needs to be translated from seventeenth-century English for seekers, so do the obscure lyrics of older songs.
Some contemporary praise choruses are just as confusing as hymns when it comes to terminology. Unbelievers have no idea what “Jehovah Jireh” means. We might as well be singing “Mumbo Magumbo!”
4. Write new contemporary songs. Church history tells us that every genuine revival has been accompanied by new music. New songs say, “God is doing something here and now, not just 100 years ago.” Every generation needs new songs to express its faith. Think about it. Every unchurched generation writes new songs to express its attitudes.
Psalm 96:1) Sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sadly, we grow accustomed to singing the same old songs. The Columbia Record Company once did a study and discovered that after a song is sung fifty times, people no longer think about the meaning of the lyrics – they just sing it by rote.
A song loses its testimonial power if people aren’t thinking about what they’re singing. But songs can be a powerful witness to unbelievers when people sing songs they feel deeply about.
Many of the Gospel songs of the first half of the twentieth-century tended to glorify the Christian experience rather than Christ. In contrast, today’s most effective worship songs are love songs sung directly to God. This is Biblical worship. We are told as least seventeen times in Scripture to sing to the Lord. In contrast, most hymns are sung about God. The strength of many contemporary worship songs is that they are God-centered, rather than man-centered.
Replace the Organ With A MIDI Band:
A PERSONAL NOTE: I don’t know if the following information is up to date.
With today’s technology any church can have the same quality and sound of music that is heard on professionally produced albums. All we need is a MIDI keyboard and some MIDI discs. With a MIDI we can “fill in the gaps” wherever we lack instrumentalists. For example, if we had a keyboard player, trumpet player, and a guitarist, but we lacked a bass player and a drummer, we could simply add the MIDI track for bass and drums to our “live” musicians.
When Rick took his music preference survey, not a single person said, “I listen to organ music on the radio.” About the only place you hear a pipe organ is in church. What does that tell you?
THINK THIS THROUGH! We invite the unchurched to come and sit on seventeenth-century chairs (which we call pews), sing eighteenth-century songs (which we call hymns), and listen to a nineteenth-century instrument (a pipe organ), and then we wonder why they think we’re out-of-date. Rick fears that we’ll be well into the twenty-first-century before some churches start using the instruments of the twentieth-century.
We have to decide whether Walk of Grace Chapel is going to be a music conservatory for the musical elite, or whether we’re going to be a place where common people can bring unsaved friends and hear music they understand and enjoy.
Don’t force unbelievers to sing. Visitors don’t feel comfortable singing tunes they don’t know and words they don’t understand. It’s also unrealistic to expect the unchurched to sing songs of praise and commitment to Jesus before they become believers. That’s getting the cart before the horse.
To “harmonize” means “to bring into agreement.” When unbelievers sing in harmony together it’s an audible expression of the unity and fellowship of the body. Each person is singing his part while listening to the others in order to blend. There is something profoundly attractive about believers singing together in sincere, heartfelt praise. It is a witness that these normal-looking people really do have a relationship to Christ and to each other.
Psalm 149:1) [MSG] Hallelujah! Sing to GOD a brand-new song, praise him in the company of all who love him.
Make Your Music Count:
We need to understand the incredible power of music and harness the power by being willing to set aside our own personal preferences and use the music that will best reach the unchurched for Christ.
Walk of Grace Chapel, Council Bluffs Church