In recent decades, many of Scotland’s evangelical churches have changed the way they worship. Organists and hymn books are out. The worship leader and his/her 3-4 piece band and powerpoint presentations of song lyrics are now ‘de rigeur’ in the church that aspires to be ‘contemporary’.
Don’t get me wrong, as a bass guitarist and worship leader, I am passionate about enabling people to move into the presence of God through the medium of music. Effective praise and worship is the best preparation for receiving God’s word via the preacher. I do however sometimes worry that much of the contemporary praise and worship music served up in our churches is shallow, repetitive and theologically questionable.
While the composition, production and marketing of contemporary praise and worship music is a growth industry, much of what is produced is second rate. In my experience, only one song in twelve from the average praise and worship CD is worthy of use in a church service. Meanwhile, much of the huge catalogue of what is now described as ‘traditional music’ has been consigned to the dustbin of history, by the up and coming younger, enthusiastic and, performance orientated worship leaders. As a result, this has fuelled a ‘dumbing down’ of the worship experience, producing an ethos and environment of bland, ‘vanilla vulgarity’ in some of our churches.
I was therefore greatly encouraged when I came upon an article entitled: ‘The power of a great hymn’ by Bill O’Connor. He argues that there is a clear case for maintaining the best of our so-called traditional hymns, particularly when they are given a contemporary arrangement. Here are some of the very good reasons keeping traditional hymns:
Great hymns keep us in touch with our Christian heritage.
Hymns expose us to poetry and some o the greatest music ever written.
Hymns give our worship a sense of majesty and beauty and embed Christian truths in our minds and hearts.
Hymns are one of the most effective ways to teach Christian doctrine.
Hymns help us lift our hearts to God and exalt and magnify the Lord Jesus Christ.
For me the power of our great hymns is such that when exposed to them with an open heart, worship takes place.......it’s inevitable.
Hymns when well arranged, rehearsed by a group of skilled musicians pave the way for the sermon and give the message a better chance of making a lasting impact. The key to a well-rounded worship experience is a balance of theologically sound contemporary songs and great hymns.
The simple 3-4 chord repetitive contemporary songs have their place. They are ‘happy clappy’ catchy tunes which require minimal musical skill or rehearsal time but offer instant gratification. When mixed with the ‘strong meat’ of a traditional hymn from the great gospel writers such as Moody and Sankey, real worship takes place.