Power in the words

If you didn't know this already, you are about to find out that I have strong feelings about Christian music and a number of pointed and entertaining theories on why more people don't listen to it or take it very seriously. In a nutshell, I find praise choruses too simple to be interesting, hymns often too slow to get my students excited about singing them, and radio-type Christian music too syrupy and sentimental to relate in any meaningful way to real life. The hymnbook of the Bible, the Psalms, never pulls any punches when it comes to how the author is really feeling. When the singer is deep into God's love, the words show it. When life is a cesspool of awfulness, the Psalms are never afraid to ask "Why, God, why aren't you doing something about it?"

This past week on the mission trip to West Virginia, I thought a lot about music in youth ministry. The collection of songs we used during the evening programs was very limited, generally repeating the same ones each night, maybe in a different order.

One that we frequently used was the ever-popular "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," and this one raised the most questions in my mind. Where is the committment in the words, really? Of course I *could* sing, but the song doesn't ask me to say I *will.*

To be part of the whole theological equation, the music youth ministries use needs to challenge the students who sing it in two ways:

The words need to challenge the students to change their lives so they're truly ready to sing words like "forever" and "I will" and "every" anything.

And, since we never quite reach the point in our limited human lives when we can truly do that, it needs to inspire us with a wish to make those words true in our lives, so we have something to look forward to.

Music, like Scripture, must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It must show the commitment we already have, and fill us with a desire to commit more and more. It's not there to make us feel like wonderful people; it's there to stretch us. It's not to prove anything to God; it's a cry for help for Him.

If there are any songwriters reading, I call for more challenging music. For worship leaders, I call for more study of theology. For all youth ministers, I ask you to carefully pick and match the music to the message you're teaching at each event; don't recycle songs just because people already know them-- use them the way they're most powerful; when they're part of a system of Scripture, teaching and song that expect to change lives.


Brett said...

Here Here Rook! We do need to be challenged and stretched in our music!

David Crowder is one of the few artists I have found who is not afraid to pull punches with God when it comes to his songwriting. And he writes so intelligently.
Matt Morginsky of the late Supertones was the same way (the theological exploration on Revenge of th e OC Supertones was awesome) as is Reese Roper (look at Brave Saint Saturn first, then Roper and Five Iron Frenzy). And if you look for it, Relient K has a lot of very intelligent writing as well.

I know I seek to do the same thing with my students in their music.

And hey, in your own personal time, check out Passion's "Hymns: Sacred and Modern" - The lyrics - Awesome. The music - no slogging there.

erinjo said...

along the same lines..

young people (and old too) need to be taught *how* to worship on their own, regardless of the words on a screen or in a hymnal.
if you cannot simply close your eyes and let the overflow of your heart become a cry of praises before your Lord, then the words you recite with a congregation may not matter after all. if you cannot worship God with an obedient lifestyle, what does it matter if you raise your hands or jump up and down or sit and watch as a worship band plays?

Isaac, The Rookie said...

Brett: Thanks for the backup! I do enjoy some of Crowder, although I have to be in just the right mood. Five Iron Frenzy, Relient K, Supertones-- all good choices as well. There are gems out there in the CCM field.

Erin: Teaching broken, sinful people to worship is a unique challenge. There's so much information floating around in our culture it's hard to engage the "groans deeper than words" that I think are one of the ultimate ways to worship-- being so open to God that I don't need to use words or try to impress Him with my posture/singing/etc.

Thanks both for your thoughts!

ceanachaela said...

have you ever thought about the creeds? i've been thinking on that one latley, since many start with " i believe..." and i think it sounds too... i dont' know, weak. like the creeds are just an opinion (along the lines of "i believe that pepsi is better than coke, but if you believe coke is better, that's okay too.") "I know the presence and power of the God of Abraham, creator of heaven and earth, to be a fact." is a much bolder statement than "i believe....."

Isaac, The Rookie said...

I have to disagree with you about the creeds, actually-- for two reason: one, Jesus said "believe and be saved" so I'm comfortable using that word. Two, I can't objectively "prove" anything about God, and that's what it takes to "know" something in any absolute sense, so "believe" is about as solid as we can get.

Actually, three reasons: third, the creeds are meant as a summary of what the church teaches, so saying "I believe" these things in the creeds is essentially saying, "I believe in this outline of beliefs, the details of which I will strive to know."