New Music

During my five-month trip I attended a number of different churches on three continents. Based on a limited sample size, I concluded that a new liturgy of worship has emerged globally. The form has become as comfortable to a new generation as the Latin mass was to Christians a thousand years ago.
The basic framework goes like this:
–Pastor greets and welcomes
–Congregation stands to sing 3-5 numbers of “contemporary” band-led music
–One more song and go home.
The music is the key innovation—it’s “worship” directed to God. (Who was “Heavenly Sunshine” directed to?) It’s led by a band, not an organ.
Two facts about the music stood out to me as I experienced it in a dozen churches. First, a lot of it is bad. The words are often awkwardly written, and most tunes are forgettable and predictable. I take it that this is related to my second observation: it’s constantly changing.
I can’t think of a single “contemporary” song that has lasted ten years. Rather, there’s a constant renewal. New songs sweep around the globe on a yearly basis and replace the last round. Today, nobody sings “Majesty.” Fifteen years ago, nobody didn’t.
There must be a million song-writers strumming their guitars and groping for words even as I type this. A few of their songs will make it onto the global merry-go-round. Then they will fall off.
But isn’t it a good thing that the church is making new music? I’d rather be part of something experiencing awkward growth spurts, than something that stands dead still. The church today can’t help itself, it has to write new songs. On the whole, that’s a good thing.


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3 Responses to “New Music”

  1. Stuart Says:

    Well “change is good” presupposes that form and content (liturgically) don’t have much if any connection, and that liturgical music should change.

    i have talked with Eastern Orthodox (mainly Russian and Greek) who are not so convinced. in fact, many i have talked to are quite proud that their mass (worship service / Eucharist) have not changed for 1500+ years. Catholics did abandon the Latin mass, but in some places it’s being restored because for many people it provides a sense of “timelessness” (and “worshipfulness”) that constant change does not. The homilies or preaching or sermons can be in the native vernacular, but should the liturgy change? I think this is a subject worth exploring. We can still have lots of “bad” music produced by Christians, but do we need to make it part of the liturgy? “The church” can still write new (and bad) songs, but it’s a subject worth exploring as to whether this new music should be part of the liturgy.

    I was raised with the Latin mass, have attended Orthodox services, and also Protestant services of different denominations (from Episcopal to Pentecostal). Conservatism in liturgy does not have to be bad, and bad liturgical music is not necessarily progress.

    • timstafford Says:

      Absolutely, Stuart…. this is a fundamental issue in worship liturgy. It’s not easily answered. There’s something wonderful about an ancient and stable liturgy. The problem is that the liturgy may survive and the church wither and die. Whereas a church that creates new music is almost inevitably alive. The music may be good or bad, but its existence is surely a sign of vitality. If I have to choose, I would prefer to be part of a lively church with bad music than a church with a wonderful liturgy that is functionally lifeless. Do I have to choose between those two options? I hope not. But sometimes it seems that I do.

  2. Bill Reichert Says:

    I don’t see this as an either/or situation, Tim, but rather both/and. We have a superior music director at our church, including a choir (to which I belong) that has recorded music and performed on tour. New choir music is added each year, but we also return to classic hymns. The choir sings at the two Sunday services, but the Saturday evening services have the now-common band, with CCM, electric guitars and drums. I don’t find that to my taste, but obviously large numbers of congregants disagree with me.

    But I do worry that the generation behind us may grow up in the church with little appreciation of more traditional music and hymns. What we’re seeing is a generational divide that seems to be becoming a generational canyon (am I beginning to sound like my father, or what?) It saddens me because it makes it so hard to have everyone together at the same service. I really find it hard to appreciate most CCM, but the music I do like is not all classical or fossilized. It’s fairly rich and diverse. But I confess that while I can identify the problem, I’m less sure of the solution.

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