Let’s talk about food first. To be honest, my soon coming analogy fails a bit because I love canned corn and fresh corn. So if I was to write a blog article about how bad canned corn is compared to fresh, well, I’d be lying. Call it weird, but I’m fine with a can of corn. However, it does not compare with the fresh corn on the cob, with butter, lots of butter. So that’s my transparent portion of this post.
Growing up playing worship music in church was fun. I come from a very musical family, all of us could play or sing. I started out playing southern gospel and hymns, 4/4, 3/4 and 6/8 at Christmas time. (many Christmas hymns are 6/8) Fast forward to present day, church music has changed drastically. Many churches have discarded, or tried to discard hymns for more rock style K-Love Radio music. There are even ‘churches’ now that play secular music as well.
There are many articles written on the transformation of music in church, so this post will not be one of those historical explanations. What I will opine is that among many tragedies of canned music such as Bethel, Elevation, and Hillsong is that it destroys music development in Christ’s church.
The case is simple. Bethel, Elevation, and Hillsong, or BEH music and the type are mega church styles of music. And it can only be hypothesized as to the reason thousands of local congregations use them. Maybe people like the music, it tickles their ears, makes a church service fun. Maybe local churches are lazy and they don’t feel like putting forth any effort beyond what can be bought and thrown on a screen. But what I think is really going on is many local church congregations think that BEH and the like are a pathway to grow into a mega-church. It could be a combination of all three. But BEH music and the like is very popular.
In his article in Patheos, Jonathan Aigner describes 7 Reasons Hymns are Better than Contemporary Worship. I want to pick on his first in his list.
1. We Should Honor Our History of Faith.
“To cut the church off from their sacred lineage can only create a narcissistic and self-referential church that doesn’t really care who it is. Worshiping in a contemporary vacuum is literally suffocating the church in a self-interested, masturbatory pursuit.”
It’s no secret that Narcissism is strong in modern church worship today. Out with the old, and in with the new. Churches progress right? Sure, but should they? Does God change? Many church controllers have adopted a worldly approach to music with all the lights, smoke, dance teams, and so on. There is a lot of effort put into making people in local church happy. As a friend of mine described it, some churches count heads and not hearts.
So back to the corn. Here is my simple analogy.
Fresh corn costs more than canned.
Fresh corn you can trace the origin, canned, who knows.
Fresh corn you can fix different ways, canned, it’s more limited. (I’m not Gordon Ramsey so don’t argue this point with me.)
Three is enough.
BEH music and the like canned music, comes in one way. And the effort put into this music minimal, besides, why play it any different than the mega churches? Let’s listen to how ‘they’ do it is as deep as music development when BEH music is used.
Fresh music, well that is s different story. There is a movement in Gospel music to start writing but much of it gets over shadowed by BEH music which is pushed on many popular ‘Christian’ radio stations. Add that to the narcissistic “ME” generation who are in large part in charge of the music selection in today’s church, and what’s popular is what gets played. Butts in the seats, more butts in the seats.
Here is the tragedy. All across Christ’s church there are people with talent for writing music. I have friends who have written wonderful Christ centered music. It was music that fit our band, so we had a passion about it. Every word, every note, crescendo was special.
That can of corn, well, it’s a can. It’s pretty much the same every time you buy it. And the canned music from BEH and the like is just that, the same chord progressions, same flow and so on. And if someone is sitting in church inspired to write music from their heart, what would happen? They would have to go somewhere else to express that gift. Why? Because it’s not canned, it’s not popular. Another point Jonathan Aigner makes is that hymns aren’t popular or marketable. And in today’s flashy dopamine filled social media worship, I’d agree. But Christ wasn’t flashy or marketable, He was humble and served. But that’s another post.
Many music programs in church are performance driven and not avenues for discipleship. Do churches invest time, money and talent into developing musicians in their church? I don’t see it. So canned it is. And BEH music is at best, elementary in musical structure and clunky in lyricism.
The popular satirical website Babylongbee.com has a worship song generator. You can plug in words and come up with a song.
But is that writing to God a love song? Of course not. So to wrap up the analogy, why would anyone in church, especially our youth, want to put in the effort to write songs to God if there isn’t an avenue to express it? If all a local church is wanting is the same canned corn every Sunday, then why would someone go out and buy fresh corn? If there is no development and discipleship of musicians, then we are really just performers, we are lazy and aren’t giving God our best sacrificial gift.
In other words, if all Christ’s church demands is what is musically popular, despite the questionable theological or edificatory value, then that’s what we are offering to God, the same can.
Steven Davis is a musician, media producer, burnt preacher’s kid, and former youth minister.