I made an observation on Twitter yesterday that I want to flesh out a little more.
We seem to be willing to challenge people to learn when it comes to sermons or Sunday School classes, but unwilling when it comes to music.
— Chris Hubbs (@cjhubbs) August 16, 2016
Now, my experience is limited to the handful of evangelical churches I’ve attended over the years. But in general I observe that we focus a lot on learning when it comes to doctrine and practice. Our pastors preach long, well-prepared and often academic sermons. We encourage Bible studies and recommend books from the beginner level to very advanced levels for study in all theological areas.
When we get to music in our worship services, though, we very often have a different approach: our music is very often chosen based on what is familiar to people from listening to Christian radio. Those old hymns with lots of big words and thick doctrine? Confusing. Singing parts out of hymnals? Nobody knows how to read music anymore. Why confuse them with the notes?
When we lose a vision for singing in church as a means of embedding truth in the hearts of each believer, we can be content with going for whatever is easy and familiar. When the goal is to entertain and get people “feeling” the worship before the pastor comes to preach, we are best served by grabbing whatever they’re singing along with on the radio this week and having them sing it along with the praise band on Sunday.
Christian singing can be so much more than entertainment, though. Songs use music to ingrain words into our minds and hearts, and the great hymns of the Christian faith are full of truth to inspire, challenge, and comfort believers. Efforts to teach those hymns and how to sing them will result in a life-long benefit to those who will remember the truths in them long after they’ve forgotten every Christian book they’ve read.
Not all hymns are old, not all old songs are deserving, and there is still a place for singing entertaining songs. But favoring easy entertainment over formative singing will leave the body anemic and lacking.