If there’s one thing I have a hard time with, it’s church music. This has been, more or less, an ongoing struggle for me for 13+ years. Across the board, In years past, I haven’t always handled it well. Probably led with a bit too much, ummmm… persnicketiness in all honesty.
From a certain point of view, I still am. I have a strong distaste for most of what passes as worship in our age, especially in that I find too little of it to truly be oriented toward worship of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I have songs I would prefer to never hear again, and music I personally feel uneasy about from a theological perspective and/or point of origin.
Basically, I could create a giant list of complaints, write a hot take about a specific song or two, and a whole bunch of you reading would agree and offer a hearty, “yes and amen.” But I don’t want to do that because we have enough hot takes out there, and, well, I just don’t feel like it.
Instead, I want to consider how we lean into the tension and avoid being cynical. Or maybe a better way to put it is, I want to think about how we can participate in corporate worship when there may or may not be songs we have concerns about. So after 13+ years of grousing, here are a few principles I try to live by as I participate in corporate worship and conversations around it:
Ground your objections in Scripture. If you’re listening to a song and you don’t think it’s quite right, then dig into the Word. You may find that your concern has a Scriptural foundation, but you may also find that your concern has support. But let the Word be your arbiter, not your preferences.
Put preferences on the shelf. I have certain kinds of songs I prefer. I generally prefer hymns, whether classic or modern arrangements, and would prefer singing them over modern praise music any Sunday (and every day). But I have friends who feel the opposite and would prefer to never sing a hymn ever. Preferences are exactly that: preferences. Sometimes that means that my preferences are going to need to be set aside for the sake of others. And that’s okay.
Recognize the difference between sloppy and error. Not all error is created equal, and some might not be actual error at all. A song might simply be sloppy, not saying something untrue but could be stated better. When a song actually does say something wrong, it’s often because of ignorance, rather than a songwriter actually believing heresy.1 This is a necessary skill to develop as it will help you think charitably, while developing discernment (which are not opposed to one another).
Speak up and then drop it. If you’ve got a concern about a song, say something respectfully. Address your concerns privately, and maybe not in an email on Monday morning. But once you’ve done this and your feedback has been acknowledged (which may mean only hearing something like “thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it,” though you could actually receive a positive response), drop it. You’ve said your piece, so let it be.
Obey your conscience (and respect the consciences of others). If you can’t sing a song, don’t. There are songs I don’t feel right singing,2 and so I don’t. But if others can sing a song in good conscience, don’t sweat it. Just pray through the song, and read a Psalm until it’s done.