Recently there have been a number of articles about why praise teams are bad for worship. In a similar vein, there have been several posts and comments on why contemporary music is awful. While I don’t deny that there are churches whose worship practices are unbiblical and therefore wrong, I don’t believe that it’s right to lump all praise teams and contemporary worship music together.
There are good praise teams that lead worship in appropriate ways. There are bad praise teams that don’t. Some contemporary worship practices are terrible. Some are God honoring. Contemporary worship music is an equally mixed bag. There are really great songs, and there are really bad ones.
For these reasons, I’d like to comment and respond to some of the complaints that I’ve read and offer some thoughts as to what is important in worship music and what is a matter of preference.
- Praise teams drown out the congregational singing.
- Praise teams turn worship into a concert or performance instead of corporate worship.
- Praise teams sing music that the congregation can’t sing easily.
- Contemporary worship music is repetitive.
- Contemporary worship music is dull, boring, bad music.
- Contemporary worship music is theologically weak.
First, one recent article complained that praise teams drown out congregational singing. I absolutely agree that congregational singing is very, very important. We should be able to hear each other when we sing. I also agree that, done poorly, praise teams can overshadow the congregation.
However, I don’t agree that praise teams by their nature drown out congregational singing or that other forms of music are less prone to being too loud. Any music can potentially be overpowering. For example, organs, choirs, exuberant pianists, and brass ensembles (to name a few) are all quite capable of being too loud. Finding the right balance of sound in order to lead corporate worship effectively takes time, effort, and practice.
The second concern leads directly from the first. In addition to being too loud, praise teams are accused of turning worship into a concert or performance instead of leading corporate worship. There are certainly churches that are guilty of this one. Any number of mega church worship services have a lot more in common with a rock concert than a Sunday morning at church. And I agree that this is a questionable practice. I’m all for a good concert, but I’m not convinced that Sunday worship is the appropriate time or place.
But this is not the norm for many smaller churches and their use of praise teams. In many churches who use praise teams and contemporary worship music, the worship is reverent and conducive to worship. Done well, a praise team leads corporate worship in a way that gives glory to God, that focuses the congregation’s attention on worship and praise, and that prepares hearts and minds for the rest of the service. This is the case in my own church (and almost all churches I’ve been a member of over the years).
The next complaint bridges the gap between the concerns with praise teams and contemporary worship music: praise teams sing music that the congregation can’t sing easily. It’s true that there are songs that are hard to sing and some that are not meant for corporate worship.
In the modern church, there are way too few people who can read music at all. It is necessary, no matter who leads music in a church, to choose music carefully with the congregation in mind and also to take time to teach new or unfamiliar songs to the congregation. The music, both words and tunes, should be easy for inexperienced singers to follow along and appropriate for the content of the sermon and Scripture readings for the service.
So, what about the complaints about contemporary worship music in general? One of the most common critiques is that contemporary music is repetitive. I think we can all agree that the real complaint is that it is unnecessarily repetitive. Some repetition is necessary and desirable in music.
Psalm 136 is an excellent example (and I’ve heard complaints about the repetition here too). “His love endures forever” is repeated 26 times, once for every verse. However, that kind of repetition is good because it drives an important point home and creates a focus on a theme we need to remember. Of course, it’s also Scripture and inspired so it’s not the same as an typical hymn or praise song. But I do think the principle is sound.
Praise songs that repeat the same phrase over and over again out of laziness or weak theology should be avoided. But not all contemporary worship music is like that.
The second common complaint about contemporary worship music is that it’s dull, boring, or just plain bad music. It’s certainly true that some music is truly bad. This is true across the board regardless of style. I’m sure we can all think of examples of hymns that are unpleasant to sing or ones that make us groan inwardly when we flip open the hymnal.
Even the psalter is not immune. I’ve suffered through psalter selections that have been set to funereal dirges or music that moves so slow that all forward momentum is practically lost. Just because the meter of the tune and the meter of the psalm match doesn’t mean it’s a good combination. Going back to my previous point, music should be chosen carefully no matter which type of music is used.
Lastly, one frequent complaint is that contemporary worship music is weak theologically. Again, I acknowledge that this is true of some songs. It’s also true of some hymns (I come to the garden alone …). Unless a church only sings from the psalter, there is going to have to be a good level of discernment in choosing hymns and songs.
For those interested in finding doctrinally solid songs set to contemporary music, I highly recommend the RUF or Indelible Grace Hymnbook. These hymns have a good balance of theologically strong words and lovely singable tunes.
To summarize, praise teams and contemporary worship music are not inherently bad or wrong. Style of music and choice of instruments should be considered adiaphora in my opinion. All worship music should be selected carefully with consideration given both to the content and to the ease of use for congregational singing. Those who lead worship should be careful not to overshadow the congregational praise and to remember that all worship should draw our eyes to Him and not to ourselves.
If the words are true and faithful, if the congregation can sing it and be heard, if the focus is on praising the King of Heaven, let us rejoice and worship and remember to be gracious to others who may not share our worship music style.
Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150 ESV)