Striking Balance between Old and New Can End Worship Wars
- Monday, February 08, 2010
I stood at the front of the church and watched as the congregation was led in a full slate of old hymns and familiar gospel songs. Nothing that ascended from us that morning had been composed since the 1950s. My grandparents would have been right at home there.
It was the menu we are told grey-haired people (like myself) say they want from a worship leader.
That was one boring service.
I grew up on those hymns, and like most veteran church-goers in that church, knew them "by heart." I sang as lustily as I could manage while endeavoring to save voice enough to preach. But in no way did I find that song service meaningful, worshipful, or enjoyable.
The problem was the familiarity of it all. I could sing those hymns in my sleep (and probably have). My mind went on vacation while my mouth sang them. And that is precisely why singing them regularly is a bad idea.
"O, sing unto the Lord a new song!"
Anyone who has read his Bible much has run across that line before. To make sure we could not miss it, the Lord sprinkled throughout His Word. It can be found in Psalms 33:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1, and in Isaiah 42:10.
In Psalm 40:3, David testifies that after the Lord lifted him from the miry clay and gave him firm footing, "He put a new song in my mouth."
We're told in the last book of the Bible, that in Heaven "they sang a new song" (Revelation 5:9 and 14:3).
Anyone see a pattern here?
I stand before you today with a bit of news that worship leaders across the land should take to heart: not every senior member of your church is addicted to "The Old Rugged Cross." Some of us like "O, the Wonderful Cross."
We like it because it's fresh, it forces us to think about what we are singing, and the tune is a good one. It's singable, worshipful, thought-provoking.
And the second bit of news is that the rest of the congregation can learn to love well-written recent hymns, gospel songs, and choruses.
But give us a steady diet of anything and within a few weeks, we'll be begging for mercy.
I once heard Rick Warren say that at Saddleback, they had found that after the 17th time a song was used, it ceased to be meaningful to those singing it (pretty sure 17 was his number; I'm going by memory here).
New songs are good, but the old hymns are not bad. The ancient hymns should be taught to the youngsters (hey, they're new to them!) and used sparingly with the old-timers. And all of us should be introduced to new hymns, gospel songs, and choruses our worship leaders have discovered and like.
There should be no more worship wars. We're all friends here.
The problem is finding the balance between the old and the new, a constant tension in any entity involving more than two people.
I tease pastors about the suicidal tendencies of some that will cause them to "make changes for change' sake." "How long have you had this death wish?" I'll ask to their laughter.
When I say that, I'm remembering how as a fresh-from-seminary preacher, I did that very thing. "Let's put a little variety in this" was my refrain.
I also tell the pastors, "There are only three Baptists in the world who enjoy change and none of them are in your church."
Someone needs to remind our leaders to take care in introducing new methodologies, unfamiliar features, and radical alterations in any part of church.
Change is not always good. Change is going on around us all the time. Many churches must change drastically and soon or they're going to die.
All of the above statements are true.
Striking the balance between what's old and what's fresh has always produced tension within congregations.
Paul walked into Athens, the most cosmopolitan center of his day (with the possible exception of Rome), and looked around. Luke tells us, "He was greatly distressed to see the city was full of idols." (Acts 17:16)
Walking up to Mars Hill ("Areopagus"), the Hyde Park of its day--where orators of all stripes were given a soap box and allowed to speak on anything of their choosing--Paul noticed something else disturbing about his audience.
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