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By In Family and Children, Music

Musical Segregation: Questions from a Concerned Pastor

I am not a trained sociologist, though I play one at home as a father. I am constantly analyzing trends and the origination of certain behaviors and offering solutions. Thankfully, as a Christian father, sociology can be summarized simply by the study of sinful patterns; patterns that can be easily studied and analyzed.

As a pastor, I also have the opportunity to study trends and patterns in the local church. Church life is messy, and with it comes messy patterns and behaviors that only Jesus can undo. But I am not only a student of my congregation, I also enjoy studying modern church trends. In such cases, my studies will lack the gravitas found in well-funded research teams. Still, I am comforted by the fact that every sociologist is biased. He may have correct numbers, but what he does with the numbers is based on his presuppositions. How he phrases the questions determines what responses he will receive.

I set this background to emphasize that my conclusions are not flawless but grounded in my personal, ecclesiastical, and societal concerns. With this in mind, let me make the following assertion: “Churches that segregate musically are bound to segregate corporately.” I have seen it happen again and again, but beyond the anecdotal evidence, the rationale of modern trends seem to affirm that proposition. Let me flesh out my concerns with a few questions and affirmations:

First, why do we assume that children and teens need a different kind of music than adults? Why do we think that “praise and worship” provide something for young folks and not for older saints? We attempt to accommodate the tastes of Christians in different stages of life, but what are we actually accomplishing? Are we merely perpetuating society’s self-centeredness? Is ecclesiastical music shaped to fit particular tastes and styles?

Second, I have noticed that every church that has a modern flavor differs from other churches that offer modern musical flavors. So to say, “I like contemporary music,” leads to another question: “What kind?” Is Amy Grant “old” contemporary? Is Michael W. Smith “old” contemporary? Is Hillsong music “new” contemporary? We must keep in mind that we are dealing with a span of 20-30 years here.

Third, we have abandoned Psalm-shaped music. I am not advocating exclusive psalmody, but I am saying that when we abandon the regular singing of psalms, we lose gospel creativity to compose biblical hymns. Historically, psalm-centered churches produced psalm-like hymns.

Fourth, as our children continue to grow in evangelical churches where music is dispersed according to age and style, how will they and their aging parents ever come to a proper understanding of the role of music in the Church? Will they ever be able to sit together to sing? Will the college bound son ever wish to come to dad’s church during summer breaks and genuinely enjoy singing praises to God? Or will he merely tolerate it, as a kind gesture to his Fanny Crosby-loving parents?

Fifth, have we considered the consequences of dividing our services into contemporary and traditional? Are we making it easier for older saints to bless younger saints, or are we making it harder? How are we stressing unity when our churches naturally divide over musical styles? Can we fulfill Paul’s exhortations to eat and drink together?a

Sixth, is contemporary music as a category truly contemporary? “Shine, Jesus, Shine” appears archaic to modern worship services. While new musical compositions can be admirable things, many churches only use music composed by their musical team. What happens for visitors who are long-time Christians? What happens when people from diverse contemporary churches visit a church that writes their own contemporary melodies? Are the contemporary going to feel divorced from their fellow contemporary music lovers?

Seventh, does the predominant hunger for the new ever get old? In other words, what happens when millennials raise their own children who think their parents’ music is as old as an MP3 player? What happens when the world turns against the modern?

Eighth, are we teaching through our music that music divides rather than unites? Are we teaching our children that what we sing is what we like and we like only what we sing?

Ninth, will our children leave us when they find us to be evangelically irrelevant to them? Are we setting the stage for their departure by granting their generation musical style privilege?

Finally, what role does the Bible play in our church music? Does tradition provide any help in our consideration of what we should sing? Can we merely discard 1,900 years of church music for the new? Are we a better generation than our faithful forefathers who gave their lives for the gospel? Do we follow in the train of the latest trend, or the Davidic train that offered us divinely-inspired music? Does our inspiration in modern composition stem from cultural romantic tales or the gospel romance of Ruth and Boaz? Is our church music bringing our families closer together, or is it separating us? Can your 18-year-old say, “Dad, let’s sing together?” If not, is that a good thing?

We all claim our music is praise-worthy, but can our music be God-worthy if God’s people are not singing a new song together?


  1. I am fully aware of functional/practical building issues, but here I am referring to churches that can easily accommodate everyone in one service  (back)

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By In Culture

Of Course, the Lame Can’t Waltz: Refocusing Current Music Discourse in the Christian Church

Guest post by Jarrod Richey

Asking why the church doesn’t sing hymns or even why men don’t sing in church is a bit like lamenting over the lame man who can’t waltz on the dance floor. While it is a valid question, the more immediate question would seem to be, “why doesn’t the lame man walk?”

There have been a number of blogs and articles of late noting the lack of singing from Christian men in the church today. While there is plenty of commentary on the reasons for this, most of the analysis, I find, skips over the fundamental reason which causes such problems in the first place.

Remembering the basics

I am reminded of the well-known anecdote from hall of fame Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi. After a demoralizing defeat, he gathered his football team around him and cited the need to get “back to basics.” He then lifted a football he was holding into the air and calmly said, “Gentlemen, this is a football”. Likewise, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves when it comes to music in the life of the Christian Church. We must make some similarly rudimentary explanations for music in the church.

Johnny can’t sing hymns because Johnny can’t sing

I’m thankful for the dialogue generated by books like T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns. But before we question why Johnny can’t sing hymns or why men don’t sing in churches today, we must simply ask and answer the more fundamental question, “Why Can’t Johnny Sing?” It almost seems too simple to ask, but it is precisely the question we need to answer in our present musical discourse. But it must be addressed if we are going to reverse the modern musical trends in the Church.

The proverbial Johnny has not been trained to see the importance of music and singing in the creation in which he lives. As a result, there is little importance given to the training in music and in making music as a response of praise. I don’t want to start up a debate on music form in hymn styles, etc. Rather, I want us to back up and rethink why we are not training our children to sing at all. When we do have music programs and curricula in our schools, we often miss the mark in training our students to be singers who are able to use their voices skillfully in praise to God. Instead, despite good intentions we are only giving our students a survey of music. They are not given the tools to be music makers themselves. They are only able to speak about composers or significant points in music history. That is not what we want to settle for in the long term. Rather, we want to be able to “sing praises with understanding” as the New King James Version of Psalm 47:7 exhorts. As we grow in our understanding of who we are as children of God, we must grow in our understanding of what it means to better reflect the glory of the Triune God. The God whose glorified speech created the heavens and the earth from nothing is the same God whose glory echoes throughout creation.

God sang creation into existence

It is not adequate enough to say God spoke all things into existence. We would do well to refine that it means that He sang this glorious melody of life, and it continues to echo to His praise and glory in a grand symphony. He set the temperament, tuned the world and is continually tuning the world. Therefore, it is our business to view ourselves as part of this symphony. How we live each day is a part of the gospel harmony on a macro level. But at the micro level we must not miss the opportunity to resound the triune melody in new and more glorious ways. Music making is the tool for that. What a joy to grow in how we reflect the musicality of God. He creates; we go forth and “wee-create”. In singing and making music, we are being like God, and we are better able to exhibit what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God. This is why we must train our students to be such re-creative singers.

The First Steps to Change

To start, we’ve got to put music back in the Christian school and homeschooling co-ops. Beyond that, we must have pastors and elders who exhort their flock to be like God, who joyfully sings and enjoys all of His creation singing back His praise. When we start, we must start small. Instead of viewing music as an artistic aside, we must think of it as language-like, in that it has components and tools that must be studied if proficiency is to be achieved. In other words, we must have students trained in music literacy in such a way that they can read, write, and sing (or think) in terms of music. This doesn’t mean they have to be career musicians. It means that our people will be musicians simply because they are humans made in the image of the Triune God. If the Lord calls them to a vocation in music, then we should value and encourage that. But we should not resist the idea of music training because we have a stereotype of what it means to be a career musician.

So, if you are reading this and think, “we’ve got to do more, but what first?” then you need to have someone help teach your folks to sing. Have your kids in music lessons, find courses on singing and reading music. Have folks who have experience in Kodály or other music philosophies that can give children to adults the sequenced tools that will enable them to grow as singers first and musicians second. That’s where you must begin. Then, if you are older, you must pour your energy and resources into the younger ones in your family and church. Use what provision and means you have to help others come to a better understanding of music than you have currently. This after all is what we are about as Christians. We are seeking to move from glory to glory. We want our children and our children’s children to build upon our strengths and understanding to new and more glorious ways of living and serving their creator.

Do not be discouraged. Do not be grumpy. We must not forget that The Lord is working his purposes out in his own timing and purpose in regards to music and singing. Our job is to be thankful in all things and to press on to see a more faithful generation that will seek to reflect God’s glory through faithful living and praising our Creator in songs and hymns and spiritual songs.

Jarrod Richey currently lives in Monroe, Louisiana with his lovely wife Sarah and their four children. He is both the Director of Choral Activities and Pre-K4 through 12th grade music teacher at Geneva Academy. In addition to this, he has been on staff at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church since 2005 handling both church media and choral music responsibilities. Jarrod has recently founded Jubilate Deo Summer Music Camp in Monroe, LA that seeks to train joyful worshippers and young singers with the above goals built in to the very core of the camp. For more information on the camp visit, www.jubilatedeo.org or search Jubilate Deo Summer Music Camp on Facebook.com

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By In Scribblings

The Royal Banners Forward Go


The royal banners forward go;
The cross shines forth in mystic glow
Where He in flesh, our flesh who made,
our sentence bore, our ransom paid;

Where deep for us the spear was dyed,
Life’s torrent rushing from His side.
To wash us in that precious flood
Where mingled water flowed and blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
Amidst the nations, God, saith he,
Hath reigned and triumphed from the tree.

O Tree of beauty, Tree of light,
O Tree with royal purple dight;
Elect, on whose triumphal breast
Those holy limbs should find their rest;

On whose dear arms, so widely flung,
The weight of this world’s ransom hung
The price of humankind to pay
And spoil the spoiler of his prey.

O Cross, our one reliance, hail!
So may thy power with us avail
To give new virtue to the saint
And pardon to the penitent.

To Thee, eternal Three in One,
Let homage meet by all be done
Whom by the cross Thou dost restore,
Preserve, and govern evermore.

Written by 6th century bishop Venantius Fortunatus, translated by John M. Neale.

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By In Worship

Music Divides — If We Sing the Right Kind

What is it about music that makes it so intensely personal for us? Why is it that if I write a blog post discussing music in worship there will necessarily be people who are offended? Somehow, we see music as extremely personal and taste-based, so any attempt to question such a paradigm is taken as an attack on an individual’s taste. What if, however, we are wrong? Not only are we wrong to be offended by these questions and discussions, but we are also wrong to categorize music as a personal taste.

Many churches face questions of music. What type of music should we sing? Contemporary? Traditional hymns? Psalms? With or without instruments? Pianos and pipe organs or guitars and drums?

Many–although maybe not Kuyperian readers–will argue that contemporary music with praise bands is the better choice. It is inclusive of the young people who desire it. But is it? There are several problems with this line of argumentation.

First, while contemporary music may be inclusive of young people, something I’m not yet willing to grant, it is exclusive of everyone else. Why is it that contemporary music gets a free pass for the inclusivity argument, when it is excluding just as many people–if not more–as traditional music may? Why can’t traditional hymns and psalms be argued as the better choice because they are inclusive for everyone else?

Second, isn’t there a problem with the inclusivity argument from the beginning? Contemporary music is inclusive of the young–if it is–but only so long as it is actually contemporaneous to the young. Traditional hymns and psalms are timeless. They will always be inclusive for their particular class of listeners. Contemporary music will be inclusive for one generation and will follow that generation, until the newer, more contemporary music alienates them in favor of a new group of listeners.

Finally, it is worth questioning whether it is actually inclusive of the young. Most of the proponents of contemporary music are actually middle-aged adults who think young people like it. The young in America today, however, are starved for tradition and gravitas. They want high liturgy, good–in the objective sense–music, and rituals. If they wanted contemporary music, they wouldn’t come to church for it, they’d turn on the radio, attend a concert, or visit a club. The Roman Catholic Church may be worth taking a cue from on this point. The last three popes, each of whom are older popes, have been wildly popular with the young. It isn’t the cool and hip the young want from church, it is the transcendant, liturgical, and sacramental. The cool and the hip is what the middle-aged want.

Let’s try inclusivity. But let’s try it the right way. Let’s try it by singing music that is timeless and cross-cultural, dividing asunder the boundaries of age, race, socio-economic status, and gender.

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