If you really want to please everyone in your church, never ask people about what they think about church music. People have all kinds of passionate opinions about what churches ought to sing, how they should sing, with what instruments, and what volume everything should be. Back when contemporary songs were introduced to traditional churches “worship wars” began.
The Bible clearly teaches that God is worthy of our worship. God wants us to worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Our passions for God must match up with the truth that God has revealed in the Bible about who he is, what he has done, and even how he wants us to worship him. In other words, God isn’t interested in raw excitement with no truth, just like he doesn’t want to hear true songs sung with no heart.
The Old Testament, especially the Psalms, is filled with references to worship being accompanied by all kinds of instruments. Psalm 150 calls for an array of instruments. “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! (Ps. 150:3-6).
The New Testament doesn’t describe all of these instruments, until we find harps in the book of Revelation. Of course, the New Testament authors utilized the Old Testament, and we do find the churches exhorted to be: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:19-20). The wording of these verses makes room for instrumental music in our worship.
Music is the language of emotion. Different styles of music both reflect what is already happening in our hearts, as well as draws out fresh passions. The themes of the Bible need a variety of musical types to match the theme with the right emotions. In other words, you shouldn’t sing sad lament lyrics with a happy-clappy tune.
Our ultimate goal in life and certainly in our corporate music is the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Really, if no one in the church enjoyed the songs, but God did, we would have succeeded in our church worship—because God is the ultimate audience, not the people. Technically, though, the audience is also the secondary goal (per Eph. 5:19-20 cited above), but even that is about encouraging one-another in God, not musical enjoyment.
Certainly, the cross of Christ is the high point of the entire Bible. The cross is where Holy God poured out his righteous wrath against sinners on Jesus instead of us. Even as everything before the cross was building up to it (think about the OT animal sacrifices), everything after the cross flowed from it. We will be singing about the person and work of Jesus for eternity (Rev. 5:9-10).
Based on these principles, we should strive for God-centered, cross-centered biblical lyrics that are supported by (never overwhelmed by) a variety of instruments and styles of music. The musical accompaniment should strengthen our singing, not drown it out. The instruments should echo our hearts and motivate our hearts to tune into the true lyrics that we are singing together.
If it is more of a show on a stage than leadership in our church singing, there is a problem. If we look around and no one else is singing, there is a problem. If we tilt our heads and notice that the amps are turned up so high we can’t hear anyone else singing, there is a problem. If we like every song that is sung and every style, that is a different kind of problem, but it could indicate that some of your brothers and sisters are being neglected completely.
There are some old-fashioned songs that don’t mean much to a younger generation. But apart from the older style, they fit the criteria—biblical, God-centered, cross-centered lyrics supported by the music. We should sing some of them too, if only to serve our old-fashioned brothers and sisters. They go to heaven when they sing those songs. We should love to help them by joining the happy chorus. That same lesson applies to older believers that don’t care much for newer songs—even if they are solid lyrically. Your care for your newer fellow Christians should motivate you to expand your repertoire—sing to the Lord a new song!
Let’s do our best when we sing at church. We have a great God who is worthy of our best efforts. We have brothers and sisters who need to hear you singing that song. And you need to hear them singing that song, too. Music is a gift from the creator to his creatures. Let’s use it at church for his glory.