Last week, my wife and I attended the Sing! Getty Music Worship Conference in Nashville. Little did we know, conversations we had during our travel to the conference would actually reflect a common theme we heard from almost everyone there.
It all started before we left home, when as we listened to the local contemporary Christian radio station, we noticed that in three songs in a row, not a single one mentioned the names of Jesus, Christ, or God. Though they implied who they were talking about, the language was very vague. Which prompted me to ask the question: If we listened to Christian music without our Christian worldview glasses on, would the songs still point to Jesus?
So we started doing that very thing. We listened with an effort to not read our Christian worldview into the lyrics. We heard one song that could have been about a boy the singer liked, and another one sung by a guy that could have been for a girl. And a third that only mentioned the “king.” But it doesn’t matter if the song talks about the “king” being alive, if the listener is not a believer the song might as well be about Elvis faking his own death.
Before we left South Carolina, we were so thoroughly disgusted and discouraged by the state of popular Christian music, that we just turned it all off.
As I mentioned above, this very issue proved to be a common concern at the conference. Held in the Opryland Resort, fifteen thousand people all seemed to say the same thing – at least the speakers, musicians, and vendors we interacted with did: We are not satisfied with the state of Christian music today.
Christian songwriter Stuart Townend, cowriter of In Christ Alone, said that we need more theological rich worship songs in our churches.
Singer songwriter Keith Getty said we need new songs of faith that can become traditions of truth, sung by this generation and passed on to the next.
Irish artist and sculptor Ross Wilson said we can’t just add Jesus and stir. We have to be higher than that because of who we’re doing it for.
Christian hip-hop artist Trip Lee said we can’t give creatives a pass on theology and discipleship, to the detriment of their souls.
If this conversation sounds familiar, it’s because just a few weeks ago this very thing made its way around social media. At the beginning of August, Marty Sampson, a worship leader with Hillsong United and co-writer of Oceans, announced that he was falling away from the faith. Which prompted a response from John Cooper, lead singer of the Christian rock band Skillet to respond with some profound wisdom on the subject. Here’s John Cooper in his own words:
“We are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word… It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth… I implore you, please please in your search for relevancy for the gospel, let us NOT find creative ways to shape God’s word into the image of our culture by stifling inconvenient truths, but rather let us hold on even tighter to the anchor of the living Word of God. For He changes NOT.”
The consensus from all the conference speakers and vendors was that Christian music has become increasingly wide and shallow. Wide, in that it has become more vague in order to not offend someone with politically incorrect truths; and shallow, in that the theology represented is infantile at best.
Fifteen thousand people gathered at the Sing! Conference to express their hunger for just the opposite. Songs can teach Biblical truths in a way that sticks faster and longer that sermons. Theologically sound sermons and sound Biblical teaching are essential to the growth of our faith, but how many people remember last week’s sermon versus those who can sing word-for-word the popular Christian song of the week?
The church, the world-wide church, needs to take seriously the impact songs have on us, our children, and our grandchildren. Just because they’re fun and catchy to sing, doesn’t make them spiritually beneficial. Those bright colored boxes on the cereal aisle, promising cool toys and tasty experiences, aren’t exactly healthy. Likewise, we should avoid Fruit Loop worship.
Neither should a theologically-rich worship song be boring. When God creates, he creates with truth, beauty, and function. When we create, we should do the same: songs full of Biblical truth, beautiful to sing, that function as integral parts of our worship and discipleship.
Being created in the image of God, the ultimate creator, we exercise God’s image in us when we create. Christians, alone in all the world, have the birthright to be the greatest creators on the planet. The church should expect nothing less, and stop being satisfied with Christian creatives who specialize in mediocrity.
In all fairness, I see a movement in the church today in the right direction. More and more Christian creatives are making their art narrow and deep, and rejecting the norm of wide and shallow. More and more are working hard to create with excellence, to the glory of God and the building up of the church. I believe we are on the cusp of a worship renaissance in the church, long over-due, where we will fill our sanctuaries once again with new songs of faith, full of rich theology and beautiful melodies. These will be the songs our children will remember and teach to their children. When you hear them, cling to them, and just look past those other songs that could be about a boy, or girl, or even Elvis.
Afterall, fifteen thousand worship leaders, pastors, and musicians gathered in one place, seemingly with the same concern on their hearts. And I don’t believe that was coincidence. Not one second.