Church Life
Shane Johnson

3 Struggles with Music in the Church

It is difficult to talk about music in the assemblies, I think, for three reasons:

  1. People have strong convictions/preferences on this subject
  2. People do not understand each other when they talk about this subject
  3. There is no clear indication in the Scriptures concerning this subject

1. People have strong convictions and preferences regarding music

Some were raised singing only hymns, or in churches with parents who strongly believed in singing hymns only, and possibly “choruses”.  Understandably, their convictions are strong.  But some who have children entering their teen or late teen years are deeply convicted to keep the music at our churches meaningful and relevant to their children.

After all, we do want to reach and keep the next generation!  Music doesn’t need to be a stumbling block. It’s also many adults who have been listening to contemporary Christian music that this applies to as well.

Praise through music

Raised with contemporary Christian music, teens and young adults (myself included) are praising the Lord God through their own style of music.  Regardless of what our preference of style is, they think it is good and it resonates with their souls.

What are we to do, then?  It hurts the discussion to tell them contemporary music, which fills their IPods, Youtube searches and car radios, is a tool of the devil (which it is not).

2. Misunderstanding about music

When a young person speaks of contemporary worship music some older ones think, “These kids want to have a rock concert in the church!”, or worse, “they want rap music!”  One sees a few modern songs in the church as a sign of relevance and modernity, but the other sees them as a Trojan horse brought in to take over the church.

Where one finds meaningful expression in the medium they prefer, the other finds irrelevance or triviality.  The reason we often disagree on music is because we don’t understand what the other person, or demographic, is saying.  Quite frankly, we suspect the worst.

Viewing music in the worst possible light

Some older people tend to view the contemporary music movement in the worst light possible, poking fun at the praise songs which sing the same lines over and over and over again (which many young people dislike as well).

In actuality, some contemporary Christian music is already loved and cherished by both old and young.  Songs such “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” and “In Christ Alone” have been tastefully used in the some assemblies for years.

A suggested solution

Just as we have selected certain hymn-books that hold to truth, we should select certain songs from contemporary styles as well.  In this way, we can enjoy songs from traditional AND contemporary genres.

Some say contemporary songs are empty and assume that hymns are not.  But let’s be honest.  There are a thousand hymns that are full of ridiculous fluff or full of doctrinal errors.  Most of these, thankfully, have not made it into our current hymn-books.  They have been wisely edited out.

Using wisdom in selecting songs

Let’s do the same with contemporary songs.  Let us not ban them, condemn them or be afraid of them but examine each one and embrace only those that honour our Lord Jesus Christ.  I trust the elders of each assembly are capable of approving a certain selection of contemporary songs from the myriad of pieces available today.  If  there is a problem with a song being asked for, meet together and talk about it.  Music doesn’t need to divide us.

3. There are no clear scriptures concerning music

If there is any New Testament scripture regarding this subject it is one that calls for a variety of music, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph.5:19).  To me that covers the whole spectrum from singing scripture only (psalms) to hymnology (hymns) and spiritual songs (which covers everything else).

Through a variety of music we learn to value and validate one another’s preferences.  Our young people will learn to appreciate the heritage of our hymn-books, and the older generation will learn that there are some very good contemporary songs available as well.

Learning something new

Some older people say, “But the new music has a difficult lilt and is hard to follow”.  Good point.  But have you ever thought that young people might think the same about our precious hymns?

They may not find the tunes hard to sing but they may find the words difficult and out-of-touch with today’s generation.  It’s personal to each one of us.

Showing grace to all

When we include both styles of music in our assemblies, not forbidding or speaking ill of either style, we are showing grace to our brothers and sisters, “in honour giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10, NKJV).

In essence, if we use this blend of traditional and contemporary, we are saying to one another “you’re tastes and preferences matter to me, and I will try to enjoy your music just as much as you are trying to respect and enjoy mine.”

I am not saying that you have to like contemporary music.  But I am saying that I personally like contemporary music and that I am a part of your assembly.  You can ignore my tastes and tell me they are wrong or you can try to understand my preferences in an effort to maintain the unity of the assembly of believers.  And I will do the same for you.

Shane Johnson


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    We certainly need balance when it comes to our music. I did find it interesting though, when a while back I attended a conference with teaching for the “younger” believers. Since I am nearly 70 years young, I attended with another brother. While the “worship team” led us in singing, I noticed hardly anyone was actually singing and there was a large crowd there. ( Most of the songs were the 7/11 type.) The last piece to be sung was a well know old hymn and suddenly I thought I had reached the courts of heaven as the whole place burst out in song. Several people mentioned to me afterwards, (I did not know these folks, I had not been there before,) that it was so good to sing something with real meaning. Likely those responsible for the music should take note at the response of those present, it would help in their choice of hymns/spiritual songs that all can enter into and enjoy since music really does play a big part in our lives.


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    I grew up in an assembly. I am now a worship leader at a church on a secular university campus. I love what you wrote here, Shane! So balanced. I appreciate the older songs and was happy to bring more songs from the Getty’s when I came back from a trip to Northern Ireland. It’s funny because worship leading is not necessarily something we see in the Bible, but it’s happening in modern day churches because of a need. I think right now, people are looking for someone to lead them into an intimate place with God through worship, and that is ok. I just sing and pray to lead others in the church out of my own experience with the Lord. They just come along if they need that guidance. Eventually there probably won’t be a need for worship leading like there is now.


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    Three thoughts.
    1. If a hymnal representing 1000 years contains 500 hymns, that’s about one every two years. Over the long run, that seems to be about right. Try several, but expect about one every two years actually to stay around. Clearly, that indicates that we should be trying new music. But we should also be prepared for the new music we try to go by the wayside. The question, then, is what ratio of our corporate song service should be new? And what standards should we use to decide what we try, and when a song has been given a fair trial and found wanting. There are some songs that are a blast to sing, but are doctrinally awful…even annoying (such as any chorus that contains the words, “and now I am happy all the day”). There are some doctrinally solid songs that are almost unsingable. So, how do we decide?

    2. The old standby passages in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 aren’t really making a very strong case, since neither context is about corporate singing (or probably even corporate anything). Both are about a lifestyle of fellowship with the Lord. So, clearly we are to sing to ourselves and to the Lord. But can we really apply that to how we should use music when we meet together. It really comes down to preference, doesn’t it?

    3. You point out that the scriptures give almost no clear direction. That could mean we can do whatever feels right. We’re certainly not forbidden. And for me, singing is good. Singing together. Singing separately. Singing all sorts of songs. But to the Holy Spirit (in inspiring the scripture) it really doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Yet, brother, you say that there are strong convictions about it among the Lord’s people. My question is, should we have strong convictions (one way or another) about a topic which seems to be so unimportant to the Lord? I tend to love music. I’m not sure that’s a spiritual thing one way or the other.


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      Hi James, good points. Some responses…

      1. We can decide based on a few factors. What works for the group as far as a tune goes. It usually becomes clear fairly quickly if a song is singable by a group. The words are another factor. I don’t mind some fluff as long as there is also substance. Songs that have wrong teaching or all fluff should be pitched out.

      2. Just curious about your statement “So, clearly we are to sing to ourselves and to the Lord.” How do you reconcile that view with “speaking to one another…”. It seems clearer to me that you need at least one other person to make Eph 5:19 work.

      3. I don’t think this topic is as easy as you make it seem. There are some verses that, to me, make it clear we are to be in the practice of corporate praise and singing. This brings about conviction and since the Spirit is leading all of us then maybe the Spirit thinks it’s a big deal too.

      At the very least it’s a topic that needs more discussion in the assemblies since as Shane points out it is a source of much division.


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        I am a Millennial in an assembly, so I understand the need for this conversation. I absolutely believe the Holy Spirit is moving in brothers and sisters today to write new music, as even my own sister writes songs for our assembly and I know of nearby assemblies that also have brothers/sisters writing new songs for their church, and many times we swap these new songs between churches. I think you are right, James, that the Holy Spirit is leading Christians to write new music throughout history, including the past 30 years and today. So, for me, I see it as a blessing from the Lord to bring in new *doctrinally sound and Christ-honoring* songs.

        I may be an oddball for a Millennial, but I actually LOVE the hymns and the depth of the words (but I also love reading 19th century Christian & Contemporary authors, so maybe I’m used to the “language”?). However, I would love to see young people writing new tunes to those old words! It breathes NEW life into the words of those hymns, and sheds the old-fashioned 19th century tunes to bring in the new.

        Also, James, what’s wrong with “and now I am happy all the day”? Of course we all have tough days, but that would describe many days for me, because of the joy of the Lord in my life!! Seriously, I could die happy right now and be so thrilled to finally be face to face with my Lord 🙂


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          HA! Thanks for the comment, sister. I think of songs like Rock of Ages (which makes direct reference to the sin offering from Leviticus, and does so artfully so that it does not make it awkward to sing). Or, “I hear the words of love,” which makes direct (and beautiful) reference to the peace offering.

          I believe there are songs being written today that are both musical and doctrinal. And some of them will survive the test of time. Most probably won’t.

          “And now I am happy all the day” is kind of a personal/inside joke. To me, the mashup between “Alas and did my savior bleed and did my soverign die” and “and now I am happy all the day” is at best a clunker of two thoughts. “Jesus suffered and died because I am a wicked sinner. Yay!”

          But I’m sure you have other turns of phrase that you find lightweight or off base. So, feel free to substitute yours for mine, if it enhances our fellowship.

          I’d love to hear some of those songs you mentioned. Why don’t you come to the Parenthesis conference this coming May 27-29 in North Carolina. Bring some of your millennial friends. We’ll sing those songs together.

          Sorry for the commercial, Crawford. Hard to resist.


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        1. Yeah.

        2. Bust out your concordance and look up Eph. 5:19. I’m pretty sure the verb that is there translated “one another” is almost always translated “yourselves” elsewhere. I know that’s the case in Colossians (just taught that chapter).

        3. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any of those New Testament references, brother. But no matter. The point is that is should not divide us. And if it does divide us, it might be that we give it more significance than the Lord does. Anyone who would separate because he/she doesn’t like the songs is sort of missing the point. And anyone who would allow a weaker brother to walk away rather than budging on music is wrong as well.


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