MWM: Teaching a new song (2 of 2)

Last Monday, I suggested that it’s possible to teach a new song in the vein of group worship.  In other words, the activity of learning a new song need not be relegated to some lesser-attended occasion seen as “instructional.”  Rather, learning something can be quite worship-filled and inspiring.  Now for a description of a methodological mode.

This method is not one that I’ve had much recent opportunity to use, but I have worked like this some in the past, and I’ve been in enough different leadership and worship and assembly situations that I believe this is both valid and viable.

The method, put simply, is to line it out.  In other words, break it up into short segments.  It’s more than segmenting, though.  It’s learning how to infuse “instructions” with exhortations to worship.  This doesn’t have to be a pedantic or overly technical activity.  Learning a song can actually be simultaneously satisfying on both emotional and spiritual levels.  It can enhance congregational esprit de corps.

img_20160307_093938_093.jpgWith a song text that’s as concise (the whole song is pictured here) and full of meaning as “We Praise Thee, God,” nothing is really sacrificed when individual lines or sub-phrases are sung separately.  Each expression can stand on its own.  (It’s a little different—easier, in a way—when using a song with more regular rhythm; then again, there is more to teach in a song longer than the one used here.)

The instructional time could go something like this (blue/bold is sung by leader; purple/bold/italicized are all-sing lines):

“Listen to the first line.  It goes like this:”

We praise Thee, God.

“Now sing it with me:”

                                We praise Thee, God.

“Great.  We can say that together with ease and with heart.  Sing it again with me:”

                                We praise Thee, God.

“Yes.  Now here’s the next line:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“This one is a little harder, but not much.  The rhythm is a lot like it would be if you simply spoke the words.  Listen again:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Now sing it with me.  Don’t worry about missing a note; just sing it to God:”

                We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“OK, good.  Some of you went up on “acknowledge,” but it actually goes up on ‘be’ instead.  Think of it like an emphasis on the fact that He is the Lord—we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.”  Here’s how it goes:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Hear how it stays on the same note until the word ‘be’?”  It’s not a big deal if someone hits the wrong note; I do that sometimes, too.  But it’s good if we try to be as ‘together’ as we can be when . . . “

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Now let’s sing it again together.  We’re saying something important directly to Him.”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Good.  Ready to put it together?  Even now, we can praise God in a way that’s pleasing to Him.  Let’s sing the first two thoughts:”

We praise Thee, God.

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Great.  Now we go higher, both musically and conceptually, expanding the praise:”

All the earth doth worship Thee.

“You can almost feel the strength of the collective praise in this line.  Together now. . . .”

All the earth doth worship Thee.

. . .

You get the idea.  One might call this “didactic worship leading,” teaching the music along with the concepts.  I would use the method next Sunday if I had the opportunity.  Can you do this in your church?  Probably . . . although you’ll have to deal with a few naysayers.  (Instead, you might deal directly with the purported leaders who are afraid of the few naysayers.)  Personally, I had the most “success” with this kind of methodology in working with a) younger Christians in b) settings that were seen as relatively informal.  This observation begs several questions:

  1. What makes a setting “formal” or “informal”?
  2. Who determines the above, and why?
  3. Why were young people more likely to experiment freely than older people?
  4. Am I even correct in asserting that worship occurred in others’ hearts in the “didactic” context?
  5. Am I right that times intended for “learning new songs” are never as well attended as other assemblies?  Am I also right, then, that learning new songs on other occasions could contribute to the further marginalization of some people?  In other words, if only those who consider themselves the “singers” of the church learn the new songs, the rest of the people are left out more decidedly.  Why do things in such a way as to divide singers from those who consider themselves non-singers?

I’ve never been sure why there seems to be an obsession with the relative newness of songs.  As is often said, “at some point, ya learned the songs ya know now.”   In other words, everything was new at some point.  Why do we need to worry about a little discomfort in learning something new?[1]  Obviously, a trained, highly literate, broadly experienced musician will be comfortable with new music, and most others are not.  Still, the leadership method and the (sense of the) setting are key factors.

I will say that some songs are more singable than others.  Some are more tuneful than others.  Some may be introduced with more ease and an instant “catch-on” factor than others.  So, some discretion is advisable when bringing new songs to the church in this way.  We shouldn’t proceed with a devil-may-care attitude about new songs.  On the other hand, with an attitude of comfortable experimentation, perhaps those who are naturally resistant to new songs may be ushered, in a worshipping mode, through new expressions into more comfort.

The idea to “Sing a new song to the Lord” was never about separating the more musical men from the boys, making the less literate feel uncomfortable.  To my knowledge, no scripture passage suggest that any times are more, or less, appropriate for singing new songs than other times.  The regular introduction of new songs can actually imbue the praising God with newness, energy, and life.

I have long wished I were part of a group characterized by comfortable, purposeful experimentation.

[1] The answer, it seems to me, lies in two areas:  a general laziness found in most people, and the over-zealousness of some leaders in pushing too many new songs at once on a group.

MWM: Teaching a new song (1 of 2)

Some years ago, I posted on an assembly in which I led worship and misjudged the familiarity of a particular song.  That particular song “flopped,” creating far more distraction than inspiration (presumably hindering the overall assembly experience for some).  The main issue on that occasion was my miscalculation—leader error—and not the mere newness of the song in question.

There are ways to predict (which I had simply ignored that one Sunday) and then to enhance familiarity.  I submit that it is possible to be both strategic and inspirational vis-à-vis the introduction of new songs.

There are better and worse methods for introducing new songs.  Let’s take a relatively simple song—the chant “We Praise Thee, God.”  This song, quite unfamiliar in recent decades, would be relatively easy to introduce—primarily because of these factors:

  • It is short.
  • Its text is meaningful (bearing repetition).


So, how to try introducing a new song like this?  I remember hearing,  years ago, that Matt (someone whose family I was acquainted with) introduced a new song, “on the spot,” with his church.  On that occasion, he hadn’t known a certain song that was suggested, but he examined it, found it valuable, and helped the congregation learn it.  I gathered that it wasn’t a very formal occasion, so Matt was able to be natural, dropping whatever “guard” he has as he agreed to try the song.

It’s good to be genuine and transparent, even if you’re not the most confident music reader.  Learn the song in advance, of course, if possible.  There’s no merit in embarrassing yourself or the congregation.  But it’s just as helpful to establish an attitude of comfortable experimentation, and making an honest mistake in front of everyone is not that big a deal.

Now, before you shut me down, either because you think your church won’t buy into anything that seems informal, or because you yourself find some level of experimentation irreverent, consider this:

A sincere heart learning to worship God, faltering through a new expression, is just as pleasing to God as a sincere heart who knows the song already, singing “perfectly.” 

Maybe more pleasing!

Next Monday—a suggested method 

Expansion teams and new songs

I was thinking, a couple months ago, as the major league baseball season was getting off the ground, that I can no longer name all the teams and their respective divisions.  I’m a trifled saddened and embarrassed about this, because it was so easy for me to do this when I was a teenager.

But then there were expansion teams.  New stuff, you know.

When I was of Little League, baseball-craze age, there wasn’t any expansion going on.  It was odd to me when the Blue Jays and Mariners later gained status as major league teamlb_logoms.  Who were these upstarts, and why did anyone think they had a right to exist alongside the tried-and-true teams like the Dodgers and Cardinals and (cough) Yankees and Reds and Cubs and Red Sox?  And more teams came along later. . . .

Too many teams, if you ask me.  Things were good enough as they were.  Leave well enough alone.  24 teams just felt right.  Biblical, even.  Two even divisions of 12 in each league.  Don’t try to bring something new into a good system.

Expansion teams would surely fail.

But expansion has continued, sort of.  Changes have definitely continued, and I can no longer name the 30 major league teams that compete in the two leagues today.  It makes me uncomfortable.

But c’mon — it’s only baseball.  What’s the big deal with some new teams?  Might keep things lively.

~ ~ ~

New songs are not universally rejected, but nearly so, in most traditional churches.  The best reaction one can hope for in most pew-sitters, upon the introduction of a new song, is passivity.  The worst, and more likely, is a harumphing “too many new songs, if you ask me.”newsongincipit

Surely it would have been much better to keep things as they were.  Leave well enough alone.  24 songs — a “biblical” month’s worth, almost — probably felt right to many “fans.”  Don’t try to introduce new songs.

This kind of expansion will surely fail.

But changes and additions have continued, and I can no longer name the hymnals or even the software packages in use in churches of my stripe today.  I certainly don’t know all the arrangers and song writers.  It makes some people uncomfortable to deal with all the expansion.

But c’mon, people — it’s only some new songs.  What’s the big deal?¹  Might keep things lively.


¹ If you want me to sing new songs, you had better provide music notation.  (Don’t ask me to do that with words only.)  I’m glad for new songs if I’m able to sing them.

From old correspondence, on “new” songs (3)

Referring to the request for feedback published here, I share now my father’s earlier, much more succinct response to the campus minister’s inquiries:

Having worshiped with brothers & sisters in over 40 states, with focus on worship (especially in song) in Colorado, Nebraska, and Delaware, I am very much interested in your attempt as outlined above. Just need to have some of the terminology dealt with initially.  First, what do you mean by “worship” songs?  Where would “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life,” “He Bore It All,” “I Am Mine No More,” and “Now Thank We All Our God” fit–if they fit?  Then, what is a “new” song?  An “old” song?  (Is date written the determining factor? Musical style? Congregational familiarity with it?)

Without having your answers, I could still be fairly confident in saying that the “one thing” you mention would include “heaven”–yet maybe not in the way you mean.  We have a plethora of songs about the eternal home or ones that deal with some aspect of it, but most of these don’t have “worship” embedded within them and don’t do an effective job of drawing worshipers to worship.

Here’s trusting that your attempt to improve our assembly times will glorify the Father and will help all of us learn better how to adore Him. This “home improvement” project will take a lifetime and will never produce a finished structure, but your efforts may help us all do a better job of looking and reaching heavenward, “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

Because of the One we revere,

Gerald Casey

From old correspondence, on “new” songs (2)

Referring to the request for feedback published here, I share now the bulk of my response, with only a couple of omissions for sake of relevancy.

I greatly empathize with your goals, having led and worshipped in Delaware, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, and Colorado.  I’m fairly well in touch with “contemporary” music and also hold dear the richness of true hymns (those that address Deity with reverence, not just the “old songs”).

Like my father, I also would encourage you to define some terms such as “old songs” and “contemporary,” if and where you use the terms.  A new song to our church may not be new to the E-Free church 3 miles away; the same song will be “old” to our church in 5 years, though another church may not hear it for 20 more years.  Is “Jesus Is Lord” a contemporary song?  “Here I Am To Worship”?  “Holy, Holy, Holy” — which may have a new lyric line or chorus that’s made it popular since Matt Redman or Michael W. Smith recorded it?  I find that the term “old song” means something slightly different, in terms of chronology, to just about every person who uses it.

Also, the words “worship” and “praise” delineate in one way for some, almost in the opposite for others, and are synonymous for yet others.  Some seem to have very little idea that not everything we do in the assembly is worship (nor should it be), or that worship can and should be an activity of believers outside of the assembly.

So on to your questions (and I will basically deal with only one), realizing that the time for your data collection has probably passed by now:

> What is that one thing?  (ie. heaven, forgiveness, creation, etc.)

Since you mentioned it, I don’t think we’ve had very many creation-oriented praise songs written recently.  A wonderful song by Chris Rice comes to mind — I think it was just called “Hallelujahs.”  It describes nature scenes and concludes each thought with “and my soul wells up with hallelujahs.”  Moving.  But it’s not really singable a cappella.  “How Great Thou Art” fits the bill and continues to be sung by most churches periodically, but we need more of these types.

Speaking in terms of songs that have been written in the last, say, 10 or 15 years, we might need fewer songs that use cliché expressions — “lift our voice(s),” “lift up the name of Jesus,” and “here in Your presence,” for example, and anything that rhymes with the word “free” (a pet peeve of mine, though I think I’ve even used that rhyme in my own writing a time or two).  🙂  Then again, there are phrases that bear repeating over and over again, such as “holy, holy, holy” and “we bow down.”

Something that strikes me as fairly unique is expressing to God that we “believe in Him.”  An Amy Grant song did that 10-12 years ago, and there’s the gospel-song chorus “But we believe Thy footsteps trod its streets and plains, Thou Son of God….”  But to say to God, “We believe in You.  We accept that You created the world.  We worship You” is a great thing, and perhaps especially in this age.

I’m not currently leading musically, except, for instance, in the group we hosted in our home for worship last month.  But I am a constant observer (as well as participant!), and I’d like to observe this, while I’m expressing thoughts:  In a cappella churches that use “contemporary” music, it seems that there must be a concerted effort to teach harmony.  (And Ken Young’s arrangements should definitely not be the standard.  He’s got a great heart, but he doesn’t know how to arrange.)  The level of musical literacy is clearly decreasing.  Not that music is the end; it’s only one means of worshipping.  But in a fellowship that emphasizes singing so much, churches that don’t offer printed or projected music will soon not hear harmony from the pews.  They either need to make harmony available, or give up and use instruments.  Melody-only music will not hold people’s interest very long, no matter how “hip” the songs are.

Another pitfall is what I’ll call the “agitated style” of worship leading.  Typically, this problem exists in a cappella churches that have suffered in the past from funereal tempos that pervaded all songs and styles.  You know the type:  “O Happy Day” and “Christ the Lord Is Ris’n Today” were sung at the same tempo as “Abide with Me” and “When My Love To Christ Grows Weak” — all at about 60 beats per minute.  These churches live in comatose states for years, and then some fresh blood comes in to try to save the day.  Now many songs are not only too fast, but beats are skipped at the end of each phrase in an effort to breathe some life into things.  No one can catch a breath, and there is little feeling of congregational unity.  What results is often an annoying lack of rhythm — all in the name of enthusiasm and excitement that are well intended but out of balance.

It’s ironic that if this generation’s music is anything, it’s rhythmically oriented, but when contemporary songs are imported into an a cappella setting, the rhythm suffers so that no one can feel the beat anymore.  Part of the problem is the longer notes that are, in the original versions, supported by non-vocal musical material.  In a non-instrumental setting, it feels like forever to hold a whole note tied to a half note in the next measure.  Add to this the apparent shyness of some modern worship leaders about using their hands to help keep the beat and keep the congregation together — I know, it feels “old-school” to beat time — but the problem is made worse when beats are skipped and no one can predict when the leader is going to sing the next note because there are no visual cues, either.

I feel very strong about quality and depth in lyrics.  For 10 years or more I have been a proponent of newer songs, but I have tried to be careful about injecting a repertoire with a syringe full of all-new songs gathered simply because of their newness.  Yes, I agree:  God wants new songs!  Newness is good.  But not all songs that are written are worthwhile just because they’re new.  Neither does association with a performing artist, a movement, or a denomination guarantee quality.  I particularly get tired of Vineyard songs.  After one or two, they all sound the same.  It would help if they weren’t all in the keys of D and G—keys particularly friendly to the average or below-average guitar player.  🙂

What do we need more of?  I think you’re on the right track just by asking the question.  We need to give thought to such facets as the uniqueness of the thoughts in the given song.  We need more worshipful communion songs, for instance, but the thoughts need to add something to what we already have.  I surveyed 5 or 6 CofC hymnals 10 years ago and tabulated the topical themes of songs (e.g., <Songs of Faith and Praise> might have had 26% songs addressed worshipfully to the Father, while <Songs of the Church> only had 4% of the same category), but I doubt those results would be of interest to you now.

From old correspondence, on “new” songs

A staff minister in Colorado sent out a “survey” about new songs several years back.  I received it third-hand.  My dad wrote in reply to this youth minister, and I wrote a few weeks later.  Neither of us ever received a reply.

                I am currently serving as campus minister with the _______ Church.  I’m doing a small survey on the topic of worship songs, and I would be very grateful if you could take a few moments to respond with your feedback.

                I am blown away by the sheer number of times the psamist proclaims “sing a new song” in his lyrics.  New songs reveal the dynamic, growing nature of our faith, and can challenge, inspire, and simply provide a new way to celebrate.  But often, I feel that we either sing new songs simply because they’re new, without giving much though to what the songs communicate.  Or we just sing mostly old songs.  As a songwriter, worship leader, and growing follower of Jesus, I believe in a balance of not forgetting the old, but striving towards new (and even improved) expressions of our faith in songs.  What this requires is a dedicated effort by songwriters, leaders, and everyone else, to create songs that are meaningful, that lyrically address relevant issues/emotions, and that display musical excellence.  This is especially needed in many of our communities where singing a cappella, or mixing instruments and the a cappella singing style presents unique challenges, but also profound opportunities for innovation.

                So for now, I am trying to find out what kinds of worship songs we need more of in our worship gatherings.  I know you’ve probably had the feeling of wanting to sing or lead a song that communicates a certain feeling or idea, but you didn’t know of any or many songs that communicate that one thing.  So my question is:

    • What is that one thing?  (i.e., heaven, forgiveness, creation, etc.)
    • What kind of songs do we need more of?
    • Less of?
    • What are we missing?
    • What should we be communicating to God and each other in our corporate times of singing?

                 I would appreciate your feedback on any of these questions, and for that matter on any other relevant ideas or issues that relate to this discussion.  I plan to compile the information I receive and write it up in article form, so let me know if you’d like to read that when it’s done.  If you wish to be placed on an email list that will serve as a discussion forum for these issues, just let me know.  Also, please forward this to anyone you think might be interested in this discussion.  Thanks so much for your time!  May God be glorified and be given the very best we have to give!

What are your thoughts on the above?

As usual, I’m more interested in the content than in the style, and for that reason above others, I appreciate this guy’s questions:  they ask what we are saying (or missing) not how we are saying it.  In the next installments, I will share my own reply and then my father’s.

New songs, and Harold Best on singing (5)

This “Monday Music” blogpost will deal more with the concepts than specific song lyrics, although I’ll also include some of the latter.

Singing is not an option for the Christian.  No one is excused.  Vocal skill is not a criterion.  (Harold Best, Unceasing Worship, 145)

A thousand times, yes.  I cannot relate to the feelings of those who can’t match pitches and have no sense of musical confluence whatsoever.  But I can’t believe that God wants anyone to exclude himself from singing.  I’ve seen way too many saints disinterested in the experience.  Perhaps this has not been entirely the fault of these individuals.  Churches, and leaders within churches, need to do all we can to encourage all to sing.

We are to sing “to the Lord”  These three simple words … make it clear that singing is above all an act of worship, an offering to the Lord and not to people.  …  Performers should understand that their performance is directed to God while people listen in, not the opposite.  …

We can sing a truly new song only once, and thereafter we repeat it. …  Singing a song newly means that we must sing the thousdandth repetition as if for the first time. (145‑6)

I spent a few years in churches in which  “The New Song” was a popular choice.  I always thought it was rather a shallow attraction that caused folks to shoot up their hands and beg for that song on special singing nights.  The song is in my opinion ill-conceived, and it gratuitously includes musical elements designed to tickle the fancy, as opposed to raising the level of consciousness of God or even of heaven.  Furthermore, “The New Song” was only about singing a new song, about singing to God.  Its text is in this regard secondary–it speaks of something but doesn’t actually do that something.  There are better expressions:

“Sing a new song to the Lord; praise His name, for the Lord is good”

“Let men their songs employ”

“Sing on, ye joyful pilgrims”

“Sing praise to God who reigns above, the God of all creation”

“Sing ‘alleluia’ to the Lord”

“Sing the wondrous love of Jesus”

“Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb”

“Sing with all the sons of glory–sing the resurrection song”

~ ~ ~

If you’re interested in further thoughts on new congregational songs, please read this post. And if there are helpful ideas on the teaching of new congregational songs, please share them!

Foreword to Cedars Sings

When productively reorganizing in various areas of life, I came upon the following — from the hymnal supplement in my old church. I thought it was worthy of reprinting here, and I’d particularly draw your attention to the paragraph in bold, and the comment of William Temple, 4 paragraphs below that.

Christians sing!  Christians have always sung and will continue to sing. Christianity is the world’s singing religion.

The significance of the vibrant singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs cannot be overstated. Song is to the follower of God what compass is to the mariner or staff is to the shepherd. Hear Paul and Silas at midnight in their inner prison cell. Hear David singing as he considers God’s heavens or his own sin.

We first began to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from Cedars Sings in 1989. This supplementary book provided us an opportunity to worship the Lord through some new songs that brought freshness to our worship and through some favorites no longer available in our new hymnal. Four years later, we doubled the number of selections in this book.

Now we begin the 21st century by adding nearly one hundred new songs and removing a few we were not using. We have also enlarged the page size to improve readability and have added some devotional readings and a topical index. All these changes are insignificant, however, unless they result in better opportunities to sing to the Lord and to one another — unless through them we grow in our attempts to make melody in our hearts.

There is a wealth of new hymns and songs in Cedars Sings II. When combined with the best of the songs in the former version of the supplement and with the greater number of time-tested selections in Great Songs of the Church, Revised, we have one of the finest existing collections of material for worship in song. All members — young, old, and in between — will find a rich variety of avenues for prayer, praise, and exhortation.

However, the importance of our singing lies not so much in the songs themselves as in the hearts of Christians — hearts that are less obscure during the singing. It has been said that a perceptive Christian can evaluate with some degree of accuracy the general spiritual state of a congregation by observing its worship in song.

Mature Christians, with their song, proclaim their genuine allegiance to and adoration of the Lord! Less mature Christians often betray an incompleteness by lack of enthusiasm for singing and even a reluctance to participate fully in this unique worship expression — the only one, by God’s design, through which each person has consistent opportunity to participate in audible union with other worshippers.

A central vision of heaven is one in which we will be continually singing praises to our Lord. In this revised Cedars Sings we have added more great songs of praise and worship that we hope will inspire us all to a higher level of devotion to our God and Savior in anticipation of that which is to come.

Perhaps we should also remind ourselves of God’s presence now in our assemblies. If we could see the Lord present among us, all our worship would become more intentional. If the Christ stood before us, we would bend our knees without asking and sing heartily.

During World War II, William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, urged the English people to worship, expressing what he meant by the term: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

When we worship, we are preoccupied with God, totally absorbed in Him. Passionately giving our attention to Him, we are possessed by the One we worship.

May we be possessed by thoughts of our God, and may we continually offer up a worthy sacrifice of praise to Him (Hebrews 13:15) as we teach and admonish one another to be more effective parts of His body (Colossians 3:16).

In humble adoration we dedicate this song book to Almighty God — Source of all song, Divine Poem, and Perfect Harmony of all truth, beauty, and love.  And we further commit this book to our service here, with a renewed passion to walk in the ways of the Father enthroned on high, awed by His glory and majesty.

– Brian Casey, for the Cedars Supplement Committee: Gerald and Bettye Casey, Ed and Pat Greenwood, Brian Casey (with credit to Robert G. Neil, Karen B. Mains, Fernando Ortega, and Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.)

On new songs

May, or must, a church use new songs? Songs written by and for the current generation?

New songs may in truth speak of God’s work today, but I sometimes feel the need to probe what it is, really, that a contemporary songwriter is speaking of. These really aren’t the days of Elijah or Ezekiel, for instance, and though those expressions are taken somewhat as poetic extrapolations, a lot of us sing that song without believing that those particular kinds of work of God are going on presently. Further: personal, adoring worship songs may well be authentic, but they also may be mere cookie-cutter facsimiles of the last song that appealed to the masses, was recorded, and sold thousands of copies.

Imagery and cultural “with-it-ness” are important, and should be considered. The CofC repertoire, for instance, should certainly be expanded beyond the imagery of the 1800s and early-1900s examples that fill 90% of our assemblies’ song lists. For me, expanding means inclusive growth on both chronological ends: “Shepherd of Tender Youth” (Clement of Alexandria, from ca. 3rd century A.D.) has value, and so does Martin Luther, and so does Fanny Crosby, and so does Twila Paris, and so does Matt Redman. (I’m not so sure about Stamps-Baxter and the Gaithers, but that’s just my opinion. If I’m thorough, I would probably have to admit that there is as much worthy content in a few Gaither or Stamps songs than in some other songs whose musical styles don’t offend my aesthetic sensibilities.) Although I write, arrange, and lead new songs, I propose that it is not newness that is as significant as content.

The language of lighthouses and reapers and lifelines and such is definitely not my heart language. And the language of the King James era, or even of the early 1900s, is not mine, either. The question of imagery, though, begs the question of the use of scripture, or scriptural language, in songs. Not all scriptural language uses imagery with which our society is familiar. Should we ignore such passages and their concepts in writing our music today? It has been well suggested that Christians’ theology is more evident in the music of the church than in the sermons. Balance and scriptural moorings are of high significance in both!

How important is it for each generation to have its own songs? Well, it strikes me that importance to a generation is different from importance for a generation. It’s probably more important to this generation than to most older ones. Something about this one — and here, I speak not necessarily of a single, identified generation of 20-years-or-so, such as “GenX,” but of a great bunch of us breathing in this eon — seems to demand more attention than others. We’re a self-centered lot.

But back to the question … how important is it for all generations to have their own songs? I’d probably give it a 9 on a 14-point scale. It’s good to validate worthy creations in our time by using them, side-by-side, with more time-tested material. People can survive spiritually without fresh musical voices, but perhaps not all will thrive. Alongside this guess, I would suggest that it is just as important to connect with other generations’ songs, creating a deeper, broader repertory. For one generation to isolate itself, as though only its creations are significant, would seem self-centered.

A related area that deserves thought is the ubiquity of contemporary songwriters. I, for one, can’t examine the large numbers of contemporary songs and songwriters and immediately attribute the numbers to a move of God among us. Computer software and the omnipresence of guitars (along with people who can strum 4 or 5 chords and read “tab”) are two factors that have led to the outpouring of new songs in the last couple of decades. But not all these songs are outpourings of God. Some are just outpourings of the computer processor. Aside: I fear the overuse of the word “anointed” to describe worship leaders and songwriters these days. I think “anointed” is a synonym for “cool” or “has charisma” or “last year, some company recorded a CD with his music on it.”

If we give a song credence solely because of how new it is, or how cool it seems, we would appear shallow. Equally troublesome to me is appealing to familiarity as the primary criterion for whether a song should be sung in church. If we are constantly constrained by fear of the new or less known, we are impoverished. How many times over the years have I wondered whether this or that song would “work” on a Sunday morning, because we haven’t sung it before, or at least not for a year or more … and who is going to get upset if we use this or that new song? This is the concern of those of us who value congregational music and don’t typically have select groups that perform songs for everyone else. (Readers who have choirs and/or worship bands won’t share the concern, to the same degree.) It’s been impressed upon me that new songs should be introduced at times other than Sunday mornings. I’ve swallowed this, but I’m not sure why. Why isn’t Sunday morning the perfect time to sing a new song to the Lord?

I do think using new songs is important. It’s not the only thing, but it’s important.