“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

Isn’t worship, especially worship music, supposed to be an art form? Shouldn’t it be expressive and sometimes unruly? Do you ever wish that modern worship writers would stop following a formula that works and go back to what made them interesting to begin with: their creativity? If you’re like me, then you long for that. You long to find ways to sing a new song to the Lord. If we believe that worship is an art form and a way to be self-expressive to the Lord then we need to cast out anything uninspired or that which is trying to only earn a wage. May we look for music that ignites passion within us for the Holy Spirit and his working.

The word hymn is derived from the greek word hymnos which means songs of praise. We know that David wrote hymns recorded in the Old Testament. Jesus and his disciples sang popular hymns of their day. As the hymn evolved, it’s main language of greek was translated into Latin by monks and sung as chants. In the 16th century Martin Luther began writing hymns that were based upon biblical principles rather than direct quotes from scripture. They were also written in the common language of the people. In his case German.

In the early 18th century Charles Wesley developed songs that were less about biblical principle and more about touching the creative emotion and salvation experience that people encounter when they meet Jesus. This period is known for so many of the hymns we still sing today. Many of them we sing in December as Christmas carols.

You will notice in many of the great hymns struggle being overcome by the Blood of the Lamb. There are songs about fighting against the arrows of darkness. Hymns of facing adversity head on and being an unrelenting advocate for The Way. Very few (and if you can find some please forward them along) are about sitting in the lap of Jesus or that all we need is love. No, these hymns were serious, to the point and down to business.

So, why are some of our popular songs today so wimpy? And, why do so many of them sound the same? One answer is easy: because once a formula that sells, or is popular, derived imitation is the best way to recreate that first ingenuity. It’s not wrong, it’s just not interesting [to me]. However, when you hear a new worship song that doesn’t fit the normal sound, but touches your heart in deep ways you may be moved. I honestly believe it is because worship music is supposed to be an art form. Being so, we are commanded to put a new song in our mouths.

When you hear the backstory of some of the songs that are full of real life, doesn’t it usually make you want to sing the song with more of your own guts. Usually those songs are written from people who have real struggles that the Lord is bringing them through. In doing so, they write. They create. I lean into the songs of those type of worship writers.

So, should you rid your church’s catalog of all the formula-driven, feel good worship songs? Maybe? No, you shouldn’t. However, you should always take your responsibility of putting words on people’s lips wisely. You’ve been called to a position of pastoring so pastor. Make sure that each song you employ can be substantiated by the Word of God. You should also strongly determine that the song is moving your church forward. May the song now just be dumped on the pile of other songs that sound just like it. Let each new addition help promote the season of life that your church is going through.

Look at what songs were most popularly used in worship across the last 5 decades: 70’s songs like Give Thanks, 80’s Lord I Lift Your Name On High, 90’s Trading My Sorrows, 2000’s How He Loves, 2010’s Oceans. In each case, we look back and think the tunes are outdated or overdone (maybe less so the songs from the last few years, because we are so close to their creation). In all cases these songs were impressively innovative for their time. We have to keep pressing on and finding new melodies, new hooks and new ways to engage the body, soul and spirit.

Worshiping Jesus should be about engaging all parts of the brain. Most of us can come to him logically, but we also need to be encouraged to bring Jesus an offering from the right side of our brains, which thinks more emotively. Try to choose songs and presentations that aren’t always black and white, but colorful and full of life. This is especially true if you are prone to always choosing songs that “work”. Be daring and trust the Holy Spirit’s leading. You can’t get to a place you’ve never been without taking steps in a direction you’ve never gone.

How do you choose your church’s worship songs? Are you prone to staying within the formula or are you always on the lookout for what speaks to your congregation next, as opposed to what just happened? I would love to hear from you! Comment or private message…

-Micah Brooks