Can Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing Help Bridge the Worship Generation Gap?

Many feel the worship wars have been fought, and that our congregations destined to be divided into ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ forever.  The question is – does it have to be so?  Perhaps we should take another look at the music and the lyrics we are using and see where that leads us.

This is not a discussion of musical taste and style. I think these are definitely important, but are not the main issue. Style is something that can be easily modified to suit many listeners.  In the words of my friend Tom Kline – why do we have more participation singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ at a baseball game than in many churches?  What I mean is, a great song is a great song.  A great song, with a good hook and a catchy melody, will be sung by everyone.  Worship leaders can choose great songs and transcend musical style boundaries. It is not that hard.

I think the problem goes deeper than style. I think the problem goes instead to what we are singing.  I assert that in much of our worship music, we have given in to the impulse of our times – to focus on ourselves – and that, in doing so, our lyrics contribute to the generation gap far more that we realize.

Ask yourself – what is this worship song saying? Many (most?) of the contemporary songs say something like the following:

You are the water that I drink
You are every thought I think
I turn to you when all else fails
You are the wind that fills my sails

They are more poetic than the doggerel above, but that is essentially their message. Notice the focus of the song – what God does for me, what I am thinking, under what circumstances I turn to God. But what have we really said about God?  His character? His promises?  His sacrificial redemption? His Word to us?  There is a place for such songs, and such sentiments are found in the Psalms, but I assert that by singing these to such a great extent, we tend to alienate many listeners, of all ages.

Research shows that people up to 25 years of age are still maturing, and that people ‘get serious’ after 25.  After 25 we tend to turn outward, to others, our children, and later, our legacy.  And we have lived through more, and understand the time-honored virtue of sacrifice, of citizenship, of loving others. But if our ‘contemporary worship’ is stuck on what we think under 25’s want to hear, then we will be singing things that are not the values of the people we want to participate.  Because, in the end, we want all ages to revel in the truth of God’s word.

Don’t get me wrong – even young people will sing a great song. And the Word of God and the Glory of who He is and has done and will do are relevant to all ages.  But if we conclude we have to be ‘me-focused’ in our lyrics to reach a ‘me-generation’, thats the only generation we will reach, and we will further a divide we should be trying to bridge. There is one Body of Christ, one Blood, one Salvation, and One Word.

God Bless,

Mark Snyder

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4 Responses to Can Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing Help Bridge the Worship Generation Gap?

  1. Russ says:

    Great article, Mark! Would love to republish over on TWC!

    This is something that is near and dear to my heart. It’s so easy to get caught up in “popular” worship stylings and trying to create/lead what “sells” but ultimately if we are alienating ANY generation through our musical offerings we’re setting ourselves up for failure with regards to living in community and walking our faith out TOGETHER!

    Kudos for discussing this!

  2. Tom Kline says:

    Well said, Mark. Another thought on the same subject is that there are an over-abundance of songs about the love of God. Don’t get me wrong, God’s love is a very big part of who he is, but our songs should talk about all of God’s attributes, even those that aren’t as nice to contemplate as his love.

    Another of my pet peeves is the often-used thought, “God loves you just as you are.” It is true that he does; in fact, if God waited for us to become lovable, we would never experience his love. The phrase implies that, “because he loves me, I’m okay just like I am, and I don’t need to change.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. The thought, “Come as you are” or “God loves you just as you are” ought to be accompanied by the idea that he wants us to become like Him, not stay like we are.

  3. Very well said, Mark! The act of evaluating the lyrics of our songs is so important for worship leaders. I don’t think we realize how self-centered we can be!

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