For some reason, the debate between traditional worship music and contemporary worship music has been appearing frequently in my Facebook newsfeed of late. Most notably was a post from Dan Cogan called “My Journey Away from Contemporary Worship Music”. It is a good, thought provoking article. It has been provoking my thoughts ever since I read it.
You see, I am a hymn lover, but I am also a chorus lover. And when one style of worship is held up as better or superior, I cringe. In my opinion, it is the wrong debate.
As the diverse, multi-faceted body of Christ, should we be surprised when our preferences in worship differ? When did we become okay with criticizing others who do not worship in the same way we do? (To be clear, there was nothing divisive or demeaning in the post I shared- rather it is in the subsequent conversations that occur after a post like this is shared).
Instead of trying to prove which is better- contemporary or traditional worship- the Church should be focused on the One we are worshiping. I guarantee that both sides of this debate can point to deep, theologically sound songs that make up their repertoire. And if they are being honest, they can also provide examples of songs that do not have depth and are theologically off.
One of Cogan’s reasons for moving towards more of a traditional worship service was the fact that these songs have been sung by “giants” of the faith for the past two millenia. There is something to be said for this joining with other believers who have gone before us. But the first song I think of when I consider that I am joining with a great throng of believers was written in the 21st century.
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty
Who was and is and is to come.
With all creation I sing,
Praise to the King of Kings,
You are my everything and I will adore you.
~Revelation Song by Jennie Lee Riddle
Our God is timeless and when we consider His greatness, there are no giants of the faith- there is only our great God at work in and through his people from the beginning of time to the end of time. This means that we can’t simply throw off hymns as being archaic or rigid. They are significant, because they were written to worship God. Likewise, we cannot disregard contemporary songs, simply because they are new. They are significant, because they have been written to worship God.
His second point was that hymns are vastly more theologically rich and encouraged worship ministers to search for hymns that carry the same message as the contemporary chorus, because undoubtedly there will be more depth in the hymn. With this point, I disagree. Maybe it is because my husband was a Bible Theology major in college and is now the worship leader at our church, but my experience with contemporary music is that there can be an incredible theological depth if one is seeking to find it.
The real question we need to be asking of our worship is are we true worshipers?
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers of God will worship in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.
~John 4:23, 24
Do we value a song because of when it was written or Who it was written to? Are we concerned with God’s glory or with our own preferences? Do we throw out all songs that are in a certain style or do we honestly look at each song as an opportunity to worship God?
There is a danger in getting “stuck” in one style or one tradition. This danger is an inability or an unwillingness to search for God’s glory if a song doesn’t fit into our style or preferences. It also alienates anyone who does not worship in the same way.
That is why contemporary vs. traditional worship is the wrong debate. Scripture clearly teaches that we are to fight for unity in the body of Christ, but this debate only creates a disunity.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. ~Ephesians 4:3
I love traditional hymns and I love contemporary choruses, but when someone makes an argument for one being superior to another, I feel the need to defend the opposite side. And when I get to the end of my defense, I feel frustrated, because I got sucked into the wrong debate. The question should not be whether one tradition is superior to the other, but rather does this song bring glory to God? Are we worshiping in Spirit and in truth?
Recently, my family had the opportunity to travel to Ithaca, New York. In our never ending quest to see waterfalls, we discovered the understated Ithaca Falls. On our way to get close to the waterfall, we saw piles of stones that have been set up. Immediately, we thought of the hymn “Come Thou Fount” written by Robert Robinson in 1758. One of the lines in the song is “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come”. It is a line that has caused much confusion when sung by worshipers, but it is based on 1 Samuel 7:12 when Samuel set up a stone, calling it Ebenezer to remind the Israelites that “Thus far the Lord has helped us”.
As we basked in the beauty of God’s creation, we decided to set up our own Ebenezer, a reminder to our family that God has faithfully led us- sometimes through difficulty, sometimes through joys- but He has always been with us.
I am thankful that Robert Robinson penned those words, drawing out a story from scripture that would otherwise be likely overlooked. And I am thankful that no one told him that his words were unimportant because they weren’t old enough. I am also grateful for modern day songwriters who continue to use their talents to bring glory to our great God. They should not be discounted simply because they are not old.
Let us be diligent in seeking out theologically deep and sound songs, but may our focus be on God’s glory and unity in the body of Christ, not on styles or preferences, new vs. old, contemporary vs. traditional. There is no superior tradition and when we get hung up on our differences, we are dishonoring our superior God.
“He sprayed me with water while I was trying to take a picture!”, I said to my husband (complete with hand gestures to emphasize my irritation).
“Well, you WERE standing in range of where he could spray you with water, right?”, my matter-of-fact, point-out-the-obvious husband stated.
“Yes, but…” (I really don’t understand where my children get this need-to-argue-everything THING from).
We were at an indoor water park on a mini vacation with our family of 6, making memories and enjoying our time. After a fun filled morning, our baby girl was napping back in our hotel room and my husband was with her, getting some much needed alone time. The older three kids were in the wave pool one moment, down the water slides the next, shooting water at each other from the top of a tower or escaping to the outdoor swimming pool- quite the novelty in the middle of Fall.
The afternoon was winding down and I realized in my hot tub induced, book reading stupor that I hadn’t captured any pictures of the kids at the water park. Besides my 5 year old who came to me repeatedly to take off his life jacket so he could go down the slides and then come back to get it on so he could go in the pools, I hadn’t seen the kids for much of the afternoon.
One thing I knew for sure- they were having a wonderful time. When I did get a glimpse of one of them streaking by, there was always a smile on their face. And so, I began my search to find my children and record our time at the indoor water park in more than just our memories.
I found the oldest and the youngest in the outdoor pool and surprisingly, I could stand outside in my swimsuit in the Fall in Western New York and take pictures of them. It was delightful.
But I couldn’t find my son, the one wearing the bright orange jersey. I searched the water slides, the water basketball court, and the shooting water tower, but I couldn’t find him. So, I returned to my lounge chair by the wave pool and found him playing in the waves almost directly in front of my chair.
Perfect, I thought as I snapped pictures of him, fully cognizant of my need to hold tightly to my phone lest I become a part of the growing statistic of moms who drop their phones in pools.
…then I felt water spraying all around me. I couldn’t believe it. I was an adult taking a picture. Surely, I wasn’t being deliberately sprayed by water?!!!
I turned around and discovered that indeed I WAS being sprayed, targeted in fact.
Annoyed, irritated, perturbed and all the other aggravated emotions, I turned away from the perpetrator and returned to my lounge chair in a huff. At least I had been able to take a few pictures of my boy. And he was smiling at least in one of them. Hopefully, the pictures would turn out.
I was relaying my irritation to my husband who had no sympathy for my plight when I decided to look at the pictures.
My annoyance turned to astonishment.
Without realizing it, the boy who had sprayed me created a gorgeous effect. The picture of my son is stunning.
Lesson learned. Don’t allow the small irritations of life to cause angst. Instead, look for the blessing. It is there. Always.
I ran my first ever 5K this past weekend.
If you know me even a little, you know how laughable this is. Running for running’s sake has always seemed like the most ridiculous thing ever. Running the length of a soccer field over and over again while kicking a black and white ball? That makes sense to me. Running hard after a puck with a stick? Absolutely. Running an obstacle course through a Florida jungle? That has my name written all over it.
But running, just to run? No, thank you.
Until this past summer, when my long time friend asked me if I would run a 5K with her at the place where we met in our teens. We served as counselors together at Twin Pines Camp in the heart of the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania. Twin Pines was the only place where I have willingly gotten up early to run- this willingness was the result of a love for my campers that superseded my love for sleep and my strong feelings against running.
Turns out I have a new love that supersedes the feelings of abhorrence to running. This love is found in four little ones who watch me every day, wondering what it means to live life to the full. I want my precious children to love Jesus with all their hearts, to find their purpose and satisfaction in this life as they earnestly hope and long for the next, and I want them to live brave.
But how will they do this if their mama is living small? How will they want to know Jesus if they don’t see me trusting him with my life? How will they long for heaven if they don’t first see the longing in me? And how will they step out in courage if their mama always plays it safe, never trying the things that scare her?
The answer to that is they might. They might do all of these things, because God is perfectly capable of working in their hearts despite the failures and mistakes of their mama (and this is a truth I cling to!). But that is not how I want this to play out- my kids living life to the full in spite of me. No. I want them to run hard after Jesus and live an abundant life in part because that is all they know. It is all they have seen demonstrated for them.
I chose my one word for 2014 for this very reason. Brave. I don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines of my life, letting life happen to me. I want to step out in faith, seeking the difficulties and the challenges. I want my roots to grow down deep into him, and my life to be built on him (Jesus!). Then my faith will grow strong in the truth I was taught and I will overflow with thankfulness (from Col. 2:7).
What I have discovered is that as my roots grow deep, I have the strength to pursue the challenges that are presented to me.
Running is a challenge, but when my friend asked me to run with her, I knew that my answer would be yes. Of course. You don’t seek to be brave and expect that life will stay the same- calm and peaceful and secure. Nope. Seeking brave opens the door to endless opportunities to be pushed beyond what you believe you are capable of doing.
And so, I started running. And I didn’t like it and it was painful and there were moments when I thought I would die. Then one day, I ran with a family friend. He said something to me (after we had been running for a quarter mile and I could. not. take. one. more. step.) that was profound. It was THE thing that pushed me past my mental road block that I had constructed over years of believing that I hated running, I couldn’t do it and why would I ever WANT to do it?
Becky, pardon me for saying this, but you can run farther than you think you can.
It became my mantra- I can run farther than I think I can. I started to believe it. The first time I ran 17 minutes straight, I almost fell over. Not from exhaustion, but from incredulity.
I started to take pictures while I was running- my “rewards” for running. What I discovered was that God was faithful in providing me with beautiful reminders of his presence, his strength that was at work in me in my very real weakness.
And along the way, I discovered that being brave is not about how you compare to others and their ideas of brave. Being brave is about finding those areas where you need to be stretched and then allowing God to stretch you.
The day came for my race and it was cold and rainy. But I knew I was ready. After all, I can run farther than I think I can. It felt a bit surreal, to be at a place that brought back so many memories for me, to be running with my friend who has been with me through all of the ups and downs of life, to see my kids and my husband cheering me on.
We started running and this verse came to mind…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…
We wound our way around the pond, through mountainside (one of my favorite spots to counsel!), past the shale pit (so thankful we didn’t have to run up THAT hill!!!), and into the corral.
I felt good and it hit me- how was this possible? How could I be enjoying running?!!!
We got to the first hill and I knew I needed to keep running. No matter what. And so, I ran through most of the pathways on my own. But the thing about being brave when you trust in God is that you are never alone. His promise is to be with us always.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary. And his understanding, no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary; young men stumble and fall. But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
I ran until the last hill and it was my undoing. You can run farther than you think you can, was running through my mind, but I just couldn’t make it up that hill. Through the trees, I could see my kids, waiting for me, holding signs, cheering me on. And I made it to the top. My boy started walking with me and then ran with me to the finish line. It was exhilarating and glorious.
I can run farther than I think I can. This is truth. And this is how I want to live my life. To the full. Abundantly. Unabashedly. Victoriously. Brave.
I ran my first ever 5K this past weekend. I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last.
Special thanks to Capra Strategy for sponsoring my race. Amazing people. Looking to take your business to another level? They are the ones who can take you there!
And Happy 50th anniversary to my beloved Twin Pines Camp- a place that continues to bless my life, the life of my family and the lives of countless others who have fallen more in love with Jesus as a result of this ministry. I can’t think of a better place to have run my first 5K!
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
1 Thessalonians 5:12,13
Dear Pastors and Families,
Here we are at the end of a 31 Day Series on “31 Ways to Appreciate Your Pastor”. As I reflect on the past 31 days, my hope and prayer is that you have been blessed by my words, that you have been appreciated in deeper, more meaningful ways and that your congregations have been encouraged and inspired to love God most and to pray for you often.
Your work is important. It is both excruciatingly difficult at times and wonderfully fulfilling at others.
But your faithfulness cannot be dependent on circumstances (otherwise the number of those leaving the pastorate each month would be higher than 1,500!). Nor can it be dependent on how well your congregation appreciates you.
I know that it is tempting to feel this way. I could be faithful in serving them, if they would appreciate me even a little! But it is a sign that you are nearing burnout when you find yourself being critical of the level of appreciation you receive.
So how do you remain faithful through the difficult times? How do you keep serving when you feel lonely, criticized, unloved and unappreciated?
The answer is found in scripture. Our satisfaction and joy in serving must be found in Christ. We must seek his work in us and through us. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matt. 19:26)
When you feel like you have no strength to complete the tasks that lie before you…
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. ~Phil. 4:13
When gossip is flying and you have been mistreated…
The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still. ~ Exodus 14:14
When you feel trampled on and cast aside…
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. ~1 Peter 5:6,7
When you wonder am I really making a difference? and what’s the point?…
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15:58
My prayer for each one of you is that you would be faithful in serving the Lord, regardless of acknowledgement or appreciation. I pray that you would be well loved and that others would see your faithfulness, but even if you aren’t abide in the Vine. I pray that your congregations would be able to echo Paul’s words and be able to say, I thank my God every time I remember you. ~Phil. 1:3 But even if they don’t, I pray that you would thank God for them.
May you set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Tim. 4:12). May you only serve out of Christ’s strength in you. When you pour yourself out for others, may our great God pour into you.
Whether you are in a place where you are deeply appreciated or in a place where you are actively attacked and mistreated, may you love God most. When your work is producing fruit, may you remember but with God. And when your work is seemingly ineffective, may you remember but with God and keep pressing on.
This post is the conclusion to the “31 Ways to Appreciate Your Pastor” series. To read all of the posts, please go to the 31 Days of 31 Ways page.
Way 31: Pastors will know they are appreciated when their focus is on “but with God”.