Contemporary vs Traditional Music in God's Church

by Timothy Mulder, Lead Worshipper / Youth Pastor - Oakwood Community Church, San Antonio, TX

Working with youth and being a worship leader provides an interesting conflict in my life.  I love junior and senior high students with a passion, but oftentimes, I get frustrated with their lack of enthusiasm for essential church traditions.  Take, for example, one of the major debates rocking the church today:  contemporary versus traditional music.  Our youth love the contemporary worship offered by groups and individuals such as:  delirious, sonic flood, Matt Redman, University Baptist Church, Hillsongs, and Chris Tomlin, just to name a few.  I love this type of worship as well.  However, this same group carries with it a peculiar disdain for hymns and other more traditional music, written by giants in the faith, including Martin Luther and Charles Wesley.  I grieve over this disdain and wonder if perhaps there isn't a way to get them past this stumbling block.

Oakwood Community Church is an interesting church.  It is part of the Presbyterian Church in America, a reformed Presbyterian denomination, if you will.  A large majority of the churches within the denomination sing hymns during their worship services.  However, Oakwood is not one of them.  Oakwood has chosen to use a "blended" service.  For those of you not familiar with this type of service, it is one that uses both praise and worship songs and choruses as well as hymns.  Studies have shown that this type of service is the only type of church service that is not growing - since both traditional and contemporary churches are growing in numbers.  And so, here we are...

The first death in the Bible occurred over differences in worship style.

So, how do you develop a love for each worship style simultaneously?  Let's look into the Biblical background at each style.  In looking into this, I came across several stories:  the story of the disciples on the stormy sea, Moses and the burning bush, and the transfiguration.  In each of these stories, people were brought into the presence of a passionate, loving, all-powerful God.  Their immediate instinct was to worship Him.  They were scared.  They feared Him.  And this fear led to a reverent worship of Him.  That, to me is one of the essential elements of worship:  Reverence.  Worship must be reverent.  If it is not, it will be disrespectful to God.

Then I came across the story of David dancing naked before the Lord.  Reverent?  No.  Acceptable to God?  Yes.  Why?  Because David was a passionate man.  He had a heart after God's own.  He loved God with all of his being (most of the time.)  David was passionate about God, and God was passionate about David.  This is another crucial element of worship:  Passion.  Worship must be passionate.  If it is not, it will be simply a rote act that we accomplish.

So, what do these two elements have to do with music?  I used to watch our congregation as we sang hymns - they were not passionate about their worship.  The way that we were singing the hymns was not passionate.  It was boring.  And, it was somewhat my fault.  I was not passionate about the hymns.  Then I would watch our congregation as we would sing contemporary worship music, and they would have their eyes closed, hands lifted (don't tell our denomination - please!), kneeling, coming fully into God's presence.  It was incredible, but at the same time, I felt it lacked reverence to Him.  So, there is the line that we need to walk -

we need to balance our worship music with reverence and passion.  In doing so, I think that we can offer acceptable worship and praises to our Lord God in heaven.

So now, we sing hymns with passion.  We sing Hillsongs with reverence.  We focus solely upon God, and not upon the trivial arguement of worship style.  My students are learning the depth of the traditional music, while singing it with the passion so indicative of their generation.  And, I think, that God is revelling in the glory of it all.
Back to the Soapbox