The Internet, while still relatively young, is clearly cyclical. If you pay attention, you will noticed that every few months the same stories go viral and old discussions are revived. It’s one thing I like about our digitized world. I like conversations to come back around because I think it’s healthy to think through the way the world works. I’m a worship pastor in a great church in Phoenix and have led worship in some capacity for over a decade, so I pay pretty close attention to the worship blogs and online chatter. I’ve noticed every year or so the conversation circles back around to the “Modern Worship” movement and all the “problems” that come with it.

Most of these articles are helpful. Some aren’t, but that’s the way conversations work. Here are a few of the posts I’ve seen lately:

The Secret That Keeps Men From Singing in Worship

Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore

Confessions of a Worship Wars Mercenary

An Open Letter to Worship Leaders

What Ruined Contemporary Worship

4 Reasons Why Modern Worship Is Gonna Be OK plus a Few Myths About “Rock Star” Worship

These articles tend to bring up the same issues, so here’s a summary and some responses…

“We’ve Gone from Singing to Staring.”

Humans tend to view history through rose-colored lenses. Many in my church didn’t sing growing up. And we sang the same fifty or so hymns on rotation. One of the bloggers above writes that he “tuned out” during a worship service and spent the rest of the musical worship tweeting and texting. I don’t know the gentleman who said this. But from my own experience, it’s possible to move beyond style and shortcomings from the stage and worship our King. Some of the sweetest times of worship in my life were in Kiev or Belize when I had no idea what we were singing. I spent that time reflecting on Scripture and watching people around me sing to a God bigger than my language and style preferences. When you actively disengage because you don’t like the music, you’re saying God can only be worshiped on your conditions.

“The Music Is Too Loud.”

It can be, absolutely. But this is tough for the worship leader to control. My monitors are piped into my ear and all other sound is quieted. I have no idea how loud it is in our auditorium, so I have to rely on our excellent sound techs to control volume. They are seasoned vets, so they do a great job, but a lot of churches use young people who don’t know much about sound. If the sound is too loud, please volunteer. Based on my time in churches, someone would be more than happy to add you to a rotation. We’ve also settled on a decibel level and invested in a good sound meter to gauge the level. The music should, by all means, be set at a safe measure, but it should also be loud enough that people in the room hear the leaders clearly.

“There Are Too Many Songs” or “People Don’t Know the Songs.”

I actually agree here. It is hard to engage in singing when it’s a new song. I get it. Worship leaders do need to be careful in the way we introduce new music. Personally, I use social media in advance of singing a new song with the congregation so people are a little more familiar. We also do the song three times in five weeks so people hear them from us. However, I have people come to me almost weekly bringing new music or suggestions for songs to sing. I love that, but I can see how some would feel pressured to bring a new song every week. It’s a hard balance. At Valley Life | Tramonto, we aim for fifty to sixty songs in our repertoire. When we introduce a song, we take one out of rotation for a season. It keeps the music fresh, but also keeps a sense of familiarity in the music.

“The Songs Are Hard to Sing.” 

Again, I tend to agree. Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham are great. Their original keys are not. But this is also a process for worship leaders. There have been several times that I sing a song and afterward realize that we sang it in a difficult key for some people. So I go back and change it. It’s not a big deal, simply work with the music to fit a key that is comfortable for the church to sing.

“Bands Seem to Worship Quality More Than God.”

By far, this is the problem I take most issue with. Scripture clearly calls believers to excellence in every area of life (Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31) so for a worship leader or band to lead without preparing well would dishonor God. Tied to this argument is the idea that worship leaders place too much focus on themselves because of their personalities. I believe we should inject our personalities into leading. God made all of us unique, and our personalities are just another way to display his creativity. I’m a naturally passionate guy, so when I lead I stomp my foot like a revival preacher and sing loud. It would be dishonest for me to lead otherwise.

Next summer this will probably come up again. And I think it should. When we gather every weekend, we are declaring to the world that we are broken and things are not the way they are supposed to be. So we need rescue through Jesus. When we sing, we declare this gospel to each other and to ourselves. This is a worthwhile discussion, and people will continue to disagree over the way we worship musically. That’s okay. May we be patient with one another and strive for unity in the gospel through the Holy Spirit, and may we hold these conversations in a manner worthy of our King, Jesus.

Jared Johnson

Jared Johnson

Jared Johnson is the worship and communications leader at Valley Life | Tramonto.