Nearly two years ago, I found myself in a leadership position for a worship service that utilizes contemporary Christian music. I must both plan these services and lead the music for them. My background in this area previously had been as a distant auditor only. So necessity became my instant teacher. I must admit that I have not always done all the research I should in order to know what all is "out there" to choose from. But based on what I have found, here are several areas of shortcomings that I am finding it difficult to work with:
- The majority of the texts focus on the individual, rather than the corporate, in relation to God. They are more appropriate in private devotions than in public worship.. An example is "Breathe." This one is so prominent in my mind because of the sheer length of the repeated "I" phrases. "I-I-I-I, I'm desperate for you. And I-I-I-I, I'm lost without you, I'm lost without you." Titles such as "Let Your Spirit Rise within Me," "I Will Worship," and "Draw Me Close" illustrate this trend. I don't mean to imply that there is never a place for individualistic focus in worship songs. The problem is that the large majority of songs to choose from are individualistic
- Many contemporary worship music texts are about God, rather than being addressed to God. This shortcoming is separate from, though related to, item 1 in this list. Here, "Breathe" makes the cut, though again its over-reliance on the first person singular remains problematic. Let me hasten to add that traditional hymnody may be slightly worse in this regard. My little worship team is quite fond of "We Want To See Jesus Lifted High." This song passes the corporate focus test, but fails on the God focus. (It's great to want to see Jesus lifted high, but when we're in worship, perhaps we should address the One being lifted!)
- Taken as a corpus, contemporary worship songs reflect poor theology. One way they may do this is in failing both #1 and #2 above. It is bad theology of worship to have it all be "me 'n' my Jesus" and talking about God as if the Almighty is not present. So many of the songs reflect a careless familiarity with one or another of the Triune Persons. Yes, Jesus is undeniably our friend, but if all our songs reflect this casual kind of approach, we ignore the holiness of the Creator of the universe. There must be balance. So in and of themselves, few songs fail this test. Together, the corpus does.
- There is a dearth of response songs in contemporary worship music. It is important to follow the proclamation of God's word with one or more acts of response. When we have heard/seen the word prolaimed, a response is expected! There are too few songs which fill this need. A good example is Twila Paris's "Carry the Light." I challenge you to think of more than five familiar contemporary worship songs that articulate a response that is both corporate and focuses on taking the proclaimed word into the world. This contributes to the problem #3, in my opinion.