I received an e-mail from a friend yesterday who serves as a chief of police in Tennessee. He was writing to tell me that he has been struck by how little the average church member knows about God’s Word. As I read his message and listened to his heart, I couldn’t help but think about what has caused this through the years. We have consistently dumbed down worship which should be designed for sheep in order to attract goats. The local church is a true anomaly when you consider the fact that college football teams are never satisfied with lowering standards for their team goals. In like manner, businesses are never satisfied with lowering business goals for their corporation, but local churches adopt an attitude that expects pastors to lower standards of what’s expected for membership, decrease the seriousness of worship, and make worship fast, easy, and comfortable. This approach has radically changed the way in which we worship.
Over the past two years, I have been working through our order of worship and revisiting the need for change based on convictions and the need for a more healthy worship service. Recently, the elders discussed this issue and we continue to work through some of the needed alterations as we prepare for 2019. It is our desire to arrange our worship in such a way that will honor God with the most healthy worship service as possible. That requires intentional design that arranges worship based on knowledge rather than feeling.
Far too often, worship services are arranged to meet the felt needs of a congregation or to attract the seeker who might be in attendance. The seeker sensitive model of church growth plagued evangelicalism with light duty worship services that were superficial, short, shallow, and non-offensive to unbelievers. In many cases this approach has left us with large megachurches filled with unbelievers who gather for reasons that do not square with the purpose of the Lord’s Day and worship services across evangelicalism that are based on feelings rather than knowledge.
All through the Bible we see an emphasis placed on what we know to be true about God. In 1 Peter 1:18, the apostle uses the word “knowing” to encourage the discouraged believer and help them to base their worship of God on the firm foundation of what they know to be true about God. As we approach 2019, we are preparing to make necessary changes to the worship order within our local church so that our weekly worship will become more healthy.
Healthy Variety of Scripture Reading
Many Protestant churches have very little Scripture read in their weekly worship compared to the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. When you consider the fact that once upon a time people were being burned at the stake for possessing the Bible in English—you would think that we would have a healthy dose of public Scripture readings, but that simply isn’t the case across the board.
We begin each service with a call to worship from God’s Word. Throughout 2018, we read through the Gospel of Matthew as we took a portion of Matthew’s Gospel in both the morning and evening worship services. As we prepare for a new order of worship, we will be incorporating several Scripture passages in each service as follows:
- Reading from the Psalms
- Reading from the Law
- Reading from the Gospel
- Reading from the Sermon Passage
It is our desire to have both the Old and New Testament read in each service. We desire to show the importance of all Scripture and to show how Christ stands at the center of all of God’s Word. This approach will enable us to be very intentional in connecting how we pray with what the Bible actually says since our prayers will be arranged near Scripture readings.
In a typical worship service, prayers are often generic in approach and sadly is the case that they are used as transitions between different stages of the worship service. It’s not uncommon to have a prayer in a specific place merely to allow musicians to get into place for the next song. The prayer is offered by the pastor and is typically a transition and has no intentional design to it whatsoever.
As we rearrange our order of worship, we will arrange intentional prayer times that will enable the church to be specific in how we pray each time we enter into a time of prayer. We will arrange internal prayers such as:
- Prayer of Adoration
- Prayer of Confession
- Pastoral Prayer
- Prayer for Missions
We believe this will enable us to focus on God in a vertical prayer at the beginning of the service which will set the focus for our gathering. We are not gathering for entertainment or for selfish reasons. We are gathering to meet with our God. Following in the worship service will be a time of internal personal introspection and evaluation. We will be ver intentional about praying and confessing to God our known sin and pleading for forgiveness. The pastoral prayer will be focused on the needs of the congregation—and much of it will be based on the need to know God and to allow our knowledge of God to drive our worship of God. Finally, we will end with a time praying for missions around the world and focusing in on the commission to our local community. Each prayer will have a specific intentional design.
One of the joys of my life has been to watch our church embrace the biblical model of shared pastoral leadership. The plurality of elders leading a local church is a beautiful thing. I have the privilege of serving with a Godly group of men who love the Lord and have a passion to serve our local church.
As we continue to grow as elders, it is my desire to see more shared leadership in the weekly worship. As we incorporate these intentional public Scripture readings and prayers into our weekly worship—we will have the privilege of sitting under the shared leadership of our elders on a weekly basis. This will not only provide opportunities for the elders to serve and lead, but it will enable the church to see the elders serving and leading each week. This approach is intentional and for the good of our whole church.
When was the last time you paused and evaluated how you worship each week? Do you believe that your worship service is healthy and robust or lacking in substance and depth? If you’re a pastor, you can work to change this pattern if you feel that your worship service is unhealthy. If you’re a church member, you can always talk with your pastors about this problem and pray that they will make the necessary changes for the glory of God.
Many people may not realize this fact, but before the Reformation worship was dead and lifeless. It was through the Reformation that congregational singing was reintroduced in the life of the local church. Today, over five hundred years after the Reformation a consistent struggle among many local churches is centered on their worship through song. Sometimes it’s friction between the members and leaders on style. In other cases, it’s the lack of seriousness placed upon the worship of the church by the leaders and members collectively. In some circumstances, you have discouraged members who desire to worship well, but they feel hindered by the song selection or the church members who are moving their mouths while expecting leaders to sing out for them (which typically leads to one loud voice and a quiet congregation). How can both leaders and members help one another worship through song with excellence?
Leaders: Choose Singable Songs
Within the life of the church, what separates a good song from a great song is whether or not it’s singable for the congregation. It may be a song that’s loaded with solid theology, but if it was arranged for a praise band or soloist rather than a congregation, it will likely fall flat on the Lord’s Day. When reading in the Old Testament recently, I came across this verse in Psalm 57:7, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody!” All through the Old Testament, we see verses centered upon singing to the Lord. In the Psalms, we find a great number of the songs beginning with these words, “To the choirmaster…” which is a testimony to the fact that they were written and arranged not merely for worship, but for a group of people to sing to the LORD.
With the boom of the contemporary Christian music, the older hymns of the faith have taken a backseat in many contexts on the Lord’s Day. While there is nothing wrong with new songs, there is something to learn from the older songs from church history. When you look at the high poetic style and the musical composition—the songs were of such quality and arrangement that allowed the gathered congregation to exult in God through his holy Word and sing loudly with excellence. We must remember that while the older hymns were greatly successful and profitable to the church, they were never the product of a lucrative music industry. They emerged from pastors, theologians, and musicians who spent time in God’s Word and penned songs for the glory of God.
When the church is gathered for worship, on most occasions, there is a noticeable difference between the quality of worship from a well known hymn of the faith and a newly arranged praise song. It’s not merely because the church is fixed on old things, it’s often due to the ability of the congregation to sing the song. Leaders must be able to notice this and make adjustments where necessary. Just because it’s old doesn’t make it good and just because the song is new (and popular) doesn’t mean it’s worthy for the Lord’s Day worship service.
Church: Sing and Play with Excellence
Whatever we do, we should do for the glory of God. There should be a spirit of excellence in all that we do in this life—especially in worship. We don’t go to a football game with a heart that’s barely connected and disinterested in engaging in the fan frenzy of cheering on our team. We go with the expectation to lift up our voices and clap our hands. We walk into the stadium as a fan. When we assemble on the Lord’s Day for worship, we should enter as a worshipper who anticipates engaging mind, heart, and voice in the worship of God. Never be satisfied with the idea that the big voice or the skilled vocalist is the one responsible for your worship. You are responsible for your worship.
We see that the people of God in Scripture put effort into their singing. Notice the words of 2 Chronicles 30:21, “And the people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with all their might to the LORD.” They didn’t merely move their lips, they exerted themselves in singing. However, in order for the people to engage with all of their might, the song must be arranged for the congregation rather than a praise band. Furthermore, the congregation must not approach the worship of God on the Lord’s Day as if they are looking to be entertained or satisfied with their music style.
A former pastor of mine as a boy once made the following statement, “If you come to church looking to see what you can get, you will leave empty. If you come to church looking to see what you can give, you will leave full.” This is a fitting statement in regard to how we worship. If we come as a spectator, we will likely leave unfulfilled. If we come with the understanding that we are involved in the production and that we have a part in the weekly worship—it will cause us to leave full. Imagine if you showed up for church next week and noticed your name in the printed order of worship. Would that cause you to become nervous at all? Have you considered the fact that while your name might not be printed in the bulletin—you are part of the worship each week?
Consider the words of Psalm 71:3, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” When we connect mind (the knowledge of our redemption) with our heart (the gladness for what our God has done in the work of redemption)—our lips will respond with joyful worship. If we stand there looking for the choir to impress us, the praise band to entertain us, or the vocalists to satisfy us—we will cause the church’s worship to sink lower and lower as that mindset spreads through the church. Each of God’s children are called to sing to him as worshippers. When each one of us seeks to sing with excellence—soon enough the church collectively will begin to approach worship with a spirit of excellence rather than selfishness and consumerism.
If there is one thing that needs to die a hard death in the evangelical church today—it’s the spirit of consumerism. What a selfish little sin—the sin of consumerism.
How you approach the Lord’s Day says much about your view of God, his gospel, and your trust in his sovereignty. Last night as we gathered for church, I preached from Exodus 20:8-11 on the importance of the Lord’s Day. On one level, people within the church throw out the Fourth Commandment as if it’s no longer binding on New Testament believers. On another level, those who believe the children of God should give God one out of seven days find themselves in a halfway commitment with God where they have negotiated terms to split the day between themselves and the Lord.
In Exodus 20, we find the list of the Ten Commandments. As we approach the Lord’s Day, we must ask ourselves if the Ten Commandments have any binding upon us in our day or if we have reduced their number down to only nine. There are two massive traps that you must avoid when approaching the Lord’s Day—one is pharisaical and the other is pagan.
The Error of Legalism
The Sabbath command (Exodus 20:8-11) was never given by God in order to be a burden. It was always the goal of joy for the people—never a curse. Over time, the religious establishment of the Jewish people turned the Sabbath command into a burdensome routine. They built fences around God’s Law in order to protect it as if it needed to be protected. What resulted from their efforts of purity was the most the profaning of God’s Law which robbed God of glory the people of their joy.
John MacArthur has provided a list of “laws” that prevented the Jews from violating the Sabbath:
- No burden could be carried that weighed more than a dried fig.
- If you threw an object in the air and caught it with the other hand, it was a sin. If you caught it in the same hand, it wasn’t.
- A tailor couldn’t carry his needle.
- The scribe couldn’t carry his pen.
- A pupil couldn’t carry his books.
- No clothing could be examined.
- Wool couldn’t be dyed.
- Nothing could be sold.
- Nothing could be bought.
- Nothing could be washed.
- A fire couldn’t be lit.
- An egg could not be boiled.
- Could not bathe – for fear that as the water fell from you it would wash the floor.
However, in all of their attempt to protect the Sabbath, they profaned it. This is quite clear as Jesus corrects their false understanding in Mark 3:1-6. Jesus made it clear that he is the Lord of the Sabbath. Furthermore, he made it clear that the Sabbath was created for man—not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Legalism is the attempt to please God by doing good.
Legalism causes a man to “work” to please God. Grace causes a man to “work” because God is pleased with him. Legalism instructs a man to “work” for God. Grace brings a man to delight in “working” for God. Alistair Begg said, “Religion says, ‘I obey, therefore I am accepted.’ Christianity says, ‘I am accepted, therefore I obey.’” As we make personal decisions on how to live life, we must put our finger on chapter and verse and avoid the commands of man. Did God expect Israel to remember the Sabbath? Absolutely, but their observance of the Sabbath turned into a legal system that caused frustration rather than joy.
We must approach the Lord’s Day with the same attitude that God expected from the Israelites regarding the Sabbath. We must willfully give God one day for worship and rest since he has not changed his mind about that very issue. However, in our attempt to honor God with the Lord’s Day—we must not fall into the traps of the Pharisees by counting the number of steps on our iPhone on Sunday and condemning people who walk too far. It should be a day of delight, laughter, joy, worship, fellowship, and rest. All of this—for the glory of God.
The Error of Antinomianism
We likewise live in a culture of confusion when it comes to God’s Word. Has Jesus really come to abolish the Law of God? Is that what he said (Matt. 5:17)? For those who hold to that position, they would not approach the Sixth Commandment with the same attitude as they do the Fourth Commandment. Some people live with that attitude—as if Jesus abolished the Law and has given free reign to live without the slightest binding command of God’s Law. Not only is this dishonoring to God, it’s an extremely dangerous place to be in life.
The attitude that avoids God’s Law and rejects God’s commands is one that will lead to a diminished worship, a deficient relationship with God, and a lack of holiness altogether. God has given us the Law to teach us what is expected and it serves as a boundary for life and worship. Without boundaries and without shepherds—sheep wander off cliffs and walk into the mouths of wolves. That’s why God has placed the boundary of the Law before us and it’s also why God has given shepherds (pastors) to his people. The antinomianism approach to life and worship seeks to dethrone God and enthrone one’s self.
Regarding the Lord’s Day, it’s important to see that following the resurrection of Jesus, the church of Christ gathered on the first day of the week for worship (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2). Jesus himself rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1-6) and this altered the way the followers of Christ worshipped. They gave God the first day of the week for worship and fellowship and rest.
This command of the Sabbath rest is not grounded in the Ten Commandments alone. It pre-dates the Ten Commandments. Israel had received the command back in Exodus 16 and as we see it develop in the Ten Commandments we learn that it was rooted in creation itself. Therefore, this is something that God expects of everyone—and we as his children should willfully give him one day. God has given us six days and required only one for himself. He could have easily turned that equation around. Let us approach the Lord’s Day out of a submissive heart to God’s command and see it as the Puritans viewed it—”A market-day for the soul.”
Puritan Thomas Watson imagined God saying the following regarding this special day. He imagines God as saying, “I am not a hard master, I do not grudge thee time to look after thy calling, and to get an estate. I have given thee six days, to do all thy work in, and have taken but one day for myself. I might have reserved six days for myself, and allowed thee but one; but I have given thee six days for the works of thy calling, and have taken but one day for my own service. It is just and rational, therefore, that thou shouldest set this day in a special manner apart for my worship.” 
- Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 591.
What does your Sunday morning look like? Recently, I read a line in Iain Murray’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones that caused me to pause and think. In describing the worship service at Westminster Chapel in London where Lloyd-Jones ministered, Murray writes, “The keenness with which 11 A.M., the hour of public worship, was awaited each Sunday will ever remain in the memories of those who were there. In a day in which church-going was no longer fashionable, a certain sense of expectation could be found in the very streets approaching the Chapel as hundreds converged from all directions.” 
As I read those two simple sentences, I paused to reflect upon what’s typically happening in our corporate worship gathering five minutes before the service begins. The countdown is on the screens and I’m typically talking with people near me or rereading the Scripture reading passage for the day. Do you find yourself ill-prepared for worship on Sunday at the beginning of the worship service? As you plan for this upcoming Sunday, don’t overlook the simplicity and the importance of those last five minutes before worship.
Prepare Yourself to Worship God
If you’re like most Christians, you feel rushed on Sunday. The pressure to meet deadlines and to be on time is often discouraging if you travel any distance at all to your church or if you’re like many mothers who juggle many responsibilities related to the preparation of their children. However, it’s essential to not overlook and undervalue the importance of the last five minutes before the worship service begins.
Leaving home a few minutes earlier each week in order to arrive early will take a great deal of pressure off of you and your family. You will be surprised how less stressed you feel as you approach the worship service. Planning ahead and preparing to leave early is the key to making sure you arrive early on your church campus.
It may be that you are already on campus, but you need to plan to be in your seat five minutes early. That will require you to plan appropriately, manage your time, end valuable and enriching conversations, and get to your seat. If you are getting out of a small group or Sunday school class, it may be that you have to minimize your fellowship time during that time leading up to corporate worship.
Arriving early is of no added value if you don’t get to your seat and prepare yourself to worship God. Where does one begin in this process? What better place to begin than prayer? Take a couple of minutes to pray to God and repent of known sins and then delight in the privilege of gathering in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. In addition, you will want to pray for the service as a whole—from both the congregational involvement to the pastoral leadership and preaching—that everything will bring honor to God.
Read the Sermon Text
Just prior to the beginning of the service, it would be good to open your Bible and read the text of Scripture that will be preached on that particular Sunday. In many churches, the text is found in the order of worship. If your pastor is preaching through a book of the Bible, you should be able to easily locate the next passage from where he left off on the previous Sunday. Reading the text and meditating on it before your pastor expounds the text will enable you to be better prepared.
Teach Your Children to Prepare Themselves for Worship
Such preparation seems like it may require far more than five minutes, but if you get into a groove and manage your time appropriately—you can do far more in those five minutes than you think. If you find that ten minutes would be better for you, make the necessary adjustment.
As we prepare ourselves, we should likewise teach our children and grandchildren the art of preparing to worship God. How will children come to value the solemnity of corporate worship if we as parents and grandparents don’t lead by example? Many theologians and Christian authors lament the statistics of how college students are disappearing from our local churches after they graduate high school. The same authors observe that a growing number of teenagers are playing games and looking through social media networks on their smart phones during worship services. Could such tragic patterns begin with a lack of teaching on the part of parents regarding the need to approach the corporate worship service with a serious mindedness?
Meeting with God for corporate worship should not be downplayed as a causal event. A mind and heart that isn’t properly prepared will not result in a God-glorifying spirit of worship. Consider how altering five minutes could impact your local church this coming Sunday if the entire church approached the corporate service with this same attitude.
- Iain Murray, The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899-1981, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 299.
Recently in our elders’ meeting, we discussed the need to rethink and restructure our order of worship early in 2017. What’s the reason for such a move by the pastors within our church? The goal is to craft the most healthy worship service that makes the best use of the time given to us each week. As we rethink the restructuring of our order of worship, certainly this must be approached with care and doctrinal precision. Some things are certainly optional elements, but other things must never be tampered with. Front and center is the idea that our worship must be God-centered, Christ-exalting, and built upon the firm foundation of God’s sufficient Word. When was the last time you honestly looked at what’s included in your worship service? Why are specific elements included, or in some cases why are some elements excluded?
Young Pastor—Don’t Overlook Old Traditions
One of the first things I did when I was called to serve a small country church in Kentucky was to change the decorations in the church building. This particular church had many cheap pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls that I immediately removed. Although I had a biblical foundation to stand upon for removing the pictures, I didn’t have as much of a theological foundation to support my removal of the “number” board from the front wall of the sanctuary. This board was used to report the weekly attendance and offering. I felt as if it was a distraction, so I removed it. It was not a popular decision.
I stand by those decisions to this day, but I also made other decisions that I’ve been forced to rethink over time. As a younger pastor, I once looked at the responsive reading as an awkward time in the service because I witnessed it being done in a less than edifying manner. In the same way, we once had a prayer of confession at the beginning of the church that was accompanied by other unhealthy practices that I replaced with Scripture reading. However, I never replaced the prayer of confession or restructured it. Just because it looks like an old tradition, before it’s removed, perhaps a younger pastor should think twice (maybe three times) before scrapping it.
Make Preaching Central in Your Order of Worship
That may seem like a strange appeal, but we in our local church want to continually ensure the primacy of preaching in our church. That should be something that is revisited and evaluated among elders on a yearly basis. Most of the time churches don’t drift miles away from biblical worship overnight. It’s typically a slow progressive trend that moves a church to replace preaching with drama, or at least place preaching on a lower level of importance. It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who soon after going to serve as pastor in Sanfields, instructed the church leaders to heat the church by using the wooden stage used by the dramatic society in his church as fuel for the furnace. Preaching, as Lloyd-Jones would remind us, must be central.
Pastor—Music Is Your Business
Worship matters, and singing is a central aspect of weekly worship among the church. Not only is the order of songs important, but the selection of the songs and the number of songs are likewise important for worship. Not all old songs are good songs, so the age should not determine the usefulness of songs. Not all new songs are worthy for use in the gathered worship service of the church. Some songs may be full of sound biblical doctrine, but the arrangement and tempo is not conducive for singing among the church. Pastors should honestly speak to this and exclude certain songs on the basis of doctrinal impurity and congregational usefulness. It is the duty of pastors to think, examine, pray, and make wise choices for the weekly singing of the church.
We Need More Scripture and Prayer
I recall visiting a Roman Catholic worship service when I was in seminary. It was a required subject for my semester. I walked into the building expecting that they would get everything wrong, but I walked away humbled. While they did get worship wrong in many ways in the mass that day, they got some things right. The preaching was not good and certainly not expository. The Lord Jesus was blasphemed through their doctrine of transubstantiation, and I did not participate in the observance of the Lord’s Supper for that reason. However, they had more Scripture reading and more intentional prayers than we typically have in the average evangelical worship service.
As 2017 begins, we are rethinking how much Scripture we will have read in our worship services and the intentional place of those Scripture readings. We want to establish the primacy of God’s Word in our worship, so the placement matters. Likewise, we don’t want to appear to be using prayer as mere transitional pauses in the worship service. As we rethink and craft a new worship service, we want to have planned and intentional prayers on a weekly basis that will be led by the elders of our church.
As we think honestly about our corporate worship, specifically the order of worship, we must strive to craft the worship service that best honors and magnifies our God. As Sinclair Ferguson points out, “The foundation of worship in the heart is not emotional (‘I feel full of worship’ or ‘The atmosphere is so worshipful’). Actually, it is theological. Worship is not something we ‘work up,’ it is something that ‘comes down’ to us, from the character of God.” 
- Sinclair Ferguson, A Heart for God, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1987), 110.
One of the great benefits of attending a Christian conference is undoubtedly the singing. Each year during the G3 Conference, I try to record some of the congregational singing just to file away and remember. This week as I listen through livestream to the T4G conference, it’s impressive to hear 10k people, mostly men, singing hymns of truth with passion and boldness. This past November, I attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and as the gathered church lifted voices of praise through a hymn to the Lord, it was impressive. There were no fancy lights, smoke machines, and minimal use of technology in the room. It was simply people singing praises to our God for the salvation that’s ours through the blood of His Son. So, why is the church not singing on Sunday?
One of the most important things a church does is sing the gospel. David penned these words in Psalm 9:11 – “Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” Certainly David understood the importance, but sadly the church today doesn’t understand the importance of singing praise to the Lord of glory. At least that seems to be the case since the majority of evangelical church sanctuaries are quiet on the Lord’s day. Below I’ve suggested 6 reasons why the church is not singing.
The Men are not Singing
It’s true, and sadly the case, that men are not singing. Not only do most churches have more women in attendance than men, the men who do attend are often seen standing there silently during the congregational singing. It could be the arrangement or the lack of discipleship regarding the importance of singing the gospel, but most men are not singing in the church today. Something must be done to correct this, but the answer is not centered on pragmatic methods or surveys. The answer is rooted in biblical discipleship and the selection of proper worship songs. When you attend a pastors’ conference and you hear the men lifting up their voices in unison, it’s quite impressive.
The Church has Given the Singing Over to the Professionals
One reason why the church is quiet on Sunday is because the church has decided to hand over the responsibility of singing to the professionals. The choirs, praise bands, and praise teams have largely assumed the responsibility of singing in the church worship service. If you turn off the loud music from the praise band, silence the drums, pull the plug on the guitar, and mute the microphones of the praise team, the result would be quite revealing. On a given Sunday, most of the people mumble the words to the songs while the “professionals” sing. We must remember that we’re not called to mumble the words. We’re called to worship God in song, and that can’t happen with mumbling lips and quiet voices.
The Hymns Have Been Replaced with Lighter Praise Songs
There isn’t anything wrong or sinful in the use of new praise songs in worship. Praise God for the ministry of modern hymn writers such as Keith and Kristyn Getty and others who are writing new songs. Most of the songs we sing from the hymn book were once upon a time considered new songs to be used in worship. All extra-biblical songs are written by pastors, theologians, scholars, and musicians rather than apostles. So, for us to limit ourselves to older songs would be a tragic mistake. However, it can be said that many of our good theologically rich songs that contain both weighty lyrics and an appropriate musical arrangement are largely being replaced by lighter praise songs that certainly don’t have the theological depth necessary for use in a worship service.
We’ve reached a day where “And Can It Be” has been replaced with “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and Charles Wesley has been replaced by Chris Tomlin. Just because a song is on the top 40 Christian music chart doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for a worship service. We should think critically about the theology we’re communicating when choosing a song for worship. Hundreds of good hymns sit in books as unsung choruses each week while the latest new praise song remains in perpetual use. The selection of songs for worship is a solemn task, and it falls under the oversight of the pastors. Regarding the use of primarily new songs today in worship, T. David Gordon writes:
For nineteen centuries, all previous generations of the church (Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or Revivalist), in every culture, employed prayers and hymns that preceded them, and encouraged their best artists to consider adding to the canon of good liturgical forms. That is, none were traditional, in the sense of discouraging the writing of new forms; and none were contemporary, in the sense of excluding the use of older forms. So why now this instance that many, most, or all forms of worship be contemporary? 
Families are not Singing at Home
Family worship was once upon a time a common practice among professing Christians. Today, the busy schedules and technological gadgets have crowded out family worship time. Therefore, most families who attend church in an evangelical church on Sunday have not been engaging in family worship through the week. It’s quite simple, families who don’t sing at home can’t be expected to sing passionately in the gathered church. The little league baseball coach asks my son’s team often, “How many of you are playing baseball at home?” The point he’s driving home is that we can’t expect the children to get better by merely going to one or two practices each week. Family worship is essential for building a foundation and respect for congregational singing. Family worship also builds familiarity with the songs that are used during the congregational worship on Sunday, and this not only helps teach theology, but it helps the entire family memorize songs.
People Get Lost in the Repetition, Progression, and Climax
Many new songs used in worship have awkward arrangements, progressions, and extremely high climactic peaks that make them difficult to sing – especially for men. If the church is distracted by the arrangement and musical expression that points to a climax more than the gospel, that’s a big problem that must be addressed. We want people to sing, but we want our minds involved in the whole process so that it’s not merely an emotional exercise, but also a discipleship and learning tool each week. Mark Dever has written:
These are the hallmarks of good worship songs, whether they’re hymns or choruses: biblical accuracy, God-centeredness, theological and/or historical progression, absence of first-person singular pronouns, and music that complements the tone of the lyrics. 
Modern praise songs have created a new genre often referred to as 7-11 songs. These songs often use the method of repetition to a degree that’s well beyond healthy. If a 7 minute song contains only 2 main lines that are repeated multiple times, it’s most likely not a good song for worship. One of the things lacking in many modern praise songs is the element of poetry. If you read the Psalms in the Bible and if you reflect upon the hymns of church history, they are often using some grammatical element of poetry that enables the song to connect with the congregation. Poetry and well arranged lyrics have a natural progression that enables people to sing freely rather than worrying about missing some transition. Songs full of disorder can’t lead us to worship an orderly God in Spirit and truth.
Progressive media technology provides wonderful tools for use in worship, but if the words are not in sync with the song, it can create a problem for the congregation. One of the major causes for a silent congregation is the misuse of media technology in a church service. If projectors are cutting off or blinking awkwardly, that too can be a distraction that will cause a church to stop singing. In short, media technology and progressive tools can be a powerful aid in the worship of a congregation, but it too can be a massive distraction as well.
The pastors and church leaders are responsible for the selection of good songs each week in order to properly and passionately worship God in truth. We’re called to sing, but if we’re honest, we must address the reasons why the church is perpetually dominated by female voices and for the most part – quiet. The historic Reformation not only gave us the Bible in our common language, but it likewise brought us our hymnal. As the Reformation continues today, it will certainly be visible in the way the church sings to the Lord.
Psalm 67:4 – Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
- T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2010), 42.
- Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 120.