This article is part of the Help! series.
Too loud. Too soft. Too rhythmic. Too classical. Not relevant enough. Not transcendent enough. Not polished, creative, innovative, interesting, or powerful enough. Not good enough—at least not for me.
How do you feel about the music at your church? Are you ever disappointed by it? Why?
It is no wonder that Christians have strong opinions about music. Scripture calls God’s people to “make melody,” “sing to him a new song,” and “play skillfully” on musical instruments (Ps. 33:2–3). Paul tells us to address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs when we gather as a local church (Eph. 5:19). God has created us to use our voices to praise him, so singing rightly plays an integral role in corporate worship.
Yet, there is a subjective element when it comes to evaluating music. Our tastes for music do not develop in a vacuum but vary depending on our cultural background, location, family, upbringing, and more. The New Testament calls us to sing, but it (thankfully!) does not give us detailed rules on genre, instrumentation, or arrangement. That is not to say that those factors are unimportant, but that they are left up to Christian freedom and prudence.
So what should you do if you do not like the music at your church?
A Key Distinction
Before I answer that question, we should make a key distinction. When we consider congregational singing, there is a difference between songs and the music that accompanies them. Both are important, but the words that we sing matter more than the music played by any instruments the church may use. The New Testament commands us to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Every song is a teaching tool. Our songs either anchor us in truth, or they lead us astray. For that reason, it is better to sing words rich in Christ-exalting doctrine to lackluster musical accompaniment than it is to sing empty platitudes along with the finest orchestra or most thrilling band.
If you have misgivings about your church’s music because the lyrics are consistently vague, unhelpful, man-centered, and unclear—or even worse, they teach false theology—then you indeed have a legitimate concern. Pray. Raise the issue humbly with a pastor. Ask wise believers for counsel, and honor your conscience.
On the other hand, what if the words your church sings are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable (Phil. 4:8), but you do not enjoy the musical accompaniment? Here are eight points to consider.
Remember the Purposes of the Church’s Gathering
First, remember the purposes for which God gathers his people each Lord’s Day. The church meets for exaltation: we praise, thank, magnify, and glorify the God who made us and redeemed us (Eph. 5:20, Col. 3:17). We meet for edification, the building up of the whole body of Christ into greater maturity, unity, and love (1 Cor. 12:7, 14:26). As we focus on God’s glory and doing one another good, evangelism occurs as well—the unbeliever overhears the good news we proclaim and is converted (1 Cor. 14:24).
In other words: the gathering is not mainly about you or me. The mark of a faithful church service is not whether it caters to our tastes, but whether it orients us to devotion to God, love for the body, and zeal to see our neighbors know Christ.
Hold Your Musical Opinions Lightly
Second, recognize that your musical opinions are just that. The Bible simply does not prescribe a particular musical style that churches must use. That is not to say that form or genre do not matter. The medium does shape the message. Believers are entitled to hold a view about which forms of music best serve the purposes of exaltation, edification, and evangelism mentioned above. But evangelicals often have only two speeds when it comes to matters like these: something is either of utmost importance or it is not important at all. Musical genre matters, but it is not of utmost importance. Believers can disagree about musical style and still be members of the same church, like the Christians at Rome who disagreed about eating meat sacrificed to idols.
We must admit that our views on music may be limited or misguided. You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to stand in judgment over the whole church and insist that your view is the best.
Lay Down Your Preferences for the Sake of Unity
Third, recognize that you have an opportunity to promote the unity of the body by sacrificing your preferences and desires. That is the Christ-like model Paul calls us to follow: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).
What matters more to you: that your church plays your favorite musical style, or that your church is a community where believers from all different backgrounds lay down their tastes for the sake of the body?
We live in an era in which we can listen to our favorite music nonstop. Surely sacrificing our preferences for ninety minutes on a Sunday morning is not too much to ask of those whose core creed is that Christ gave up his whole life for us.
One side note for pastors: we should show an awareness that some people in the body have to lay down their preferences more than others do when it comes to music. Every church has a musical home base. That means the music will feel more distant to some folks. We should honor and thank those members for the sacrifice they make. They could probably find another congregation that better fits their musical profile, but they have stayed because they are committed to this particular body. Praise God for that testimony and encourage them for this evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in them.
Consider Afresh the Glory of God
Fourth, meditate on the matchless glory of God. From him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 11:36). The God who sings over us (Zeph. 3:17) receives honor from our singing to him (Rom. 15:9). If we refuse to sing because the music is not up to our standards, we rob God of the glory he deserves. How sobering it is to remember that if we fail to praise God, the stones will cry out instead (Luke 19:40). God will get his glory. The question is, Will we set aside our preferences to sing because we are ravished by the all-consuming delight of God’s infinite beauty?
Treat Singing as a Ministry of Love
Fifth, remember that singing is one way we show love and encouragement to the body. I often tell the story of a fellow church member named Jeremy who sings in such a way that the joy on his face seems to radiate straight to my soul.
Even if you don’t like the style of the music, singing is a way we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). When your church gathers, there are dear brothers and sisters in nearby pews facing anxiety, cancer, depression, temptation, unemployment, loneliness—the list could go on. One of the ways God intends to encourage them is through your singing. In this sense, Christ has enlisted every church member to join the choir. Singing is part of your ministry.
If we refuse to sing because the music is not up to our standards, we rob God of the glory he deserves.
Expand Your Musical Horizons
Sixth, follow the advice of Dr. Seuss in Green Eggs and Ham: try it, and you might like it! Often we feel distaste at a style of music because we are less familiar with it. Take a music appreciation class. Ask friends for album recommendations. Try to understand why other people enjoy the music your church uses. It may not become your favorite genre, but you might be surprised to find that your tastes are more flexible than you once assumed.
My pastor told me that he thought we needed to sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” more at church. “Its themes will encourage our body, and lots of people appreciate the tune,” he said. I agreed about the words of the song, but found the melody cheesy and old-fashioned. Still, God gave me the grace to submit to my pastor’s leadership. I led the song personally from guitar, with a forced smile. But I was amazed to find my heart warmed because the congregation was so evidently encouraged. I realized the Lord was rebuking my pride. He is sovereign, not me. He can use a song I do not like to bless his people. What a freeing truth that is to embrace.
Seventh, show grace. Church is a family meeting, not a concert. If you struggle with the music because it is unpolished and a bit sloppy, pray for a heart of patience. Yes, Scripture calls musicians to play skillfully, but this does not mean they must match up to the professional production quality we enjoy in our headphones throughout the week. It means they should strive for excellence according to the talents God has given them. We can encourage them along the way by not holding them to an unattainable standard. Relax. Give them a break. And sing enthusiastically—it is the best way you can encourage growing musicians in their ministry.
We Sing in Earshot of a Listening World
Eighth, remember that the church’s witness is at stake. The world understands a church where everyone has gathered around a shared favorite musical genre. But the church is to be counter culture. It confounds the world’s expectations. Our supernatural unity is supposed to amaze the whole cosmos (Eph. 3:10).
That is why it is absolutely thrilling to be a part of a church made up of fans of rock and classical, jazz and folk, hip-hop and electronica. What an opportunity to display our blood-bought unity.
We will spend eternity singing God’s praise, and I trust that in the new creation we will not be concerned about musical style. The glory of the Savior will call forth a song from our hearts and we will not remain silent. Our singing today is a foretaste of that day, despite any musical misgivings. Let us begin the song now.
Matt Merker is the author of Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People.
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