Friday, June 2, 2023
It won’t come as a surprise that almost all the top songs sung in churches across America, Australia and New Zealand over the past decade have been produced by just three churches — Hillsong, Elevation and Bethel. As we now know, sadly, some of these churches have been embroiled in scandal and adhere to some questionable theology. Further, all of them have made very good money from the their worship music in what is now a very lucrative industry.
Now before you think this may be a ‘hit piece’ please be assured it is not. But it is definitely a tricky issue in the same way that the reading the books of fallen leaders and theologians are.
The question is simple enough: Should we sing Hillsong songs when we gather for worship? Should we read Bill Hybels, Ravi Zacharias or Brian Houston books?
My answer is yes but proceed with much more caution. Interestingly (a personal reflection only), I find myself somewhat reluctant to use these peoples songs or read their books, not because I have a problem with it per se but because I experience, what I can only describe as internal conflict…..an internal caution and reluctance……..even a distaste on ocaison. In other words ‘Shout to the Lord’ has blessed me many times over the years as it has millions of others all around the globe but now it has a tinge associated to it that makes me think twice yet all the while grateful for Darlene Zschech and all the amazing songs she wrote over many years. Can you feel my pain?
I’m no expert on church music (hymnology) but here are a few of my reflections:-
- Some traditional hymns or music from non-controversial sources weren’t written by squeaky clean song writers and lyricists either. Perhaps the most famous example is Martin Luther of using a popular melody is his adaptation of a bar tune called "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"). He wrote new lyrics for this melody, creating a hymn that became one of the most well-known and beloved hymns in Protestant Christianity. The melody of this hymn is still widely sung today. I’m sure there would be plenty of similar examples.
- God is well able to use songs and words that are written by people who attend or associate with one of these churches as He has done for some 20 years or so.
- I can’t speak for the actual song writers and lyricists because I don’t know them but I can only imagine that they used their gift with good intentions namely, to honour God and provide a vehicle (song) for the people of God to worship. I want to give them the ‘benefit of the doubt’.
- The fact that the most popular worship songs have become a huge business industry using commercial, marketing and other business methodologies is another issue entirely but one that I think should concern us. If nothing else I do think it is wise that pastors spend a little time schooling up on this.
- And then there is the issue of repentance by ‘fallen’ leaders. When a pastor or worship leader sincerely repent publicly for the sin they have done and then commit to a process of healing, restoration and restitution does that change how we approach their music and their books etc. My answer is absolutely it does. It changes everything. And our premier example of this is of course King David.
So this is no longer a straight forward issue if it has ever been. There are quite a few layers of complexity these days and navigating these are not cut and dry. What I do think is important is the conversation. What is your response, pastor? Have you thought and prayed about this? Have you convened some important discussions in your church with your Elders and worship team members? Have you been able to come to a position on what is in fact a huge part of church life and the Christian experience?
Before I go one final point. This blog is all about the source of a song…..who wrote it and where has it come from. As important a consideration in song selection is the ‘theology’ being communicated in the songs we sing AND how singable are those songs for a congregation to sing together? This of course is not a new issue but a great topic to discuss. But let’s come back to that another time.
I would love to know your thoughts on this.