Has Church music morphed into prayer?

One of the most obvious things about the modern church is that music has a very high priority in our services. I’ve noticed over my 25 years of being a Christian that the music used in church is changing, not just in style but in purpose.

A couple of centuries ago church music was not just used to inspire people but also to teach theology.  The teaching emphasis made sense granted that many people in the church were illiterate.  Their were no mid week bible study groups, no Christian bookshops down the road, no Christian input outside of what happened between the processional and the recessional on a Sunday morning.

In this era there are huge resources available to a congregation that is not only literate but online as well.  So whilst the teaching aspect of music in church is still useful the imperative to do it is not as strong.

Church music seems to have morphed into prayer.  Teaching is now primarily done through the sermon and mid week programs such as home groups.  We used to sing about God, but now we sing to God. One example of this is a song we used to sing in the late 80’s at my Anglican Church.  The original music for this song was written in 1882 and the words of Psalm 46 were put to it in 1912. The first verse sang “God is our strength and refuge…”. Today instead of singing ‘God is our….” we sing songs that begin ‘You are my…..’.  One of Hillsong’s first big “hits” in the early 90’s was ‘You are my rock, you are my Lord’.

I’m sure that there are examples that go the other way as well. However, I think that  this has been become the trend.  Overall church music, especially in the Pentecostal circles which I’m a part of, it has turned into a time where the congregation directly talks to God.  People are meant to engage with God and enjoy a prayer time that is not just accompanied by music but is meaningful, reflective and inspiring.

So – is this change a good thing or not?

Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses.  It’s never a bad idea to learn theology to music.  The great thing about modern church music where the congregation sings to God is that it forces the attendee to have some time with God that is not focussed on their personal needs.  Our prayer times can often be where we present God with a shopping list of things we want.  When we sing at church we have to address God for maybe 20 minutes where our focus is on Him, His glory and His love.  Our shopping list does not come into it.  That’s a good thing.

Corporate prayer to music where we focus on God’s greatness is powerful.  It gives you perspective.  The things that you were worried about when you were walking through the car park 30 minutes ago are no longer as important because your attention has been drawn to the greatness of God and you are professing your love for him.

Do you think I have described the change correctly?

What are the pros and cons of the change?


6 Comments to “Has Church music morphed into prayer?”

  1. I love the music in the church. Having grown up in the Methodist and Presbyterian then Uniting before planting my feet in pentecostal circles – I have a sense of closeness to God wether singing about Him in a hymn, or to Him in the prayerful lyrics of today. However, I do have my own stumblig block, in that I analyse the lyrics closely to see if they are aligned with scripture, or theologically correct or not, and wether right or wrong, sometimes I just can’t sing the song as I believe it does not sit right with my spirit!

  2. After reading your blog, I’m now thinking about the songs I’m singing in worship (instead of just worshipping!). My biggest distraction came when deep in worship the lyrics changed to a prayer of petition and I started to ponder whether that was appropriate. Totally derailed me. All your fault John 🙂

  3. Really good points, John! I hadn’t made the connection but definitely prefer to sing TO God than ABOUT Him! Michael, on the other hand, prefers the old hymns and gets rather excited when we hear them at church on the odd occasion now. I have some ideas of why this may be but won’t speculate on his behalf except to say that we do relate in very different ways and he is a typical boy while I am a typical girl!! Without being sexist, we are just different in the way we relate to others AND to God! But this is certainly not a generalized statement…just true for us!

    • Good comments folks. It occurred to me today that sometimes even within a single song the transition can be made, I think deliberately, to create further intimacy. Today I was listening to “The Stand” by Hillsong which says, “So I’ll stand / With arms high and heart abandoned / In awe of the One who gave it all / So I’ll stand / My soul Lord to You surrendered / All I am is Yours.” It goes from talking about “the One” to directly addressing “you”. I think that it is a powerful device. Certainly a completely brilliant song.

  4. I can tell you this much John I am much more engaged with God these days as we worship through and with contemporay means than the days as a boy singing hymns to aweful organ playing… But maybe it’s me that has changed… my Mum still loves the hymns and hates the ‘noise’ of the modern church!

  5. Thank God, the music in church has changed. Otherwise all our churches would be empty, or at least, I for one, would not be part of a church! Con’s …. too much distraction on stage – big hair, big heels, loud guitars. Pro’s… it’s nice to talk to God. it’s what creates intimacy between us and him. Thanks for reminding us of this John.

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