Is It Ok To Not Like Worship Music At Church?

This is a topic I have had a difficult time with for a while.  I do not find the music portion of church to be worshipful, which is a real bummer considering it takes up a significant portion of nearly every church service out there.  So what should I do about it?  Am I an oddity?  Am I wrong to not enjoy it?  Is it OK to not connect with God in this way?

I would like to first point out that there was a recent article that got a lot of attention by Donald Miller called “I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere.”  When I read the title and the first portion of the article, I could completely relate and was glad to hear that I was not alone.  However, my article here is nothing like Donald’s.  While he and I might see eye to eye on the worship music aspect of church services, we would not agree on what we should do about it.  He goes on to talk about how he also does not like sermons, and talks about how he is a “kinesthetic learner” (learning by doing), not an auditory or visual learner.  Therefore, he really doesn’t care for any portion of the church service and concludes by endorsing his decision to simply not go to church because he claims he connects with God better elsewhere.  While I would agree that it is possible to connect with God better outside of church, that does not mean that the church gathering shouldn’t be an important aspect of a Christian’s life.  Abandoning the church is not the answer, and that is not what I’m aiming at in this article.

Some factors that make it difficult for me to enjoy the music at church:

Being a musician myself, I have a critical ear for music, and a lazy ear for lyrics.  Anyone who knows me well will agree that while I might know the intricate details of the music of a song, I will typically have no idea what the message of the song is, even if I’ve listened to the song a hundred times.  I may even have the lyrics memorized, but not in a way that allows me to know what the song is talking about.  I listen for arrangement, unique parts, time signatures, how well the bass and drums are working together, strumming patterns of guitars, vocal abilities, etc.  So even if I wanted to try to worship, I am very quickly distracted by the music, especially if the musicianship is sub-par (which I recognize is an issue with my own criticalness).

I do not like most modern worship songs.  They are too simple, too theologically barren, and far too repetitive.  I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss hymns.  While they are not musically modern (with the exception of some artists making modern musical renditions of a few of them), they are theologically rich.  And, because of the simplicity of the music, it is far less distracting for me and much easier to pay attention to the message of the song.  Back to repetition though, there is a modern song that has a chorus that goes like this: “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me” and it repeats this 4 times just for 1 chorus.  Many worship leaders will send you through this chorus at least 4 or 5 times.  Each chorus has you saying the same thing 12 times.  So that’s at least 48-60+ times of saying the same exact thing just for 1 song.  Also, many lyrics simply are not true.  They talk about what “I” or “we” are doing like shouting, dancing, crying, shouting, and a number of other things that the congregation typically is not doing as they sing it.

I’m not always in the mood to sing.  There are many other ways of worshipping God outside of singing (in fact, it is almost as if the term “worship” in church is now synonymous with music and singing and that shouldn’t be the case).  So what happens if you are not in a singing mood?  You have to fake it or just stand there for 20-30 minutes until the music is over (and then hope they don’t close with another song or two after the sermon).

What can I do about it?

I really wonder how long, over the course of the near 2000 years that the church has been in existence, that music has been a regular and major aspect of the gatherings.  I’m also curious as to why music used to be so theologically rich and really helped to teach about theology, and why it is so dull now (and why some songs talk more about ourselves than about God).  Music in church has become the norm – so much that it would be odd to most people to experience a church service without it.  I would like to see this aspect of church, and the songs that are chosen, to have a major re-evaluation.

But, since music in church is probably not going to change or go away any time soon, what can I do about it?  For the past year or so, I have simply opted to stand and observe, occasionally singing if a good hymn is played, but mostly just standing without singing.  I find this to be quite boring and and not a good use of time.  I have been pondering simply sitting down in my seat and reading the Bible or praying, though I haven’t done this yet.

The problem with both not singing or with sitting down and doing something else is that people are bound to observe and wonder why I’m not standing and singing.  Some might respond with, “It doesn’t matter what other people think.”  In many situations in life, that is true.  However, at church, I don’t want to be a distraction or the cause of confusion.  We are to be a unified body, not a body divided.  What if other people caught on and started doing the same thing, to the point where a significant portion of the church was just sitting and reading while the rest stood and sang?  What if other people wonder things about me but never bother to ask?  What if the people on the worship team take it personally?  So I find this situation one in which I must think more critically about what I decide to do.

I do not have an answer for this yet.  I hope to ask a number of people I know to see what they think.  I hope to have some better ideas on this soon, and I will post at some point in the near future on the consensus I find through talking with others about this.

I would really like to hear your thoughts.  Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Is it ok to not like the music at church?
  • Do you think music should be a regular and significant part of church services?  If so, why?
  • What are some alternatives if someone does not want to sing?
  • Should it be ok to sit and read the Bible or pray during the music?  If so, what is a good way to think about other people who might be observing and wondering why I’m not singing?
  • What are some other alternatives when you don’t feel like singing?
  • Do you have any other thoughts?
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8 thoughts on “Is It Ok To Not Like Worship Music At Church?

  1. When I was still in church I would often receive glares for choosing to sit down during the worship portion or for rolling my eyes when I was being prompted to say “Oooh” six times in a row. The truth of the matter is I’ve gotten such a deeper worship from a secular song than I have from singing the same songs with the same chord progressions in worship.

    Though I do have a heart for music, you will rarely find me listening to Christian music. I think not being interested in church worship goes along with people being different and having different likes and dislikes. So wouldn’t it make sense that we all worship differently?

    Love your blog, by the way. You always leave me with something to think about.

    • renmcjo – Thank you for sharing (and for the encouragement). It is probably unavoidable that there will be those who judge you for sitting down and not singing, which is a bummer. But I agree with you. It should be no mystery that everyone is different, and everyone has different ways of doing things. Just as it should be ok for someone to really enjoy modern worship songs, it should be ok for others to not enjoy them. The songs certainly are not scripture or authoritative.

  2. Thanks for sharing Josh. You are thinking about something I have thought about a ton in the past. For the record, I can’t sing in key or keep a beat. I’ve also seen a lot of hurt stemming from music choices and attitudes towards others in “worship”. I also wish that professional Christian musicians would simply make professional music that all can enjoy without a Christian prerequisite.

    It’s made it quite difficult for me at times to make it through my past experiences at Christian camps, colleges, church services, and conferences without becoming completely cynical. It’s something that I’ve had to work through.

    That said, while Miller has a very good point that we all connect with God in different ways (and that the church should be mindful of this), I do think he’s missing the overarching principle that humans are relational and need to interact. Humans can not live in isolation. This is why attending gatherings and corporate expressions of thanks and praise are important.

    The more I’ve worked through my cynicism the more I’ve found it to be cool and completely human of us that Christians have regular opportunities to selflessly put personal preferences aside and connect with one another in one voice to acknowledge their Creator. Music, despite how flawed we make it, is perhaps the best way to do this.

    • Brandon – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m trying to understand your last paragraph. Are you suggesting that your prescription for the problem is to essentially just buck up and sing?

      • What I’m saying is that for me, when I finally understood that the community coming together in one voice to acknowledge God is more important than my personal preferences, tastes, and musical abilities, my attitude changed and I’ve been able to become less of a cynic and now can freely join in. So worship through music no longer feels like a chore or something to creatively avoid. But that’s just my experience and I hope God can restore this for you as well.

  3. I like what you are saying Brandon. I also think the onus is on the musicians to not bore people with repetitious singing, of songs that are not great theology or singable for the non musician. We work hard at our church to use biblical songs to teach and encourage, without heaps of repetition, and pretty much one song at.a time. Two at most. Usually only 4-5 per service. I mean not singable for the non musician.

  4. I completely agree with you on modern worship songs vs. hymns, and I think that it is perfectly valid to hold that view. I also think it is perfectly OK to stand (or sit, if that is what the congregation has been directed to do during the song) and not sing. If someone else notices, that is fine. If you feel you must flip through the Bible, hymnal, songbook, bulletin, or attendance book during the song do so discretely, but it would be better to stand/sit as the others are. Obvious passive aggressive behavior strikes me as less than acceptable.

    If the music leaders notice your lack of engagement, all the better. Hopefully that will prompt them to ask you why you are not participating. However, most likely they will not, and if you want to see change it will be up to you to tactfully suggest alternatives. Chances are you are not the only one feeling a lack of depth in the umpteenth repetition of a phrase containing the words “God” and “me.” I have heard people around me sigh, “finally!” at more than one service.

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