Modern worship songs - why they're needed and why they're not the answer


The World Methodist Council has finished its latest session in Seoul, Korea, and members like me have returned to our homes with many memories. One of the highlights for me was the worship at our host church, Kwanglim Methodist Church, one of the largest Methodist Churches in the world. It has dozens of church plants, five main worship services each Sunday, each one with upwards of a thousand worshippers of all ages. Yet, all of this is accomplished with a robed choir - and orchestra! - singing hymns that most British Methodists stopped singing fifty years ago.

All of this reminded me of a discussion I had recently with a colleague about modern worship songs. The two reasons given for having them were, basically, attractiveness and accessibility, and I sought to challenge both.

The myth of accessibility is a strong one in Methodism. Perhaps it goes back to John Wesley's 'plain simple Christianity', the idea that Christianity is easily understood and apprehended. I remember, as a young and enthusiastic evangelist handing out tracts with six little cartoons that claimed to offer the full 'salvation plan' that God has prepared in Jesus Christ. Still today, a good many Methodists believe that any unchurched person can step over our threshold on a Sunday morning and immediately understand what is going on.

We forget, at our peril, that the Church is a community into which we must be inducted, and not simply by opening the doors on Sunday morning, saying hello and handing a person a hymn book. The myth of accessibility has allowed Methodists to believe that they are absolved of any responsibility for faith-sharing, well, because it is all available on a Sunday. We have forgotten that the Christian faith isn't designed to be understood, but encountered as a gift, an embodied gift. Christianity is shared, not accessed.

Then there is the argument about attractiveness, that this music is culturally appropriate because it sounds like contemporary music. I have enormously varied cultural tastes, but most modern worship songs I hear are written by people my age or older and sound like the musical equivalent of the trendy vicar. My son is a music producer and creates fantastic stuff like traktrain samples . You won't hear this on a Sunday morning!