I was recently asked to share some thoughts in response to the question, “What is the value of contemporary Christian music in our worship experiences?”
Here was my response:
The story of God is ever-unfolding, developing, ongoing in our lives. He is constantly and consistently at work in and through us, in the hearts and lives of believers all around the globe. He worked personally and supernaturally in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and in the same way, He is at work in the lives of us today in 2014. While the Israelites were wandering in the desert, experiencing firsthand the miraculous deliverance of God from trials of every kind, new songs of faith burst forth, moments of inspiration and gratitude that became songs of worship from the people of God. Through the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the same thing continued to happen. The people of God experienced the works of God in their lives, and as a result, hymns and songs of worship and gratitude burst forth.
We still sing many of those hymns today, a few hundred years later. For example, I recently led our congregation in the beautiful hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”, which was written in 1873 by Horatio Spafford, a Chicago-based attorney heavily invested in real estate who in a span of two short years lost his entire business & fortune in a fire, watched his 4-year old son die of scarlet fever, and shortly after lost all four of his daughters in a tragic shipwreck. After being reunited with his wife who was rescued from the wreckage, he sat in his cabin weeping and penned the words to this great song, which the global Church is still singing today, 140 years later.
It would only make sense that as God is continually moving and working in our lives today, new songs of worship would continue to burst forth. That is all “modern worship” really is – new songs of the faith. At some point in history, “Amazing Grace” was a new song, a “modern song” for the people of its time. “The Old Rugged Cross”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Blessed Assurance” – every song we describe today as a “sacred hymn” was at some point a brand new, “modern worship song.”
So, why is it important to use “contemporary worship music” in churches today? Because someday, these “new” songs of today will become the sacred standards of the future church. Songs like “In Christ Alone,” “10,000 Reasons,” etc. will continue to be sung and used in churches 100 years from now. I firmly believe people will talk about the Gettys and Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman in the same way they talk about Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby.
Shelly E. Johnson is an exclusive LifeWay Worship songwriter and serves as worship leader at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, GA. Visit her official website at http://www.shellyejohnson.com. Her new project, Your Kingdom Come, will be available in September 2014.