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Contemporary Worship Music

Contemporary really means current, for us, current musical trends. Some people call some music contemporary that’s been around for 30 years. I’m not saying they’re wrong – but to me, what’s contemporary is not the music as it is written, but the music as it is performed. For example, since we’ve previously talked about hymns, I firmly believe some traditional hymns can be transformed into contemporary works of art. Just look at “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” that was transformed into a powerful contemporary worship song called “The Wonderful Cross“. The words were written in the early 1700s by Isaac Watts and the music written in the early 1800s by Lowell Mason. But here comes Chris Tomlin, J.D. Walt, and Jesse Reeves in 2000 and they, leaving Watts’ words and Mason’s melody intact, write a short chorus, change a few chords, and have one of the most popular hymn-transformations to date. So the old music and words can be made new (or contemporary).

Then there are the brand new songs – in contemporary musical stylings. Some say they repeat themselves too much. Like the story of the old farmer that went to church in the big city with his son who had moved there for work. The church was new and did contemporary music. When the old farmer got home, his wife asked him about the services. He said this, “Suppose we had a cow that needed milked. In our (traditional) church, we’d say, ‘The cow in the barn needs milked.’ But here, they said, ‘The cow, the cow, the big brown cow, the one in the barn, our barn, down in our pasture, the cow in the barn, yes, our barn, she needs, oh how she needs, Lord, you know she needs milked, Oh Lord, help us to milk, to milk, our cow in our barn.’ Well, that’s about all we did at this church.”

Now, yes, this is an obvious exaggeration… but there is a point to some of the repetitions. First and foremost is that contemporary writers emphasize some theological points with repetition. For example, Chris Tomlin’s “Forever” has a bridge that repeats “His love endures forever” about 16 times, plus twice per verse. But just take a look at the hymns of the bible – the Psalms. Where Tomlin takes this from is Psalm 136 – of which the phrase, “His love endures forever” is repeated over 20 times… if it is okay for the Word of God, its okay for God’s people to sing. Plus, there are many other repetitions – think about how many times we see “Sing for joy to the Lord” or “Shout to God” or “Clap your hands” in the Scriptures. Repetition is a literary tool for making a point (or emphasis).

Repetition can also be a musical need. So that songs can resemble their radio, CD, or I-pod counterparts, sometimes repetition is needed. If you listen to most songs on the radio (Christian, rock, pop, or country) most have the same form (or structure) musically – verse 1-chorus-verse 2-chorus-bridge-chorus. The contemporary music of worship does the same as needed.

That’s enough about what I understand about the subject. I’ll tell you more in the next post about how I think a combination of the two (traditional and contemporary) is what’s best for the majority of the churches seeking to not only take care of those they have in their midst but also reach out to those that they haven’t reached yet.

I hope God blesses you in your search for him. Jeremiah 29:13 tells us that when we seek him (God) with all our heart, we will find him.


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