Sing Unto the Lord

Triple J and Church
March 3, 2008, 9:12 am
Filed under: Thinking Music

I go through stages of listening to Triple J. Usually it lasts for about three weeks and then I remember my ipod and come running home. Lately as I’ve been listening I’ve become frustrated at

I listen to heaps of music. I love The Herd, Thrice, Cog, Chopin, Theolonius Monk, The Black Keys, The Gorrilaz, Coheed and Cambria, The Killers, The Mars Volta, Nick Cave, Silverchair, Boysetsfire, Jimmy Eat World, Mozart, Keith Jarret, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Brand New, Oasis, The Smiths, Nirvana, The Music, AFI and heaps more!

But the music that we play in church and the music that I write for church all sounds so church! Here is our church in the middle of one of arguably the most musically rich areas of Australia and we pump out songs that sound nothing like the world around us. Christian music is weird music. If you heard a christian song on Triple J I’m sure you could pick it in a second. No one else makes music like we do – except U2 fourteen years ago. Why is it that I can listen to so much good music by those who don’t know Jesus and I haven’t learnt anything in the way I write music.

One of the key points of our music ministry is that we want to be missional. That means we should be seeking to allow our music to be an entry point for the culture around us. We don’t want it to be a barrier!

Now I hope that this is all changing. The guys in leadership in Nitechurch music have been thinking this way for a little while and some of our songs are sounding better. Can I encourage you to think about the music you are creating/choosing/arranging. Does it serve in making your church more missional, or does it contribute to an insular church.


19 Comments so far
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You’re spot on here. I am not a Triple J fan (a bit too eclectic for my tastes), but my own musical taste ranges from Swing and Pop to Prog Rock and Metalcore. And yet as you say, all our church music is the same 80’s/90’s soft rock. I am our churches main guitarist and if i’m really honest I’d say I don’t really like ANY music we play in church. None at all. Maybe that says more about me than anything, but that’s the way it is for the moment.

It seems we’re generally stuck as we are trying to please such a wide variety of people, so we end up with an inoffensive, bland middle ground.

Mars Hill actually achieve something approaching true “contemporary” style with bands like Red Letter. For my small church, this would not work as our age range is early 20’s to mid-80’s.

On another note I was reading a blog post the other day from a guy visiting The Journey in St Louis and they are a big church yet used 1 x guitar, a set of congas and a couple of vocals. He reckons it was awesome!

Comment by Jeff A

Interestingly, Seth, Jamin, Mitch and I had a chat about this yesterday.

Why is Christian music so crap?

We could only think of a few good Christian bands and most of them purposely tone down their lyrics to reach the secular market (Lifehouse, U2, Switchfoot).
Brooke Fraser was the only artist we could think of that sings about Jesus, salvation, the cross and isn’t corny. Why?

We didn’t come to many conclusions – apart from a cracker by Mitch who said

“I think Christian bands suck in general and I think its because Christians support anything that is Christian and so bands that really shouldn’t have made it end up selling lots of records cause Christians don’t know how to give constructive criticism.”


Comment by jpj

I want to see some Radiohead-esque church music.

Or maybe I don’t, actually…

Comment by Ben

One of the problems is music is so subjective. Why anyone would think Brooke Fraser is not cheesy I don’t know!?! I think it is hard to do missional music in most contexts. Why not just not do music if we want to be missional?

Comment by Sam

I think there are some sweet Christian bands out there – heaps on Tooth and Nail for example, or Antiskeptic. However, I do agree to a degree.

Yet Dan, don’t forget that part of church music is that the congregation needs to be able to sing along. Theres not many secular concerts you go to where the audience is expected to sing along. But I think we can get more contemporary and keep it singable.

Comment by Dale Kerrigan

“One of the problems is music is so subjective. Why anyone would think Brooke Fraser is not cheesy I don’t know!?! I think it is hard to do missional music in most contexts. Why not just not do music if we want to be missional?”

I hear what you are saying, but think about the opportunity we would be missing if we didn’t explore ways to ‘be missional’ as Christians through music. It’s a universal language, and it’s an amazingly powerful medium that somehow manages to reach everyone in some way, whatever genre(s) they like and whether they are Christian or not. The fact that not many Christian artists or bands have yet managed to achieve this in a non-‘cheesy’ way that is relevant to today’s society, doesn’t seem reason to just not ‘do’ music.

Comment by J Day

i don’t reckon it’s a universal language. There are heaps of people in the world who rarely listen to music and even more who just listen for listenings sake and never get into the emotion and/or message of music. That said I am all for music at church! And i reckon we should keep working at it. But it does seem to me that music is one of those areas where Christians are a bit weird to the world. The only other context in which we sing together in our world is when people are drunk and ‘Khe San’ comes on the duke box or at the football. And occasionally at a concert like U2… almost never at pub gigs…

Look forward to you producing some missional music Dan! Some of our musos are coming to your church next Sunday to check out how you do music. See you then!

Comment by Sam

Hey Dan,

I guess music at church needs the ‘lowest common denominator’ factor. I like jazz, but I reckon if you started playing a whole heap of jazz-hymns(?) you’d get a bucket full of yellow cards with people telling you they hated it. And if you played ‘radiohead-esque’ songs at church, I’d write you a yellow card telling you I hated it!

But why do you think music is missional? Just curious? I thought music was about believers encouraging each other to glorify God. I suppose there’s an element of evangelism as we sing great truths…?

Comment by Michelle

But why do you think music is missional? I thought music was about believers encouraging each other to glorify God.

I would agree that glorifying God is the primary purpose of music in a church congregation, and as Dan said in a previous post: the unique role music has is to help God’s people feel what we know

I believe the missional aspect of congregational music is unavoidable as the church is not an isolated unit. We are part of two cultures – both church and world. Some aspects of the church must remain distinct such as baptism and communion. Music style, however, can be a common medium. That way the stumbling block centres on the gospel.
Somehow we have created a genre of music (typical Christian worship music) that has little connection with the world. We’re always about 10years behind.
Jeff and Michelle made a good points about the diversity of people and styles within church – so maybe this is all a pipe dream!

Comment by jpj

Hey guys. An obscene image was posted at the top of this site somehow. I’ve since deleted it.

Comment by danielgodden

now for a response to all these responses. I think music in church is like you say Michelle, primarily for believers encouraging each other to glorify God. However we can’t ignore the culture we are part of any more than we can ignore the language we speak in or the customs we live amongst.
I agree with Sam that for some cultures music may not matter as much. However on the coast where I’m from it matters a whole heap. Partly because many of the people converted in our church come from Christian backgrounds and come to our church to find that they had never heard of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone. For these people music matters because their previous church background placed it highly in importance. They are used to having good music done well. But if that was the only reason it wouldn’t be enough but the coast also has a prolific obsession with music. It is what people do. It is how many relate. It provides labels to attach yourself to tribally. We need to help people see that God also loves good music but the purpose of music is not to be tribal but to give glory to God. I never want the jazz dude to think Jazz is for bars and Geoff Bullock is for God. Jazz is for God. This can be life changing for the music idolator, to see that their music style is not God but rather there is a God who created all music. Good music. Creating a genre of music that is predictable and so different from the world in the way that we have, means that we create a big divide between the secular and the sacred. Rather we want people to see that what they see as secular actually comes under the rule and dominion of Jesus.
We don’t ever want to limit God to the church so why do we only use our own specific musical style in church and thus create a misconception that doesn’t need to be there.
come back at me.

Comment by danielgodden

p.s I think Brooke Fraser is cheesy. I never said she wasn’t. Having our own Christian superstars that put out Christian music is part of the problem.
p.p.s I also think Brooke Fraser does some mad stuff.

Comment by danielgodden

I’d love to do radiohead church music and jazz stuff. I don’t think all our congregations are there yet but I think some are.

Comment by danielgodden

However on the coast where I’m from it matters a whole heap.

Amongst everyone, or just amongst 16-30 year olds? I feel like all of this aimed at Night Church and SatEV. Is it really the case for Morning Church?

Comment by Michelle

Daniel, good work on getting rid of that horrible image. It’s disgusting that some people think that they can abuse your website’s images like that. This is a Christian website, and some people should be ashamed of themselves.

God Bless.

Comment by Patrice

Hey, just on the original post, and some following, there are plenty, plenty of Good bands doing contemporary things and hey, their words are about Jesus.

I work in a Christian bookstore (the biggest indy in NSW, so not a chain store one), and I do alot of the musical stuff at our store:

David Crowder*Band (is still fairly “christian” in genre, but is at least different, maybe something for a more innovative, but still quite safe approach)

Leeland (look above and don’t get scared that they’re playing at the Hillsong Conference)

The Glorious Unseen (these guys are the worship group from Anchor Fellowship in Nashville, a smallish church bourne out of a community of jaded youth leader and artiste types, very good atmospheric sorta praise)

Future of Forestry (see similar to above)

thats just four worship bands who actually play mildly not embarrassing music, there are zillions more, plus i’ll list a few band bands, which don’t play worship suited stuff but are not corny and actually do their musical as well as their words:

Relient K (yes, they are corny, but so is pop-punk)

The Wedding (good rock music, some influences from powerpop and screamo-y stuff)

Edison Glass (very good indie rock sorta stuff)

Secret and Whisper (think circa survive with christian lyrics)

Life In Your Way (good metalcore, softer than say Norma Jean heavy as Underoath, but more like Only Chasing Safety Era).

this is only a tiny tiny view, the music is out there, it just takes someone who knows what they’re talking about…

Comment by Dom

also, in terms of our stuff, we do the standard stuff (we also have a standard crowd),

but it is in the arrangements that it helps, each of the individual parts brings something to how we do our songs, our main drummer is a bit of a metalhead, so you’ll hear really structured fills and some really unique use of double kick (re:driving Christ My Savior, a 3/4 sorta traddy sorta song really gets a kick with some sexy double-kick rolls), the guitarists, well we have some guys who are just awesome with guitars and their creativity helps, the bass player aren’t bad, we have one guy who has well honed primus-esque slapping and popping and other fun sounds, but he is also very tight, then my bass usually lends some more creative (read: accidentally good sounding) touches, I rountinley play with distortion and chorus, slide into the melody, often have walking bits, sometimes thrash away on full blown chords, and then we have a couple of great jazzy pianists and it all combines to bit something cool on the regular stuff, so making what is presented interesting is purely up to the musicians.

Comment by Dom

Hey Dom.
Where abouts do you go to church?
P.S thanks for some of those bands. i agree with you that Dave Crowder is doing what I was talking about and that there are some out there. Wouldn’t it be great if there were guys doin that in Aus.

Comment by danielgodden

Dapto Anglican (south of wollongong, by about 15 minutes).

Yeah, I wasn’t trying to attack or anything, just offer suggestions, cause there is some really good stuff out there. I’d love to see some guys doing some Dave Crowder sorta stuff, just different worship in Australia.

p.s. have a look too at Robbie Seay Band, glad I could be of help.

Comment by Dom

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