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God’s people are singing people. It’s what we do. Music and singing are as fundamental to the life of faith as prayer — in fact, some songs are prayers (see Psalm 6876109). Given the outsized role that music plays in the vitality of congregational life, it’s worth examining how we think about music and the way it shapes our spiritual lives.

As congregations in the U.S. seek to offer a faithful witness in today’s culture, the way we worship God through music is changing. Not surprisingly, generational differences account for some of the variation. According to a 2020 Barna report, Gen Z is more likely to be open to charismatic worship than Christians in older generational groups. The report also identifies cultural differences, which has implications for multicultural ministry. Black Christians are more than twice as likely as white Christians to prefer gospel singing over hymns.

In a hyper-individualized culture like ours, it is challenging for Christians to see music as more than a personal preference. Historically, music has been a unifying force. Today, disagreements over music styles can lead to many vacancies on the worship committee — because who wants to sign up for a monthly debate? Music helps us tell the story of the gospel, and songs offer much-needed pastoral care. We shouldn’t take that lightly. For congregational leaders today, it is hard to know what to do with music in worship. Do we tailor the music to the people in the pews or those we hope to see in the pews? Or is there a third option? The simplistic path is to do what has always worked and give the people what they want. But if you’ve read this far, you probably don’t want to settle for simplistic — because you understand the power of music in the church.


Singing our way to hope

By Mel Williams

Music is a tilling of soil

Q&A with Steve Bell

Before you go…

Music is a constant source of controversy in the church. We argue about whether it’s too loud, too fast, too contemporary or too traditional. Those issues are not irrelevant, but I’m not sure they are the most important. Music is one of the practices that shapes the kind of Christians we become. Lyrics tell our hearts how to feel. As tempting as it is to hire great performance musicians, what we need are gifted musicians who are skilled at leading God’s people into worship — whether that’s traditional or contemporary. Hopefully, this week, you and your congregation will sing a new song to the Lord and encounter God through the power of music.

You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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