To begin this article I need to make something very clear. I love music. In fact, both my wife and I play the piano. I love to listen to Christian music as I travel—and I love to sing praises to our God as I worship in church.
Also, one of my closest friends is Answers in Genesis’s songwriter and singer, Buddy Davis. I have encouraged Buddy over the years to produce CDs of the many songs he has composed and presented at concerts at the Creation Museum and churches around the world.
Having said that, I want to address what I see as a problem—something that troubles me. I realize that when you begin to talk about music, it can evoke very emotional responses. But I actually don’t want to address music styles or content in this article (not that such is not important). I believe something else needs to be addressed.
A New Priority in the Church
I am in a rather interesting position to view what is happening in much of the church. I have traveled for over thirty years across the United States and to other parts of the world speaking at conferences and churches. I get to see patterns from a big-picture perspective. My observation holds true across denominations and national boundaries (with some exceptions, of course).
I would like to suggest that in many instances—particularly from my personal observation in the larger churches—music has become the dominant part of church services, and the teaching of God’s Word has become less of a priority. The same is true in certain Bible conferences, particularly those geared for young people.
Let me share just some of my observations. I encourage you to consider them carefully.
- There is what they call a “praise and worship” time with a band usually on stage. The congregation, or audience, is asked to stand and sing for thirty to forty minutes—sometimes for an hour or so.
- Now, as I look around the room, I often find that many people are not singing.
- Many of the songs are sung over and over and over again.
- When people finally sit for a sermon or teaching, this time is often less than the music. And many people seem tired and distracted.
- Many times, the band’s words cannot be understood. You can recognize them only if they are shown on the screen.
Let me share a couple of personal experiences that show how this mindset can hinder the teaching of God’s Word. Sometimes a pastor says something like, “We tried to cut the praise and worship time so you could have the fifty minutes you wanted to speak, but I can’t really control what the worship pastor will do.” And so I often end up with less time than what I prepared for and what is needed.
Some worship pastors have said things like, “We’ll let you set your computer up after we’ve finished our practicing. After all, the praise and worship is the most important part of the service.” If I hope to teach God’s Word effectively, as the invited speaker, I need to make sure the computer works well with the church’s A/V systems.
I have seen this pattern in other countries too. Churches have a “praise and worship” time that is more often like a concert to attract people to the church, while the teaching time for God’s Word is secondary.
Now, to be sure, not all churches are like this, and I’m not saying churches should not have a “praise and worship” time. But if young people and adults get the idea that music is more important than the study of God’s Word, then where will they and their churches be spiritually in the coming years?
Biblical teaching and worshipful music do not have to be in competition. When properly done, both are important aspects of true “praise and worship” that glorifies and pleases the Lord.
No More Excuses
I have had many pastors, particularly youth pastors, tell me that music is where the kids “are at” today, and music helps keep them in church and attract others. But when I’ve been given opportunity to speak to these young people, I find they are filled with questions and doubts about God’s Word, and they desperately want answers that can’t be found in a praise chorus.
Let me give a specific example. I was asked to speak at a service for young people. I sat through almost an hour of loud music and couldn’t understand most of the words. Then I was asked to speak for only about twenty minutes because, I was told, “Young people can’t sit for long and listen to talks these days.” Then I could have a question time afterward.
So I did my best in twenty minutes and asked for questions. Those young people bombarded me: Where did Cain get his wife? How do you know the Bible is true? Why doesn’t God show Himself to us? What about carbon dating? How do you explain dinosaurs? How could Noah fit the animals on the Ark? We went on for over an hour.
Afterward, the youth pastor said, “I’ve never seen them so interested. I never knew Billy could even ask a question, let alone the one he asked. What happened?”
What happened? Well, the beliefs of these young people are being challenged at public school. From my experience, I know many of their doubts, and from the research we conducted for the book Already Gone, we know that two-thirds of these young people will leave the church by college age. So I began giving them answers to help them understand how we know God’s Word is true.
Many church leaders have adopted music styles simply to attract people, instead of focusing on the things that most please God.
What’s the point of all this? Again, I’m not against having time for music. But I believe many church leaders have adopted music styles simply to attract people, instead of focusing on the things that most please God: music and vital teaching that most meet the flock’s needs and glorify the Lord. People want to hear solid biblical truth and answers to the skeptical questions of this age. They want to know how to live Christ-honoring lives and proclaim and defend the gospel to people who are thoroughly “evolutionized.”
Now, the Bible does not prescribe how much time should be allotted to teaching and music. But in a world that increasingly attacks the Bible’s authority, I submit that the pastor, more than ever, needs to equip his people with biblical truths so that they can function as true Christ followers (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Furthermore, many churches tell their adults and young people that they can believe in evolution and history over millions of years, as long as they just trust Jesus. Or they totally ignore this topic. Yet I believe that today’s attack on God’s Word is the same strategy Satan employed in Genesis 3 when he asked Eve, “Did God really say . . . ?” This attack on the Bible’s trustworthiness is destroying the coming generations. Meanwhile, church members get together and have long “praise and worship” times that relegate Bible teaching to a much lesser role than music.
But is God hearing many of these churches? If we are compromising God’s Word and not teaching and obeying His Word as we should, is it possible that God would say to these modern churches what He did to the Israelites of old?
“Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (Amos 5:23). “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
Amen! By God’s grace, may we get our priorities straight and help people to praise and worship Him as He deserves—giving primacy to His Word in all aspects of our personal lives and church services!