Hi. My Name Is Steve, And I’m A Song Snob.

There, I said it. I think a lot of people suspected I was, but it’s somewhat cathartic to say it out loud in this circle of friends… and complete strangers.

I first became acutely aware of my condition in the (late?) 90′s while attending a missions conference in Noblesville, Indiana. The speaker for a particular morning session was a Cedarville University professor, enlightening the audience about the counter-productive tendency to export culture along with Christianity (he made some folks unhappy, by the way).

Among several examples offered to illustrate his point, he noted that missionaries sometimes bring the music of their particular sub-culture with them, with the ill-advised idea that it should become the music of the people they are attempting to reach with the gospel.

Not being on furlough from Siberia, I had a different take-away. I love the great hymns of the faith, those few that (in my opinion) are strong both lyrically and musically, and typically focus on God and not me or my feelings about him. And I’m strongly opinionated about contemporary worship songs – those written in the last few decades. I think most of them should remain on an obscure website, un-downloaded forever, or perhaps buried in some worship leader’s stack of unused charts and song attempts.

But what does it matter what I think? Who am I to judge what is good songwriting and what is inferior? Who died and made me the arbiter of what songs are best for this church, or that group, or people in another country? What about worship leaders who write out of their experiences, and the life of the local body of believers – should they continue to use songs that seem to me (and probably to most of you as well) third-rate?

I would like to hear your opinions before I continue…


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8 Responses to Hi. My Name Is Steve, And I’m A Song Snob.

  1. Paul Race says:

    Agreed that many modern choruses are lacking worthwhile content and/or unsingable – just like many hymns. To me the point isn’t to globally decide to “use more choruses” or “use more hymns” but to know music, know worship, and know your congregation.

    One thing to keep in mind is that music is the “lingua franca” of everyone born since 1945 – a fact overlooked by ministers who choose songs because they think they will be “good for people” with no consideration of singability, style, or approprite sequence. These “good for you” songs include both tired old hymns and certain new choruses that are nothing more than doctrinal statements set to music (using the word “music” loosely).

    Well-written, meaningful, rhyming, poetic hymns and choruses are also “good for you,” but, sadly, not every songleader is gifted to know which are which.

    I like a wide variety of styles, but I think it’s important, not only to do stuff I like or think is “good for you,” but to choose songs and arrangements that encourage people of all demographics to enter in to worship. It IS possible to sing the great old hymns in a way that does not put off people raised outside the church. And it IS possible to sing the great new choruses in a way that doesn’t put off people who’ve spent the last forty years of their life in a “bubble.”

    As an example, you can do Amazing Grace with ONE chord, or three chords, or with five or six, if you count sevenths, secondary dominants, and relative minors. You can do it in straight “3/4″ or you can do it in a Traditional Gospel/Blues/Slow-Rock “6/8″ feel. (But call it a “Traditional Gospel feel” when you’re around folks who know that Blues and Rock are of the devil.) All but the most culturally isolated can sing along on the 6-chord 6/8 version, without necessarily putting under-forties into a coma.

    Recently a songleader wanted to close a service that had already overused archaic and dated tunes with a straight 4/4 interpretation of “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.” I convinced him to try it with a Buddy Holly/Bo Diddly shuffle beat instead. (I called it a “squaredance” rythm, though, since we all know that Buddy Holly and Bo Diddly played “jungle music.”) The “culturally-sheltered” folks sang along just fine, and the under-forties clapped and sang with gusto, closing an otherwise dreary service on a surprisingly bright note.

    BTW, I’m not talking about changing the tunes or words of classic hymns or adding random “bridges” (like “My Chains Fell Off”). If you use one of the new arrangements that turns a classic hymn into a chorus, you still owe hymn lovers (like me) at least one “real” hymn.

    You just don’t have to do EITHER your hymns or your choruses in a way that excludes ANYBODY from entering into the song service and eventually into a spirit of worship.

    One other thing to think about – not only the existing demograhics of your church, but the demographics you need to build on to survive and minister effectively in the “present age.” If you have a culturally-sheltered congregation, you may get more “kudos” by emphasing sadly-dated songs and arrangements, but you’ll close the church eventually. It IS possible to have worship sevices that attract and keep under-40s without offending or driving out the culturally-sheltered folks whose support and example your church also needs.

    If it seems like I’m demanding a lot of the worship leader, I am. Musicality, spiritual sensitivity, cultural sensitivity, creativity, a willingness to get out of one’s own “ruts” for the benefit of the congretation, and above all a work ethic.

    Five years from now, we’ll have all new choruses and trends, but the need for worship leaders who fulfill the “job description” in the previous sentence will not change.

    And P.S., if you’re getting paid to lead worship and my discussion of secondary dominants, relative minors, shuffle beats, etc., above lost you completely, GET HELP NOW!

    • admin says:

      Your first paragraph says it all! There is no silver bullet. The worship leader, hopefully, does indeed know music, worship, and his congregation, and has enough humility to change, adapt, and seek the wisdom and counsel of others.

      Your observation that music is the ‘lingua franca’ for most of us calls to mind the tendencies to elevate the worship leader in an unhealthy way, and to make the music of a congregation a primary consideration in choosing your church (for better or for worse). I feel another post coming on about this in my future…

      As far as your statement that 5 years from now we’ll have new music and new trends – wouldn’t it be cool to be able to move forward 5 years just for a bit and find out which artists have dropped off the radar, which songs have endured, and so forth!

  2. Carmen Carrion says:

    I didn’t know you felt so strongly about this. I had the feeling that I was the only snob out there and that I should keep my mouth shut. Of course my opinion isn’t based on anything except my own personal taste…

    There are a few contemporary songs that I really like but precious few. I probably like them because they touch my heart, not quite sure why. My church uses the occasional token hymn so they can say that they still use them but mostly we sing the 7/11 variety – the same 7 words 11 times over(and I’ve counted as many as 14 repetitions). Reminds me of someplace that refers to ‘vain repetitions’. Having said that, I noted recently a young lady across the aisle from me who was saved out of a pretty bad addiction. She was sincerely worshiping God to one of those same 7/11 songs. I could see in her eyes that it truly touched her heart. And isn’t that what music should do – touch our hearts and draw us closer to God? For this reason (and that fact that I’m now in the more mature – in other words older – generation) I’ve decided not to complain or even mention my preferences unless I’m directly asked about them. I should be the mature one who takes care of the newbie, the babe in Christ. If anyone should ask, however, I will most definitely point out the benefit and beauty of certain hymns.

    So my opinion is that we should use the music that ministers to the people present. Of course it should be accurate and orderly (all things done decently and in order) but style is just that, style. As we introduce non-Christians and new Christians to the faith it’s entirely appropriate to introduce them to great music, the historic music of the faith as well. I guess the sum of it all is all things in balance. Please don’t reject me because I still have 10 or 12 hymnals on my shelf and I won’t condemn you because you don’t. If I were a worship leader, though, I’d definitely use plenty of hymns and if you don’t mention that they’re ‘hymns’, just call them ‘songs’ I’m betting most people will like them and never know what category they came from.

    • admin says:

      Carmen, there’s a quote I can’t lay my hands on at the moment from C.S. Lewis to the effect he was grousing about the 3rd rate lyrics and 4th rate music in church, but was put in his place (if I’m remembering correctly)as he noticed the elderly lady across the aisle clearly being moved to worship as she sang this hymn. This is one of the links in the chain of articles, comments, and conversations that keeps busting my chops about my nose in the air tendencies as regards contemporary songs, and even hymns.

  3. Celeste says:

    I could have written everything you said, word for word… to your last paragraph, I would hasten to insert that as a Music Therapist, I know that not only should we realize the effect of the words (for worship, the words should reflect worship… ascribing to God His rightful place of supremecy), but also the music itself, which has an undeniable an involuntary effect on our bodies and minds that can be either positive or negative.

    • admin says:

      Great point. Music can soothe the savage beast (or calm the troubled spirit) – without any title or lyric, and this is just another evidence that music is a wonderful gift from God.

  4. Pingback: Hi. My Name Is Steve, & I’m A Song Snob PART 2. | Steve Millikan - Music Producer | Orchestrator & Arranger | Worship Leader | Songwriter

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