The Absence of Discipleship in Contemporary Worship Music

June 12th, 2008 / 3 Comments

One of the results of my ongoing spiritual formation is an awareness of the importance of discipleship; specifically discipleship as a visible practice that manifests social and political conclusions. This has also led to the observation that the majority of contemporary worship songwriters are oblivious to the responsibility the church has towards “making disciples.” Or stated more bluntly, most contemporary worship songs, and consequently most American evangelicals, are so consumed with internal/personal spirituality that it borders on narcissism.

This is not to say that “personal faith” is unimportant, as Augustine’s Confessions attests, or that there aren’t exceptions to my generalization—the work of Derek Webb comes to mind as does the lesser known Tom Wuest—but simply that the predominant view of contemporary worship represents an incomplete picture of what it means to be Christian.

Last Sunday at Morristown Vineyard we sang “Sweetly Broken” by Jeremy Riddle, which begins:

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of it’s suffering I do drink
Of it’s work I do sing

For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

As I was singing “Sweetly Broken” I kept coming back to the question, “what does it mean to be a disciple of a God who taught that love and justice are best expressed as willful submission to death on a cross?” As a follower of Christ, in what ways am I called to be “sweetly broken, wholly surrendered?”

As worship continued my thoughts turned to Tom Fox, a Christian who was killed in Iraq in 2005 while serving as a peace activist. I later found the following excerpt from one of his last journal entries:

Tom FoxTom Fox with Children, courtesy of CPT

We are throwing ourselves open to the possibility of God’s grace bringing some rays of light to the shadowy landscape that is Iraq. We are letting ourselves be guided by something that is beyond rational, intellectual analysis. (emphasis mine)

I wonder what the situation in Iraq might look like today if evangelicals in America correctly understood the role of discipleship in the life of faith. I wish more worship music communicated a spirituality that could actually be embodied by the church, rather than perpetuating a spirituality that is trite and superficial.

Do you agree that contemporary worship music is overwhelmingly self-centered, and if so, what are some ways you think the church can correct this imbalance?

UPDATE: I also recommend reading Inhabitatio Dei’s excellent post, “The Metaphysics of Descipleship.”

Comments (3)

  1. Scott,

    great post.

    I think I would disagree with words like “most” and “majority” when it comes to triteness/inward focus as it relates to worship songs.

    I think there are many examples of it, some of which you cited, but I think that the Passion movement, it of Tomlin/Crowder/Hall/Redman has many songs that proclaim deep truths of God, and don’t bail out at the end of a song with an emotional plea (. . lost for words, etc. . .). “How Great is our God”, and “Marvelous Light” come to mind.

    There’s also the Sovereign Grace churches who put out very “thick” worship music, and the modern hymn writers Keith Getty and Stuart Townend who wrote modern classics like “How Deep the Father’s Love for us”.

    I think there is a tendency in the Vineyard and Integrity music streams to be a bit “me-centered”. But, I hesitate to paint with a broad brush because I think that there are good and bad in all the various streams.

    Let’s just “test everything and hold onto the good”.

    concern duly noted, though. . . . good stuff,

  2. The Charismanglican / April 9, 2009 /

    oops…that’s three. if you write 3 blog posts decent enough to make me comment, you get added to the favorites.

    having made my living as a rock musician, i eventually couldn’t lead worship. it was too easy to use the performance skills to give people an ‘experience’.

    i suppose that’s what has led me thus far into the liturgical tradition…the whole thing seems bent on discipleship. of course, i’m in the Episcopalian church…so maybe discipleship-focused worship ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, eh?

  3. Maresa / July 14, 2010

    Where can I fin the post by Inhabitatio Dei’s “The Metaphysics of Descipleship.”

    The site says that ‘The authors have deleted this blog. The content is no longer available.’

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Hi, my name is Scott and I design websites. You can see some of them by visiting my portfolio. When I have the time (which is seldom these days) I like to blog about Christianity, especially theology/ethics. If you want to know more you can read my about page or follow me on Twitter.


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