If you’re singing a hymn text in this style, you’re not really singing a hymn. You’re singing a pop worship song that happens to use old words. Those words may be good, but they aren’t being done in a style that unifies the congregation. They aren’t being done in a way that emphasizes the text. They’re being performed at an audience, some of whom might be crooning (or, more to the point, emoting) along from their pews or stadium-style seats, but who aren’t being trained in the discipline of singing.
Whenever I talk about how pop worship music is inappropriate for Christian worship, I get comments accusing me of making hasty generalizations, and directing me to “fresh” and “new” pop recordings of treasured hymns. “See?!?” these people will usually say. “You can sing good theology but in a modern style that connects with younger generations!”
I want to mention that if two generations of parents and churches had done their part, hymnody sung by choir and congregation, usually accompanied by organ, would “connect” just fine, although I reject that use of the word. If it is unfamiliar, all that has to happen is for it to be reintroduced with patient training and explanation?
Why must it be reintroduced? Isn’t it just a stylistic difference?
No, it isn’t just a stylistic difference, and that’s not difficult to ascertain by anyone willing to honestly evaluate the situation.
Since my first viral post, back in 2014 when it was still possible for a blog post to actual go “viral,” I’ve been saying this. Sometimes people ask why I’m still saying it. The answer is simply that some people still need to hear it.
It will anger some people to hear me say this, sure. That’s okay. They’re the ones who need to hear it most.
Pop music is not written to be sung by a congregation. It is not textually driven, which is part of the necessity for a poem set to music to function as a hymn. Even if the text is good and important, the music is driven by a band, usually a constituted rock band, and the vocals are handled either by a soloist or a small ensemble. The singing is done very individualistically, usually with heavy ad libbing, soloistic singing. The singers are generally theatrical, even when they don’t mean to be. It’s the style of music. Your favorite pop singer sings this way, and so when this sort of music is done in church, the singers are theatrical. More technically, and I’m drawing on my own training as a vocalist here, it is technically sung in a high-larynx position, which creates a feeling of emotive singing that, unfortunately, often borders on being either whiny or glib.