The Young People’s Music

“We’re losing the youth of our churches.  The music is turning them off.  We need to be more relevant, more contemporary, more sensitive to our young people.  They want to worship God with the kind of music they like best.  Bring in the projectors, bring in the drums and guitars; let’s give the next generation the worship music they want.”

I don’t know how hot the climate of the contemporary Christian music debates is in your area, but in general, these arguments are raised pretty frequently.  I do know one thing, however: Advocates of pop-style worship music would be hard pressed to maintain their arguments about the next generation’s preferences if they had attended last week’s TASC (Teens All Serving Christ) mission trip at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church.

As the music coordinator for the devotional aspect of the trip, I found myself in a difficult spot.  It was my job to pick several songs for each night’s devotional sessions.  I wanted as many psalms as possible and a good number of hymns, but I needed songs that would be relatively familiar and easy to sing.  I knew I should include some contemporary favorites from RYS like “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep the Father’s Love,” but I didn’t want to give our worship an entirely modern flavor.  I sought to please our church’s TASC committee, yet I was determined to pick music that would be most effective in bringing glory to God.  How on earth could something like this be accomplished?

One thing is certain: not by my wisdom.  The more I added, subtracted, hacked, chopped, tweaked, stretched, and adjusted the selections, the more tangled the plan became.  A week before TASC was scheduled to begin, I had a rough list of songs, but I was utterly discouraged.  I feared that in my intense desire to please everybody, I would please absolutely no one—and on top of that, I had a nagging sense that I was dreadfully overcomplicating the whole process.

Group singing at TASC

Group singing at TASC

I needn’t have worried, because God did the rest.  Although I had no idea what topics would be covered in our pastor’s nightly devotional sessions, each of the songs I had picked aligned providentially with his messages.  For Wednesday night’s devotional, Pastor Drew quoted Question and Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Unbeknownst to him, I had picked as that night’s closing song “I Have No Other Comfort”—a versification of Q&A 1.  The week was filled with these seeming “coincidences,” and I was continually amazed as God used the music and teaching to nurture our souls.

What about the contemporary music issue?  Well, as an example of the variety of my choices, here are the selections we sang on Thursday night:

  • “O My Soul, Bless Thou Jehovah” (Psalm 103, versified in the blue Psalter Hymnal)
  • “I Need Thee Every Hour” (an arrangement by Jars of Clay)
  • “Blest is He Who Loves God’s Precepts” (Psalm 1, versified in the blue Psalter Hymnal)
  • “Take My Life and Let It Be” (blue Psalter Hymnal number 462)—our “theme song” for the week
  • “God Is Our Refuge and our Strength” (Psalm 46, versified in the 1912 Psalter)—to the tune of “America, the Beautiful.”
  • “The Romans Doxology” (from the URC Hymn Proposal)

As you can see, the age range of these psalm settings and hymns spans nearly a century.  Interestingly, the most difficult song was clearly the second—the Jars of Clay arrangement.  Other than that, the TASC group had no trouble.  Far from being limited to contemporary music, they sang everything beautifully.

Nor were the musical inclinations of the kids limited to the devotional sessions.  At the worksites, it was refreshingly common to hear a group of three or four workers singing their favorite songs and hymns while cleaning or painting.  For our talent show on Thursday night, ten out of the twelve acts were musical—including many vocal groups, a piano-organ duet, and a separate organ solo.  And during our free time on Friday night, a group of singers (guys as well as girls!) spontaneously gathered in the church sanctuary, where they sang for nearly two hours.

The most memorable experience for me, however, occurred even later on Friday evening.  The Michigan group was scheduled to leave at midnight.  Right before their departure, I gathered everyone together one last time in the fellowship hall, and we sang two songs a cappella: “When Peace Like a River” and “God Be with You.”  Listening to forty teenagers singing from their hearts was incredibly moving—it was a sound that seemed worthy of heaven itself.

What did the participants of TASC think about the music?  I was already expecting certain quibbles: too much blue hymnal, too many psalms and hymns, not enough familiar favorites.  The actual reaction took me completely by surprise: The TASCers loved the songs of the Psalter Hymnal!  In fact, I just received an email from one of the participants with these thoughts:

I cannot express how blessed I was by the music.  Music is something that really touches people.  Also, we only sang hymns, which was glorious!  I do go to a Christian school, but hymns aren’t sung very often anymore.  Just hearing the harmonies of the songs as we sang was sometimes enough to move me to tears.  So, I thank every TASCer for that blessing to me.

This TASCer’s opinion was echoed by numerous other participants over the course of the week.  After attending last week’s mission project, I’ve returned with tremendous encouragement and renewed hope for the worship of our churches.  Contrary to popular opinion, the next generation is not oblivious.  These kids have already committed their lives to serving the Lord, and they already know and love the timeless psalms and hymns of the faith.  Without a doubt, the URCNA’s worship traditions will be placed into good hands.

The question for each one of you is simply this: What can you do, right here, right now, to strengthen the musical and spiritual grounding of the next generation?


11 Responses to “The Young People’s Music”

  1. 1 Reita Julien July 5, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    One favorite for some of our kids is Psalter Hymnal #1. One of my faves, too!!

    The young people in our church like to sing other songs, too, but they love the blue Psalter Hymnal.

    • 2 Michael Kearney July 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      Indeed! We sang #2 (“Blest is he who loves God’s precepts”) on Thursday night, and we sang one of the stanzas a cappella. That’s another beautiful selection.

      I think I managed to modify your original comment successfully. Let me know if it still doesn’t look right.


  2. 3 Reita Julien July 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Another great Psalm in the blue, is P H #25, Psalm 18, Great psalm and I didn’t even learn it until I was long married. The ministers never chose it when I was young. It is a little high but if you lower the key a bit, it is a great song. I guess I could go on and on, I love the Psalms sooo much!

    • 4 Michael Kearney July 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      I know, I’ve always enjoyed Psalm 18. My personal favorite for this psalm is number 26, but that’s mostly just because I like ROCKINGHAM OLD a bit better than MENDON. Thankfully the two tunes are interchangeable. 🙂


  3. 5 Villatoro July 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Great post thanks for sharing. Sounds like TASC was a big success, and I know I would have enjoyed singing with everyone like that. It’s always exciting when you have a group of kids who all know the same hymns and you can really enjoy them together!

    • 6 Michial July 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      It is true there is no such thing as a divinely commanded style. Content yes. At one point in history the music of every church was contemporary. To deny that is absurdity.

      • 7 Michael Kearney July 9, 2012 at 5:28 pm


        You’re quite right–at every point in the church’s history there has been “contemporary” music, that is, songs composed at the present time. The difference in today’s worship styles is that they tend to exclude the music of previous generations, whereas a good philosophy of worship utilizes well-written music from a variety of eras, including (but not limited to) the present. That’s why it was such a blessing to hear 25-year-old songs and 2500-year-old songs sung with equal skill and enthusiasm by the TASC group.

        Thanks for commenting–you’ve brought out a great point.


        • 8 Michial July 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm

          I agree with that completely. I also love the PCA ventures like Indelible Grace and Red Mountain music that put the ancient hymns to current style and make it tasteful. Content content content. Keep the stones of remembrance for all the new generations for sure. I personally am not pleased with much modern hymn writing, some is good though. But turning glorious truths into trials because they sound like funeral dirges does nothing to add to the truth. SOmetimes the attitude is the fewer we have the more faithful we must be, when that may not be the case.

    • 9 Michael Kearney July 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      TASC certainly was a huge success, thanks to God’s powerful working. The singing was fabulous. And I and two other guys had a blast every night at your parents’ house for showers! Especially when Dakota did his famous R2-D2 impersonation for us…


  4. 10 Villatoro July 15, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    haha, glad it went well!

  1. 1 “Let Youth Praise Him!” « URC Psalmody Trackback on September 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

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