There’s nothing wrong with the Hillsongs, the Bethels, the Chris Tomlins. They offer incredible ministry. I’m just not cool enough, white enough, rich enough, nor good enough to play their stuff week in and week out till Kingdom come.

I often blog about worship in music, and not always in a positive light. I’ve lost friends for asking tough questions on Christian worship music. The reason why I keep writing about the topic is because I love music. I’m usually on the keys unless I don’t want to cart around my massively heavy gig bag with accompanying amp, then it’s my Strat in the hardcase.

I’m always on the search for insightful worship music. A question I often ask friends is, “send me what’s hot right now, and what you love.”

The latest suggestion was Josh Garrels.

I listened, I loved, I realized it wasn’t really congregational music, but it was deep and insightful–a type of lyrical prose rarely seen in Christian music. Most of the depth I pull from music that impacts my faith doesn’t come from repetitive and cliche congregational songs. The most recent stunning example for me is from a jazz artist at the top of his game, have a sneak peek:

The story woven through Gregory Porter’s song is profound.

“come to my table…you will receive pardon…”

A song to the destitute and homeless. Far cry from the pump, pomp, and evocative sets ubiquitous in almost all of evangelical Sunday worship.

There’s space and place for the biggest worship acts in North America. Bethel music is so uplifting. Good, Good, Father, is nice, is obviously written to be a congregational song, and it works. The problem is everyone is enamored with this style and everyone is playing it. A handful of bands are influencing the whole of contemporary worship music.

We’re missing some pieces, here are two.

1. Lyrics lack depth.

Christians have a rich history to pull from, particularly if you reach back into the Psalms. Unfortunately, we opt for the positive consumer experience when it comes to music selection by opting for the uplifting praise song after song. This practice wholly defies the common Christian experience. If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, week in and week out. Heaven forbid someone be sad or in lament. Where are all those songs of lament? Where are the songs about the struggles? Where are the moments expressing profound loss in our worship services? For the past 3 weeks I’ve played Johnny Cash over communion. It’s raw and honest.

I’d love to see an evangelical churches do a ‘blue Christmas’, but then again, evangelicals aren’t very good at being honest with their sad feelings (and certainly not in public). Many appear capable enough to enter profoundly deep worship experiences with hands raised high at the drop of the first beat, but we don’t seem to linger too long around the woe.

Here’s a really neat video from Fuller with Bono and Eugene Petersen; take note at the honestly/dishonestly chapter.

2. We are missing localized liturgy.

Singing Bethel or Hillsong every single week isn’t bad. But we are missing a unique component of local. Imagine singing and penning songs about our neighborhoods? About the city we live in? Imagine singing a song about local monuments, problems, and rhythms. Suddenly the pictures we sing about become specific to the space we live and very personal.

Maybe I just don’t like to be like everyone else (although I do appreciate Anglican liturgy, albeit only twice a year), but there’s something to be said with tailoring spiritual formation specific to the church. The first step might be to step away from the regime of 45 musics of worship, 45 minute sermon, week in and week out.