Why God Has Never Done a NEW Thing Using OLD Songs

If we really are mature in our faith, we shouldn’t need things to be done our way.


Oh sure, you may be able to point to the occasional renewal that used an old hymn or poem as a jumping-off point. But every real, lasting church renewal or revival has always been accompanied, even driven, by new songs and new forms of worship.

“But isn’t that watering down the Gospel? And isn’t that the problem the church has today?” No. New instruments and musical styles do not water down the Gospel. Shallow lyrics and preaching waters down the Gospel. Strong lyrics and solid Bible preaching/teaching in an enthusiastic atmosphere in which people are singing a new song unto the Lord isn’t shallow at all.

This Is About Willingness, Not Ability

If you’re in a Small Church and are having a hard time finding someone (Anyone?! Please?!) to lead in worship at all, let alone find and sing new songs for your older congregation, I sympathize. I’ve been there. For a lot of years, I was there. This post is not about churches who are trying to move forward while fighting some serious battles to get there. You have my prayers, my encouragement and my sympathies.

But if you are one of those churches that has the ability to move forward in your worship, yet refuses to, then you may be guilty of what you’re accusing the new generation of. Putting style before substance and personal preference ahead of real-world ministry.

People need Jesus! Young people, especially, are leaving Jesus and need to be brought back to him. When we’re capable of singing newer songs but insist on singing old ones instead, we’re making the on-ramp for the new or not-yet believer just that much harder.

But What About Our Parents?

This biggest complaint I hear when a church moves toward newer worship styles is that the older saints feel left out. I understand that and I sympathize. We need great churches that minister to our aging population.

And yes, I’m also aware that some churches, in their desire to move into new modes of worship, have pushed seniors aside instead of valuing their wisdom.

But if you’re at or nearing retirement age and are attending a church whose worship has changed in ways you don’t understand, let me assure you, we’re not changing because we want to push you aside. We need you. Here’s one way you can help us.

My dad pastored for over 45 years. If I become half the pastor he was, I will consider my ministry a huge success.

My parents are in their late 70s, now. They attend my church one weekend and my brother-in-law’s church the next weekend. Both churches sing new music. And my parents love it! No, they don’t always get it. But they see the need for it and they support it with all their heart. They, and other senior saints like them, have made our church’s move to newer music a lot easier than what most pastors face.

It’s not unusual, following a worship service, to see either of my parents (especially my father) pull our church’s worship director aside, or a member of the worship team, to congratulate them on a job well done. They make a special point to do that when we’ve been introduced to a new song with strong lyrics. (Yes, there are a lot of them.)

If you ask my dad why he does this, he’ll tell you ,“First of all, I really like what they’re doing. They love Jesus and it shows. Second, they need to hear from people our age that they’re doing a great job. Third, it’s working. Look at the front two rows of your church. They’re filled with teenagers. That won’t happen singing ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.’”

Go get ‘em, mom and dad.

Just One Part of a Bigger Battle

No, this isn’t intended as an angry rant against ancient liturgical communities. I’ve been in wonderful old liturgy communities—especially in Europe—that have their pulse firmly on reaching a newer generation. Many young people and nonbelievers are more attracted to a 500-year-old worship style than a 50-year-old one. Ancient and honorable can work. Old and stale never does.

Do what honors Christ and reaches people for him. Not just what appeases grumpy tithers. That’s the bottom line.

The so-called Worship Wars aren’t a fight between old people and young people—at least they don’t need to be. It’s a spiritual battle. And it’s part of a larger war that’s being waged for the hearts and minds of a generation that is being stolen right under our noses.

Music isn’t the only battlefield in this war. In my previous post “We Can Whine About the New Generation or We Can Minister to Them—But We Can’t Do Both,” I wrote about how we have a similar struggle around clothing styles.

The real problem isn’t new songs, spiky hair or skinny jeans. It’s when we allow any of that to distract us from our true mission. And we have let the Worship Wars do that.

No, I’m not naïve. Singing new songs isn’t going to magically reverse the spiritual slide. It’s just one small element in a much larger transformation that needs to take place within the church. But insisting on the old songs won’t even slow the slide down.

If singing a few songs that some of us don’t like is the price we have to pay to reach new people and to keep our own kids and grandkids in church, we should all be grateful to pay it.

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Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.