Modern worship is often criticized for mindless repetition. What's your answer?

I work in a context where I am continually trying to bring together a church divided around worship styles. We have a thriving traditional service (that's not just full of old people, mind you), and a growing modern-yet-liturgical service. So in an attempt to pastor the church to seek unity for the sake of mission, I'm always dealing with both sides, attempting to answer the many criticisms that arise. One of the continual criticisms traditionalists have of modern worship is its "vain repetition" of words, over and over again. It's summarized in the phrase we've probably all heard often: "7-11 songs" (seven words, sung eleven times). Personally, a part of me sympathizes with the traditionalist argument, because I've been in many worship settings where songs have felt unnecessarily drawn out. Nevertheless, I think that there are important biblical and philosophical reasons why repetition in worship songs is important. My thoughts are laid out in detail on my blog:

In Defense of 7-11 Songs, Part 1


In Defense of 7-11 Songs, Part 2

But I'm interested in how you all have encountered the criticism and dealt with it personally, theologically, philosophically, and pragmatically.

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This is a more important topic than one might realize. My wimsical post earlier aside (I thought it was rather clever, but no one said anything! so sad...) the bottom line is, as has been said or hinted at in many posts, that we need to lead worship. If the songs are preventing worship, they are having the opposite of their intended effect.

If I have the same person saying the choruses are too repetative and the hymns are too wordy, I would avoid my natural impulse to looka t them dumbfounded and say "you just don't like going to church, do you?" and instead try something along the lines of, "you seem have a pretty discriminating taste in worship music. what are a few of the songs that do promote a spirit of worship for you?"

Mark is right. sometimes to have to go beyond the complaints and do the repetative song anyway. some things bear repeating. They aren't even listening the first three times through, so on we go for four and five times. Whatever it takes to create a place where worship happens. And I should say in this idea, only the Holy Spirit can create true worship. Our job is just to de all we can to be agreeable to that move of God.

One thing I sort of (I said sort of!) disagree with Mark about is regarding the pastor/worship leader relationship. He points out how important it is (amen and amen) but says it is a secret thing. I think the worship leaders servanthood to the pastor should be as plain as day to anyone who is paying any attention. Granted many don't look and it doesn't even occur to them to ask the question, and that is what Mark is talking about I'm sure. I pray he'll forgive me for making my point somewhat at his expense, but I've said it ll over this board and everywhere else the conversation comes up - the pastor is the shepherd of that flock. We are his helpers. Only second to our commitment to Christ himself is our commitment to serve the pastor who is over us as we are part of his ministry.

Lastly, at the risk of being crude (assuming it's not too late), I think it would be more helpful to name names. If your congregation is having a negative reaction to a particular song, I think the benefit of sharing that wisdom with the rest of us counters the need to politely beat around the bush and not say what song it is that is the problem. In that spirit, I will go first.

"I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" - the problem for me with this song is not the repetition, it's the obscure semi-biblical poetry of the verses. I sing like mad with this song when it comes on the CCM radio station here in Seattle. But I have no idea what some of the lyrics mean. Great radio song, not so great worship song. I've sung it hundreds of times, but I've used it in a worship set ZERO.

"Trading My Sorrows" - the song is so fun. Youth love it, Youthful adults love it. And the point of the song is VERY good, and very relevant in the broken world we are living in. I have never actually had a complaint abuot this song being too repetative (ah, maybe once several years ago actually). But that's because in the 4 years I've been at my current church, I've used it about 3 times. On endearing feature is the easy to play, memorable riff. If you do use it, it would be good as a "last song they hear before they leave" song.

"Days of Elijah" - ...there is no god like Jehovah, there is no God like Jehovah, there is no God... This is a very popular and very repetative song. I can, if the service has gone completely flat, find this song to be tedious. It's usually not because the writer has you jump intensity in the repeated part. there's a key change. These things help. But it is a song to be cautious about how you use it and play it.

"Let Your Kingdom Come" - ... God reigns. God reigns forever... This phrase is repeated (if I remember right) 16 times in a row in this song. that is a lot. This one is a perfect illustration of one truth that we should keep in mind for all songs that repeat a lot - if YOU mentally checkout during the song, you can be guaranteed they will. Keep focused even when you don't have to cause the song is so simple. Stay in the place of worship you are trying to compell others toward.

Please bear in mind, I love every song mentioned. I'm just talking about using them wisely in corporate worship settings.
Good points, all, Lee. My problem with "I could sing of your love" is that usually nobody (including me) is "like we're dancing now..." As for Trading my Sorrows, yes, I love the song as well, and the message is great. What will carry the repetitions (and for that matter, the solos and other unique parts of any song) is how well the band stays with it and carries it. You're so right, that if WE check out, then the congregation will too.
I think ultimately most churches are full of very diverse people who all have different tastes. One style of song will draw someone really close to God in worship, while someone else will be thinking "I hate this song!" We're all different. There are always people in churches who criticize (unfortunately) whether deserved or not, and not just in worship - eg: preaching style, church vision, how the youth ministry is being run, depth of teaching in small groups, how nice the tea or cofee is etc!

In worship it probably comes down to getting a spirit led balance of content in a worship session. For example our church tends to play more of the modern, rocky (not the boxer) style songs which often use repetitive phrases, but we are also aware that there are a lot of people who appreciate hymns, so we try to get these in too. It's not necessarily to please everyone (that would be a wrong motive for song selection), but just so happens to provide a good balance of theological substance and something for people to grab hold of to draw them closer to God whether repetitive or not.

For me, I find most hymns very wordy, and all though full of theological content, I often don't know what they're on about (especially the King Jamesy ones)! But there are some great ones out there that I love too, by the way. I'm sure I'm not the only one who experiences this when I'm singing away off the words on the projector screen. People may say that many modern songs are quite basic in their words and theology, but to me I understand what the song is about and that helps me to worship.

I like what you said about 7 - 11 songs being meditative (I'd never thought about it in that way), but it's true. Some of these songs can really draw you into the presence of God, for example Agnus Dei (Allelujah, for the Lord God almighty reigns).

Another thing is if you can make these repetitive songs more interesting musically, you may at least stop some people getting bored of singing the song, which is when people often get distracted in worship. The spirit of the music may draw people into the spirit of God.

Just some of my thoughts. Anyway, speaking of 7 - 11 songs with no substance what-so-ever, does anyone remember this song which I first heard at Soul Survivor in the UK in the 90s (I don't know who's responsible!)? We used to sing this at our youth meetings every week years ago! I think it was just an excuse for all the kids to jump around and go mad! Here are the words:

Hey Lord,
Oh, Lord,
Hey, Lord,
You know what we need.

Hey Lord,
Oh, Lord,
Hey, Lord,
You know what we need.

Na na, na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na
Na na, na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na,
You know what we need.

Hey Lord,
Your the one,
You set my heart
On fire (a bit more substance for this verse)

Hey Lord,
Your the one,
You set my heart
On fire

Na na, na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na
Na na, na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na,
You know what we need.

Repeat from beginning


What the heck was all that about? Did anyone else ever sing this song?

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