Popular Music For Worship, In and Out of Church

Petr Krákora (Plzen, Czech Republic)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Petr Krákora was born in 1973, and graduated in 1996 from the University of West Bohemia in Plzen, Czech Republic, with a major in Applied Mathematics. In 2001 he entered theological training for the ministry, and was ordained in 2009 as a pastor of the Czech Evangelical Lutheran Church. He serves congregations in and around Plzen, and teaches Religion at Martin Luther School there. He and his wife Gabriela Krákorova have three children, David 26, Romana 22, and Ondrej 14.

A Language Corner - A Congregation Or A Choir?

Let me begin this presentation by relating to you a story from around the time of my conversion. It seems to foreshadow my warm attitude to church music that I later developed.

It was back in 2000. I was 27 and knew next to nothing about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. I started dating a woman who was already a believer and a member of a local Christian church. Of course, she witnessed to me about Jesus and invited me to go with her to her church on Sunday.

In Czech, however, the word for church, 'církev', has a very negative connotation in our atheistic society. The reasons are hard to define and probably go back to the tragic medieval events like the crusades or the witch trials. That is why many Christians here today choose to speak about their congregation ('sbor' in Czech) rather than their church.

So I was invited to a congregation, to a 'sbor'. The Czech word 'sbor', however, has also the more usual meaning of choir, an ensemble of singers. So, the first thing that came across my mind when I heard the invitation was, "A choir? Me? You mean singing?" No, I wasn't interested. The confusion was later resolved and the woman I dated succeeded in dragging me into her congregation. There I came to believe in Jesus and, in December that year, I was baptized and became a member of that church. The woman later became my wife. I started out as a "shy singer" in the congregation.

We Are All Given A Voice!

As time went on and I learned how to read notes, I grew to be more confident in singing the new melodies and words of hymns. And I made two discoveries: that I actually had a voice to sing, and that I loved singing! I started singing at home, in the car, on the way to work, in the garden, everywhere. I also listened to recorded hymns and popular worship songs and slowly learned their melodies and words and was able to sing along. I was less and less ashamed to sing out loud in church.

Grown-up men in our culture are not accustomed to sing in public. They would feel embarrassed if asked to sing aloud or before an audience. That explains my initial hesitation and shyness. How many singers are there among us, adult men, who will never discover they were given a voice to sing?

I am convinced it needs to be instilled in children and encouraged in young adults that the voice they have can really be used and trained to sing songs! Not only when they are alone in the shower but also when surrounded by others. Band and choir singing is for the talented, but congregational singing is for everyone.

Professional And/Or Authentic Singing

When our Christian day school children perform their songs in church on Sunday, in front of their parents, grandparents and other people, they always see smiles on their family members' faces and get a big applause. Even when their singing isn't perfect, some of the children are off-key, and a few kids mess up the words while singing, they are all received by their parents with hugs and commendation.

I believe this is how our church singing is received by our Father and our Lord Jesus. I have heard people in church telling me, "I can't sing well enough so I will keep quiet". My typical response in such cases is, "Well, when God wants perfect quality, He tunes in to listen to angelic hosts. We all fail in comparison to their Glorias. But when our Father wants to hear his beloved children singing, He wants to hear you and me, and He rejoices even over our inferior performance. Just sing as best as you can and you will get better with practice."

So don't get discouraged when you hear someone in church, usually a visitor or a "Christmas-and-Easter church-comer", arrogantly making critical comments about your congregational singing. Never forget it is primarily directed to the Lord who looks at the heart, from which all praises come. If people seek to hear professional singing they can attend music halls and concert stages. Church is for the genuine.

Modern and/or Time-tested Music

In their video comedians John Crist and Aaron Chevning make a funny sketch about how modern Christian music is done these days, or is to be done, in order to hit the top of popularity charts. You can hear for yourself what they are saying but, in short, their point is that modern Christian music, which is commonly aired on Christian radios, seems to follow a simple formula, consisting in "three cords (e.g. A-D-G), simple rhymes, and vague struggles (e.g. a storm in life)."

For most young people, there must be something enchanting about the beat and rhythm of music. I never was, even in my youth, a particularly "disco person". And yet, in spite of that, I felt somehow drawn to songs which seemed to resonate with my heart beat. Later, as a new convert, I enjoyed hymns with elementary melodies flowing easily on a few repeated chords. It took me a while before I started to appreciate and even admire sophisticated music of the past centuries.

What I want to say is that diversity in the kingdom reflects itself in and even requires diversity in the church music. For me, there is nothing wrong with any music style or level of complexity, because I am convinced there are children of God who, at the stage in which they find themselves, will be especially delighted and uplifted by such music, and drawn to live each day with the Lord, who is the Inventor of music and of the principles behind all musical instruments. I even recall a period in my life when a Czech Christian rock band's song was one of my favorites, with drums and electric guitars neatly accompanying the frontman's singing about his mom, who had recently passed away and only now her son admired her for raising him in faith and hope in Jesus.

For that reason I believe we should introduce various styles of worship music in church and school. I have heard both complaints about the old songs being "unsingable" and complaints about the modern songs being "one-dimensional". Sometimes a simple change in instruments playing the music (e.g. organ to piano) brings about a renewed or increased interest and liking of a well-known, "chest-nutty" hymn. A modern take on old-time hymns, such as those performed by the band Koiné, is another way of "reconciling" contemporary and traditional music.

Tune in to listen to a unique take on "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" by the band Promise Keepers.

Catchy Melodies And/Or Profound Lyrics

Now, what about the lyrics? Are songs which speak about "vague struggles" using general, abstract, descriptive words – like storms or floods, light and darkness, etc. – necessarily of lower value? Even if they were there is, I believe, a place for them in the church.

After I became a Christian, I listened a lot to songs written by Mr. Zmozek, a great Czech pop-music composer who believed in Jesus. Many of his praise songs have wonderful melody and simple lyrics, often just two lines that are repeated a few times with the music picking up intensity and richness. Listen to an example of his production "Tebe, Pane můj, chválím a uctívám" ('You, my Lord, I praise and worship'). I was excited (and still am!) about Jesus loving me and dying for me and finding me. Those songs were perfect for me in those "initial years", when I had very limited knowledge of biblical teachings and didn't understand the specific vocabulary and concepts, like atonement, inspiration, or communion.

The problem with elementary lyric is that it has the tendency to wear out quickly. So it did with me. As I grew in knowing Jesus and the details of God's saving plan, I started to listen and sing along to more "textually rich" songs, both traditional and modern.

The authors of "In Christ Alone" make a remark in their interview "How Was 'In Christ Alone' Written?" saying that in modern Christian music we want to see more "hymns that actually help people understand the faith," that are "trying to put into words what it means for Christ to have gone through what he went through, what that means for me as a person and how that completely changes my life." Creedal songs, in which melody and lyrics are equally powerful, seem to be what most of us will find fulfilling and nurturing our soul and spirit in later stages of our Christian walk.

And yet, as if we all go a full circle in life and in the end we come back to our childhood, I have heard about old people wanting to listen to and sing "I am Jesus little lamb." It was all the creed they needed and all the music they craved for.

Two Final Ideas

You have probably discovered that Youtube is a rich source of church music, with instrumental versions of songs and added lyrics to learn to sing along. Two ideas come to my mind as I think about how to make Christian hymn-singing more popular. The first one has to do with learning — or teaching — to play a musical instrument using simple praises. For example, when my daughter was learning to play the piano, she was excited when I brought her some of the worship songs of Michael W. Smith in the easy piano version. Or children in our school who learn to play fipple flute, they enriched the Advent program in our church with some well-known Christmas hymns. You can even find instruction videos on how to learn to play worship songs within a few days. For instance, look at "Learn 10 worship songs with 4 easy guitar chords."

The second idea also deals with combining the hymn singing with another activity which provides extra motivation. Using Christian praises you can also learn/teach a foreign language! You can find English songs sung in another language — those may be easier to learn the words. Languages can also be mixed (e.g. one verse in English, one in German, one in Spanish) to make a multilanguage versions. And then there are, of course, hymns native of that particular language. Let me finish with a few examples:

French Songs of Praise

Dieu de lumiere ('Father of Lights')

A Jamais Dieu Est Fidele ('Forever God Is Faithful')

Spanish Songs of Praise

Cordero de Dios ('The Lamb of God')

En La Cruz ('On the Cross')

A Well-known German Hymn

Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott ('A Mighty Fortress is Our God')

A Slovak Song of Praise

Slava Bozich mien ('Glory Of God's Names'), with English subtitles

[Editors' note: This last song, Slava Bozich Mien, is one of our favorites. In the discussion, describe how Christian music, in and out of the church service, has affected your life journey so far.]

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Alexandria Meulemans (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-10 1:49:29pm
Hi Pastor Krakora! I really liked your post about finding our voice with Christ and you teach a great message about finding our voice. Here in America some people do have a voice about praising Our Lord whether if we are in school or doing daily activities in our lives versus others who are shy about their "voice" with the Lord. Like you said in your discussion when you convert to Christianity and trying to find your "voice" in your church you were shy at first and now you really do not care who listens. Most people are scared to put their "voice" out there so they can be heard by others by spreading the Word of God around and know that people may judge them differently if they hear them. It should not matter if we are a Christian or not, God knows where our hearts are and rejoices when we speak about him.
Petr K. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-11 1:21:05am
Thanks for your comment, Alexandria. If you are wondering what took away my shyness in singing, I would say it was the combination of love of Jesus (both His for me and His in me for Him) and improvement with practice. The first part is really what makes the whole world of a difference.
Last Sunday I was sitting in the pew (my fellow-pator was leading the service) next to our school's music teacher, who is also an ex-opera-singer, and I knew while singing hymns that I can't compare to her singing abilities, of course. So I again reminded myself of the things that I mention in the essay - I am singing to You, Lord. And I know You know that.
Alexandria Meulemans (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-12 12:54:04pm
Your welcome! I must say you have a lot of guts to sing so proudly because myself on the other hand is afraid because I may be off tune or a certain song that I sing at church is not a strength of mine to sing. My other voice, my talking voice, I can spread God's message well. I also think that your message relates to our talking voice too and spread the Word of God to others. Most people are shy and have other people judge them because they are that religious person. On the flip side, other people are great and are like you spreading the Word of God with pride and in full confidence, and also don't care what other people think of them. I think for myself that I am some where in the middle but hopefully to improve and be on the side that doesn't care what people think.
PetrK. (CzEvLuCh) 2016-10-13 9:05:49am
You're right, Alexandria, that it also pertains to our "talking voice" with which we spread the Gospel. We are to do so "in season and out of season", knowing that to some it will be "the smell of death", while to others "the fragrance of life", as Paul says in 2 Cor 2.
And becoming bold and Christ-confident, rather than self-confident, is really a PROCESS; it doesn't happen overnight. So be patient with yourself, as God is with you. Plus I am not talking here as someone who has mastered it in every situation and respect either. Far from it! I am learning too... ;-)
I also want to correct one thing here - it's not true that I don't care what people think. Because I do. Just not in the way that their thinking would paralyse my praises, but rather I want my praises to relieve their fear. I want them to think it's a great thing to worship and sing to the Lord. I want to affect other people in a positive way, encouraging them and "infecting" them with the joy of the Lord.
I believe our praises to God are also a witness to the world around us.
Alexandria Meulemans (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-14 12:55:44pm
I can imagine that becoming a bold and Christ-confident Christian takes a lot of work and knowing that God is with us every step of the way with it is more comforting. I never looked at the way you mentioned when you praise out God out in the open, that it is makes them fear. I have never heard of it that way before, which is new! It is a good thing don't worry! :)
Margot Wagner (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-21 5:47:12pm
Hey Alexandria, I really like what you said about how us as Americans have a voice and can be vocal about our faith while others in other countries have to be quiet and practice their faith privately due to fear. When I read this comment I was reminded of something I heard at church while home for fall break. This month is missions month at my church and we had a presenter talk about new laws being passed in China about religion and faith. The law possibly being passed requires churches to register as a place of faith but, it is under strict control of government such as what is said, taught, and told to the members. Anyone who is not registered and decides to practice privately and is found will be charged heavily as well as jail time. I realized by hearing this and reading these posts about how blessed we are to live in a country where our voices can be heard and we are free to praise Our Lord.
Alexandria Meulemans (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-21 7:03:44pm
Hey Margot! Thanks! That's pretty cool that your church was talking about it while you were home for fall break. Do you know when this law was placed in China? When I read your comment, I was shocked and upset that China is doing that. I know that China is a very strict culture compared to the United States but to me that is ridiculous and why should it even matter if it is taught legally or not? The Bible does not require that and I am sure Jesus himself is upset about the situation too. I do agree with you that we are lucky to live in a country where we have our freedom of religion and we can hear the Word of God and praise about it as much as we want.
Christina Henson (Fox Valley Lutheran ) 2016-10-10 3:06:00pm
Do you have any specific tips for combining old and new music in the church with the least amount of distress in the congregation?
Petr K. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-11 1:48:25am
Thank you, Christina, for asking. I do have one specific tip and also one important point about the distress.
The tip - We started introducing contemporary spiritual songs in our church as "solo projects" (in addition to our usually three congregational hymns). My wife sang one or two during the service and accompanied herself on the guitar. Two Sundays went like that and than we put the modern piece as a congregational song for everybody to sing. From the early stage on, we also projected the lyrics on the church screen so people could get familiar with the new words.
As for the distress, I believe there needs to be some teaching, coming from the pulpit, about "honoring one another above ourselves" (Rom 12:10), "in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself" (Phi 2:3). That's the unity of Spirit and bond of peace, that the older honor the younger by singing with them modern hymns, and the younger honor the older by singing with them traditional hymns. Humility is the key to avoid distress in the body of Christ. Without humility no tips are going to help...
Jordyn Ulman (Fox Valley Lutheran) 2016-10-10 3:54:24pm
Do you have any tips on how to encourage people to get involved in the band or worship team? I know for my church we always have plenty of singers, but there are many people with instrumental talents that are scared or just choose not to join the band.
Petr K. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-11 2:53:20am
Our oldest son (26) plays the sax/clarinet and sings in a "worldly" band and I can tell he picks up manners and ideas from his non-Christian fellow musicians. Indeed, "bad company corrupts good character", as Paul says in 1 Co 15:33, especially if one is not firmly rooted in Christ.
So one obvious but important reason why to get involved in a church band or worship team, if you have instrumental talents, is that you will spend time and share yourself with other Christ-minded young people. This is especially significant in an overall anti-Christian society - it's easier, if you are swimming against the tide, to be closely surrounded by others who swim in the same direction.
PetrK. (CzEvLuCh) 2016-10-13 9:24:12am
Hi again, Jordyn.
I may not have understood exactly the point of your question. I thought you meant "playing in a worship band" as opposed to "in a secular band". Now, if you are talking about "not using instrumental talents at all", esp. in a worship band, then it's the Parable of the Talents that comes to my mind - Do I really want to dig a hole in the ground and hide my talent there?
Also important is again the fact that "church grounds are not concert halls" - players there lead the singing congregation, both with their less than perfect performances, in praising the One who was perfect for us and who chose to make us His children!
So if the fear comes from possible failures, I would go along the advice above, just adding that the overall benefits will far outweigh any possible musical defects.
Hope this helps.
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2016-10-10 6:19:02pm
I appreciated the way that you emphasized the spectrum of complexity in the teachings presented by different worship music and the blessings offered by both elementary and more textually rich Creedal songs.

The popularity of praise songs provides an awesome teachable moment to engage the next generation of Christian leaders in a conversation about how best to measure the merits of lyrics (and music) intended for worship. Your article is a great example of useful directions that dialogue might take.

A Missouri synod committee reviewed 100 popular contemporary worship pieces, scoring them according to a rubric that examined the text for Lutheran sacramental and/or doctrinal thought related to Communion, Baptism, Confessions/Doctrine, Holy Trinity, Forgiveness/Redemption, and Law/Gospel. The group also evaluated the songs for congregational singability.

That committee’s rubric, results list, and project description may offer another useful starting point for conversations about worship songs with high school and college students.

Results list: http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=345
Project description: http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=524
Petr K. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-11 2:58:18am
Thank you, Paul, for the comments and links!
Alyssa Voit (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-16 10:27:29pm
This article really hit home to me. As a convert myself, I really can say that music was the way Jesus talked to me and the way I found Christianity. It is the single biggest way I am able to worship him and I think that this article really touched the importance of that. In the Bible, singing is mentioned abundantly as a way of worshiping and I think you really summed it up great by saying "sing as you are." God does not care of your ability to sing, rather your heart that is willing to sing for him. Think about it this way, God knew what he was doing when he gave you your gifts; He wants you to sing with whatever skills he gave you because you are fearfully and wonderfully made! I actually recently just switched churches and realized that my heart belonged in a non-denominational church. The thing that I love most about my church is that we sing and we love to sing with whatever we have to Jesus. The whole congregation comes together to really be a great choir and I have teared up before just being a part of such an act of unity. Singing releases yourself to God and so just let everything go to him. Thank you for this article!
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-17 1:32:40am
You are welcome, Alyssa. I am glad to hear my words stroke a chord with you! Keep singing to Jesus with all your heart! :-)
I hope that in your new church you also hear the Word of God there, besides singing hymns to Him. Shouldn't that be the criterion in switching churches? ;-)
Alyssa Voit (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-18 12:26:24am
Very true!
Laurel Gallman (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-31 7:59:35pm
That so nice to hear that you found the place that your heart called you to. I so agree that we have the skills we are given because we are fearfully and wonderfully made. I have also found myself overwhelmed by emotion while singing in church. The power of song is so amazing and most people don't realize it until they experience something like this. Thank you for sharing your story!
Kenya Green (Wisconsin Lutheran College ) 2016-11-01 12:14:30am
Music has always been the way that I praised God or had a connection with him. I am not a convert seeing as though I have believed there was a God ever since I can remember, but I relate to what you are saying. I could not always sing but I always involved in things like choir because that was my way of being intone with God. After a while of singing and putting my all into this form of worship I actually started to sound better and better. I am currently in a non-demoniational church because I attended a non-denominational church and singing is a major part of their church services. I agree that singing does so many things in a church and really brings the church together as a union. Thank you for this relatable comment and for knowing what form of worship brings you closer to God. I pray you continue to sing and relate to God through singing.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-17 1:18:19am
Alexandria, I think I wrote that I wanted my praises to RELIEVE other people's fear, that is, that they LET GO of their fear to worship openly the Lord. But you could also say it can MAKE them fear - fear the Lord with the holy reverence. I hope I am making sense to you. :-)
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-17 1:19:15am
This should have gone under the first thread...
Alexandria Meulemans (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-21 6:46:29pm
Pastor Krakora, Yes, you are definitely making sense to me now, I am sorry for the confusion. I am glad that you are doing that for Christ and we definitely need more people out in the world like that. Maybe God has that in store for me, I shall see what my path is that he will lead me on.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-22 3:57:04am
No problem, Alex. I pray you keep your new, Father-given heart open to whatever He has in store for you. It will always be good for you and for all who love Him with the love He generates in us through our faith-connection with His beloved Son Jesus.
Alexandria Meulemans (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-24 2:21:12pm
Thank you Pastor Krakora! I also wish you the best of luck with you and spreading the Word of God that God has stored for you in the Czech Republic. It is great that we can connect with the technology that we have today especially to be talking to you and other people across the World and great more knowledge and how other people view things on this website that I didn't think of before.
James Heichelbech (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-17 6:52:14pm
Hello Pastor Krakora, I just want to come out and say right away that you're presentation really spoke to me. About a year and a half ago I stated going to a new church called hope. The first time I went I was instantly skeptical about the church because of the way the praise God through song. There where drums, guitars, and pianos and the words were lit up on a screen behind the band. I was born and raised in a traditional church setting so this was totally new to me. When it was time to sing I was scared, nervous, and embarrassed because I have not been exposed to this way of worship before. So I stood in silence until the song was over.... I look back on that day and I am ashamed of myself for thing "What is this? I don't know how to sing to this. This is weird." As time went on I started to warm up the music and sang along, and then it dawned on me. Why should I feel ashamed and embarrassed to praise God? Just because it is a new way to praise Our Lord through song does not mean its wrong. Once I realized that I was no longer afraid to sing because my love for God is so great! It makes me sad when my fellow Lutherans say that it is not normal and it is weird to praise God in a different fashion than they do. I have to say, I look forward to going to hope because it is a church that makes my soul smile and everyone around me smile too. :)
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-22 4:08:17am
Sorry for a delayed reaction, James. All I have to say is Amen. Yes, it makes me sad too, when some Christians think only their style of praising the multifarious God is the right one or the standard one. It's as if Eph 4 said there was one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, AND ONE STYLE OF MUSIC TO WORSHIP HIM. Clearly, it's not so.
Thanks for coming up with your comment.
Leah Whitson (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-18 3:28:51pm
I really liked this article because I feel as though in church many people do not enjoy singing, especially singing joyously. It is so common to go to a church and see others mumbling lyrics or even not singing at all. People do not realize how important singing can be in a relationship with God. Personally, I have gone from a 'shy-singer' to a normal singer because I know how much more I get out of the lyrics and the service when I do sing. Do men in your congregation sing along with you?
PetrK. (CzEvLuthChurch) 2016-10-19 5:38:58am
We don't have that many men in our congregations. And the few we have are mostly shy. Exceptions exist though.
In other words, people here also need that encouragment to "come out" with their voices...
Hailey Krause (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-18 11:39:14pm
I believe singing in church is one of the most relatable aspects in which we truly get to bond with God on a deeper and more spiritual level. When we sing, we dig deep roots in the Word. Singing together within the congregation is just one way that we can become closer as believers and I think people often do not like to sing because they feel as though they may be judged. The most beautiful part of that statement is that we are in God's house and are in a place where no judging takes place. When we sing, we walk a God-designed pathway to joy meaning it is very easy to find love and joy within the words that are sung. Lastly, when we sing, we are glorifying God because He would want us to take part and be ever present. Singing allows us all to get even closer to God by obeying His Word and allow ourselves to speak with God in a beautiful way. This was a great portrayal of God's mission in uniting all of us under His love and lyrics.
PetrK. (CzEvLuthChurch) 2016-10-19 5:32:41am
“As long as we live there is never enough singing.”
? Martin Luther
Justin Sievert (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-21 10:41:33am
Great article on how people can enhance their faith through the use of singing. I truly believe that this is one of the best ways people can praise God for all that he has done for us. I am very glad that you included the song "In Christ Alone" into this conversation, simply because this is one of my favorite songs to sing. Like you stated above, this song is a very good representation of how people today can understand what Jesus went through to save us of our sins. It is a great representation of Christ's love for us.
Margot Wagner (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-21 1:19:38pm
Hey Justin, I too really enjoy the song "In Christ Alone" and I totally agree with what you said about the song. I think when you hear or sing the song you are reminded of what Jesus did for us on that cross. The truth in the payment of our sins and the forgiveness that comes with it.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-25 2:03:02am
The music of 'In Christ Alone' must also have a special allurement and gracefulness. I played different versions of the song from YTB to our school's 9th graders, who are usually totally unwilling to sing (mainly due to peer pressure, I guess), just for them to listen and appreciate the song. And after a few weeks they started asking "When are WE finally going to sing this song ourselves?" They seem to like it that much!
Margot Wagner (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-21 1:06:11pm
Hello Pastor Krakora! I really enjoyed the overall post you made and a lot of the topics got me thinking about my home church verses my school church especially in the section discussing modern music or time- tested music. I live in Naperville which is a city outside of Chicago and came to the faith around the age of 16. My home church is a primarily Asian church and the worship sets consists of mostly modern music; Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Tenth Avenue North, etc. However, when I picked a college, I decided to attend Wisconsin Lutheran College which in their chapel or church services play traditional hymns. For myself personally, I enjoy the balance of modern and timeless but, for my home church I think it would be extremely hard for them to play traditional hymns since so many of the members are use to almost a full band. On the other hand, when at school I feel the only time I hear modern music is on the off chance our praise band is playing or I turn on the radio. Do you think churches should have both modern and timeless or should churches stick to their own roots? And if there should be both modern and timeless, where does the balance happen?
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-24 2:19:03am
No doubt, churches have their roots from which they grow. But grow they must. And that requires taking into account the current "state of society" to which the churches want to bring the Gospel to flourish. I share Paul's mindset - "to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews ... to the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some." 1 Cor 9. I am convinced the truly Christ-minded churches will seek to keep the CONTENT intact (the Gospel message) while modifying the FORM, while false churches will seek to keep the FORM intact while adjusting the CONTENT to suit the society.
The actual implementation of form-modification is, of course, a thing to be done diligently, carefully, and thoughtfully, trying to include the modern while not excluding the timeless. You don't want to be cut off from your roots. At the same time, you want to encourage talented musicians of today from among the Christians to compose and lyricize praises to their Lord that are suited for their generation. By insisting on "traditional music only" we may stunt their enthusiasm and the proper usage of their gifts! Finding a balance is indeed a fine-tuning process. Church leaders would need to consider the make-up of their congregation, their location/community, the prospects, the sources of music available, etc. I believe that with the music and some overall form-changes we can show the world that Christianity didn't freeze up in the Middle Ages, but is a living, lively and life-sharing phenomenon, revolving aroung a risen Savior and Lord.
Nathan and Emily (Martin Luther College) 2016-10-25 1:45:52pm
The idea of people relating to similar music in the earliest and latest stages of life especially caught our attention. We definitely agree with that statement and the resulting point that simpler music can have value in worship along with those Creedal songs that you mentioned.
You stated that songs referencing "vague struggles" of a Christian can still have a place in worship. Would you say songs as simple and generic as those in Christian radio can be valuable in worship, or do you think they should contain a bit more substance in their lyrics before being used in church? We understand that these simple songs can be valuable personally to new converts to Christianity, but do you think they can ever be too simple and vague for congregational use?
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-26 5:10:53am
First I must confess to be ignorant of what songs Christian radios in your country broadcast. In our atheistic country there are no Christian radio stations - they would simply have a hard time surviving. So your question of how generic and simple the lyrics of a spiritual song must be to be disqualified from worship use is a bit difficult for me to answer.
The simplest songs in Czech that I used to listen to a lot - and now I play them to little children in our school during REL classes - they always have at least the basic message of Christianity in them, i.e. that Jesus paid for our salvation with His death, then rose again to live, to be with/in us through His Spirit, and to prepare for us a heavenly home in our Father's house. They don't talk so much about our struggles in this world as our faith is being refined and purified.
Then there are Czech praise songs with more elaborated messages, but mostly the "vague struggles" are overcome in them by pointing to the faithfulness and firmness of God's promises in His Word. They speak e.g. about God being our port/lighthouse in the storms of our lives, about God's open arms to welcome broken sinners, about God's power and grace to break open our shackles, etc. Never do they speak more specifically, in terms of the sheckles being e.g. our excessive alcohol consumption, or drug addiction, or indulgence in watching porn, or fits of rage, or chronic impatience, or doing good things half-heartedly, and so on and so forth.
I personally prefer the figurative description of struggles mentioned in songs, where everyone can insert their own specific storms of life, struggles of faith, or shackles of sin. In a sermon the pastor can and should certainly give examples of such, to make his point personal. I am not sure how it would sound in a hymn though. But again, my experience and knowledge in this area is limited.
Allison, Ethan (Martin Luther College) 2016-10-25 1:46:41pm
"I believe this is how our church singing is received by our Father and our Lord Jesus. When our Father wants to hear his beloved children singing, He wants to hear you and me, and He rejoices even over our inferior performance. Just sing as best as you can and you will get better with practice." This idea caught our attention because we've never thought of singing in worship in this way. Just as parents happily receive their children's imperfect singing, God more-than-happily receives our imperfect singing of praises to Him. It's just another way we can see that we are His children.

"The second idea also deals with combining the hymn singing with another activity which provides extra motivation. Using Christian praises you can also learn/teach a foreign language! You can find English songs sung in another language — those may be easier to learn the words." In what ways would you recommend including foreign language in worship music? This was a very intriguing concept to us, as we are both a part of choir at MLC, and we sometimes sing in foreign language. However, it's rarely included in actual worship, probably because it's harder to follow the ideas and depth of the lyrics. We think integrating foreign language into worship would be highly beneficial; the question is how to do that gradually while including the congregation.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-26 5:55:39am
Thank you for your comments! It looks like the article was worth writing... ;-)
Integrating foreign language songs into worship -
Several ideas come to my mind but not all will be applicable in your situation, of course. In our elementary school, for example, the children learn English as a second language so naturally they also learn songs in both Czech and English. Then they occasionally present their Eng-Czech songs in church during Sunday service - see an example here> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8BIX7l5GIM
Another possibility is to use foreign language songs to attract minoroty people to church. For example, if there are Hispanic neighbors in your community, they can be invited to a special singing program with praises in Spanish.
Or, if you have visitors from abroad, the church assembly can sing a hymn in their language (if they know the hymn in English, they needn't be worried they are singing words without knowing their meanings). At our international CELC pastoral conferences we often sing hymns in different languages - English, German, Latvian, Russian, Bulgarian, Portugese, etc. Of course, we are not all familiar with every language.
Also, if your church does some mission work in a foreign country, again, singing a song in that country's language can help people recognize the universality of the Gospel and appreciate the mission work in general. In addition, colleges have international students and they can again prepare special presentations for church services in their native language.
In other words, it may not become a regular part of every Sunday, but there are ways to incorporate foreign language songs to enhance the awareness of local believers that the Gospel is far from being just a local good news...
Ella Loersch and Noah Panzer (Martin Luther College) 2016-10-25 2:16:05pm
Hello- we really enjoyed this article and all the insight you gave us-it's really interesting how across the world our faith, at the core, is the same, yet our church/congregation life can be so different. Something that really stood out to us was your comment that "Grown-up men in our culture are not accustomed to sing in public. They would feel embarrassed if asked to sing aloud or before an audience." In contrast, we have grown up in churches that emphasize singing from a very young age, and that importance is stressed throughout our schooling. Therefore, our congregational culture, along with the culture in our country, is very receptive to singing, male or female, at any age. Singing is such a gift that God has given us that it makes us disappointed that some people feel like they can't enjoy this wonderful gift.

While everyone is encouraged to sing in our churches, we do feel that there is an underlying obligation to sing as beautifully as possible all the time. You said that you've "heard people in church telling me, 'I can't sing well enough so I will keep quiet.'"We've found that in our typical setting, this striving to sound heavenly, in the end, detracts from the message since so much of the congregation is thinking solely about the notes and not the words. Since the melody by itself can do very little for our faith, the message is something we all need to focus on, whether the message was aimed at the new Christian or the seasoned Christian. Sometimes this "wanting to sound a certain way" comes off as an attitude that implies work righteousness. This seems to be a weakness in our churches-do you have any similar weaknesses in your congregations that you'd like to work on in connection with praise through song?
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-26 6:17:11am
Good points, Ella nad Noah, thanks!
I agree with what you said about the underlying obligation or expectation to sing heavenly, or at least like the singers in the opera house. Is it due to the misunderstanding of the command "Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect"? It pertains to our relationship with Him and with our neighbors, not to the quality of our singing or handwriting or any other skill we learn. We grow in these skills and it's not a sin to sing off-tune or to make a grammatical mistake in writing, etc.
In our church we have the same challenge with respect to congregatinal singing. People think it's better not to sing at all than to sing out of tune. I try to encourage them at least to mouth the words and chew on them, if singing is such an obstacle for them. Unnecessary obstacle.
Katy Jahns (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-25 4:24:51pm
Pastor Krakora,
I especially appreciated your point that "church is for the genuine." Our praise and thanks to the Lord is what matters and the kind of music or sounds of singing voices are just logistics of church going. My WELS home church is very traditional and does not deviate much from the red hymnal. However, I have attended other churches and contemporary services and have enjoyed the differences. I believe the music can vary as long as the true message based on God's Word does not change. Like you said, diversity in the kingdom of believers essentially requires meeting people's spiritual needs and each individual is filled up through the Word and through an array of different musical arrangements.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-27 3:41:33am
Could we say that as our bodies sit in the pew, the music appeals to our souls while the words to our spirits (if we are trichotomy persons)? Our souls may like and feed on different styles of music, but our Spirit-born spirits only crave and live upon the words of God.
Rachel Heyn (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-27 8:42:41am
I really enjoyed getting to read this, especially getting an opportunity to understand the Czech culture a little better. I loved how you said that “church is for the genuine,” and that singing is not about how it sounds. That is such a good point to make! God cares so much more about the fact that we are praising Him, than how good we actually sound, and I think that is true in so many other aspects of our lives as Christians as well. It can be so easy to say, “Well, I’m not very good at this. I might as well not bother with it,” but that is not how we should approach it. God has given us all talents and gifts, and rather than comparing ourselves to others (which can be so easy to do!) we should do them to the best of the ability which He has given to us! Instead of focusing on what we can’t do or how we cannot do it perfectly, we should emphasize what we can do.
I personally like contemporary Christian music, especially the rock and pop genres. I know that it tends to get a lot of criticism, and I will admit that it is not perfect. Especially as a Lutheran, there are those disagreements in doctrine, and I do think it is important that the listener is aware of these. It is still a good alternative to a lot of the mainstream music that is on the radio these days. So much of secular music focuses on negative elements and emphasizing all things sinful, all things bad. I do like that Christian music is positive and uplifting and is a reminder of the ultimate Good that always exists! You mentioned a Czech Christian rock band… Is it similar to what you might hear from an American Christian rock band or different?
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-28 3:02:58am
Great comments, Rachel!

You talk about our use of gifts and you say very well that "we should emphasize what we can do with them". Indeed, what we are asked to do with God-given gifts is not to use them PERFECTLY (who knows what it means in case of individual gifts?) but to use them FAITHFULLY - that is to actually use them for the purpose they were given, even if that use means putting the talents "on deposit with the bankers", as Jesus says in Matthew 25:27. Such use may not produce much, maybe a tiny interest, but it will be commended by the Giver.

Ad popular Christian songs as a good alternative to mainstream music - I agree completely with what you are saying. Upper graders in our Martin Luther School in Pislen listen to so much junk music that one reason I have them listen to popular Christian music in REL classes is to show them there is an alternative which is, as you said, positive and uplifting, while also appealing to their "young and modern ear".

As for Czech Christian rock music, there is no way to compare it to the American one. Simply because there are so few bands here that play Christian rock (even the band I mentioned is no longer in existence - they just produced 8 songs for 1 CD). Most Czech bands play folk or pop style Christian music. I read an article of a music expert who said one reason for Christian rock to be almost non-existent in Czech Rep. is a campain in the 1990s called 'We just want your soul', which caused many young Christians to think rock music is incompatible with Christianity. Which American rock bands do you listen to? I would love to hear their music...
Sarah Beischel (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-28 11:02:19pm
Hi Pastor Krakow! Your article really spoke to me because of my love for music as well. I do enjoy singing the traditional hymns that I grew up with, but new music intrigues me a lot as well. I think that using some modern music in church services can be a good thing. It can communicate the message in a different and fun way. I really liked your suggestion of singing in a different language. When I was in high school, I participated in what we called the 'festival choir' in which we would travel to all different churches in our synod and sing a selection of songs for a Sunday church service. My director would always pick out at least one 'stand out/different' song for us to sing. My favorite song and one that sticks out to me the most was called "Takwaba Uwanbanga". This song was sung in african and we sang it acapella to bongo drums. It communicated the message that there is no one like Jesus. Singing in a different language, clapping, and having bongo drums is something that was different to me and the people of the churches that we visited, but we got a lot of positive feedback on the song because it was a fun and different way of singing praise during the normal church service. I like modern music and think it's great to have in church if the songs have a great message to share.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-31 11:47:22am
That's great. Thanks for sharing, Sarah!
I have a CD titled "Nkosi Nkosi" with South African Christian songs played by a Czech band "Filia". I enjoy listening to it a lot. Each song has a part sung in the original African language and then another part in Czech on the same tune. Quite good, really.
If you like African music, this CD is freely available to donwload as mp3 files on this page>
(the second CD from top)
Judy Kuster 2016-10-29 11:48:41am
Thank you for an inspiring paper, Petr. I am reminded of a conversation with you in Lima, Peru, as you translated one of these hymns for me.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-31 11:50:26am
My pleasure, Judy!
I am excited to have written this article. If it has brought inspiration and encouragement to some readers, I am grateful.
Praised be the Lord!
Anna Naumann (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-29 8:14:07pm
Hi Pastor Krakora! I really enjoyed reading about how God smiles when he hears us sing, just like our grandparents and parents do. I am not a good singer at all, but when I am at church I just let it out and sing at the top of my lungs. Growing up I have sung traditional hymns, but as I grow older I have heard many different types of ways to worship through song. I enjoy all types of music for worship. When I was young I learned to play piano and I remember that every time I learned a new hymn in school I would go home that night and play it on piano. My favorite hymn is "In Christ Alone" and I enjoy hearing all the different ways people use that song to worship God. Using different talents to worship God is why he gave us our talents.
Micah Kom (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-30 6:22:10pm
I agree with you, Anna Naumann. I am not a talented singer by any means! I did however grow up singing in church with my grade school and Sunday school. I became very comfortable singing in church because growing up I was always taught that the reason you sing in front of church was to share the message of Jesus and to praise him. Because I learned this at such a young age it stuck with me though my life. I am still an bad singer, but at church I remember that I am singing to worship God.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-31 11:30:00am
Amen, Anna.
I am reminded of Psalm 150, where multiple types of instruments are listed and called to be employed in our praising the Lord. We, as human beings, are also very diverse, but Christ can resound us all. So, "let everything that has breath praise the LORD!"
Raquel Glinos (Wisconsin Lutheran College ) 2016-10-30 4:26:04pm
I loved when you talked about that we are all given a voice and that we should use it glorify. I don't like singing bu that doesn't mean i don't have a love for music. I agree with you that we do need to make Christian hymn singing more popular because I think it isn't because it isn't talked about as much because we get ridiculed for being Christians. I know I have been ridiculed for but listening to hymns and Christian bands makes me feel safe. Unlike other countries we have the right to speak out as Christians and we should. I sometimes think that music and lyrics are such a powerful way to get a message across and are able to relate to people and let people have something to relate to. I agree with everything you mentioned and I thank you for sharing this article it has expanded my horizons on music.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-31 11:18:50am
Thanks Raquel! I am glad you are willing to face ridicule for listening to Christian music and songs. You know, there will be times in the lives of those who ridicule you when they would very much use the uplifting power of Christian hymns. Those of us who know that power, let's be ready to share it with those who don't!
Heriberto Diaz (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-30 5:08:16pm
I personally feel that the "voice" is different in everyone because every body has different spiritual beliefs don't you think? Majority of the people in the world today are shy of spreading their personal knowledge because they don't want other people to judge them and look at them differently. But that's my opinion about this article. All in all, very interesting article that people can relate to.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-31 11:08:01am
Thank you, Heriberto, for sharing your "voice" on this topic!
What I mean by "voice" in the article is the "singing voice", which we, as Christians, are given also for the purpose to sing praises to the Giver of all good gifts. Sure, everyone will use their voice in some way. But let us not forget that "out of the overflow of the heart [our] mouth speaks" ... and sings... ;-)
Micah Kom (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-30 6:15:38pm
This paper makes reminds me that we are called by God to use our voice to give him honor and praise. Jesus Christ has saved us and given us eternal live in heaven with him someday so we want to rejoice because of that. We use our voice to share the message, sing praises, pray and many more things because we are God's children.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-31 10:58:58am
Yes, that's right, Micah, and you know what's jaw-dropping as well? That God also produces in us "the wanting" to praise Him and honor Him for all He has done. That's a part of the gift of new life we receive from Him in Jesus - for now and for ever.
Jared Bruemmer (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-30 11:44:14pm
Within church services Christian music helped me to find a voice. I'm a quiet person and I don't talk a lot but at church I found a love in singing. I found that even if i wasn't strong in spoken word I had a gift for singing and that was the best way for me to praise God. Outside of the church I find myself listening to K-love with my mother in the car. K-love is a Christian radio station and I find it to be a nice break from traditional church music. It has allowed me to connect with my mother who is also gifted at singing but singing isn't the only part of music. In the church I also enjoy playing trumpet on hymns. I've been gifted with musical talents and I thoroughly enjoy playing trumpet during the holidays at the church and at home for my family. In the end music has given me a voice to worship with that I was too shy to use before.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-31 10:51:41am
Great Jared, that you use your talents in the Lord's kingdom! Keep it up! :-)
Yussef Sahraoui (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-30 11:45:52pm
Very insightful article. I think music is a powerful way for people to express their opinions and beliefs, even when it comes to religion. Going to Church and being able to sing and chant for your faith is undoubtedly a great feeling. I also think that its sort of way to lift the pressure off everyone in the Chruch and make it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Learning about Christianity and everything that comes with it by doing and fun activity is a smart way to spread the gospel and make people more aware about it.
PetrK. (Czech Ev. Luth. Church) 2016-10-31 10:45:23am
You are right, Yussef, that hymn singing truly brings about wonderful effects - also to the singers!
One of the "marginal verses" in the Bible that I cherish a lot is found in Mat 26:30 - "And having sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." (ALT) When we realize the circumstances - it was right before Jesus' internal struggle and external arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane - then singing hymns may begin to take on a new dimension for us.
Praising the true God may not always be "enjoyable and fun" but it will always be rewarding in many ways if done "in your heart to the Lord" (Eph 5:19).
Madeline Wunderle (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-31 1:16:02pm
This past summer I worked at a Lutheran Camp called Lutherdale Bible Camp that teaches children how much God loves them. We has worship twice a day that were led by staff members and the campers were then through the week integrated in the worships. Most campers favorite parts of the worship were the songs that they get to sing as we taught contemporary worship songs accompanied by guitars instead of pianos or organs. My favorite song is called Psalm 150- Trumpet sounds. This song teaches the children to praise the Lord with... all sorts of different musical instruments and ways of doing things like with a silly dance or an air guitar. The campers acted this motions out and it taught them that there are a million ways to praise the Lord everyday. I am very happy to hear that your faith journey started and continued through the churches choir, but I would also encourage you to step out of your now comfort zone and sing to contemporary songs as well as those are also different ways to praise the Lord- even if he is listening to some strange pitches.
Kelsey Sitz (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-31 1:51:52pm
Hello Pastor Krakora! I love the part of your post where you talk about the little children singing and equate it to our singing to the Lord. So many times, my friends don't want to sing in church as well because they do not believe they are good enough singers for it. I would always respond with things like, "It doesn't matter what you sound like, God just wants to hear your voice!" I never knew what to say after that when they still wouldn't do it or were still shy about it, but your point about church being for the genuine really hit me hard. I love thinking about it that way and I am sure it would really get to some of my friends as well. I think we all need to remember that God already knows we aren't perfect and we are far from it, but being able to sing Him praises, even if we aren't amazing trained singers, will give him just as much joy as hearing a trained, professional choir sing His praises. I also really enjoyed reading the short parts about how you came to faith. I was born into a Lutheran family so I have had the blessing of always being in the word. I cannot imagine not having God in my life and then having Him come to me through others like He did for you. I found it interesting and it was very nice to hear your story.
Javion Morgan (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-31 2:00:25pm
My brother has been a part of our church band since her was 6. He's played professionally for years and now getting his degree in music at the University of Wittenberg in Ohio. He said that getting involved with music with church was easy once he realized that God wants everyone to participate in the church in their own way. Music was his way and once he knew that this was his way to honor, praise god, and give his service to him, we continued it and got others to come along. That would be my suggestion in helping the younger generation to come to music and Christ.
Laurel Gallman (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2016-10-31 7:10:05pm
I really enjoyed your story of being converted, it just shows that no matter where any one is in life, it is never too late to become a follower of God. I love that you note how singing in church is for everyone! I think hymns are so magical and powerful, especially when the whole congregation is singing. I am not huge into listening to modern Christian music, although I do occasionally listen to the station that plays them. I think it would be very interesting and help the younger generation relate if these modern Christian music songs were added into church. Although, some people think that the more modern music is too general, I think any music that praises God and his glory are definitely useful in church. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
Kenya Green (Wisconsin Lutheran College ) 2016-10-31 11:36:39pm
I related to this paper in a different sense because of the way I was brought up in my faith. I went to churches where music was the highlight of the service. The music that was performed or played in the churches I attended were referred to as gospel music. This is music you can dance to, sing to, and cry to if need be. So, when I came to the college I am now attending it was hard for me to adjust to the music used during worship on our campus. It took a while but like you I started to appreciate the simpleness of the hymns and songs that we sing in worship on our campus. The hymns are monotone so that everyone can sing along and not feel judged. That helped me become more comfortable here on campus because even though not everyone can sing as well as others everyones voice is appreciated. I agree with your statement about how everyone should sing and use their voices to praise God. This not only allows everyone to participate in church, but allows people to connect with God in another way besides the message that is spoken in church