All hail the hymn: Modern worship music misses the mark

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Assistant News Editor

Once upon a time, I had a playlist dedicated solely to modern worship music. Fittingly entitled “sing praise,” it featured everything from “Holy Spirit” and “Oceans” to “Reckless Love” and “O Come to the Altar.” I listened to the songs whenever I could, and I memorized most of the lyrics within no time.

But it was just a phase. And I’m glad it was.

Before I came to Baylor, my vocabulary had not even included names like Chris Renzema, Hillsong and Elevation Worship. I had never listened to modern worship music, let alone witnessed the full show of hand-raising and guitar-strumming that often accompanied it.

Needless to say, my experience as a cradle Catholic left me woefully unprepared for the culture shock that came with campus traditions like Chapel, Vertical and FM72.

For a while, I was determined to adjust to my new environment, understand Protestant faith traditions and acquire a taste for the style that every other student seemed to love. So, I church hopped. In Waco, I visited at least 10 churches of five denominations — Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Greek Orthodox.

It was at this time that I dipped my toe into the pool of modern worship music. Perhaps this pool was a little too deep, though, because with every step I took, I felt like I was falling closer to Earth and further from God — like I was getting lost in the theatrics and losing sight of who and what I was supposed to be singing about.

Although the intentions behind them may be equally good, it isn’t difficult to spot the differences between worship music and hymns. Worship music is sung by bands or artists who often occupy a place in pop culture. Hymns are sung by church choirs. Worship music features guitars, drums and maybe a mildly distracting soundtrack. Hymns feature a piano or an organ — perhaps a trumpet on special occasions. Worship music tends to sing “to” God. Hymns tend to sing “about” God.

Our faith is an opportunity to transcend this world and get a glimpse of the heavenly banquet that awaits us. But to make use of this opportunity, we must quiet ourselves in peaceful contemplation. We must remember that Christians have been practicing for 2,000 years, and that many traditional hymns are rooted in this rich, longstanding history. We must abandon contemporary frivolities that disrupt sacred celebrations.

Perhaps the cliche that you don’t appreciate something until it’s gone rings true on this matter. It took me experimenting with modern worship music to recognize I could only find true beauty and communion in hymns.

Now, I have a playlist dedicated solely to hymns. Lovingly entitled “ad majorem Dei gloriam” (“for the greater glory of God”), it reminds me daily that I live not for myself but for the One who offers me an eternity of joy. I have learned to turn to tradition when I truly want to connect with my religion.

No, this doesn’t mean you have to archive your modern worship music playlist or wipe Hillsong from your memory. However, it does mean you should give hymns a shot, if you haven’t already.

Some of my favorites are “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” “Stabat Mater” and “God of Mercy and Compassion.” You may be surprised by the overwhelming peace they can bring you.

Jenna Fitzgerald is a senior University Scholar from Dallas, with a secondary major in news-editorial and minors in political science and Spanish. In her third year at the Lariat, she is excited to learn from her staff and walk with them through the daily joys and challenges of publication. After graduation, she plans to attend grad school and hopefully teach at the college level.