Why we need Musical Variety (from Peter Turnbull, Christ Church Fulwood)

Musical Variety Part One

Posted by Peter on March 13, 2012


God’s redeemed people have so much to sing about. Come to any of our Sunday services at Christ Church and you would, I hope, experience real musical variety as we sing heartfelt praises to our God and encouragements in the faith to one another. But some ask, ‘Why is musical variety important in our gatherings?’ Is it (as I sometimes hear) a vain attempt to keep people happy in a diverse church family? If that’s the case (and since we’re a church with multiple services) why not simply run different musical styles for different services? What really is the thinking here?!

In this first blog post let me allay a few myths and give you the first three (of five) reasons that we, by conviction, believe in musical variety across the board at all of our services. 

Myth One – Keeping people happy.

Doing anything in church life to ‘keep people happy‘ is a poor plan. To be truly happy (‘blessed’ in Bible language) has very little to do with the immediate gratification of my wants and whims but is a product of walking closely with the Lord Jesus. Given our sinful nature these whims and wants for our own comfort and ‘happiness‘ are not necessarily an accurate measure of what will do us the greatest spiritual good. Remember, blessed are the poor and humble, not the opinionated or the entertained. ‘Pleasing everyone’ is also a completely unachievable goal. Of course we will never be united by musical taste (in any church, let alone a largish one). Why would we expect to be?! We must expect to be united by the gospel, not by this tune or that. Jesus Christ (not Bach, Watts, Wesley, Redman, Hughes or Townend – great as they are) is the one who binds us together. Pleasing everyone is a poor goal, we must find a better one!

Myth Two – People only ‘like’ one kind of music. 

This, in my experience is just not true. People are much more complex than that and find that all kinds of music speaks to them and helps them to know and feel the weight of the gospel and the wonderful character of God. For example, in the churches to which I’ve belonged the simplistic idea that ‘Youth don’t like hymns’ is just not true and does young people a dis-service. Plus, as my friend often points out, the generation who grew up with the Beatles are now entering the more senior years of life. 

Reason for Variety #1 – RESPONDING RIGHTLY to God and the gospel

A right response to God and the gospel includes a diversity of emotions or ‘states of the heart’. We ought to respond to almighty God in awe, wonder and reverence, yet also with a real sense of joy and celebration; as we are sinners brought near to a holy God through the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ. There also ought to be a sense of peace about Christian gatherings: after all, we are people who know peace with God and the restoration of human relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Having said that there’s also a right sense of restlessness and action when the church gets together: We are a people battling with sin, putting off our old selves and becoming more like Christ, a people labouring to take the gospel to a needy world.  It’s just true that different kinds of music are good at helping us to appreciate and respond to God in different ways and help us feel the implications of the gospel. 

Reason for Variety #2 – BEING ROOTED in Christian history

We would be wise to understand our place in the history of all God has been doing in his church throughout the generations. It is the height of arrogance to assume that all the greatest songs of Christian worship were written in the last twenty years, or to assume that the those who have gone before us have nothing to teach us and no songs of praise to contribute. Being rooted in the hymns and songs of previous generations means we don’t become blinded to those aspects of theology which remain neglected in our current time and culture.  For example it is relatively difficult to find contemporary songs which talk in any depth about the coming judgment of the Lord Jesus, yet there is a rich supply of more ancient hymns which will teach and feed us on this important issue. 

Reason for Variety #3 – BEING RELEVANT to our culture

We are wise to seek out, to make use of, even to create our own contemporary musical expressions in response to God and the gospel, lest we become lazy or neglect to engage ourselves in the things of God, or neglect to engage with those aspects of God’s character and the gospel which particularly speak to our culture; lest the church becomes a museum to a former glory; lest we cease to speak the musical language of our day which engages both Christians and non-Christians. The church has a history at the forefront of contemporary music (just ask Bach) and we must make music which sounds like ‘now’. 

Stay tuned for two more reasons… one disclaimer… and several concluding thoughts about how we put this into practice!


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