Penny Ferguson Picture

Some Observations About Gospel Music

By Penny L. Ferguson

   I am a Christian who takes my faith seriously, some would say too seriously. I disagree. If Christ is to be the heart and soul of everything I do, it is impossible for my faith not to permeate every aspect of my life. I have been working diligently at gospel song writing for fifteen years. I have been a born again Christian for about thirty-nine years, and I have attended church for a lot longer than that. My husband and I sing gospel music at every opportunity the Lord provides. We spent nearly four years at a small country church as their music worship leaders. Last November we became directors of music on a bi-weekly basis at another small country church. Because my faith comes before performance and product (song), I have made some observations

about gospel music I would like to share.

   Since I mentioned being a director of music, I will start there. At both of the churches referenced above, I chose the music for the Sunday morning worship service. I do this with a great care and prayer. I try to select music appropriate to the congregation, which usually means older hymns. I also challenge them with some carefully selected newer songs. When choosing songs, old or new, my first priority is faithfulness to the gospel message. My second priority is relevance to the people singing them. I keep in mind the majority of congregation, as well as those more marginalized—the seniors and the lost.
   I once sat in a congregation, mostly composed of seniors, as the new, young pastor proclaimed, “I don’t care if you like contemporary music or not. I like it and that is what we are going to sing!” Even though I was not a senior, I was taken aback by his attitude. These people had been raised on and cherished old hymns.
   Because I have/had friends who were older than I am and, sadly, because I have had the experience of being a care giver to elderly relatives on more than one occasion, I am sensitive to their needs. As people age, they go through many processes of loss. They witness friends and family they have loved pass on. They experience mortal bodies failing them in ways they could never have imagined when younger. They may even experience a loss of mental acuity. The one constant in the live of elderly Christians is the Lord. He becomes an even deeper comfort. An expression of their faith in Him is the hymns they have known from childhood. They are a balm to their souls and a connection to the Savior in Whom they have put their trust when their world crumbles around them. Those who work with the elderly, confirm how music soothes and comforts them. For the aged Christian, that comfort is gospel music and hymns of the faith. It is noted this can be particularly true for persons suffering from forms of dementia.

   At this stage of seniors’ lives, how unkind is it to wrench old, beloved hymns from them and to force upon them songs that are strange to them. I am afraid this is exactly what has happened in churches overcome by the praise and worship invasion. Many seniors sit silent during times of worship in music, when they could be singing songs that have meaning and connectivity for them. In this case, it is tragic when the old is completely thrown out for the new. Sadly, this happens to seniors in churches they have served for decades. They come to services where they are made to feel irrelevant. Song selection should feed all of the flock, not just those whom our culture tells us are relevant.

   Personally, I feel it is important to be inclusive in this area. As a music director, after being with the congregations for a few months, I ask each person to list their top five favorite gospel songs or hymns on slips of paper I provided. I tell them if there are any songs on their lists that are not on the list of songs from which I select music for Sunday mornings, I will add them. I do this with two provisos—songs must have a good, strong gospel message and they must be Biblically accurate. Sometimes this means my husband and I have to learn some songs we have never heard before.

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