Navigating pastoral ministry is tricky business. One of the most challenging aspects may be deciding on the songs to sing every Sunday morning. A pastor already has so many issues to deal with, facing the consequences of making poor music choices shouldn’t be one of them! Unfortunately, several pastors in recent days have made the huge mistake of singing the Psalms in church. If you are toying with this idea, this post is written to help make your life easier. Here are five reasons not to sing the Psalms in your church.
1. You Will Make People Uncomfortable
You cannot ever forget that your highest priority in ministry is to make sure no one is ever made uncomfortable during your church’s worship service. Singing the Psalms is a surefire way to make people squirm in the pews. If you start singing songs about God judging the wicked (Psalm 75), then people are going to be a little uncomfortable because you have never presented God as a righteous judge who is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11). Let’s be honest, pastor, the people in your congregation came to church to have a good “worship experience” and if you mess that up by allowing songs to be sung that do not fit into their expectations for “worship,” then you have utterly failed in your job of making the service serve the felt needs of your congregants. To better cater to their preferences and comfort, you want to avoid song lyrics along the following lines:
“Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.” (Psalm 7:6)
“You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.” (Psalm 9:5)
“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” (Psalm 58:3)
The best way to make sure you don’t let these types of lyrics slip into your service is to simply avoid the book of Psalms altogether. Make your life easier.
2. You Will Offend People
If you are ever tempted to sing the Psalms, you must remember the exhortation that addresses you as pastors: “Thou shalt not offend anyone.” One of the things that religious people hold near and dear to them is their concept of what God is like. If you even insinuate that their view of God is incorrect, you have committed a grievous error. How dare you question anyone’s view of God! I know it’s an honest mistake many pastors make, but I want to spare you from this ministry-ending blunder. If your people find security in thinking that God loves everyone equally and will never judge the wicked, singing lyrics like Psalm 145:20 will really go against the idol, er, I mean, the view of God in their mind: “The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.”
3. You Will Have to Adjust Your Presentation of Christianity
The first two reasons were really given for the sake of your congregants. The loving thing is to make sure everyone remains comfortable and is never offended. Your comfort and acceptance as a pastor will be a byproduct of making sure the people are catered to. However, another reason you should avoid singing the Psalms is that singing them would force you to completely alter your view of Christianity. You have worked hard at truncating Christianity into an individual, pietistic, “feel-good” religion. If you allow the Psalms to be sung, you are going to have to recalibrate your theology. That would be a major inconvenience for you. Besides, your theology is probably not in need of any major adjustments anyway. After all, you have been a pastor for quite a few years, right? You’ve sort of moved beyond the need to continually evaluate your theology and ministry philosophy in light of God’s Word. You probably had a seminary class years ago where you worked that out once-and-for-all, right?
If you start singing songs about God judging the wicked (Psalm 75), God helping the needy and oppressed (Psalm 10), and Christ reigning over the nations (Psalm 2), then you will have to start teaching these concepts. You will have to address how God judges the nations according to his Law-Word (Psalm 9:19). You will have to teach (and model) the role of Christians in speaking out for those being mistreated and oppressed (Psalm 10:12, cf. Proverbs 24:11). If you sing Psalm 2, you will have to teach about the church’s mission to declare the lordship of Christ to all the world, starting right here and right now (Matthew 28:18-20). It would be easier to simply leave these subjects unaddressed. Save yourself some pain.
4. You Will Have to Deal with the Really Difficult Aspects of the Christian Life
The problem with the Psalms is that they deal with the whole range of Christian experience. Even more troubling is that the battle between light and darkness is just as real today as it was when the Psalms were written. Therefore, if you sing these songs, you will then be thrust into dealing with some of the most painful, heart-aching realities of the Christian life. Here are a few song lyrics (and the topics they address) that you may want to steer clear of:
- “The wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised” (Psalm 10:2). As a pastor, you may have been tasked with the burden of having a person in your congregation who believes Christians should be speaking up against murder at local abortion mills. If you sing these lyrics, you may then have to address how the wicked are still hotly pursuing the poor―right into the Planned Parenthood down the road from your church.
- “Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted” (Psalm 10:12). Even though singing these words will mean so much to those involved in pleading with people not to murder their babies, singing another ditty about oceans without borders (or something like that) will be enough for most congregants and it will save you the trouble of addressing the role of Christians in dealing with injustice.
- “The insolent utterly deride me” (Psalm 119:51). This one will draw to people’s attention that being a Christian can bring verbal (and physical) persecution. You probably don’t want people thinking about this painful reality when worshiping. Furthermore, if an unbeliever is visiting your church, do you really want them to know that becoming a Christian could lead to persecution? Do you really want them counting the cost? Wouldn’t it be better if they just made an emotional decision to follow Jesus because the music made them feel good?
- “Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law” (Psalm 119:53). There are so many reasons to scratch this one from the praise team’s list. First of all, you would have to address the tension between loving our enemies and striving against them because they forsake God’s Law-Word (cf. Proverbs 28:4). Another problem with these lyrics is that you will have to address the Law of God itself. In fact, the Psalms are full of lyrics which encourage your people to love God’s Law-Word (Psalm 40:8; 119:1, 44, 70, 77, 92, 97, 113, 163, 165, 174). This may cause many problems. Martin Selbrede rightly noted that “God’s Law has fallen on tough times in our antinomian age.” If you sing these lyrics, you will then have to address how we should love God’s Law. I can’t be sure, but loving God’s Law would probably also include obeying it. This may not be what your people really want to hear about, but, hey, it’s your funeral.
I could go on. But I think you get the idea. In order to not be distracted with topics such as these, stick to modern worship music. Modern worship music is usually sterile, insipid and tidy, focusing on only one part of the Christian experience. It will serve you by helping you to neglect the really difficult aspects of life that affect Christians most deeply.
5. You Will Be Playing a Part in the Downfall of Modern Worship Music
This may be the most important reason to avoid singing the Psalms. Do you really want to be the one who puts Chris Tomlin out of work? Could you lay your head on your pillow at night knowing that you are not part of advancing the cause of modern worship music? I mean, let’s be honest, the Word of…I mean modern worship music has been used to draw people to Christ, save them from their sin, cause them to grow in holiness, rebuild families, change nations! How could you stand in its way?
If you promote the singing of the psalms, you are going to lessen the reach of some really friendly Christian artists. If everyone starts singing the Psalms, then these people may have to sing songs that address similar topics. Do you really want to put them through that pain and hardship?
For example, there is an entire song in the Bible (Psalm 14) about the one who says, “There is no God.” Do you really want to make Bethel Music release a song about the atheist? God forbid. Are you so twisted that you want to hear a Michael W. Smith song about how the faithful have vanished from the land and “vileness is exalted among the children of men” (Psalm 12:8)? But not all would be opposed to singing these types of songs. I think the other day I was actually reading about a song that Elevation Worship was working on about how God will scatter his enemies―wait, I may have just accidentally opened my Bible to the Old Testament (whoops) and read Psalm 68. I can’t remember.
If this post has resonated with you, be careful of the following sites. Against all the sound wisdom presented in this article, they promote the singing of the Psalms.
If you opt for the novelty of singing the Psalms, you are abandoning the proven track-record of modern worship music. If God didn’t want us to rely on modern worship music, he would have inspired a songbook for the church. I rest my case.
Chris Hume is a Christian husband, father, and military veteran. In case you didn’t realize it, this article was satire. Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines satire as “a discourse or poem in which wickedness or folly is exposed with severity. It differs from lampoon and pasquinade, in being general rather than personal.” The critique is aimed generally at the idea that singing the psalms would ever be a bad idea.