Hymns Are Old Burned Up Plastic Bottles

But before you unsubscribe, let me tell you a little story.


I was tucking my son into bed the other night, and I noticed some trash on his bunkbed shelf. It was the remains of an old, burned up, plastic coke bottle.

“Um, Aspen, what’s this trash doing here?”


“Dad, it’s not trash, it’s a treasure!”


And then it dawned on me what it was. This past summer, Aspen celebrated his 10th birthday by having a campout. We invited several friends and their Dads to join us for hotdogs by the campfire, crazy games running around in the dark with flashlights, sleeping together in one huge tent, and breakfast the next morning. It was an unforgettable experience! He was laughing, playing with friends, spending time with Dad, coming of age, testing his limits, enjoying s’mores, sleeping outside, and drinking soda – a rare treat! Here’s Aspen waiting for his friends to arrive:

And he had rescued this bottle from the embers of the fire as a keepsake. That’s why he keeps it on his shelf. He looks at it and is able to relive a remarkable moment in his life.

But the original purpose for that bottle wasn’t to be memorialized. It was to carry the content. The content that had a purpose: refreshing. That was the intended function for the bottle. And now that it’s original purpose has passed; it has taken on another purpose.


The songs we use in worship are a lot like that bottle. Their purpose is twofold: carrying content (the Gospel, scripture, words expressing our worship and delight in God) that results in our worship. The song itself doesn’t mean much without the content and the result.


That’s why I said that hymns are old, burned up plastic bottles. But don’t get uppity. So are 60’s Gaither songs, 70’s Maranatha songs, 80’s Integrity’s Hosanna! songs, 90’s Vineyard songs, 2000’s Hillsong songs, and the latest Jesus Culture songs. I could’ve started with “Modern Worship Songs Are Burned Up Plastic Bottles” and been just as accurate. Just less provocative. :)


It’s the content and the result that matters.


It’s easy to get all huffy about how “holy, rich, and deep” our cherished hymns are, or how “the current move of God in the earth,” or “real worship” our modern songs are. Oh please, let’s be grownups here. Of course we each have preferences over what music resonates with us. It’s MUSIC after all! But don’t call one spiritual and the other not – no matter the style. It’s the content and result that matters.


But let’s talk about the result for a moment. There’s no denying that certain songs enable that desired result of worship more easily than others. Sometimes it’s because, like my son, we have treasured memories attached to them. Maybe it was when you first came alive in your faith, so it’s either personally meaningful or you associate that style with “true spirituality.” Maybe were going through a hard season and the song itself was what God used to carry you through. Maybe it’s written in the musical and lyrical style that was most popular when you were in your formative twenties, so it’s in your native language. But it is deeply personal. Just like it is to the person standing next to you in worship, that may have no association or a negative association with the very same song.


In my context, we use a wide range of song styles because we’re an intergenerational congregation. (acapella four-part hymn to the occasional Y&F with tracks) So we pick songs that have good content that we think will produce the desired result (worship) in the majority of our congregation. And honestly, if I didn’t think that my congregation would be drawn into worship with hymns, I’d hardly do any of them. They’re just not my native language. But I make it a point to use hymns for 2-3 of our 6-7 songs each week.


Which is where it gets interesting. It’s much easier to just say “as a church, this is where we’re heading – we do modern music. If you don’t like it, just go to the old church down the street…they still have a choir.” Or “we have a traditional and a contemporary service so our people can choose.” (read: we have two congregations that happen to meet in the same building) But what if we would do all styles as an opportunity for the necessary discipleship to “sharpen our iron?”


Because if we can take the “spirituality” of our music preference off the table and just call it our preference, then we can get to the heart of the issue: Discipleship and Maturity.


Can we be mature and loving enough to walk as disciples together and not do everything that’s our first preference all the time? Oh how un-American.


And do you mean to tell me that you “can’t worship” with the hymns or the rock and roll worship? To reframe this Craig Groeschel’s way, I think nobody has led you to worship with hymns or rock and roll worship. If your worship leader hasn’t done this for you yet, it may be up to you to lead yourself.


But by all means, let’s not worship our shelves full of old, burned up plastic bottles make us miss the whole point.