An interview I read recently with recording artist Carolyn Arends pointed me toward an article by Brian McLaren called "An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters" (pdf). Reading this then led to John Mortensen's response to that article (pdf). I found both articles fascinating, and am giving both a much closer read; I do agree with them on many points, but I do not necessarily agree with them on all of the particulars.
I think McLaren has some good points about how we can branch out as songwriters, but my main disagreement with him is that I do not think all of these forms of music particularly belong in a "worship" setting, or in some cases even in a church service at all unless they have a context (for example, a "song of lament" could be kind of a downer if it was just performed during the offering with no explanation!) I do think that exploring new kinds of music in a concert artist kind of setting would really spice up things. CCM could use a little bit of a shakeup, and if more artists would think in terms of "what topics that are Biblical song material have I never looked at as potential material for my songs?" it could stretch them in new ways. Seems like maybe Ms. Arends has been thinking that way.
Because I'm guessing the "Emergent Movement" may be a controversial subject for some out there, I'll take a side track for a second here, and hopefully it won't take over this post too badly. I've been doing a little bit of reading on one of McLaren's books (Adventures in Missing the Point, co-written with Tony Campolo), and I have to say... although this "emerging church" thing is intriguing, to my way of thinking they risk going overboard on some points. My biggest disagreement is that they seem to stress social action more than my instincts say is appropriate. It is true that the Bible talks about social action much more than we may think about it as Christians in this day and age; I agree with that. And there is always something else we can do to show compassion for and help our fellow human being, and that is true also. But in the little bit of reading I've done so far, I get a nervous feeling that we are risking going too far into social action and maybe forgetting the most important thing: Jesus Christ was crucified to pay a price we could not pay, because He loved us and sought to reconcile us to Himself. We couldn't be with Him; He judged that as an unbearable situation, and He reconciled it by sacrificing literally everything. It is very true that we must help the poor in every way we can; that is commanded in the Scripture. And we must not browbeat them with our religious beliefs; that's common sense and frankly, good strategy, not to mention good manners. But we MUST be ready to share the Gospel at every opportunity, and I think McLaren's readers risk being on the wrong side of that line. In my humble opinion, if there is an iffy situation (should I share or should I not?) we should err on the side of sharing. I get a sense that McLaren might choose to err on the other side.
Or maybe I've just read the wrong chapters of the book, and "missed the point" myself! Maybe Emerging Church folks DO share the Gospel at every opportunity; I am ashamed to say that it wouldn't be hard to share it more than an introvert like me. I'm no expert on that movement, and I hope I haven't implied that they deby the divinity of Christ or the importance of His work on the cross or anything like that. They do not deny anything that I believe personally; they seem to just be seeking to extend things a bit, and I'm all for stretching for new horizons. My concern is that we are extremely careful not to leave behind ANY of the good in searching for the "more" good.
Anyway, check out the songwriters articles. Some of the nuts-and-bolts type of stuff about how to use rhymes and that sort of thing more effectively are PRICELESS advice. If you are a songwriter, you may come out a better one at the other end!