Modern Praise Music: It’s Not The Melody That Counts; It’s The Motive

The word motive can be understood to mean the reason someone does something, or the driving force behind an action.


  1. producing physical or mechanical motion.
    “motive power”
  2. causing or being the reason for something.
    “motive principle”

When it comes to who we are in Christ, having good intentions is not always a reliable motive. Rather, what moves us should be God himself. He is to be the one who not only supplies our motive principle but also our motive power.

I saw a great example of motive power and principle in a video mash-up of 20th Century movie clips set to 21st Century music. The films’ dancers remind me of people praising God, but there will be more on that in a bit. First, enjoy the show because whether you like Bruno Mars or classic movies, this is a mash-up that you’ll wind up watching more than once.*

None of the film clips were sped up or slowed down. It took careful editing to accomplish this, but it happened under the experienced hand of the video’s creator.

Motivational Singing

The Bible repeatedly – from Psalms to Revelation – calls upon God’s people to sing a new song to the Lord. The newness is not in the subject of our praise, though. It’s always a song about God. It’s our experience of him that seems new to us, and this is what gets expressed in these “new” songs we sing. That is why a hymn written centuries ago can seem fresh to one who has never heard God’s praise expressed quite that way before. It’s also why new songs of praise are being written and introduced in church services every week.

It’s also why words written long ago can be reintroduced when put to newly crafted melodies. The words expressing our praise are not dependent on a music style but on the One we praise. Also, in a very real sense, our ability to praise is not dependent on us but on the One who created us.

What moves us to praise, after all, is not ourselves but the Spirit of Christ who lives within us. Jesus himself praised his Father in heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit:

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. (Luke 10:21.)

The Holy Spirit filled Jesus with joy that showed itself in praise of the Father. The motivation was joy, and it resulted in a divine movement of praise.

To get back to the film clips for a moment, you notice that each of those dancers seemed to be in perfect sync with a song not even written during their lifetimes. What motivated them? Their love of dance is my best guess. The video’s creator took their dancing and crafted it into a new way of seeing it. We do not see a changed motive, but merely a new way of experiencing it.

This is how it is with praise music, both ancient and modern. Our motive is to praise God and it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to do so. How we express it may look or sound different than it did in centuries past but it is the same motive power within us.

Isaac Watts captured the timelessness of God’s praise in these words:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone

Past, present and future come together in the One who moves us to praise him eternally.

Now there’s a motive for you.


*When you watch the video a second time, put on the closed captioning (the cc button at the bottom of the video’s screen) and it will list the movies as they come along.

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33 Responses to Modern Praise Music: It’s Not The Melody That Counts; It’s The Motive

  1. Pastor Bob says:

    Brings out one of my pet peeves when it comes to worship and praise.
    Many a parent does not like the music of the children, almost hates it (w/extra !!) I share the story of playing one of my father’s albums very loud. He came into my room yelling about “turn this ____ down!” it was not the music it was the volume. Later he told me about playing some music when he was younger and his father thought it was “crazy.”

    My story then goes to changing music styles, and how one Music Pastor (exact tile escapes me now) was told in my presence by an older church member, that he “… would leave if you kept playing that nonspiritual music.” I told this pastor in the presence of the ‘complainer’ that he would never play my favorite style of music, but that since I was convinced he was in God’s will with the music choices, he was to continue “full steam ahead.” (The complainer stayed, and the pastor asked me my favorite choice “I give what is your favorite choice?” -later)

    I then ask the parent to listen to the music with the child (volume lower if needed) and read the lyrics. If the LYRICS/WORD choice is not acceptable, delete the music -scratch the CD and say why. IF the lyrics are acceptable, insist on lower volume levels. If the parent must come to the child and shake him/her to get attention, it is too loud. (Also good practice for listening to imporat things in the background too.)

    Lyrics, the word choice, this is the key!

    The answer Bluegrass, except for special engagements, I have not heard any in churches, including Christian. Even in my journeys in the south. I ma sure its out there, where…. ?

    • Richard says:

      Respectfully disagree. The melody does matter, some music is just not “fitting,” particularly for church settings. T. David Gordon had some great insights on this matter he shared with Michael Horton recently on The White Horse Inn.

      • Tim says:

        Is there some point in particular where he says a particular type of tune is scriptural prohibited? I haven’t seen those passages in the Bible.

        • Richard says:

          Tim, not that I’m aware of–but, again, I think the point which T. David Gordon and probably Ken Myers make is that some music is just not “fitting,” same as one wouldn’t play John Philip Sousa at a funeral. I remember being in a worship service at a military chapel where the tune to a contemporary praise song was eerily familiar–it was basically Disney music, straight out of “Beauty and the Beast.” Dr. Gordon makes some valid points about whether certain melodies or tunes are inappropriate in certain venues.

        • Tim says:

          I completely agree that context is important when it comes to the medium for praise. Dirges and weddings don’t necessarily go together, after all.

        • VelvetVoice says:

          T David Gordon wrote Why Johnny Can’t Sing. That book is written backwards to bend scripture to his point of view. I couldn’t read it past the third chapter. The guy isn’t even a musician! He’s a comp to boot. The reason people don’t sing any more is twofold: some younger pastors are more concerned with drawing numbers and filling pews, and usually that’s younger people and men who can be emotional. They usually love Chris Tomlin and all the CCM singers, most of which I detest. The other side is that most older people can’t tolerate new music, so the leadership (usually not musical) pick a handful of dirges and sing those every week with no accompaniment. I’ve been in both of these churches, and both excluded me, an experienced musician, because I’m a woman. My current church has a choir, we do hymns, we have several guitarists, and some of us write and perform originals. And we did Tom Petty and Paul Simon too! I’m preparing some secular music and some of my own music, I’m hoping to post videos in the next month. Stay tuned!

        • Tim says:

          I’m not sure what his being comp has to do with his qualifications to speak to musical issues, but then again I’ve never heard of him before this so I don’t know one way or the other whether he injects complementarian doctrine into the music issues.

        • VelvetVoice says:

          Strict complementarians would keep a woman out of the music ministry, even if she is a trained musician. I was told I could not sing in church without a man accompanying me, then I was barred altogether from singing or playing. When I invited the church to my house for prayer and worship, I just played guitar because it was my house. that was the last time they came to my house.

          In my second church, I refused to join because they had a clause in the membership contract that the man was the spiritual head of household. I complained, the pastor said he would revisit the issue, but never did. The next membership meeting they announced you had to be a member to participate in any of the ministries. There was a man (not a musician) who was accepted in the music group because they wanted to keep him involved. That was my second message from the Holy Spirit that I was to get out of that church.

          Music is more than just songs, it is a message a teaching a way of life. And when God sent me music, He sent it as a protection of all my artistry gifts, and embedded His Word into my heart and mind. That’s basically my lifeline to God, and anyone who says I am not allowed to sing and share in this way is a liar.

    • Tim says:

      PB, I’ve used bluegrass when leading singing in a Sunday morning church service. Quite rousing.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        I do not recall saying it does not exist, but rare in my neck of the woods. I want the music to inspire (draw) based on its own merits not my own desire.
        Thus, the same with worship and the music used. At my staff meeting last night, I had “A Word From Our Sponsor” Isaiah 9:6 and a popular tune, very popular followed. (Guess which one?)
        As for some melodies being more appropriate, We have our own beliefs whether spiritual or not. If the family wishes a rousing march, let them have it. A bride wanted to enter to Ave Maria, why not?
        (At a funeral, the son wanted to have “To Life” from Fiddler on the Roof. I suggested aht he simply read some of the words, implying the forever life that his father was now enjoying. As I recall, he said commented that since we all have that song running in our heads, enjoy it.)

        The word we dance around is “aesthetics.” Personal Taste, what we as individuals and society believe is good and proper,

        Once we factor in (or out) personal taste, bottom line, if the words are scriptural, why not?

  2. That’s a pretty cool video. The music battles of church are something I feel is often so blown out of proportion. It’s so often based on our own preferences rather than any sort of scriptural or spiritual basis.

    “Past, present and future come together in the One who moves us to praise him eternally.” This quote is so where I land on this discussion of church music today. I think the church should reflect the music of the church of the past, the present, and developing the talents of those for the future all to praise the One who is worthy of such praise and worship. I always get a bit disappointed at those who only want to stick in the past or with those who only want modern (aka their preference of music at the expense of all others) I think it skews the motive from being worship of God to the music reflecting our tastes.

    • Tim says:

      When I hear a tune in church that grates on me, I start to focus solely on the words. If they too grate on me – due to bad doctrine, that is – then I know I can’t join in worship. But if the words are worshipful then I find myself able to tune out the tune itself.

    • Pastor Bob says:

      Rick Warren pointed out that music choices and style can be more important to many than doctrine. He told of a time when he had a 3×5 given to everyone in attendance one Sunday. Instructions were simple, write down the radio station you listen to, The overwhelming majority was adult contemporary. The music style changed to that style. A few songs show up that are not in that style, but 90% plus is adult contemporary. When he was confronted by one church member who told him that he would leave if that song was ever played again, Bro. Rick told him to his face that he would not yield to extortion, He, the pastor would follow God’s leading.

      We need to as well. What does God want? What will appeal to His people, and be effective in sharing a message?

      • Richard says:

        Is it what God wants? Or, what “people” want? And what if there is a difference? And is music style and choices neutral? I have a big problem with what Rick Warren does and says.

        • Tim says:

          I have problems with some things Mr. Warren says as well, but on this I totally agree. One person’s hated tune is another person’s worshipful melody

        • Pastor Bob says:

          ” I have a big problem with what Rick Warren does and says.”
          One cannot exercise the best of wisdom by holding to an ‘all or nothing approach.’
          It is permissible and almost essential to not like nor agree with some things people say. I have found myself agreeing with some things that an ‘opponent’ (on an issue)might say.
          If someone says something wise, we should check the motive, but a categorical refusal to accept is not wise at all.
          Aesthetics, -we see it again.

      • In my (limited) experience I would agree that music choice can be more important to people. To me the problem isn’t doing the music in a certain style like adult contemporary. It is when that style gets baptized as what is “Christian” and anything different is viewed with suspicion or outright hostility. We could all use our preferences stretched a bit at times.

  3. Jeannie says:

    It’s so interesting, Tim, how you’ve used that awesome dance video to make a point about worship music and motive. Letting God motivate us — and not just our own preferences, as Jeremy mentions above — is so important.

  4. jean47 says:

    I have helped to lead worship in the past, as part of a small church. I have been involved in the process of adapting hymns, older praise and worship songs, and folk type worship songs into an either electric or acoustic guitar/keyboard/bass/drums style of worship. Our worship team became very adaptable, and I am still surprised at what we were able to do. We either worked ” big” or “small”, depending on the day, event, etc. Changing the tempo of a song. Putting it in a more singable key for all to be able to sing. Our church even had worship with no instruments if we had to. People were eager to worship God, regardless of the circumstances. It wasn’t always pretty, but we meant it.
    Our church eventually split over other issues. I was part of the worship team (vocals), along with my husband (acoustic, electric or bass guitar), till the end. It was painful, but a joy and a privilege to help people worship God in the midst of pain and sadness, as well as those joyful times.
    One thing I want to say, Tim, is that I had to learn how to help lead worship with songs that grated on my nerves. How did I do it? Focusing on the words, just as you said you do when you face the same challenge. It was tougher when the lyrics were awkward, or I simply felt it wasn’t a “good” song. Sometimes, seeing other people being able to worship was enough for me to be able to do it. Being amazed by God, in general, in my heart? Always.
    Thanks for your post.
    I think most music styles can work for worship, depending on the people gathered, and the occasion. It is the heart that we approach the Lord with that counts.

    • Tim says:

      Jean, it sounds like your worship leading experience was a lot like mine. There was a lot of flexibility required, that’s for sure.

    • VelvetVoice says:

      This is exactly how it should be. Also, it’s a good idea to teach the congregation all genres of music. I love old hymns, and we sung religious songs in high school choir. We did Hayden’s Creation, and Hosanna from King of Kings. It was unforgettable, I still carry those songs around in my head. Committing scripture to memory is greatly enhanced by setting it to music. And it unites the generations too.

  5. Bill M says:

    That was a fun video, what a massive editing job.
    I don’t care for everything to be sung like a dirge and over-repetition drives me to distraction but I don’t insist they change to suit me. I do get annoyed when someone insists there is something wrong with me because I don’t care for their style. I’ve overheard it said those who differ “don’t come with an attitude of worship” or some such nonsense.

    • Tim says:

      That annoys me as well, Bill. Personal tastes should not dictate how others approach God in singing praises.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        This musician agrees. Too loud is bad enough, but with a shoulder injury I do NOT raise my hands much, nor clap too much.

        • Tim says:

          I am not a hand raiser or clapper either, PB. I hope no one judges me as nonspiritual or nonworshipful – or even worse, a nonbeliever – for that.

    • Tim says:

      It seems still culturally based, but not completely unreasonable.

    • VelvetVoice says:

      Is this guy a musician or an English professor? I thought he used a lot of words to say absolutely nothing. My former pastor used to say something similar, that most church music is unacceptable. But when I watch movies from the 1940s and the background music of the Nazis was basically all the hymns we used to sing in that church, I shudder. I would throw out the entire hymn book if even one other person got these kinds of feelings. Creepy!

  6. Richard says:

    God should be the one motivating us in our worship. Ken’s point is to question whether it is really God motivating us, or whether it’s the culture around us in the way we worship. I think it’s a valid question.

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