I have a confession. I can be cynical. I don’t mean cynical about things we are supposed to oppose as Christians like infidelity or other egregious sin. I mean I can be cynical about those areas in the Christian subculture that are held sacred. Let me explain.
Just a couple of days ago I was driving my 8th grade daughter to school – something I was not thrilled about having to do in the first place I assure you. And while driving, listening to the radio, I was noticing flowing from the airwaves of the Christian radio station, music that although was fine in and of itself, seemed to me to be mostly geared toward helping me feel good about my Christianity. It really bugged me. So much so that I turned it off. This experience turned my thoughts toward the church and then toward worship in the church. And it is here, in the worship music of the church, that I want to focus the post.
Like many others, I have experienced incredible worship and some, well, not-so-incredible worship. But that in many ways can simply be a point of training, of learning, and of mentorship. However, what must not ever be lost is the sense of wonder we experience when we enter as a congregation into worship together. This is my beef. For the sake of aspiring to be culturally relevant in our music, have we lost the relevance of the Gospel? Since when do we as the church have to simply play “Worship sets” with smoke machines and strobing lights to lure in the younger, hipper, less mature, less sacrificial audience. After all THAT will make us cool in their eyes, right? Except the Gospel gets lost – and that my friend IS NOT cool. The purpose of preparing our hearts and minds after a week of hell-on-earth in our professional world, has been absconded, and in its place stands a shallow exhibition of talent. Really good talent too. But they have not been trained that the music portion of our Sunday Morning worship is to prepare our minds and hearts for the proclamation of the Gospel. Not primarily to sing cool new songs.
Because this cannot be a full treatise on this subject, let me point out three primary indices of what I think matters:
- Theology Matters. I am so thankful for my former Pastor, Elmer Murdoch. I distinctly remember as a high school student coming in to worship each Sunday morning knowing in the middle of our worship choruses, Pastor Murdoch would step to the pulpit and lead us all in a couple of hymns, with the occasional background story as an added bonus. Why? Because the truth and the theology rooted in the hymns mattered. It prepared us to move beyond the selfishness of concern about our everyday doldrums, and forced us to look at those things in light of the greatness and wonder of God and his Son. This thrilled the heart of one young, impressionable student, I can say for a fact. Worship leaders, as one who is unable to recognize tune, tone or tenor (to be honest, I don’t even know what those terms mean or if I am using them correctly), I implore you, show us the greatness of God as our great warrior king and our high priest – and let our hearts soar.
- Excellence Matters. I hate to be a bible thumper, okay, no I don’t, but the Bible does exhort us to be excellent in what we do for the sake of the Gospel (Col. 3:23-24; Rom. 16:19). Our worship is no different. There is nothing more pure, more enjoyable, or more inspiring than a moving worship experience executed with excellence. This should be our goal., that we are so swept up in the experience by the Holy Spirit that we almost forget about the worship team playing. This is not an easy task, I realize, but something to work toward attaining nonetheless. As musicians, songwriters, and vocalists, your gift in music and the arts is incredibly important to the body at large. You honing your craft for the sake of the Gospel and the greatness of God, motivates others to do the same with the gifts they have been given. We don’t expect our pastors to get up and speak without preparing both mentally and academically. We should also expect our worship team to prepare through the careful and deliberate sharpening of their gifts.
- Leadership Matters. It is very difficult to attend a worship service when the worship is preoccupied with playing a good set and not leading the congregation to the cross. Dare I say, this is not your field of dreams. Just because you sing it, doesn’t mean you will bring the rest of us with you. Lead us, through worship, to experience and savor God. Through song we can go to battle and feel the might and majesty, and we can find ourselves completely vulnerable and broken in our sin. But you need to take us on the journey. Several years ago I was overseeing the youth department at our church when we lost our youth pastor. Because I had a gift in leadership and teaching I had to find someone who could help us in worship. I had three main requirements – they had to be competent in their gifts, they had to be teachable, and they needed to own the reality they were not on a stage, but a platform to present the brilliance of Christ. Don’t preform the worship, lead the worship, we want to follow you.
When I come off a long week of dealing with difficult, cussing, snarling people, I need a refuge on Sunday morning. Worship provides the respite. Worship provides the opportunity to place my problems against the plumb line of God’s wonder. Worship resets my soul and clears my head of the cares of my week, thereby preparing my heart and mind to receive and respond to God’s word. Worship is not just singing. However, our singing should be worship-filled.
My prayer is that we no longer settle for a nice worship set. But instead, let us sing full-throated, delighting ourselves in the greatness and wonder and majesty and love of God.
Now that is something I can get up for on a Sunday morning.