Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My Problem with Worship part 4: (A multi-part post...)

You can find part one here, part two here and part three here.

So, my big idea is this, as we’ve commodified worship a number of unintended but detrimental consequences have occurred. The story behind Matt Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship” illustrates one pastor and a congregation’s effort to face and overcome some of these consequences.  That a song about that church’s struggle with worship being reduced to our musical preferences became a huge successful song on the worship charts is a perfect illustration of the power of the Powers.

We will sing about not singing and the irony will be lost on us.

That’s not Matt Redman’s fault, that’s my fault, I led that song a lot without even once thinking about the irony.  The best way to worship with that song is likely not to sing it and instead, share the story and invite people to bring their own offerings.

Not thinking about what we’re singing is, for me, an issue.

In part one, I wrote, “We have neglected to pay attention to what we sing.  Our songs will shape our theology if our theology hasn’t shaped our songs.  I’m part of a movement that holds at its core a belief in an enacted inaugurated eschatology. My experience is we quite often sing songs coming from other perspectives that are inherently based on other central beliefs that are in conflict with our own.  We have sacrificed good theology for “a good beat I can dance to.”  We don’t have to, we just do. I believe that within our movement we’ll soon wake up to find the songs we sing have moved us a long way from the radical middle.”

The context of my thoughts about this is the movement of which I am a part.  But I think anyone, in any church with a statement of faith, a mission statement or even a motto needs to give this some consideration. What in the world are you saying with your songs?

I remember attending a worship service at a church several years ago that sang a song whose title I can only guess is, "Money Cometh," based on the repetitive phrase in the chorus.  I attended another church that sang Kevin Prosch's song, "Show Your Power" and found myself awkwardly singing different lyrics than the rest of the congregation when we came to the line that Prosch wrote, "We ask not for riches but look to the cross..." They would not sing, "We ask not for riches..." negative faith baby.  So the lyrics were were written so they could ask for riches while they looked at the Cross. 

A few years ago, as a church planting pastor and a worship leader, I attended a small gathering of academics and theologians – professors and smart people and such – to talk about post-modern hermeneutics.  I was the dimmest bulb in the room and my mind was blown over and over.  During a break, I was standing by two other participants and listening as they were talking about a very popular worship song at the time.  “When it gets to…” and he quoted the line, “I stop singing and look around to see if anyone else seems aware of what they’re singing.”  Having just led that song the Sunday before, it had never occurred to me to stop, nor had I really thought much about that particular line – because the chorus was awesome and I sounded really good on it too.

Considering what they were saying, I realized I didn't believe what I was singing either, it painted a very ugly picture of God if a person thought about it, and I didn't want our church singing that line either.

Overhearing their brief exchange started me thinking more about what I was singing.  It made me realize that the songs we sing shape what we believe about God as much or more than the messages I preached.  Never once did I hang out with someone during the week when I heard them unconsciously repeating lines from my message but I often heard people singing a line or two to themselves from a song from the past Sunday morning worship time. I never had someone ask me, mid-week, if I would repeat the message from a week before, but I did have people ask if we were doing that song again.

Our songs don’t reinforce the pulpit; our songs are pulpits.


  1. When I learned guitar my discipled warned me out would forever change my experience of worship music. It was true, now i pay a lot more attention to musicality. Studying theology did the same thing, now I get slapped in the face with some of the lyrics our churches sing. Just because it sounds good doesn't make it sound. I find myself adjusting lyrics on the fly and sometimes even just sitting down when the song is so bad. And yet you are spot on that it is the songs that land with people, they get inside us, shape our thinking, change our expectations.

    1. Thanks Frank. I think of you every time we sing Good, Good Father.

  2. That last line is so true. And the last paragraph is a big truth. I enjoy bringing music to the service that is sound scripturally and has a memorable melody. It makes a difference with the beat and melody whether it will be able to be recalled later, to bring to mind the phrases for the reason we sing, to praise God, encourage one another or to exhort. As much as I enjoy music of other cultures, there are types that I really feel and sink into my soul and types that speak to the soul of others. This is not to say, we only sing one genre, but to bring music to the body that is the most effective to our particular body. And yes, Brian, that is only part of our worship. I have enjoyed following this blog, and wish I had more time to discuss, as I am not good at expressing my thoughts and feelings, hence the reason I love to sing.

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation Philip and thanks for giving this a read.