Worried about Worship

In the past several week I have read three interesting blog posts about worship.

James has three suggestions for worship bands including the band leaders not praying so much between songs.  Tony thinks that public prayers should be eschewed all together – especially the written prayers of the pastor. Tara, as a musician herself, is trying to find the balance when the band hits an off note and keeping her focus on the actually worship and not on the stage performance.

The reason that I have taken special notice of this conversation is because I am in a bit of a transition. My whole life I have been in churches that utilize contemporary rock-n-roll style worship or contemporary praise for the music at the weekend public services. I was very comfortable lifting my hands, jumping up and down, and singing at the top of my lungs with my head thrown back and my eyes closed.  I now serve in a congregation that sings hymns with a big choir and an even bigger pipe organ. 

WELL – recently a group of us have been commissioned to launch an emergent gathering this fall in West LA. It is coming together so well and everyone seems to be on the same page … in every area except one: music.  You can tell that this is the one area where some fear and trepidation is present. “What will our music be like?  What kind of style will we use?”  Since the  music we traditionally have in the sunday service is so different than what we listen to in our cars … where does that leave us?

Luckily we have gifted musicians who love the Lord and I’m sure that they will navigate this just fine – plus they love Gungor so I am optimistic.

However, after reading these well written and thoughtful blogs I had three thoughts in my head:

  1.  How bad is it that both James and Tara have to mention the center-of-attention behavior of the band?  It dawns on me, before I stick up for ‘worship teams’ in general – maybe I have not seen how bad it is out there and that I myself would be put-off (or horrified) at the spectacle they are referencing.
  2.  Is this situation inflamed by an epistemology employed by evangelical and charismatic churches? I don’t know how else to say it but …. if you think that you are singing to God (vs. about God) and the God is actually listening to you and evaluating what is going on, then are you more critical of both the sour-notes and distracting ‘self’ behavior or overly elaborate performances?
  3. If the band is there to facilitate my /our worship and connecting with God, then keeping the songs simple and somewhat familiar is a better way to facilitate a group to be in unison and not distracted. We are able to ‘enter in’  to a ‘spirit of worship’. But then people circle back and are critical that the songs are simple, repeat too much, and grow stale with constant use.

It seems to me that there is a lot being assumed when we talk about worship music. We all sort of know that worship is an all-week whole-life expression – we just sort of take a short cut in our language and talk about church music as worship.

I would love to hear your thoughts. This space has become a wonderful place to compare notes, exchange resources and learn new things.  I just have two requests:
A) Don’t give us a lesson about what worship meant in a different language or in the 4th or 11th century. That is not what any of us need. I want to engage this subject how the popular use is actually engaging this topic (like we did with ‘religion’)
B) Let us know if you don’t like songs like “Shout to the Lord” in general before you are critical of praise music categorically. I mean, if its not your style anyway … then it would just be good to know that so we can know how to read your perspective.
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26 comments
Jonathan D. Blundell
Jonathan D. Blundell

ahh... they may be in conflict with one another. try deactivating the JetPack plugin and see if it leaves the bottom one. (I think it's the one that's actually working). Or try deactivating the other plugin and see if that makes the JetPack one work.

Jonathan D. Blundell
Jonathan D. Blundell

Just a followup - I checked the first box on the Dianna Butler Bass interview and it worked for me - that should be the JetPack plugin.

Homebrewed Christianity
Homebrewed Christianity

That would be amazing. Because one of them IS working so we don't want to lose that one!!! that is why we have just left it that way even thought it is akward

Jonathan D. Blundell
Jonathan D. Blundell

From your source code it looks like the 1st one is the akismet comment plugin (which also includes - notify me of new posts via email). That may be the JetPack plugin if you're using it. Not sure where the 2nd one is pulling from - I'm not seeing it in your source code. If you want, setup a temp login for me and I can take a closer look.

Homebrewed Christianity
Homebrewed Christianity

we are not sure what to do about that. They come from two different add-ons and we don't know which one is working

Jonathan D. Blundell
Jonathan D. Blundell

btw - there are two "Notify me of follow-up comments by email." check boxes

Jacqui
Jacqui

I've had some similar questions lately, also, as I'm seeing my urban worship community, now under pastoral leadership (who openly admits to knowing nothing about music), begin to step up their game in the music arena. In the past, the worship style has been a beautiful mix of hymns, praise songs (though none too recent), and gospel - and even liturgy with just a hint of Creole/blues. I can't say it's always top quality, but we do have some talented musicians earnest hearts. My concern has been suddenly hearing phrases such as "ushering in the Spirit" and "Take your seats. It's time to do church" as we break up the chatter of the community to begin the service. Partially, my concerns are theological - my skin crawls when people insinuate that the Holy Spirit is some kind of elusive force that must be lulled into a trance through some highly emotional manipulation, and not a being that not only desires to be near us, but just is because of that desire for relationship - no trance required. And though I fully understand the need for a little bit of order and structure and occasionally attempting to start the service on time, that we need to stop sharing community (and a vibrant and healthy one, at that) to "do church," which translates to giving our attention to music scripted by power point. I guess my point is that worship should be as organic as possible, that it should be integrated into the body and life of the people who participate, and that though structure and order and quality can be important, nothing is more important that authenticity and, most of all, the willingness, as a community, to humbly come before the Author of that vibrant life in awe. Maybe not such a practical thought, but my hearts cry, nonetheless.

Jeff Armstrong
Jeff Armstrong

Here I go, I'm not sure this will be called a rant or a constructive criticism. First as you know Bo, I had stepped away from the Church for over 25 years, I did not stop believing in God but the Church. The Holy Spirit nearly knocked me off my feet one night while watching a movie on "The Book of John". What does that have to do with worship you say, well that was what kept me going through the 25 years was music...specifically praise & worship music. Now that I film praise & worship music every week in the Church I attend, I see the impact music has on people and I want to believe on God. I know you do not like to look at the past, but the original praise music "The Book of Psalms", was written for the purpose of finding a way to communicate with God what we were feeling....that has carried over to today even more powerfully. When I listen to what people write into their music today it's the inner feelings of us all, some of it just pure praise and some of it what we are going through in life. Music is the purest form of expression. At our Church the youth group performs once a month.....it's what I look forward to the most. Like someone mentioned above, they are not yet talented on the instruments but in their heart they pour it out there....that's awesome!! I love all types of genre music so when we sing hymns at our small bible study I enjoy that just as much as going crazy at a Rock and Worship Road show. It's my pure expression to God of what I am feeling in whatever format I do it in. I for one do not believe praise & worship music is in trouble....I believe it's catching fire!

shawn
shawn

I'm old. I miss the days when a person in the congregation would spontaneously lead out in a familiar song (yes, especially hymns) and everyone else would join. acapella is my favorite...and I love almost any style of music, really, but these days it feels like a band is a requirement, and the "quality" of that band is married to the "quality" of the worship "experience". In that case we are missing the point. I'm in agreement with the idea of asking a variety of people to lead, then allowing them to do so, each with their own musical style...and too much scripting leaves no room for spontaneity (or authenticity). While there are lots of things that distract me, I tend to think that's a problem with me. At the end of the day, when it comes to worship, It's not about me, right?

Chris
Chris

I am an occasional worship leader (I used to lead once 2 months now it's about once every 6 months)  Who is appropriate to be in the band? I love it when the kid who's still learning to play guitar or the drummer who can't quite fit the drum fill into a bar plays. It's sometimes messy but it is the people of God praising God not a performance. And I'm not a great singer. I like to think I'm not the kind of voice people like to quietly sit back and listen to rather, it's the kind of voice they like to drown out by singing loudly over the top of. Hymns or soft rock? I live in the land of hillsong so songs like "shout to the lord" are usually not hillsongy enough.  When I lead I like to say that in between hymns and hillsong are the spirituals and gospel the musical forms that gave birth to rock n' roll. For a full list of the songs I like to inflict on my church look at achurchlessfaith.blogspot.com and the "valley song" pages on the blog. Does everybody love it? No last time I did music before the service I was asked would we be doing "any normal songs" after the service I was told that my guitar amplifier seemed to be distorting. My wife said the music made her feel like she was in a pub (that was a compliment). I love that when the hillsong lovers do music it's all that style and when the hymn lovers do music it's that style. Nothing worse than me butchering a hymn. What is the purpose of the band? I always tell the musicians I play with not to be nervous about playing because we are only the backing band the congregation I the lead singer. Praying or singing between songs? I never pray between songs particularly that rambling "thank you Jesus" style of prayer. I do talk but it's tightly scripted to make sure I use as few words as possible. I'm often asked to explain the songs I sing - what does "oh Mary don't you weep no more" mean? For example. Although my hillsong singing peers are never asked to do the same, I'm often asking "lord I lift your name on high" and "I will sing your praise forever" what the fried banana do those lyrics actually mean? Church music is something I am passionate about. Partly because I almost never like it. I tend not to listen to soft rock or 18th century organ music at home either. Posting this comment i've realised I could talk a lot about the topic. Thanks Bo for getting me thinking!

Cameron
Cameron

I'd like to push into the thought that worship is more to do with the whole of life than it is to do with the songs we sing. Yet we just keep coming back to that question, don't we? I mean, in my tradition the phrase 'Now we will enter into a time of worship' essentially means 'Now we'll sing some songs.' (Warning: potentially off-topic rant ahead) Observation: every conference, seminar, retreat or workshop I've ever been to about worship has been led by a musician. In the vast majority of these cases the person is heavily involved in the music ministry at their church and is more than likely responsible for leading the singing on Sunday. A few years ago I went to one such conference. The guest speaker, who was to talk about worship in the life of the believer, was a well known singer. She spent the first session explaining how worship is an all of life affair, then spent the next three sessions how to organise the music, pick appropriate songs and so on. Bear in mind this wasn't a musician's conference---it was a clergy retreat. Afterwards I asked on Facebook 'Why is it when we say 'worship leader' we really mean 'singer/songwriter?'' and someone replied, 'Well, who'd come to listen to a worship preacher?' Gah. Rant over. It seems that churches are defined by the style of music they use more than any other. In fact, in my denomination the traditional peeing-against-the-wall question amongst pastors question was never 'How many do you preach on Sunday?' but, 'How big's your band?' That's odd, given that the defining feature of the church is supposed to be love. Yet love seems to be the first thing out the window when we don't get the Fanny Crosby/Matt Redman ratio just right. Maybe if we put the needs of others before our own things'd be a lot more Christlike. Of course, if musical styles have become needs we have bigger problems than not being able to agree what styles of music we prefer.

Matt
Matt

Bo- like you, I'm working with a group right now that is trying to come up with a plan for monthly worship gatherings that will supplement week-to-week house group gatherings. We are still in the planning stages, but I am a big advocate of variety. I'd like to see bluegrass one month, rock-n-roll church the next, and a string quartet the next. Maybe simple, a capella works its way in on the right occasion - even Celtic music if we can find people to pull it off. Of course, this plan would never work for weekly gatherings because there isn't enough time for such wild adaptations, but I encourage you to avoid being too closely married to any one style. Try to find someone with a heart for variety - old and new, loud and soft, 3 chords and 12 chords. The music - both in style and content - should fit the overall theological themes of each occasion. To answer your question - I love a traditional, liturgical setting with organ and choir, but I find it helpful to occasionally indulge in an ears-bleeding, pray-throughout-the-set praise band setting as well.

The Misfit Toy
The Misfit Toy

That thing we do in a room full of people who all like the same music is pretty cool, and pretty powerful. "That concert was like church for me" is not an uncommon expression. If I ran the zoo, I would have a concert like experience as part of my worship gatherings.. On those days, I would totally want the band to be in the center, and for them to "put on a show", do it right, tear down the walls. I don't think it is healthy to do that every week, for that to be the identity of the church. I imagine there might be a way to offer that same sort of "take us to the place that only you can create" offering made to other artists. We let story tellers and musicians do it. Can we let ourselves also be open to dancers, poets, painters?

Dan Hauge
Dan Hauge

Briefly on your point #2--I have always found that the culture in my evangelical settings encouraged us to worry less about the skill or perfection of the performance precisely because we were singing directly to God--the sense that God was more interested in our sincere hearts than in technical proficiency. At the same time, we were into pretty slick pop/rock productions (I've played drums in various worship teams for years). I'm not sure if that view of God really exacerbates the situation--I suppose it depends on how you internalize it. For me, I've wanted to be as open to God in my own spirit as possible, but never figured God would go all ballistic if I screwed up a note or got really distracted (which often happens). At the same time, there is a sense of wanting to 'do my best for God', though in the same way that I'd want to do my best in anything for God, which is not that different (for me) in wanting to do my best because that's a good thing to do. All this is assuming, on my part, that it's perfectly appropriate to experience God as a subject, someone who is present, listening, loves our community and myself, and can receive our love back. Not sure if that lines up with how most progressives or post-moderns view worship, but that's where my thoughts come from.

Jamie Johnson
Jamie Johnson

I lead the worship team at a Christian college in the NW, and have also noticed the same articles you reference. The pastoral team I work with talks about what seems to be an addiction to praise music among college students. It is the go-to method of filling space - and like you mentioned, brings so much emotion with it. In regard to your epistemological question, I wonder if the loud reformed voice, which paints God as unpleased with our offerings somehow shapes our view of worship music. I mean, if it is not a good offering I am giving to this demanding God, than it is not really an offering. And so, coupled with commercialization of faith, we seek to give only the good stuff and everything else is too stinky for God. I wonder if we changed our view of God, though, to the one who praised the widow for what she gave - a weak offering in the eyes of the world - that our view of worship music would change. In doing so, we would provide space for many people to engage in the practice - many styles, many abilities, many instruments. Just a thought.

Naomi Passarelli
Naomi Passarelli

Worship services are so weird. The music aspect gets right to the heart of services in general, why are we here...doing this...right now. Why are we doing church? Why does signing matter? Music seems to be a natural out flowing and expression of human emotion. We love to sing love songs, we sing revenge songs, we sing to our children, we sing to celebrate. To me, singing should be a natural way to relate to who God is to us, what God is doing in the world, and our emotional reaction to what God is saying/doing. Worship songs are also the best ways to teach I think we have. People's brains are wired to remember things better if put into musical format. So, we should be aware of the message our songs are teaching to people, because when they are in trouble or struggling---they are more likely to remember a song than a sermon. I think that as long as worship is God-centered and sincere, it will accomplish the purpose of helping people express themselves and teaching people about God. Style depends on the congregation. My husband does not connect with God through a fantastic string section, but I do. The style should be that which allows the particular group to connect.

Cam Sobalvarro
Cam Sobalvarro

This will be interesting discussion because everyone has an opinion, and there are no (or few) "right" answers. People respond very differently to artistic worship or communicattion in general. The variation in any community is going to always be an issue because no one is going to be satisfied, or perhaps better to say engaged, in the same way. I think communities that want to worship together have to have an attitude of openness and forebarence, and that has more to do with the worshipERS than the leaders. In my exploration I've seen various approaches work and fail and what's right for one is very wrong for another. You need to find your community's collective voice. That will take time, it will also take real sensitivity and flexibliity of the artistic leadership too. Might I add humility. Here's some musings on this topic you might find useful too... http://blog.realfaitharts.com/search/label/Ministry

Doug Hagler
Doug Hagler

Praise music is definitely not my style of music - when I enjoy it, it is surprising for me. Hymnody isn't usually my style of music either, so be that as it may... I think the issue is always participation. If you have a praise band that is rocking out while everyone watches and sings along, that is only the slightest bit more participatory than what happens with the traditional hymns that praise songs are supposed to be an alternative to. Same passivity, slightly different musical style. What moves me is when someone offers their own song in worship, as their own expression. That is an intimate communication, and I'm happy that someone wants to share that in the context of worship. The other thing that moves me is participatory music where the performer/audience barrier is broken down. I also love rock concerts, but that's not what I come to worship for. I come to a rock concert to be in the audience and to be entertained and moved - I come to worship to participate.

Jonathan Blundell
Jonathan Blundell

I like the idea that as you move into a community you let your faith community be birthed from that community. So if the community gets down to hymns, you get down with hymns. If you get down to hip-hop, you get down to hip-hop. Let the community you're ministering to be the guide. Better yet - let them be the musicians. I remember hearing from several folks about a community in the North East that tried forever to get a band together to lead worship - finally a DJ in their group offered to "lead worship" and ever since, their worship time has been led by a DJ with two turn tables. It doesn't make sense to try and force a congregation of 60 and 70 year olds into singing Rock and Roll Worship Circus - unless they're really into that. And likewise, it doesn't make sense to try and force a congregation of teens to sing with an organ - unless they're really into it.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

I was given the New Yorker article about the book this weekend!! Spoiler Alert - I am posting about it tomorrow :)

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Thanks Dan, that is actually REALLY helpful language that I will adopt and use down the road (instead of my epistemology framing). -Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Whoa. I hadn't thought of that. Your theory is even more interesting than I thought mine was ;)

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Naomi, you are right - music is intrinsically powerful ... but do you think that there is anything to this epistemology thing I was talking about? Does it matter if people think that they are singing TO God ? I would love some thoughts on that -Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Thank you both for your thoughts. I am diggin' what you are saying. This is definitely stuff that is helpful for my to think about. I love comparing notes with thoughtful folks ;) -Bo

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