What’s wrong with worship?

My most favourite PODcast is 99% Invisible, which may make me a nerd, but I’ve learned to accept it. In this particular episode, Frozen, they rebroadcast part of an episode of a radio show called Sound Opinions, which is a rock and roll talk show. In this episode from 2006, they were interviewing musician, composer, and producer John Brion.

John spoke of how the record has changed the way we interacted with music. Now, because of the recording, there is “a version” of a song. It’s not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just now we can like a tone of a guitar, drums, bass, or keyboard, thoroughly enjoying every minute, all the while some lyrics are meaningless and have an extremely simplistic melody, only revolving around three or four notes. Maybe it is a complicated melody like a Led Zeppelin song, to use John Brion’s example, but it turns out what you like about the piece is Led Zeppelin doing it—their skill, their chemistry, their expression.

John explained that he loves Led Zeppelin, but for the most part, their pieces were performances, not songs.

For example, John pointed out, Lithium by Nirvana is one of the greatest songs ever. Play that piece on a piano, and it will move you to tears! It is a beautiful chord progression, with rich lyrics, and it will leave you humming.

All of this caused me to think about the music we sing in church. 

To back this up a little, if you have been around the church worship music scene, there has been much debate about performance vs. congregational. This argument is valid and one to which I would like to touch on. However, the performance vs. congregational debate usually morphs into a contemporary vs. liturgical or hymns vs. choruses. While these are important to talk about, I believe that we need to explore the insight of John Brion and apply it to the songs we sing. 

Could it be that the reason contemporary worship has become a performance is that the songs we are selecting for corporate worship are, in fact, not songs but performance pieces?

Churches all over the world try and emulate the synth effect on the latest Young and Free or copy the guitar riff on the newest Elevation Worship track. Speaking as a musician, learning these songs can be fun and playing them with a tight band can be exhilarating. The congregation appreciates the cover. Their worship is heightened with each crescendo. What we often don’t like to admit is that the congregations have become audiences, as our worship services become sets. I believe much of this is due to us moving away from the worship song to performance pieces.

Just like Brion and his love for Led Zeppelin, so I love much of the Hillsong, Elevation, Bethel, or whichever worship band you might be listening to at the moment (my favourite is Citipointe). Pastors, worship leaders, and congregations need to learn the subtle art of differentiating between the performance and the congregational piece. 

If we genuinely want to teach our churches what worship is about, we must find the songs to which both music and lyrics—melodies and poetry—work together to speak to the soul and direct our hearts to worship at the throne of our Eternal Father.

It’s not wrong to have a performance piece. I can be stirred to enter the presence of God with a rousing Ode To Joy as much as Never Lost by Elevation.

Leonard Sweet points out,

You don’t attend worship; you attend a concert. You participate in worship. You contribute to worship. Yet we count attendance, not participation.

We need to count participation, but the fact that our congregations have become audience has little to do with them and more to do with how we have conditioned them with our ambience, smoke, riffs, pads, and hooks.

As Matt Redman lamented about his heart of worship,

When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come.
Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart.
I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in its self is not what you have required.
You search much deeper within through the way things appear.
I’m coming back to Your heart.

Heart of Worship

I don’t know your context. What I do know is that there is a shift in our worship music that has left many of those in and out of the churches wanting. There are so many amazing congregational worship songs, both old and new, Hillsong to Charles Wesley. Let’s stop, think, and pray and ask ourselves a few questions. Is the melody pleasing? Can it be stripped down to work in a house church? What do the lyrics teach us about God?

I encourage you to check out 99 PI’s episode Frozen https://99percentinvisible.org/?s=56.

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I Sent My Son

As it turned out, we were out of cereal. As it also turned out, I was hungry. I wrangled my two youngest kids to head to Sobey’s as well as a little surprise.

What was the surprise?

Breakfast+hunger+kids= (you guessed it) McDonald’s

The kids scarfed down their hashbrown and proceeded to the play structure. This particular structure was made of multiple circles with large holes in each one that allowed children (not too small or too big) to climb through to the next.

As they ran off, I was excited for a few minutes of just sitting. I was tired from a late night of watching sports (’tis the season), I had a sore throat, and my leg was a little sore (Achilles ruptured 21 weeks ago).

It wasn’t even five minutes before my son came running to me.

“Dad, Dad!” Zeke exclaimed. “Karis is stuck.”

Good Grief! There is no way that this tired, old, sore body was going to be able to contort through those tiny holes. Now, if I had been born a snake, I could have slithered my way up to the very very top of the play structure to my daughter. If I had to, I could have probably found a way. However, she got herself up to the top, and she could get herself down. After all, she knew that if she climbed to the top, she would get stuck. I even reminded her before she went.

Karis didn’t take too kindly to getting down. She was crippled by fear as she clutched onto the plastic bubble located 25 feet above the ground. She started crying, “Daddy! Daddy! I’m scared! I’m stuck!”

That is when I sent my son.

Even though Karis had got herself into the situation, she couldn’t get her self out. She needed help. Luckily, my son was more than willing to go.

I was so proud of him as he spoke to her with love and compassion reassuring her it was going to be okay and that she just needed to trust him.

“I won’t let you fall. You just have to trust me, Karis. I can help you down.”

10 MINUTES! If I were Zeke, I would have lost my poop by that point. He stood there continually reassuring her that it was going to be okay–over and over again saying, “You just need to trust me.”

As I stood there, my frustration over this predicament began to dissipate. I was starting to feel my emotions well up as the Holy Spirit reminded me of how when I was stuck, in the consequences of my own wrong decision, my heavenly Father sent his son, Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”

Even more moving, the fact that God didn’t chastise me from afar.

Jesus came in love and compassion, showing us the Father’s heart–hearing our cries–compelling us to trust him.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Zeke eventually convinced Karis to trust him, and they made their way down, but I think of how different it would have gone if instead of love, patience, kindness, compassion; he spoke vitreal, wrath, judgement, fear — knowing my daughter, probably not well. Luckily for her, Zeke was there (Ezekiel means, God will strengthen) to be her strength when she had none. He was willing to give her what she needed, how she needed it at that moment, grace through love (Karis is our take on Charis, which means grace).

Harold Fickett Jr. writes, “My favourite definition is, ‘Grace is God thinking in terms of what a man needs, rather than in terms of what he deserves.'”

It reminds me of that popular song by Hillsong United,
“I called
you answered
and you came to my rescue…”

As Psalm 40 says and U2 echoes,

“He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the mire and clay.”

Maybe you feel stuck. Call out to God. His son, Jesus, is waiting with grace-filled arms to help you. He doesn’t stand there with a pointed finger. He isn’t a master rubbing your nose in your dirt. Jesus comes with no condemnation, but in hope and hope secure. It is a hope that will never ever fails. I love how the King James Version put Romans 5:5, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

Though we may be stuck God sent his son to bring hope. It’s a hope that doesn’t carry shame but one of freedom. It’s a hope that comes into our hearts and can consume even the darkest corners but we have to be willing to let it. Not shame, but hope. Not condemnation, but compassion. Not wrath, but love.

I am thankful that while in a McDonald’s playground, the Holy Spirit reminded me that the Father sent his son, just as I sent my son.

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