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.

Check out the resources used in this blog

Your great love

Verse 1

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could say, a thousand times

         C         D             G

how much I love you God

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could sing, the greatest songs

         C         D             G

of melodies touch the heart

Pre chorus

C                                            Em

none of these can ever come close

       D                     C

To your great love for me

C                                            Em

Even when I fall short

  D                     C

Your love never fails me

Verse 2

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could touch, a million souls

         C                  D                  G

and never come close to your power

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could say the sweetest words

         C         D             G

that move the stone heart close to clay

Chorus

D                                   C         G

Jesus, your cross has said it all

Bm7                                      Cmaj7

you showed your great love for me

  D                                     C           G  

You lived, you loved, you took my place

Bm7                                  

you showed your great love 

Am7  Bm7   C2                            Am7  Bm7   C2

                           Your great love

Verse 3

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could serve, a billion lives

         C                  D                  G

To show how much I love you God

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could go the furthest mile

         C                  D                  G

To tell the world of your mighty works

Pre

Chorus

Verse 4

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

You gave your life upon that cross

         C                  D                  G

So I would how much you love

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

You rescued me, from the cruse

         C                  D                  G

even though I was far away

Pre chorus 2

C                                            Em

‘cause nothing will ever come close

       D                     C

To your great love for me

C                                            Em

Even when I fall short

  D                     C

Your love never fails me

Worship Is A Verb

Andy Stanley points out “Christians, and church leaders in particular, use the term worship loosely. Let’s face it: We use the term as an adjective… We have worship music, worship leaders, worship centres, and worship services.” Andy Stanley Deep & Wide.p.214

Worship isn’t an adjective.
Worship is a verb.
Worship isn’t a thing. It is something that we do.

Is it possible that the reason we have worship wars and complain about anything we can think about when it comes to communal church worship is that we treat it as something, anything, other than a verb? We to often focus on our preferences rather than the God to whom we worship.

Leonard Sweet points out, “You don’t attend worship; you attend a concert. You participate in worship. You contribute to worship.” Leonard Sweet Giving Blood.p.257

Is it possible the concert trend in worship is because we the congregation has ceased to be participants? After all, if people won’t engage, maybe, we can at least entertain. I am not saying this is what has happened, but possibly it is a contributing factor. It is also possible that the increase in performance and having lyrically cool songs, that we have inadvertently weeded out participation.

I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. I have a feeling that our lack of theological understanding of the purpose of communal worship has brought us to this point, but we’ll save that discussion for a later post.

Way back worship songs were Psalms and other like Scriptures. As the popular music of the time changes, so did the worship styles. Changes within church music aren’t a new phenomenon. I remember hearing a story about people complaining about a new church song in the 1800s. They said the song was too secular as well as other unchoice words. That song was Ode To Joy.

Just as the typical church song in the 1800s was a reimagining of the drinking songs of the day, so much of the current popular worship songs are on trend with today’s contemporary music. Complete with synth tracks, drum loops, guitar solos, and complex, ambiguous lyrical structures and melodies.

It may take time to teach our congregations what it means for worship to be a verb. In the meantime, maybe we need to try and meet them halfway. Perhaps we need to be a little more selective with our song choices. Reminiscent of the drinking 17century drinking song turn to church hymns we need to find songs that have a current style with easy melodies and lyrical substance that teaches them about a God whose love compels us to worship.

It is just a suggestion, but this might help us see that worship is a verb.

Check out the resources used in this post

Invite You To Move

This is a song I wrote a few years ago while my daughter was sick in hospital and we weren’t sure if she would live.
It is a song about inviting God to move in our life and declaring who He is over it.

You can find the lyrics & music below.

Chorus

D                    Asus

Be lifted high, in my life

Bm             G2

I invite you to move

D                  Asus

We magnify, you in our lives

Bm           G2

We invite you to move

             D

We invite you to move

Verse 1

G                                  Asus

Mighty, is the name of Jesus

 Bm7                                   G

For he’s the only one who saves

G        Asus

Strong holds, fall down before him

Bm7                          G

He deserves our only praise

Pre Chours

A

And when the water rise

Bm7

life filled with strife

G                  D

Only you can satisfy

A

but I’ll lift my praise

Bm7

My hands I’ll raise

G                          A

for only you can save

Verse 2

G                                  Asus

Higher, is the name of Jesus

 Bm7                                   G

For he has bridged the great divide

G        Asus

Holy, There’s none above thee

Bm7                          G

Great is your love in our lives

Bridge

Bm7

Our Father who art in Heav’n

A

Glory to your name

Bm7                                 A

You Kingdom Come, your Will be done

Bm7

Give us our daily needs

A

Forgive us and our enemies

Bm 7                   G

And lead us not into temptation

Bm7                  G

Yours all power, yours all glory

     D5                        Asus 

Be Yours for ever and ever

Bridge 2

G              D             C2               G/B

Yours Be, the Glory, for ever and ever      X2

Em        Bm7             C2                 G/B

Yours be,  The glory, For ever and ever