(Part 3 in the Worship White Noise blog series)
I admit at the outset of this book, that I am one of those who is both immersed in, and enamored with, the riches of faith displayed in and through contemporary worship music. I lead it. I write it. I embrace it. I train others to lead it. I champion it as a sacred elixir that can bring society to embrace God’s presence, felt and near. It’s powerful stuff.
But we have a problem. Our current, contemporary vision of worship will alter us, yes – but we kid ourselves if we think it will alter the world.
An Insider’s Perspective
So, just some background for credibility’s sake, as we’re about to tip some sacred cows in the coming pages. I have served/acted as a:
- Pastor & Denominational leader (I’ve taught worship),
- Worship Leader & Music Minister (I’ve led worship),
- Songwriter & Artist Of Faith (I have written worship music and liturgy),
- Worship Music and Author Industry person (I’ve served worship),
- Christian Radio Industry Voice (I’ve sought to inspire worship),
- Christian College & University Professor (I’ve sought to empower worship), and
- Worshipper (I’ve sought to live out worship on a daily basis).
I am, by all accounts of the word, an insider. I care about the music of worship, the liturgies that form us, and the expressions that move us.
Yet I also believe that when a powerful expression like contemporary worship music has so much sway in a time of history, we must work hard to do to keep each disciple’s faith moving toward Christ – and not the expression. If not, we veer off to camp around that fresh revelation God has brought through the expression.
Taking Our Eye Off The Ball
This is the case related to contemporary worship music. We’ve camped around it, and my “industry” has helped us to do it. In doing so, we’ve taken our eye off the ball. Actually, Christians have done that for a long time before the contemporary worship scene had its day.
Some are also camping around liturgy needing to dominate over contemporary worship music once again. Even our best academic voices today extol the virtues of liturgy, and rightly so, for the formation of our desires and interior habits. Once again, I join this chorus over and over in my own teaching work, and will until I’m asked to speak no more.
But the voices who compel our worship language to include the streets, the airwaves, the cinemas, the businesses, the neighborhoods, the politics, the parliaments, the technologies, the industries, the innovations, and the artistries of our age – are marginalized by the common, deafening roar.
The tipping point question, then, is begged.
Can Our Current Vision Of Worship Alter The World?
We’ll deal with the corporate roar in Part 1, coming up. Suffice it to say, for now, we have the sacred, and we have the secular – and our limited language locks us into ways of talking about worship that not only cordon it into the four invisible walls of a church, but also minimize the best worship efforts of the Romans 12:1, living sacrifice innovators, educators, scientists, pastors, producers, artisans, and business saints of our day.
Our widest vision of worship must begin in the first verses of Genesis, not the Psalms, nor even the Gospel of Matthew. Worship is as big as God is, and that is where He begins to tell the majestic story of Worship. We were made for a response to God that ultimately alters humanity.
Our current language and vision of worship will not alter the world. I know what some of you are thinking, because I think it, and am ready to argue with myself. It will alter us, yes, and we will alter the world. Of course. That is correct. I’ve said that for decades.
But I mean something different than that, and I hope you are intuiting it with me. When we engage in worship, in places familiar and standard for us that we currently associate with the word, it is vital – but it is not the full scope of worship being expressed. Let’s not fool ourselves; the culture as a whole is not being altered in a significant way by what happens when we do what we most familiarly call “worship” in our churches on a Sunday morning.
When we walk out the door, yes, we’re affecting the world in Jesus’ name. But I suggest that a wider, broader vision of worship could tip the scale on how profoundly a newly articulated vision of worship could penetrate society through those who are caught up in its grandeur. There are many ways to worship; we must tease them apart from music, liturgies, and services in order to uncover our options.
The Wake Up Call And Solutions Suggested By This Book
Here’s the wake-up call. We’re doing good work in the world. The “Seven Worship Culture Shapers” I will address in specific in Part 3 are doing good work.
But it’s not always great work, and it’s not always their fault.
Invisible chains of misappropriated values and misaligned theology are literally choking the worship, for which we were so strikingly designed, right out of us. We think we’re doing it in our services, events, programs, and conferences. To some degree we are, but it is, in my humble opinion, a truncated vision of what worship is and must be. Worship must make sense, and matter, everywhere we set our foot.
Our compelling Christian vision of worship had better make some sense to an ancient Olmec and a contemporary Buddhist – and passionate song singing in church services is not a compelling enough vision to matter. Neither is our liturgy (though it comes closer, in some ways, due to the gravitas of historical sacraments associated with it).
Every religion has sacred actions, including music and liturgies. That doesn’t diminish our sacred actions or encounters, based on a living relationship rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. But it does put them into perspective.
The difference is in the content and paradigm of worship and its meaning – and if we don’t get that foundation right, the whole building is misaligned.
Please stay with me. Music and intimate exchange with God within it will feature prominently in where we are going, but it will have to be dethroned for a bit in order to get to the wider vision of worship I think we are all intuitively after.
We’re going somewhere very important together and the time taken here to set the stage is vital to the next curtain opening – and real change occurring.