Why Time After Time Made It Into My Worship Set

This weekend, the lyrics and melody to the song, Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman of The Hooters) found their way into my worship set.

It was a spontaneous moment of playing while many people were being prayed for related to physical and mental/emotional healing.

It was a precious moment. We sang the message of these lines:

“If you’re lost and you look then you will find me, time after time; if you fall I will catch you, I’ll be waiting, time after time”

…over the simple I/IV progression of Healing In Your Wings (Vineyard Music; written by yours truly).

I sang it, the band undergirded it, and most people in the room were involved in praying for others to experience God’s healing.

Now I’m a big fan of spiritual and liturgical depth (gravitas, it’s called) in the musical worship context; but I’m equally a great fan of poignancy and the prophetic moment when a spontaneous song can tilt the faith level in the room.

In this case, Time After Time was the musical gift I sensed hit the mark.

Years ago, I broke into a popular radio anthem in a prayer ministry setting in a conference in Canada, and sang the chorus of a pop song for about 10 minutes. One person in the room was deeply ‘unlocked’ by it in their walk with God, and many others were moved as we adapted the lyrics mentally to God’s pursuit of our hearts.

It wasn’t cheesy or flippant, it was simply “right.” It’s not always “right” – I’ve heard it done badly and for novelty’s sake. You probably have, too. But, if we always have the tap turned off because it “might” come off poorly, I believe we may be missing some powerful things God may want to say through the music of our day.

I contend our ear must always be open to fresh integrations of great art (yes, I believe that Time After Time is a small slice of great art – I’d put it up against Fields Of Gold, a Bach Sonata, or a painting by Rembrandt in effect, though possibly less timeless and broad-reaching) be it popular, classical, or from a source beyond our normal drawing pool.

Without overshooting the mark to make a point, I joyfully embrace a “Creational” category that sits between the classic Sacred and Secular categories to which so many contemporary Christians subscribe.

In fact, deeply and explicitly “secular” music is a very rare find for me; it is music intentionally pointing us away from God. Maybe some hate-metal or hipster-atheist bands do it, but it’s not filling my binoculars on a regular basis.

Rather, most of the music others put in the “secular” basket (in error, I believe) is actually Creational for me. Music about love, friendship, feelings, and other ideas can indeed be human-centric (and co-dependent I’d add), but all art can be experienced differently when seen or heard through different eyes and ears.

“Creational” simply means that a piece of art was created to say something, from beautiful but broken human creatures made in the image of God, without explicit intent to point us toward or away from God. A person doesn’t need to be a Christian for me to see something creationally stunning in their art.

I.e. It’s all fair game for me, if integrated into a rich dynamic of Christ-centered worship sets and liturgical forms.

(Note: I am NOT saying for everyone to go out and to begin to integrate as many popular songs as possible. I’m simply saying that we can let that area breathe – when I’ve often heard it spoken of as if we were a suffocating and shuddering whenever the idea crosses our mind.)

For this “Creational” reason, I easily integrate sonically sweetened hymns into neighborhood wine-night sets (I live in Nashville, so it’s easier). My good friend, David Ruis, has involved classical pieces in contemporary worship settings. I’ve sung contemporary worship songs in the most historic marble and wooden chapels. I get inspired, as you probably do, from many sources and styles of sound and lyrics as a worship songwriter and leader. Great art is everywhere.

I allow Sigur Ros to follow Jon Foreman to follow Mumford & Sons to follow Brian Eno to follow Sun Lux to follow Phil Wickham to follow Death Cab For Cutie to follow Gungor to follow Two Steps From Hell (orchestral movie trailers) in my playlist.

It all runs together, and should – yet we must constantly have discernment about the quality and quantity of the musical foods we eat. Human-centered world views (and desire-emphases – thanks Jamie Smith) are rife in popular art.

I.e. We are what we eat. (Yes, Virginia, filters of discernment are good. My young college-age friends, please listen to this older head. Music is not amoral – it delivers worldview into the soul soaked in it.)

As well, all songs do not have the same intent, and some are more or less useful in a modern worship set.

So, some songs and sounds pack the set, and others occasionally “season” it. Other songs are rarely integrated, but in an inspired moment, are part of my painter’s palette.

Of course, I never forget who I am leading in worship, and their sensitivities and anchor points.

That’s just good pastoral leadership. We lead in a community; we are there for them. As in a family, sacrifice of what “we are free” to do is a natural part of a shared life together.

Please hear me. Not all creative work written with other intents should always touch a worship set (in my opinion), but when less-typically-used art can be integrated to serve a moment, we should be versed and skilled enough to pull them in.

Just as in teaching or visual media, the art of our age and every age can be another enriching liturgical tool in the thoughtful leader’s toolkit.

That’s why Time After Time made it into my worship set.