I have written before (beginning here) concerning issues of contemporary “Evangelical” spirituality; if you haven’t read the prior “My Own Personal Religion” series, I highly recommend it. This is another in that series, as I continue to read, watch, and evaluate things.
Among other things, I have been paying close attention to the lyrics of the worship songs we have been singing and the congregation’s (I am tempted to say audience’s) response. I’ve also paid close attention to the sermons I have heard (from 4 different speakers that I’ve heard in the last 2 months), and following are some observations.
First, concerning worship: Most of the songs are theologically vacuous. That is, the songs beg for some real worship material. God, you are great… Why? Jesus, I love you… Again, why? What characteristics produce this response? What can inspire me to sing heartily along? You’re too marvelous for words… I think the Psalmists could disagree. Some of these songs are not far off from George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord. Now, I am not totally against these songs; but, if that’s all you sing, it’s like eating cotton candy for every meal.
A couple of weeks ago, we sang a song by an old friend of mine, Brent Helming, Your Beloved:
Lord it was You who
Created the heavens
Lord it was Your hand
That put the stars in their place
Lord it is Your voice
That commands the morning
Even oceans and their waves
Bow at Your feet
Believe it or not, the song gets even better. One thing that I was instantly aware of was that my mind was actually engaged in worship, perhaps for the first time in months. It struck me at that moment that most of our contemporary worship songs are aimed at our emotions, actually encouraging us to disconnect our brains.
In fact, if you actually think about many of the worship songs we sing, it actually kills worship – if the words aren’t wimpy, they’re actually wrong. There’s nothing like bad theology to kill a good worship set. That is, unless people have been encouraged to not think about what they are singing. However, sing a great old hymn or a song like Your Beloved, and thinking about the words actually inspires worship! What a concept!
Last Sunday, this suspicion – that we are trained not to think about worship -was further supported: I watched the congregation as one wimpy song ended, and another song with a great beat and a heavy rock guitar riff started in – the people started “worshipping” without any words at all. Worshipping? or just rocking out? It’s really difficult to tell. Perhaps they just anticipated the words…
Jesus told the woman at the well that “those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” Now, this is a somewhat enigmatic statement, at least as it is translated into English. What I understand it to mean, at least in part, is that worship is not only a liturgical/physical/emotional act, it also has to be based in truth. That means that true worship should also involve our mind.
Bottom line: I believe that it is a worship leader’s job not just to manipulate an emotional / spiritual response – although an emotional / spiritual response is not in itself wrong. It is their job (yeah, I’ve been a worship leader…) to encourage people to worship with their minds as well as their spirits. In Spirit, and in Truth. Of course, that requires a bit more of a worship leader than just being a fair musician.
Next: The problem with sermons