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Why bother? Why gather? – #2

February 7, 2010

In my last post (entitled “Whybother? Why gather? What’s the point of corporate worship?) I explained that I had been under a conviction for some years about corporate worship, as follows.

If all a church meeting is, is a bunch of songs that I’ve heard sung better on the original albums, a sermon that is essentially just a bible study read out loud, and some cheap instant coffee and inane chatting about not very much at all, then it has been a shocking waste of time: the gathered church is supposed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of God’s glory on the earth: we should be led, and lead others into, an encounter with the Living God.

I then made a few points about how that impacts me, and the first of them was this :-

Worship must be more than singing the latest Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Chris Tomlin etc.  If that is all you’re giving people, then they may as well stay at home and listen to their albums.


I have two bug-bears in this area – “New Song Fever” and “Musical Excellence”

New Song Fever

Picture the scene. Its September 2010, Newday has happened, Together on a Mission and Mobilise are vague memories from early summer. Sunday comes, and the worship leader starts his ‘set’ (hate that word!) with a new song “that we all learnt in Brighton” – and out of nowhere, people are dancing like Zimbabweans, or at least the funny charismatic bounce we all do; they’re shouting when they’re supposed to shout, they’re singing loudly and actually looking like they’re enjoying themselves. No issues here! This is what I want for every service in every church in every nation! My problem is this: so often these same people were just the previous week stood glued to the spot, gloomy as hell, singing the songs like they didn’t realise the words were true and life-changing, taking no active part in the goings on and looking like all they were looking forward to was the caffeine hit from the naff coffee served after the meeting! What is it about a ‘new’ song, especially one that has recently been on a popular album or sung at a popular conference, that gets people engaged? Or is it simply that they look like they’re engaged? Worship leaders, you have a massive responsibility – which you already know about, but sometimes maybe it is easy to forget. You are responsible for putting good words in people’s mouths, for encouraging good emotions in people’s hearts, for challenging people to sing these words honestly and for living a life that is marked by authentic worship of the Living God, worship that transforms one’s life. Please resist the urge to pack a set with new song, new song, just for a response. Please resist the urge to whip people up with a song from a conference, simply because it is a song from a conference – if the song wouldn’t help people had it not been sung at Newday, or just released by Chris Tomlin, then it wasn’t the song that was helping people worship, it was actually idolatry and self-worship. Give them truth in song form, give them anointing in your playing and your singing, give them space to get involved, and most of all (and first of all) give them Jesus.

Musical Excellence

If as many people as I had heard using the phrase “pursuing musical excellence in worship” directed their efforts into “entering His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise”, I’d feel a little differently about this – but I feel strongly that it is easier to encourage a bunch of people who are passionate about His Presence to do so with gradually improving musical help than it is to teach a bunch of musical snobs how to enter into God’s presence. I have found that the humility that the put-together-band in a church plant comes to a meeting with is more representative of our Lord and more powerful an example to the body than the almost-inevitable pride that can quickly seep into a more professional outfit. I struggle with the idea that there are whole ministries built upon one verse in Chronicles that says that David chose the skilful singers to sing in the tabernacle: when there is already the weighty and well-studied area of faithfulness to explore and enjoy with musicians and non-musicians alike.

I want to hear people speak of growing in faithfulness, rather than pursuing excellence. Without faith it is impossible to please God – but if excellence moved Him like faithfulness does, then the kingdom just turned upside down (Last, First, First, Last – you know what I mean?) I want to be faithful with every gift He has given me, so I will practise and play well, but I will recognise that, however excellent the music I can produce on earth is, it is no match for the song that the Father sings (Zephaniah 3:17). Now that’s what I call music!!!

One Comment leave one →
  1. James permalink
    March 1, 2010 8:42 pm

    On new song fever… the majority of songs we sing are invariably a little lame, not timeless classics, and present truth in a way that will only be fresh for a few months at the moment.

    And that’s only the best songs you hear on radio one/two/whatever. So it’s no wonder that fresh creativity has to be injected in amongst the songs we sing together at church. The songs we sung several years ago may mean so much to those that first heard them fresh, but to those who missed that initial ‘lift’ they brought, the songs are just dull – any truth that is in there gets lost. If truth was all that was needed, we wouldn’t need music, heck, we wouldn’t even need the Holy Spirit. But we do, because we’re leaky and good at missing the point! 🙂

    So by phrasing something in a ‘new’ way, even if the melody will only be fresh for a few months, our attention can be brought back to God’s life-changing truths. Or by backing truth with a fresh beat or riff, we’re reminded of the life that we know is in the truths we sing, but we’ve grown old and accustomed to.

    Now I’m just being a bit provocative too, but, hey, I’m learning from the best 😛

    (I’ll leave the musical excellence thing for now . You got me at “whole ministries built upon one verse in Chronicles”!)

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