Greetings blog readers! (anyone…?)
First, to apologise for my lack of posts. I don’t really have a good excuse; I have probably just not been thinking enough. But I’m writing one now, so I hope that helps. Anyway, this blog isn’t exactly a ‘motorway’ of online ‘traffic’, more a pot-hole covered country road which, occasionally sees a tractor or two, so I’m sure there’s no harm done 😉
I thought I would blog about (as per) something which I’ve recently ‘noticed’, it’l be full of ‘christianese’ unfortunately, but, by definition, I think my topic requires fluency in it.
I have grown up in the kind of church which did away with pews in the 90’s, being non-conformist, would never even dream of using liturgy, and has a band at the front who play contemporary worship music. We call this ‘being relevant’. To whom? maybe post-modernists? Squishy beanbags are subjective – you can be mildly uncomfortable but not distressed as you sit trapped on a particularly cavernous one – pews, on the other hand, they are absolutely uncomfortable – one can be convinced of the existence of a universally true experience when you grimace at your neighbour after an especially long prayer, your behind no longer sensing anything.
Our church wasn’t original, it was changed in the tide of the contemporary worship movement; something which I am passionate about and grateful for. Yet it is out of this serious engagement with ensuring our worship is reverent and relevant, that, today, I find myself wondering about the ‘direction’ the modern church worship ‘style’ has traveled.
When I attempt to cook for my household, as well as saying my final farewells to the family I am about to poison, I generally pop on some worship music; Hillsong, Bethel, Soul Survivor, etc. I had a video of a time of sung worship at a conference playing in the background as I torched my lasagne recently and what startled me was that, a midst my futile rushing around to try and cook the food so that it was edible rather than carcinogenic, when I had the chance to watch the video, what it reminded me of was a major gig on a Coldplay international tour. Caught ‘off guard’, without my ‘worship mode’ hat on, I was admiring the flashing lights, amazing guitar riffs and trendy lead-singers (so many checked shirts and nerd glasses!) and then felt guilty – this whole conference, and the songs I was bopping along to, were about God. They were singing about all He has done for us and were words which talked about the cross being at the centre of everything. I’ve no doubt that the worship team at the conference was incredibly excited about and determined and anointed to lead others in that message and to proclaim that alone. But that’s not where I was ‘led’ to – I didn’t end up at that place. Possibly, I’m just too ‘worldly’, and need to get my focus right. But I wonder, when we turn down the lights and crank up the amps to create a ‘relevant’ place for people to worship, do we succeed in always ensuring the foot of the cross is where people end up? I like how contemporary music understands times of sung worship to be a ‘journey’ of kinds, where we, once again, explore who God is, what He has done, and our response. But sometimes, it seems that, if we use big songs and ‘special effects’ to help build a ‘wave’ of worship to be part of, Jesus, on the shore, our destination, can be hidden from view; all we see is the ‘blue’ water of the church experience.
Let me repeat, I definitely don’t for a moment think that sung worship led in the context of a conference/big church is done in the same spirit as the average international tour is; I believe the worship leaders are anointed by the Holy Spirit with the responsibility to lead the Church collectively gathered into worship of Him.
But I do think that sometimes, we need to step back, even if something seems to be going ‘well’ and examine what we are doing and why we are doing it. With the contemporary worship style, this is applicable.
It is something that I believe God has challenged me with recently. I am part of the worship team at my church and was, a few weeks back, praying about songs to choose which we would use to lead the congregation in praise at that Sunday’s morning meeting. I felt conflict – on the one hand I believe The Spirit was moving me towards something different after I had selected a couple which would be sung before communion. Yet on the other, I feared what would happen if I didn’t stick to the ‘opening song, fast one, reflective hymn, closing/sending out song (pref. with catchy chorus)’ paradigm – the tried and tested ‘hymn sandwich’. I realised that I was putting a popular model and safety net for a self conscious worship leader, over what God was saying to me, and yet, if we long to hear God’s voice when we praise Him corporately, we should probably listen when He speaks!
This too, is nothing new. Contemporary worship emerged when people sought a corporate style in which they would focus on directly praising God, for traditional styles failed to suit everyone and some found a ritualistic approach to worship did not point them towards Jesus. It is a movement that brought the everyday tools of a layperson – musical instruments, voices and modern styles of singing and music, to the hands of the congregation. It was a reformation of worship music.
Yet just as all movements can become distracted and preoccupied, I believe that contemporary worship has done. It seeks to be relevant in style and an aid in helping people encounter God, yet sometimes, we who are part of it fail to see the ‘wood’ for the ‘trees’. When, like I did whilst cooking my dinner, we ‘watch’ it, it can become a performance, one which, when we turn the lights back on, bears more resemblance to a rock concert than emulating the early church worship that we all seek to model.
Perhaps, if we did turn them back on for just a moment, as well as letting the musicians see each other (!), we might see what Jesus has for us, too. It might look very different than in the darkness of a loud, expensive youth-filled auditorium.
I hope I don’t come across as too cynical – that was not my intention. What I pray for is that we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and live, and so worship, with everything we have in a way that allows us an un-breaking gaze.
Here is a video which succinctly says everything I wanted to in considerably less words than 1140! 😉