A brief thought. As so many of us continue to think about what worship is, I wonder if we have become too intellectual and abstract in our thinking.
For instance, if I want to create a chocolate bar (a noble goal), I would go through a creative process of thinking about the flavour I wanted, how it would be put together and held together, how it would be packaged and produced. All of that would take time, planning, creativity and execution. There would a simplicity to it though, because through the whole process there would not be much room for error. The bar would either taste good or not. It would hold together or not. It would fit in the package or not…etc. By focusing on what I am trying to accomplish, making a chocolate bar, I simplify so much of the process.I think an area that needs improvement in many churches is defining worship simply. Again, this might take some work, time, creativity, planning, but if we do not have a simple picture of what we would like it too look and “taste like”, it quickly becomes cerebral. Terms like “having a good heart” need to be defined in connection to a pragmatic thought that it should be good. How do you know if the packaging fits if you don’t know what you want to put in the package? If one creates a simple picture, and develops a reasonable plan to achieve it, it becomes simple to see if we are achieving the goal. I do realize there is the other problem, the picture is well defined but there is little appetite or ability to execute the vision, but that is fodder for another post.
Over the past two years I have been helping a friend launch a new service at the church he pastors in Toronto. It has been a very interesting experience as I have had the opportunity to implement a strategy for church worship that I believe strongly in. The strategy aligns with my philosophy, derived from the Bible, that worship should be done excellently (see Psalm 33:3) In essence instead of hiring one worship leader we have been bringing in four excellent musicians, one of which is a worship leader, every Sunday. You can imagine, it is a great experience, and solves a common issue with start-ups or small churches: poor music.
Yesterday was another amazing day playing with my friends Eric and Rick and my old friend Kevin Birch. Playing music at a high level is inspirational in and of itself, and I think the effect of great musicality is often lost in the philosophy of worship in the church in general these days. Too many churches value participation over excellence at the expense of properly informed views on Biblical worship. Please note I am referring specifically to the musical expression of worship, but excellence should apply to all our offerings of worship to God.
Although I receive a fair amount of criticism for this view, it should be noted that I do not hold this view vacuous of other Biblical truth. I believe in the importance of the heart and spiritual maturity of leaders, but all cannot be covered in one post. What I think can be agreed on by all those involved in this service is that the out-workings of the philosophy have been reflected to the benefit of this church service plant within a church. In essence, the music is a non-issue every week. Although it is excellent, it simply facilitates worship, does not hinder, does not create debate, it simply serves the church. The musical competence creates a loving barrier to those that might want to hi-jack the worship agenda with any other. We simply worship in spirit and truth with excellence. Who can really criticize that?
So I am speaking at the Nova conference this Friday. The topic I am dealing with is how to take a church from traditional to contemporary music without blowing it up. It is a challenging topic not simply because of style issues and preferences, but because there is so much organizational baggage we are carrying today as the church. We have been so homogeneous in our tactical approach to relevancy that it has stifled the artists in our midst from participating and taking us somewhere culturally. It should be an interesting and hopefully somewhat interactive talk.
It has been a long time since my first post on this subject, and a lot of songwriting and “art” creation has taken place since then. One big difference for me since that time is I have actually had the chance to visit several churches and experience some very different worship environments. It has, in fact, confirmed in me the theory that we are missing a part of the mark when it comes to creating music that reflects all of the humanity that we might, maybe should, be bringing to God in worship.
For example, there is a general lack of lament, repentance, meditative or self examinational lyric present in worship services. The actually mood of the music generally never leaves “positive” land. It IS worshipful, but it one dimensional. I think the problem here is that as we try to reach for authenticity as churches (it is a buzzword used a lot anyway) that we are not representing all that most everyone experiences with consistency. There is a need to worship the way we do, with positive, upbeat lyric, but there is also a need to mourn over the state of the world, our personal worlds and the bad stuff that is going on. Even if we are just talking about our own shortcomings as it were. I DO NOT know how to implement this. I feel that it needs to be done. Not all the time, but in balance.
More of a musing than a conclusive thought I know, but just some observations.