Worship Week: Completely Missing the Point of Worship

Worship Week begins here at Bill in the Blank with our first guest post by John Lehmberg. He is the owner of Make It Loud, Inc. specializing in web design, SEO, printing, & branding. He is also a worship music leader in his church. He can be reached via e-mail at john@makeitloud.net.

The following is a response to the post Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church:

The article Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church completely misses the point.

I would argue that far more of contemporary worship music is a direct rip from Scripture. For example, our church is singing a song called “Your Love Never Fails.” It’s almost word for word out of Romans 8 with the bridge/hook repeating, “You make all things, work together for my good.”  I don’t know how much more lyrical quality you can get than borrowing the words directly from the Word of God. There’s an absolute truckload of contemporary music that does exactly that.

If you want to talk about hard to sing vs. simplicity — I’d be happy to take you through a tour of any church hymnal which has some of the most complicated melodies on the face of the planet with lots of misplaced sharps and flats, that are so difficult that the sheet music is present in order to be able to sing it. If you can’t read music, you’re sunk. They’re easy to sing to many of us who have grown up in a church environment. We’ve been singing them since we were 2. If you came into them new today, as an adult never having heard them and with a veritable lack of ability to sight read music to some degree, you would find many of them immensely difficult to sing. So “trendy” is irrelevant because it is about style, and style should have zero bearing on whether or not one engages in worship.

Music is ultimately unnecessary for worship to take place.

“Mood” is also irrelevant, and is more about what is pleasing to our ears rather than God’s, which is what is most important. I could argue that many hymns have horrid “moods,” even downright inappropriate for the occasion. Have you ever sung “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” during Christmas? It is in a minor key and musically sounds like a funeral dirge in a season that should be amazingly celebratory. Talk about repetitive, too. Yet, in it’s simplicity, it declares the truth of Jesus Christ’s birth.

Many of the hymns we sing were once contemporary worship songs of their day, the melodies of which, for some, were bar songs (bars were, at the time, the place contemporary songs were sung prior to radio). Now that we are separated from that time and place, we somehow seem to think them sanctified. All this is also irrelevant.

Repetition is irrelevant. 

Many hymns also repeat ad nauseam.  In fact, in the Scriptures the angels seem to repeat the words “Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy” an awful lot when in the presence of God. Many hymns repeat, as well.  Have you ever counted the number of times the word “Holy” is used in Holy, Holy, Holy, or how many times the phrase “Great is thy Faithfulness” is sung if you go through that entire hymn?  If repetition is a problem, the angels truly have something to learn.

What worship is.

Worship is about an individual person’s heart directed towards God in complete surrender. This can be done with a good mood, in a somber mood, with a trendy song, with a bar tune, a hymn, or a contemporary worship song.  Corporate worship is the collection of a mess of individuals hearts directed towards God —  nothing more, nothing less. Once again, music is not even necessary to worship God. Worship can be done in complete silence, should not be confused with musicianship or music style, and is never a performance.

I’ll absolutely give you the fact that some places feel like a performance, on both the traditional and contemporary side of the equation — the former sounding like a symphony and choir, the latter more like a rock concert.  Both such scenarios breed epic failure with respect to worship as the environments create spectators and fans instead of devoted worshippers of God. This too is not about musicianship, but about the heart of the individuals leading the gathering and their connectedness with Christ.

I believe true maturity is the ability to engage God in any environment, traditional or contemporary, old or new. This is something the traditional worship director and I, in our church, take great pains to live and teach. We are in complete harmony on this — and I’m blessed by the synergy with her in desiring to lead others to give everything they are to Jesus Christ in worship. Our prayer is the same every Sunday morning– “Jesus, you appear, and we’ll disappear as we lead. May we do nothing but connect with Jesus and lead others to your throne.” There is no competition between us, no right or wrong, no old or new, contemporary or traditional.

Throwing stones at one side or the other does NOTHING but make believers out to be arguing idiots who NEED their kind of music to engage God in worship. This I would not call worship, but self satisfaction.

The article Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church completely misses the point.

Christ is everything. We are nothing. We’re meant to worship him in any and every environment regardless of the musical style, or whether or not music is even present. Should we throw out what is past? No. Should we throw out what is current? No. If it gives Glory to Christ it should be embraced in heartfelt surrender to Him in my humble opinion.

Do you agree that true maturity allows us to worship God in any environment? What do you think of John’s take on music in worship? Leave a comment with a click here to help us all grow. 

Worship Week: post 2 ~ How Worship Music Destroyed Me: From Bitterness to Blessing

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  • John and Bill,

    What I appreciate here is the diversity of opinion. As a Catholic, I suffer through not overly simple or overly complex worship songs but ones without passion or vigor. The mood does matter and music can help with that.

    Here’s a wrinkle to the conversation: introverts or extroverts. I find Evangelicals bring out a lot of extrovert energy while Catholics live more from an introvert (in the mind) perspective. Would like to see worship that honors both and allows folks to worship in a way that allows them to give glory and praise to God.

    That’s going to look very different for different people.

    • That’s a great point, Mike. I noticed it Sunday when one of the most extroverted ladies I know was dancing in the aisles. I loved it because it was sincere and fit her personality.

      I was dancing on the inside.

  • I absolutely love what you had to say . I do agree that as we mature as believers , we will forego the need to appear a certain way or the desire for a glamorous worship leader . But instead, the goal in worship will be to set aside one self and commune as deep as possible with the creator, our savior , our most intimate friend.

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul. John does give us much to consider here.

  • I’m not sure introversion or extraversion matters either, nor does Catholicism or Protestantism. God is bigger than all of that. Catholic or Protestant, introvert or extravert (btw… I’m an intravert), we are all summoned by God to worship. Worship can be done in silence, which in all honesty, makes me quite happy sometimes, and is also beyond “mood.”

    As a worship pastor (which seems almost like a ridiculous title to me because I can’t honestly make anyone worship), my goal is to do 2 things: 1) Lead from authenticity. That means that I have to be connecting with God as I lead others so it doesn’t become a show, and 2) Get out of the way so God can do his thing. For me, that means not being a distraction. Although I as a person can’t manufacture genuine worship, I have found that people can EASILY get in the way of it by being a distraction. This can be done quite easily by violating principle 1 or 2 above, as the focus is turned from Jesus to ourselves, or to the leader, or poor musicianship, “mood” etc. So while I’d say that none of these things “create” genuine worship, that is comes from a heart aligned with Christ, I will say that people can take the focus off of Christ through a variety of things. Ultimately, my role becomes one who creates “space” for Jesus to be found and encountered by individuals who seek Him, nothing more, nothing less.

    John Lehmberg

  • Thanks again to Bill for being so open-hearted about this topic. I’m going to respectfully disagree with one of the statements here in this post. “Many of the hymns we sing were once contemporary worship songs of their day, the melodies of which, for some, were bar songs.” I have often heard this claim. We do discuss centonization in music history class, but it is a fairly rare phenomenon. In modern hymnals, the primary examples are “Innsbruck Ich muss dich lassen” becoming “O Welt Ich muss dich lassen” and “Greensleeves” becoming “What child is this?” It’s certainly not true that “many” of them were contemporary – at least in the sense that they were stylistically identical to the popular music of the time. None of this has to do with the points that you are making, but the idea that a large number of hymns were “bar songs” that became church songs is a myth of popular culture. If there is anything that we can say about “many” of them, it is that they were written by trained musicians.

  • “…the melodies of which, for some, were bar songs (bars were, at the time, the place contemporary songs were sung prior to radio)” is actually one of the biggest myths about hymns. The bar song (or bar form) was originally a type of skillfully constructed song (now, the term is more loosely defined). Martin Luther is one example of a hymn writer who wrote a Christmas song to the melody of a song sung in secular circles of that day. After writing it, he decided he hated so much to have his song be associated with a secular song that he rewrote the music to it. Hymn writers were very musically trained, and if they weren’t, they had someone else write their music. Fanny Crosby, although she wrote many tunes, she rarely composed a tune for her hymns, leaving it to a more skilled musician. Now, anybody can create music, slap some Biblical sounding phrase on it, and bring in the big bucks.