You read that right. I’ll never stop singing in your church. Never.
I know. Shocker. I’m the guy who wrote Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church not long ago and stepped unwittingly into what some have called “worship wars.”
Not my intention. If that’s how you look at it, consider this a white flag.
I was just voicing frustrations that had been brewing for the last decade or so. It seems as if there are a lot of others who’ve felt the same way. You might have been one of them. But there were also many who disagreed. I tried to highlight some of both this past week starting here.
What surprised me most –although in retrospect, I don’t know why — were the assumptions many readers made about what I really wanted.
I thought I had actually been pretty clear on that point. And yet somehow others perceived that I really just had a Fanny Crosby hymn fetish, or that I had capped off my musical growth with Bing Crosby (not that there’s anything wrong with that), or that I was was just a self-righteous, selfish sop taking up space that a fresh “seeker” could fill. Well, they may be right on that last part. I confess I’ve done some soul-searching in the weeks since that post. I suspect there’s plenty of those darker motives in all of us.
But I never said I wanted to stop singing in your church. In fact, I said the opposite. I really did want to sing again. I was just letting what I experienced in your evangelical church stop me.
But enough of that.
I’m in. To stay. Now you’ll never stop me from singing in your church.
What I really want
As I reflected on my list of what I wanted for worship music in church (and yes, I know, it’s not about me), I noticed that all three revolve around one thing — more truth. I said I wanted songs to be truthful, written for adults, and timeless.
The first obviously is about truth, but so is the second one really. It’s about my desire for songs with some doctrinal depth to them to put meat on the bones of my soul. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” (Matt. 5:6 NKJV)
The third wasn’t focused on musical style (as some seemed to interpret it) but on those songs that have stood the test of time because of the truths with which they’ve nourished the church for centuries. I can — and do as part of my daily life — enjoy much modern music. What really bothers me most is the lack of truth in church worship music. We’ve got plenty of spirit in most evangelical churches — passion, vigor, and experiential religion. Even if we assume it’s all sincere, we’re still missing a critical half of true worship.
At least that’s what Jesus said. If that matters.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24 ESV)
It’s not even the repetition thing itself that bothers me. There’s a valid place for repetition in worship. Let me repeat that just to be sure you heard it. It’s when we repeat lyrics lacking truth that I think even Jesus could not be pleased.
I picture the disciples gathered around Jesus and a glowing bed coals beside the Sea of Galilee singing “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes, Yes, Lord” about a dozen times. I see John strumming a lyre (I’m guessing they didn’t have harmonicas) while Matthew lays down a pretty mean beat with his sandaled foot. Peter’s leading some energetic clapping, of course – when Jesus interuppts after the 13th rendition with a raised hand: “Guys, I got it. I got it. Thanks.”
There’s an awkward pause as Peter stops in mid-clap. Jesus continues: “Thanks. Really. That was — um, swell. Now can we talk some more about what saying yes to me will mean for each of you in the weeks and months to come? Peter, let’s start with you. About that trading your sorrows stuff, there’s a few things you probably should know.”
My limited options
So what are my options?
- Stop worshipping God with music. Just eliminate a Biblical avenue for glorifying God — the very reason for which I was created? I don’t think so. “Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.” (John Piper) If I’m called to praise him when facing an executioner’s hand, surely I should be able to keep singing in your church.
- Leave your church. A lot of readers lovingly suggested that I get out of their church and find somewhere where grumpy people could feel welcome. Thank you, by the way. That explains why you need to be so seeker-friendly to keep the pews filled. And I confess, running down the street seems a popular option these days. Funny, I don’t see that option when I read Acts. Our problem today is not a shrotage of churches. It’s a shortage of churches where it’s safe to authentically engage issues in a way that authentically engages the Word of God.
- Start fixing the problem. To paraphrase Jerry Garcia (a hymn writer of a different sort of Reformation, for those not familiar), somebody has to do something. It’s just pathetic that it has to be me. But maybe God intended it to be me — and you — all along.
What dreams may come?
So if there is a shortage of truth in modern church worship, why don’t more people speak up about it? What gives us pause?
Based on the reaction in the comments to my original post here, I think it’s safe to say that church may not be a safe place to voice concerns about the church. In fact, I think we tend not to speak up on such spiritual issues because we’ll likely be accused of something impossible to disprove — the theological equivalent of calling someone a racist or intolerant. How do you disprove a negative? What could you possibly do to prove you actually believe there’s something wrong and you’re not just a divisive buffoon secretly undermining the work of the Spirit?
I suppose you could give in to the popular passive-aggressive response, “If you really have problem with it, why don’t you get up on the stage and lead?” Let’s face it, slings and arrows hurt. And, apparently, they don’t use Nerf in worship wars. No wonder so many of us feel it’s just not worth the trouble.
But if the unity and purity of the body of Christ isn’t worth it, what are we doing? Really?
So you’re afraid. Get over it.
Let’s face it. Isn’t that what the fear of man is all about? And isn’t that why Solomon describes it as a trap? Our fear of how people might react when we speak up only tightens the agonizing vise-grip on our soul. We end up frustrated, bitter, and alone — well, maybe we could start tailgating in the church parking lot with the other parishioners waiting for the concert to end.
We can do better. We must do better. Our Lord demands it.
Jesus said that the gates of hell would not stand against His Church. I know some of you feel like that’s what you’re up against on a Sunday morning. But you’re not. Not really. And as valid as my concerns are, I must never let anything or anyone cause me to hinder the advance of Kingdom growth.
Instead, I’m proposing a Biblical path forward.
A Biblical solution
There’s just no getting around it — as much as I might want to. We will have to engage in the messy business of — gasp! — making disciples.
I don’t like it. I’m just saying. But maybe that’s what taking up His cross is all about.
Let’s draw strength from these morsels of truth:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Cor. 1:27 ESV)
It is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time! (Prov. 15:23 NLT)
[We], speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ….” (Eph. 4:15 NKJV)
Here’s the best I can offer on how to go about this potentially disruptive strategy so we will never stop singing in church. I welcome others to offer better steps:
- Study. Get clear on what worship is. The Bible speaks much to what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth. Plus He’s blessed us with 2,000 years of teachers who’ve written at length on the topic. Of course, we have to sort through that stuff, but there’s a lot of helpful instruction to be had. Let’s not assume we know it all; let’s get busy knowing what we can.
- Commit to the Spirit’s continual scrutiny of your own soul. Jesus warned when we see a problem with someone else to “first take the beam out of our own eye.” Let’s start there. And stay there as long as needed. But then we do have a responsibility to help gently remove the splinter we noticed in the first place. How?
- Speak the truth in love. Judging by the reaction from some worship leaders, many seem surprised that people in the pews might not be enjoying the mix of songs they’ve been offering — and many pastors and worship leaders do sincerely pour their hearts into it. Based on the Ephesians passage below, don’t we have an obligation to go to them and respectfully voice our concerns with respect, civility, and — of course — love? I think that’s how the body grows. (Eph. 4:11-16 NKJV)
So what now?
With that said, I not only want to sing again — I will sing again! And nothing your church can do will stop me. Not even the gates of hell will shut me up. And thanks for all the helpful advice. You know who you are.
But I insist on singing as my Savior commanded me to do — both in spirit and in truth. Both with passion and understanding. With spirit-filled sincerity and Spirit-inspired content.
The irony of our human condition is that God has put us within sight of the Himalayas of His glory in Jesus Christ, but we have chosen to pull down the shades of our chalet and show slides of Buck Hill — even in church. ~ John Piper, Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist
What steps can you offer to ensure we never stop singing in church? All opinions welcome! Share your thoughts with a click and a comment.
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