…and it’s not because I hate it.
I read a post today from this group called “The Fools,” entitled “Why I Lead the Worship Music You Hate, and Why I’m Going to Keep Leading It.”
Normally, I wouldn’t pay a whole lot of attention to this kind of thing, but it’s receiving some notice on social media, and in a way, I was actually a bit intrigued by it. This well-meaning fellow appears to be dead serious, but his piece reads more like satire. He makes several of the common mistakes in critique of the hymn-singing tradition, like equating music with worship, equating traditional with “old,” suggesting that even Luther used tavern music, and that the whole discussion is ultimately about preference.
But interestingly, he has (unwittingly) admitted much about the pop worship movement, and why we need to be alarmed at the state of worship in the church. So I’d like to respond to a few of his points.
“While traditional music has rich, theological words, teaching truth is not the primary purpose of corporate worship.”
Actually, the didactic purpose of congregational singing has been a part of Christian corporate worship since the beginning. As I’ve said before, gathered worship is about telling the Christian story again, anew, afresh, and being shaped once again into the a Christian community, called out by our creative and redemptive God.
We are a people with a story. A beautiful, redemptive story.
And if we forget it, if we stop telling it, if we stop preaching it, if we stop singing it, it will have disastrous implications for our Christian identity. Putting it plainly, without proclamation, there is no Christian worship, and there will be no Christian community.
Remember the old formula: lex orandi, lex credendi. As we worship, so we believe.
If the formula is true, this author’s suggestion should haunt us.
“Modern worship allows worship leaders to more effectively disciple people to listen to the Holy Spirit and to what God is speaking to their hearts in worship.”
He goes on: “When a worship leader repeats a chorus, often slower, quieter, faster, or louder, it is because he realizes the Holy Spirit wants to speak a particular message, whether intimate and personal or triumphant and resounding and the people will be ministered to by God’s heart through the dynamic change”
Essentially, it seems like he’s saying that a prescriptive liturgy lacks Spirit. I’m always a bit amused by the suggestion that God speaks more off the cuff than through our own diligence in worship planning, as if God all of the sudden thinks of something better to do in the spur of the moment.
It’s kind of like the idea that we’ve got to pray for someone at just the right moment, like when they’re having surgery or taking a final exam, as if we must ensure our all-forgetful, ever-procrastinating god might forget in the meantime.
For those of us who plan worship, there may be occasions when we need to deviate slightly from the order, but if we’ve done our work beforehand – prayer, study, research, practice – those moments should probably be few and far between.
Oh, and just how is the leader supposed to know when the congregation is ripe for this particular message? From my experience, it’s through a collective emotional reaction to the music that is perceived as the movement of the Spirit. But can any of us, even the most spiritually discerning, ever know the difference? And if we’re wrong, what are the consequences?
Emotion isn’t a bad thing, of course, but neither is it the impetus for worship. True worship can stir emotions, sure, but the weekly quest for an emotional high can easily become an addiction that will rob us of the real, gradual, difficult, lasting benefit by regular participation in a balanced liturgy. And the expectation on music personnel to create that kind of weepy experience, well, that’s a tough row to hoe.
“Most poignantly [poignantly?!?], you can’t have a missional church — one focused on reaching and discipling the lost — and lead primarily with hymns.”
He’s describing the methods of the seeker-sensitive church. The missional church is one that goes out to meet the lost, instead of trying to hook them with cool music and bright shiny objects.
Corporate worship will vary greatly between denominations and cultures, but it’s never dictated by the appetites of the unbeliever, or it becomes something other than Christian worship.
Style doesn’t bring people to Jesus. Music doesn’t bring people to Jesus.
The gospel brings people to Jesus. The Spirit brings people to Jesus
Jesus brings people to Jesus.
When we worship corporately, we gather, we proclaim, we remind, we give thanks, and then we are sent out.
Sent out to evangelize. To love, to feed, to clothe. To push for justice and peace. We are sent out as Jesus’ hands and feet.
We go out and make disciples.
It’s time we stopped expecting music to do the dirty work for us.
And, oh yeah, we’re hearing all the time that younger people are increasingly finding lasting value in traditional, liturgical worship settings.
Sing your story. Sing it to yourself. Sing it to each other. Sing it to God. Lest you forget who you are.
Use your brains. Emotion is fine, but it’s not the impetus for worship. We worship in response to God’s redemptive movement in human history, not in response to the affections of our hearts.
Be liturgical. The congregation is always either working or loafing. Expect them to work, or we might as well all just stay home. The practice of community isn’t supposed to be easy.
Be missional. The seeker-sensitive thing is lacking tremendously. It’s a broken model that should be retired. Instead of trying to show unbelievers a good time, go out and show them Jesus.
With all due respect to “The Fools,” to do otherwise would be, well, foolish.
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