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Worship: Few Words, Boy Friends, and Girl Friends

David Ker is complaining about modern worship songs (since the 90s), and Peter Kirk has partially taken him to task about it, wondering about the air down in Mozambique and whether it causes David to rant. (Personally I suspect it’s looking at too many hippos, but in non-essentials charity, I say!) David continues with a more in-depth piece, Droning, desymbolization and Christian mantra. I think the latter is especially well worth reading, though all three will help set the stage.

Now I’m going to try to “let my words be few,” but I’ve already written quite a number of words, so that may not be easy. [Note after completing this–I failed.] Since I have an eclectic readership, let me note here that this is written to Christians. It’s internal shop talk and will probably be simply boring or weird to others.

I’m personally in sympathy with David on this from the point of view of music quality and what makes me worship. Over the years, however, I’ve tried to learn to be less critical. If I find it difficult to handle a song, I look around the congregation and inevitably I see plenty of other people who are quite deeply drawn into the crowd. If I focus on that community, I often find myself drawn in as well–to the worship, not really the music.

After hearing from friends overseas who must drive a couple of hours to fellowship, and have no options, I have felt very convicted about my complaints regarding local worship services. If I don’t like the worship one place, I can easily move to another. Many Christians can’t. Thus read the following advice with reference to American Christians, and to others only where truly applicable.

To worshipers, if you can’t stand the worship music, get over it. Worship is a communal activity, and it’s likely that if a particular style of music is repeatedly presented at your church, somebody is being attracted to it.

I recall one church where my wife and I could barely stand some of the music. It always seemed out of harmony with the worship service itself. But then we noticed that there was almost half of a section of the sanctuary filled with kids, many of whom attended that church without their parents, and those kids were completely involved in the very music that was driving us nuts. We chose to get over it.

If you can’t get over it, and I admit that this is quite possible, find another congregation. I can think of a few churches I’ve visited where I believe my best efforts to follow my own advice would fail. In that case, you need to find a place where you can become a part of the community.

There is a third option I hesitate to mention, and that is to try to improve the worship experience of your own church. The problem with this approach is that, barring debates over the color of the carpet, debates over styles of worship can be the most divisive, and frequently lose the goal of the best worship for the community in efforts by individuals to have everything done in their personally favorite style. So if you try this option, do it prayerfully and make sure that you’re trying for the best for everybody and not just for yourself.

Having said this to members of the congregation, I would like to emphasize a paragraph from David’s second post:

But, worship leaders also have a key role in this. On the stage, it’s easy to get swept away in the beauty of the music and the enjoyment of the moment and not realize that a hundred people in the congregation have their hands in their pockets and are bored out of their minds. Open your eyes, worship leaders! Be aware of the temperature of the congregation. You are supposed to be leading others in worship not zoning out in the front.

I send a separate message to leaders and congregants. Leaders, if you see your congregation bored, uninvolved, uninterested, or simply not worshiping, then you have some work to do. It’s fine for someone like me to tell people (especially myself!) to get over themselves and worship. But that’s not an excuse for some of the careless crap that goes on in worship.

People treat a stumbling presentation of the liturgy as a joke, something nice and folksy about the church. Communion is done so frequently that many pastors don’t take time to connect it to the message and the rest of the liturgy. One gets the feeling of “oh yes, we’ve gotta hand out some bread and wine” from such presentations. Worship leaders don’t pay attention to scripture or theme.

Rather than being folksy and fun, such things make the congregation treat worship as something unimportant and casual. If the minister can’t even find one sentence to insert in the communion liturgy at the appropriate points (marked conveniently with asterisks in the United Methodist hymnal), or the worship leader can’t be bothered to communicate with the minister and provide musical settings with a sense of connection, then the worshipers are justified in concluding that somebody doesn’t really care.

But finally, what is this business about boy friends and girl friends? Yes, I finally got to that point. It has to do with “I am so in love with you.” (No, not YOU, someone else!) I believe that in scripture one of the strongest metaphors for the way in which God seeks people and for the bond between myself and God is sexual passion. I don’t mean sanitized, hand-holding, going on a date level passion. I mean the kind of passion that makes one unable to wait to get to the bedroom before the clothes are coming off. I imagine that image offends some. Enjoy being offended.

Then read Ezekiel 16, for example, and see God’s passion for us represented as the passionate desire of a lover, while unfaithfulness is represented as the passion for someone other than our true spouse. There are many other texts. The problem with “lover” music, in my view, is not so much that we trivialize our love for God by expressing it in the form of cheap love lyrics; rather, it’s that our love for God is often so much more shallow than those cheap lyrics.

Hmmm. I intend none of this as judgmental about any particular person. There are many of you, such as both David and Peter, whose service for God indicates that they speak from a depth of passion that most stay-at-home American Christians cannot hope to match. If you’re in that situation, please don’t be offended at my suggestions here.

But if you’re just checking off the boxes of your supposed weekly activities, then give it some consideration. Is your relationship with God a casual date or a life-long covenant?

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One Comment

  1. David Ker says:

    The problem with “lover” music, in my view, is not so much that we trivialize our love for God by expressing it in the form of cheap love lyrics; rather, it’s that our love for God is often so much more shallow than those cheap lyrics.

    I think you’re on to something there.

    In my dialect of English it is impossible to use the phrase “in love” about any kind of serious long-term relationship. “In love” is “In-fatuation.” I never say I’m in love with my wife. I say I love her. I’m currently in love with my new guitar amp. But that will no doubt grow into a more abiding relationship.

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