worship wars

While I am one step removed from Kiwi pastors in my new job, I still enter into many a conversation with them. Unfortunately a common thread in these conversations still continues on from year to year. It is the sad state of 'worship' - as expressed, primarily, in our Sunday services in those minutes not given to teaching.

I have written on this before here - particularly heart-felt and pleading, as I remember it!

But I want to address the concern from another angle this time. If I was a pastor I'd host and facilitate a church-wide forum on the issue. Not just the worship team. Open to all - but specific invitations to those I think need to be present, including the worship team. I'd have some short foundational teaching input based around biblical, theological and historical themes. No controversial stuff. Then I'd have small groups discuss what we value in worship - with their ideas fed back via whiteboards in an anonymous way to feed a plenary session. Then I'd return people to small groups to sift and weigh the contents of the whiteboard before facilitating a discussion on what are the 6-10 characteristics of worship that we are going to hold dear in this church. My sense is that pastors need to take this kind of leadership - with the whole church, not just the worship team.

It is important to come to something like this with a genuine openness to where it might lead. People smell a manipulated process from miles away. If the process has this integrity then those involved in leading worship must be expected to align themselves to what the church 'holds dear'. If they can not do so, their own integrity means they must resign and let someone else fill the void. The pastor and church leadership team are right to have this expectation.

Now I am not a pastor so I can go on now and state the sorts of issues that I hope a process like this would surface in the church-wide consciousness. These would be the things I'd be raising in the small group of which I was a part...

(a) The need for worship-leaders to be people of spiritual maturity, a maturity recognised by people from across the spectrum of the church. This is not a ministry to ascribe to an up-and-comer. The service can easily become banal when this happens.

(b) The need for the music to be good for congregations to sing, not so much good for bands to sing. This is not the time or place to perform to a people wanting to be entertained. Performance music is out and congregational music is in.

(c) The need for songs to have strong lyrics that are accurate biblically and deep theologically. Having musicians write songs is so often unsatisfactory. They should keep to writing music and let the poet:theologians write the songs. Yes, sometimes a musician is a poet:theologian but it is not as common as people think.

(d) The need to break-out of this wretched chronological snobbery that thinks the newest is always the best and that when the psalmist said "sing a new song" he had in mind songs written in the past 12 months. There is a desperate need for the enthusiastic introduction and then the enthusiastic singing of the best traditions of christian hymnody. It reminds us that we have a past. It reminds us that we follow in a long line of worshippers. We need this today.

(e) The need to heal the dualism between word and worship in so many churches by achieving greater integration in the service. They are are kept separate, the tiny domains of quite different people. Sometimes delegation by the pastor becomes abdication by the pastor - out of fear basically.

(f) The need for a church to find a little of its own voice, willing to stand against the flow of everyone pretty much doing pretty much the same thing. It'll take a little courage but it might be worth it.

(g) The need for worship to reflect both our response to the immanent God as well as the transcendent God. We pig out on the former and do not know what to do with the latter. There is a level of fear and reverence that needs to be recovered in worship. We are far too casual...

(h) This wonderful Kiwi resource, one step ahead worship, should be on the agenda of every pastor as they make it a priority to sit down together with the worship team to build community together and discover a direction for this worshipping community.

nice chatting



Mark Maffey said…

I would argue for a wider view of worship - all we do within a service is worship, whether it be singing, bible readings, prayers, preaching, sacraments,offerings etc.. Many modern churches fail to adequately fulfil or have people with the requisite skills to broaden and strengthen worship in the congregational setting

I agree that our music team leaders need to be mature,and sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, and that bands need to consider both the content and the singability of various songs,the congregation needs to be able to engage and if they can't reach the notes then it makes the worship less effective.

The more we can develop a theology of worship within our churches which enables people both to understand and interact with their God in a meaningful way has to be a priority

a little meditation from Psalm 84

Psalm 84 vs. 1-2 How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty
I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the LORD
To be in your presence is amazing, you’re so mighty
I desire, I long to hear your voice, to meditate upon your word
I worship and adore you with all my heart, let there be no false piety
Release me from all my sin, I want to serve you, fly like a bird
For you alone are worthy of my praise, my life, LORD almighty

With my whole being body and soul
I will shout joyfully to the living God
You deserve my all, that’s my goal
I open myself to you, like a pea in the pod
Take me, shape me, and make me whole
Show me your ways, my heavenly God

Mark Maffey, October 2005
Paul Long said…
If you have not seen this, it is something you might want to consider.

Reetz said…
Paullll :)
I've been thinking alot lately about worship too....especially your points 'e' and 'f', the strong lyrics and the not having to have the new and updated 'popular' songs...I've been missing the old hymns lately I remember from growing up from my childhood church...just for their authenticity in lyrics and just for being real and they were what they were, they didn't have to be popular and mainstream, just really beautiful authentic great lyrics...hymns.. I miss that.
Paul Windsor said…
Go, Rita!

I've often wondered about offering to introduce a hymn to the church about once a month and develop the playlist that way... Do you think anyone important reads my blog?!

I often find that your generation is quite interested in hymns and some of the more traditional things. Certainly the so-called 'emerging' church people respect heritage. It is my generation where the problems lie!
Reetz said…
I'll totally support you for introducing hymns Pdub. :) I often ask for worship leaders to sing songs in the evening service, but get denied them. :(
I'd love to sing Amazing Grace the oldschool way, the old tune with the original lyrics, not the new ones they have introduced...not that they are badddd, I just love the original oldschool version.

When the roll is called up yonder..

I've got the powerrr poweerrr wonder working power, in the blood of the lambbb...

Because he lives...I can face tomorrow, because he lives, all fear is gone..BEcasue I knowwww he knows the future, and life is worth the living...just because HE LIVES!

What a friend we have in Jesus..all our sins and griefs to bear - what a privelage to carry, everrrything to God in prayer..

To God be the glory, great things he hath done, so loved he the world that he gave his Son.......and opened the lifegate so that all may go innnn...Praise the Lord...

It is well, it is well with my soul...

And I will CLINGGG to The old rugged cross....

Aghhh, they are so brilliant! How AMAZING are they actually!!

Paul, lets do it. :) Lets introduceeee. :)
Paul Windsor said…
Gee - you are a phenomenon, Rita!
Jamie Bay said…
Hi Paul.
Been reading for a while, but for some reason have spent the last few days feeling the need to comment on this post.

Your thoughts on the value of being reminded of our past in worship struck a chord with me. Over the past few years of my studies in Canada I have realised how much I have missed in being brought up in a tradition that has decided the church traditions like the creeds no longer have a place in our worship.

Having discarded such traditions it should not be a surprise to us that the next generations are beginning to discard the hymns.

Paul said…
Agreed, Jamie

When I wander overseas I do not find quite the same exclusive commitment to contemporaneity in worship as I find here at home. It troubles me a great deal...

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