Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's All About Me

I am a worship leader. Just about every Sunday, I lead the musical portion of the worship services at my church. I have been doing this full-time for 5 years and before that I had done it on a part-time basis for about 15 years prior. Despite this experience, I am constantly learning, constantly trying to implement new things, and always ready to acknowledge that as much as I have learned, I still have a long way to go.

In all of this time, I have seen and experienced a lot. I could come up with a fairly extensive and broad list of my discoveries, but I think I can narrow a list down to two things from a theological viewpoint of leading musical worship:

1) Worship leaders need to improve their theology
2) Worship songwriters need to write more singable music that promotes a holistic theology

It probably sounds harsh, but let me take each of these and explain.

I need to confess that I am far from perfect and I fall into all of the traps that the average worship leader can fall into. I find the latest songs and sing them because they are familiar. I choose songs based on what kind of energy they can evoke. I find “pet” verses that I can share instead of exploring Scripture for new ways to see and know God. I do not always strive to be as excellent as I should strive to be.

We, as worship leaders, cannot grow comfortable. Whether or not you lead music or preach or have a major part in your worship services, this is essential. Theology is “God Talk”, it is the way that we talk about and understand God. He is infinite and while we may appreciate certain aspects of who He is, we should never cease to find new ways of seeing Him and knowing Him. His mercies are new every morning and those mercies should be explored and sung about. The moment that we stop learning about God and who He is, is the moment that we should beware of our hearts becoming lukewarm or cold. He is bigger than we can imagine and his love for us is wide and deep.

We love to sing songs about how wonderful, faithful, gracious, and awesome that He is, but we often neglect seeing Him more holistically. Jeremiah, the prophet, wrote an entire book of Lamentations. He was known as the “weeping prophet.” The Old Testament prophets brought messages of peace and hope, but they also brought messages of judgment and wrath. There were calls to repentance and faithfulness. Where are those songs in our repertoires?

We want to sing songs that make us happy so that we can come out smiling like a certain Texan who shall remain nameless. We want people to feel good when they come to church so that they come back, or so that they will tithe generously. We want people leaving with a sense of “having met God” and having been embraced by Him.

I’m not saying that all of those things are bad, but is that all that there is? Are there not times that people should leave the presence of God having felt like Isaiah: that they were unclean and unworthy to stand before a Holy God? Our encounters with God should not be limited to the feelings that we leave with or the emotions that are evoked from us. Instead, they need to express the true and genuine characteristics of people who have deepened their relationship with the One who created them.

To be honest, I struggle with what this looks like for us in the church. This is a cultural shift from who and what we have become in the church and as long as it has taken us to get to this point, the solution will not take place overnight. That’s where the second observation comes in: we need to start writing music that begins promoting a holistic theology. We need to start writing music that doesn’t promote such an individualistic viewpoint of salvation and theology but instead, promotes the community of God that we are a part of when we come to faith in Christ. There needs to be less “me” and more “we.”

When we are saved through Jesus Christ, we are not only saved from the bondage of sin into which we were born, but we are saved into the community of believers, the church of Jesus Christ that transcends all time and space. We are saved into a community of fellowship, accountability, and faith. We can keep on singing songs about what Jesus has done for me, how he saved me, and how he loves me, but that’s not the whole story. We have to tell the rest of the story.

I would love to hear some thoughts about this process and what it looks like for other people and just how we might move, corporately, towards a more holistic theology in our musical worship.


  1. Hmmm....sounds like someone has been reading Stanley Grenz.

    Good thoughts my fellow PK. I'm in the battle with you, one church at a time. So, just when are you going to start writing these songs?

  2. So as you might be able to tell this is Doug and not Ellen. I am with Peter (as you know from many of our conversations) about the writing part. I also find it rather interesting how we have churches set up to focus all forward to the worship team. We are welcomed to "lift up holy hands" (HMMM Let's just wrap our minds around that one) but when lyrics come to "we bow down" I don't notice too many paople willing to prostrate themselves or even kneel before the throne.
    Let's work through this. We've been a lot of ideas for the past 10 years. God is waiting for us.