Photo from Pixabay
Worship is about how we show reverence and adoration for God. God loves to hear us sing to him, he loves to hear us offer him praise and adoration. This isn’t a tyrant’s delusional order to be adored by an oppressed people, it is the desire of a supreme loving father, listening to the love of his children.
During our times of worship, we sing our songs to our God, to the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in blessed adoration, and as the office says, it is right to give thanks and praise. This should be one of the purist things on our journey with Jesus to the eternal love of God, it should come from the deepest level of our hearts, our beings and very souls. No pretence should be on show, the spotlight should remain on God, no voice should shine above others, or be hidden under a bushel. The tone-deaf should sing with the trained soprano as each will complement the other.
The problem is that something so basically pure and reverent, something the youngest child or elderly stalwart can take part in, can be easily tainted and abused by ego and by the turning of it into an idol, pulling the song from God to our own ends. This is wrong, and it breaks a bond we have with Him and tears us away from a joyful connection with our father.
I have been privileged to be a worship leader in many churches as well as being a musician in a number of worship bands and during those times I have made some observations about worship.
- The Prominence of the Band/Leader
Worship bands over the years have crept more and more into being the focal point of a church and worship leaders have leaned into the limelight, occasionally evolving into near popstars revelling in the adoration aimed, no longer at God, but at them. This is not to say all are like this, thankfully that is not the case, but even one is wrong. I have been in a church where the altar of Christ has become a table for guitar cases, the communion paraphernalia pushed aside. The altar moved aside to accommodate a band, the cross on the wall replaced by a multi-media screen as it seems song sheets and hymn books are no longer viable in this instant world. The leader stands centre stage, all eyes on them as they engage in the sack-cloth and ashes stage of worship, suffering from “look how pious I am” syndrome.
In case we have forgotten (and sadly, many of us have) the Altar is the reason the church building exists. It is the sacred meeting place between humanity and God. Once we start to diminish its symbolism or importance as the central point of our services, we have lost the plot.
I have long advocated for worship bands to be at the back of the church, unseen so that ego can be left at home, unneeded. In this day and age, almost all churches have PA systems so it doesn’t matter where the band are, the congregation will hear them. No need then to be distracted looking at a worship leader in order to be ‘led’ into connecting with God through song.
- Vacuous Songs
Some contemporary Christian music is of course both wonderful and beautiful. There are some truly God-breathed worship songs being written for inclusion in the band repertoire but sadly I feel that they are the exception rather than the norm.
Our Worship times have become a time of singing the ‘latest’ songs, songs that are at best vacuous, at worst unbearably clichéd and badly written. The whole has become formulaic, each song a careful recipe which keeps it identical to the last that was written and so on, and the worship times also follow an identical pattern. All of which, however well meaning, is actually drawing people away from an intimate time with God rather than into one. God doesn’t need worship leaders to lead his children to him, our hubris is such that we feel it is our job to do. Leading worship should be far more a servanthood role, facilitating the worship of the congregation.
Old hymns are treated as embarrassments these days. Some get the rock treatment and I have to admit a rousing, guitar driven rendition of How Great Thou Art can be great for the soul. But what a shame that all these wonderful, poetic, scripture infused songs and beautiful organ music so often have to make way for badly written pap. What a shame we are being deprived of this richness.
- Formulaic Worship Times
I have already mentioned about moving the band from the front of the church but what about changing the way we worship altogether? The formulaic Sunday morning times of worship have become stale, the amount of people that chat through worship is incredible. In my view these people are bored, not bored with praising God but with the never-changing cycle of songs, faux prayers and drops (where the band drop out so it is just the leader being prayerful over a quiet guitar or synthesizer), then back into a rousing song, rinse and repeat ad nauseum.
One of the best worship times I have ever been in was spontaneous and had no instruments at all. An old lady started singing Amazing Grace, and everyone around joined in, Christian and non-Christian alike, tears flowed and everyone sensed a real presence of God, something that often seems to be lacking on a Sunday morning.
Another great time of corporate Worship I’ve enjoyed is a style by Graham Kendrick, whose band I have had the pleasure of playing in, called Psalm Surfing. Singing through the Psalms with Spirit-led improvisation on instruments, singing the songs of God in a raw, unrefined way in the true untamed spirit of God. I like the untamed being a Celt, so of course this style of doing things makes sense to me.
In conclusion, my heart is not to tear apart the worship times, leaders and music from our churches, but to try and see a way to increase the value of genuine worship in church, increasing the connection to God and releasing the souls of the singers. I do feel a direction shift is needed and that God should return to the centre, as Matt Redman sang, The Heart of Worship. Let’s offer God some new songs but also get back to the hymns of old, sing again the Psalms, not fear lamenting or crying or raging. Let’s be untamed spirits giving ALL the glory to God.
John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
© R. R. Wyatt, photo from Pixabay