Friday, April 27, 2007

Thoughts on Worship

I don’t want this to end up a rant – but there are a couple of themes around worship that seem to come up on blogs and in conversation that have been on my mind, and today I ended up discussing them and promised to put something on here!

Both the things I’m going to look at are inter-related, but both are in danger of becoming caricature band wagons for people to jump on to be “cool”.

“We don’t do singing”
The first popular cry is about not singing. I’ve heard Stuart Murray and others make some great well thought out points about singing too much, taking a break from it etc., rooted in good hard thinking about post-Christendom and emerging culture.

But others seem to have jumped on board this no-singing thing.
Yes many churches seem to equate all worship with singing, which can be a problem.
And I have wondered myself whether several prominent worship leaders even have a speaking voice – as the meetings seem to be exclusively a set of songs.
But I do get nervous when Christians say they don’t “get” singing or they wish we didn’t do it. I know that we all express ourselves differently, but there is something about “singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord” which seems to be unique. It’s been a while since I read and thought about this to argue a water-tight case here, but even psychologists will tell you singing is good for you – it lifts you.
And I also don’t buy that whole “men don’t sing” thing either – and even if it were true in wider culture (which it isn’t) that would be no reason to stop singing in church.
I totally agree it should not be all we do, it’s not the only way to worship, but it has a place in the gathering of God’s people I’d be worried if we lost

But all the songs are naff, Jesus is my girlfriend songs
Again whoever first said this was probably making a well thought out valid point – but it’s another thing that is becoming a bandwagon.
I agree that we need reality in our songs. I agree we need to learn to express lament and grief, and pain and hardship. I agree we need to learn the song of exile (Michael Frost has some interesting stuff on songs in Exiles which I need to re-read).
But expressing intimacy and love for God in Jesus and by the Spirit is also important. Of course it should not be all we do. But I think it has a place.
For many of us the charismatic thing and latterly the Toronto blessing stuff, and worship that has come out of those movements, were refreshing, Instead of emotion being separate to faith it could now play a part. “Religious affections” as Edwards would call them were back on the agenda.
Sure the pendulum probably swung too far, and too many songs became about me and my love rather than about God and his mighty power, but this critique is in danger of becoming a cynical dismissal of something which has been helpful to people.

I wonder sometimes in all this if there isn’t a danger of a kind of cultural snobbishness. Or a theological snobbishness. A dismissal of popular forms of church and Christian expression, in the name of being “cutting edge”.

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Anonymous Tim Abbott said...

Good post Pete, offering a helpful balance.
You've highlighted the real problem in the last paragraph, and especially the tendency of some to dismiss whatever is popular.

"I don't do singing" - I think the main concern is that within some traditions worship has become exclusively identified with singing, to the exclusion of any other expression of worship. So a typical meeting might be 40 minutes of songs, 30 minutes of preaching followed by another 30 minutes of songs as a 'response'. I've blogged a bit about this and, as a musician in a worship band, I do so from within that style and tradition. We need to critique what we're doing here - people who can sing can end up thinking that's all there is to worship; people who struggle with singing can find the experience tedious, or embarassing or confusing. I have encountered all of these reactions. Singing has a really important place at the table of worship, but it's not a meal for one.

"The songs are naff" - some are. But my optimistic impression is that a new generation of songwriters are aware of this and are producing some songs of real quality in terms of theology, music and production. People, and young people in particular, pick up a lot of their theology through songs and the difficulty with 'naff' songs (especially if set to a good tune) is that people can end up with a distorted view of God, and of our relationship with him or with the world.

I think there's currently an amazing diversity of expression and styles in worship, an awareness that worship is not just singing, and a fascinating cross-fertilisation of ideas between traditions.

Ignoring the silly extremes of those who would deconstruct anything not to their taste, I welcome much of the critique of worship that's taking place where we can reflect on what might be missing within our own traditions and ask questions that help us to gain a better understanding of the traditions of others.

Even better if we can have these conversations because we long that people of every personality and temperament should be able to find a place of worship that connects them with God.

6:04 pm  
Blogger Pete Lev said...

Thanks Tim, helpful comments.

3:55 pm  

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