I want worship that flows

Years ago, I led worship for a new contemporary service. One of the goals of each service was to have a cohesive flow. There was an overarching theme wound through each service, and we incorporated it in fun ways. My job as the worship leader was to pick songs that fit with the theme.

Some weeks it was pretty easy. I would find tons of songs on a certain topic. Then the next week there would be a topic that was next to impossible to find songs for. Some weeks I just picked a few “filler” songs.

The weeks when it worked, it worked so well. It was beautiful how well it would come together.

I wish that worship could always flow so well.

It is very difficult to coordinate everything. Many worship leaders would love to have the songs in a cohesive flow with the theme. The problem is, they don’t usually know what that theme is.

There’s a new service that just started at my church. It’s a small, intimate, coffee-house kind of service. It’s mainly led by a team of volunteers. Many weeks, we have no idea who’s even preaching. It’s hard to plan a seamless service when you don’t even know who’s showing up that Sunday. The worship leader is left with no choice. He has to pick songs.

I ran across this article by Michael Gungor, a musician I am coming to greatly respect. He speaks of the “concept album,” an album with a cohesive flow and theme throughout. Rather than random musical snippets that have nothing to do with each other, each song is connected together.

I would love to have a cohesive service again; one where the elements are all tied together. But I know how difficult this is, and I applaud all the worship leaders that do their best, having no idea what’s coming up that week.

No better worship than wonder

Last week, my husband and I took the second of what we hope becomes an annual trip to a beautiful mountain cabin. It’s a glorious retreat, with a breath-taking view off the balcony that I spent as many minutes possible soaking up.

The cabin even has it’s own library. When you walk through the french doors, there are two walls covered in books from floor to ceiling. Last year, on our first visit, I spent a few minutes browsing the titles, looking for anything that seemed intriguing. My eyes fell on the spine of Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I had been meaning to read the book for years and had heard nothing but good things from everyone who had read it. Now was the perfect time. I just needed to finish it in a few days, as I couldn’t take it with me.

It proved not to be a problem. It was as good as everyone said. I devoured it in about three days, reading most of it in the sunshine on the porch, taking in the glorious view. When we were returning to the same cabin this year, I decided I wanted to re-read the book. I devoured the book for a second time.

One of the last chapters is entitled Worship, The Mystical Wonder. I knew that if I read no other chapter, I needed to be sure to read that one. Since starting this blog, I’ve been curious to look into other people’s insights into worship.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t revolve around musical worship. It spoke of worship in the sense of being in awe of God. How this whole Christian belief rises above reason and can’t be explained. How God is so much greater than we can begin to comprehend and understand. How the author takes great comfort in that, because the thing that created us needs to be greater than us, greater than we can wrap our minds around.

I don’t know if I ever thought of worship in that way, but it makes sense.

Jesus and reason don’t mix well. I have a couple of friends that are struggling with that, wondering how they can in good conscience believe this thing that is so completely insane, that honestly cannot stand up to reason. I have days like that. Where I look up at the ceiling and wonder if my words are really making it past the ceiling fan. Days where there is no way I can tell others about Jesus, because the whole thing is just ridiculous. How can I convince someone to believe this thing that I’m not always so sure about myself?

But then I look at something like my mountain view from last week (I call it mine because I really wanted to pack it up and take it home with me) and I wonder how I could ever doubt. Sure, this doesn’t make sense, but that’s part of what faith is all about. Choosing to believe in the midst of all the crazy.

And that’s when we worship. When we choose to set aside all our reason and boxed in answers and say, “God, You are real. And awesome.”

Here is what I’ve started thinking. All the wonder of God happens right above our arithmetic and formula. The more I climb outside my pat answers, the more invigorating the view, the more my heart enters into worship…

At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.”

Donald Miller

Worship propaganda

I found this video and was really struck by it. Mainly because of the boldness of Brian McLaren, and also because I agree with everything in it.

This goes along with what I shared on Monday, that music is dangerous and sweeps us away in happy emotions.

In case you can’t watch the video, here are the key points:

  • People want to “feel” certain things in their worship. They bring a worship check list to each service and if it doesn’t meet each check point, well, the Holy Spirit just didn’t show up today.
  • People put pressure on the worship leader to deliver a certain “worship experience.” As a result, “pre-fabricated worship experiences” are created.
  • When we do this, it ceases to be worship and it becomes manipulation and propoganda.
  • “There’s a huge difference between propoganda and art. There is something about art that says, ‘I’m telling the truth as I see it.’ The truth may not be pretty. It may be, ‘I don’t feel that God is real.’ We can’t handle that.”
  • We may not be able to handle ugly truths, but the Bible can.
  • “When you’re honest about the ugly things in life, it’s a beautiful thing.”
  • “When you try to make everything pretty, it ends up looking really cheap.”
  • “If we try to market God like He’s an infomercial, He seems less real.”

I applaud him for bringing these key points to light. And I wholeheartedly agree. It explains why I often can’t get excited about the worship experience. I long for raw honesty and it’s something that is often lacking in worship.

He asks a question in the video that I’d like to pose to you: How can we be people of truth and rediscover honesty in our relationship with God?

Another convicting article

Here’s another interesting article. And here are my pull-out points.

– Worship is often no more than the opening act to the sermon and getting people “pumped up.” I talked about that in this blog.

– I am ashamed to say how many times I’ve “not been into” the song I was leading. It scares me how easy it is to fake it. As long as you look sincere, nobody knows how unenthusiastic you really are.

– The “I love peanut butter” line had me laughing. It’s so true. End something a cappella and sing it a bunch, and it just sounds worshipful. Sometimes we don’t really put much thought into what we’re singing.

– “If I suck as a singer people will complain that worship wasn’t ‘good’.  If it’s ‘too good’ then people will say I am ‘putting on [a] show’.  I try to keep it somewhere in the ‘safe zone’.” Very true. I’m totally guilty of judging worship leaders on musical ability or lack thereof.

– Sometimes worship gets boring for the worship leader because we end up always doing the crowd favorites. There have been several songs that I have sworn off because they have been sung into the ground. New, fresh songs are a good thing, people.

– “I don’t listen to ‘worship music’ unless I’m looking for a new song for Sunday.” Or in my case, I don’t listen to it at all anymore. I’m working on finding sacredness and worship in other music that still speaks to me.

Musical zombies

I shared a couple songs from Gungor on a previous blog. I recently rediscovered this blog from Michael Gungor, the band’s lead singer. I read it several months ago and loved it, and loved it again upon re-reading it. It’s a long post, but well worth the read if you have the time.

Here are the points that struck me the most.

  1. I laughed out loud when I read about his “Christian vs secular” game. I laughed because it’s so funny and because I’ve played this myself. I can usually spot a Christian radio station from a mile away. As he pointed out, on a whole, Christian music is very disingenuous. It does have a certain sound to it, and the best word I can think of to describe it is fake.
  2. Christian music is riddled with false emotion. “…I don’t believe that the singer is feeling the kind of emotions in singing that lyric that would lead to that style of singing.” The song style and emotion of the song don’t always match up.
  3. Christian music has created musical zombies. “So when you remove the soul from music and transplant the body parts (chord changes, instrumentation, dress, lights, and everything but the soul…) and parade it around with some more ‘positive’ lyrics posing as Christian music, then what you have is a musical zombie.”
  4. Christian music is all about marketing. Naive little me would like to stay in denial about this, but I’m coming to grips with this sad fact. Someone left a comment on this blog stating this exact fact. Even my own mom commented on here that she was suspicious of the “Christian” musicians I began listening to in high school.
  5. Christianity doesn’t seem to be real Christianity anymore. It’s become the product of a subculture. We’ve been told to believe and not question things from this subculture; alcohol is bad, etc.

I know that there are still some Christian musicians out there that are in it for the right reasons, but they seem to be harder to come by lately. I long for Christian musicians that are really striving to serve God with their music, and to push the musical envelope and not succumb to the contemporary christian formula.

What I couldn’t figure out on my own

Throughout this worship struggle, and really all of life, sometimes I find myself struggling with problems I just cannot voice. Things bugging me that I cannot quite pinpoint. I love when I find an article, video, or even song that puts my unvoiced thoughts into perfect words.

This blog was one of those times.

I think the part that I especially connected with was this:

… When the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.

When my church added a fog machine to the worship experience, my stomach literally turned. Fog machines are great in concert venues, but in church? Really? In addition to feeling like a show, it makes my eyes itch. Do we really have a need for this? Couldn’t that money be better used for other ministries, like feeding the homeless?

Church is trying too hard to be cool. And in my opinion, often failing miserably. Christianity is usually two trends too late. I end up rolling my eyes at whatever cool tactic they’re trying this week. Stop trying. Just preach the gospel.

I understand the need to make things relevant and accessible to everyone. I get that. But perhaps relevant and accessible is best portrayed through love, grace, and acceptance.

(I will add that although I see her point about disruptive kids and that the story about the boy with cerebral palsy is sad, I don’t completely agree. But I think I’ll save that for another post, rather than jump on my soapbox.)

How to “label” worship music

Though not a South park fan, my husband is. He occasionally makes me watch an episode, and I confess, I have laughed. No harder have I laughed at an episode though than Christian Rock Hard. In it, the boys try to start a band, and Cartman decides to start a Christian band; because Christian music is easier to break into, and because it’s easier to write Christian songs. He then takes a pop song and plugs “Jesus” into the lyrics. Voila. Instant Christian classic.

This makes me wonder… does a song have to mention Jesus to be a worship song? I have heard discussions on Christian radio where people have tried to remove certain songs from the station because it didn’t mention God or Jesus. Never mind the positive, encouraging message it was communicating. Apparently that’s not enough.

I confess, I used to be of this mindset. I didn’t really want to listen to a song unless I was sure that it was talking to or about Jesus. My intent was to protect my mind from some of the crap that is communicated through much modern music, but I took it to the extreme. All of a sudden my music tastes became incredibly narrow-minded. Even my pastor encouraged me to branch out.

Now I’m discovering that worship music doesn’t have to be so limited. I just read this article on Relevant Magazine’s website and was impressed by the band interviewed.

This was my favorite quote:

Writing music, you can write any sort of music, and that can be a sacred act; it doesn’t have to be Church music. That was a theological shift for me, personally, seeing it wasn’t about me having to put enough crosses in every painting I paint, enough Jesuses in every song I write. Not that you don’t ever do those things, but it broadened the scope of potential human work that could be sacred.

More than praise and worship music can be sacred. That’s a freeing thought for me. The simple act of writing a song from the soul is a sacred act. It doesn’t need to mention Jesus.

This song doesn’t mention Jesus, but I challenge anyone to say this isn’t worshipful.

And what about instrumental pieces? There’s no mention of Jesus’ name, yet there are so many that are mysteriously worshipful. Granted, this one is based on a classic sacred melody, but the way he plays with such passion just screams worship to me.

My mind is open to so many other musical options, and I think it’s opening wide the avenue for worship again.

“Worship” music

I know I’m not being original by saying that Mumford & Sons is an amazing band. They’re all the rage right now. Their unique rock/folk style is taking us by storm. Honestly, I love bands that can rock out with a banjo.

I have heard of some churches using their songs in worship sets. This is two things to me: awesome and weird.

Why it’s awesome: I think it’s awesome that churches are using the songs that can speak to even the “unchurched.” Familiar melodies may draw more people in. These songs will likely speak to them more than Open the Eyes of My Heart ever will. Plus, Mumford & Sons lyrics have more depth than the typical praise and worship song. I appreciate songs that make me think and dig down for the real meaning.

Why it’s weird: Part of me thinks that anything the church gets a hold of instantly becomes uncool. Will Mumford & Sons lose their luster because Christians are taking it and running with it? There’s also the question of how “theologically sound” the songs are. I don’t know how much I get behind this, plus I hate theological debates. I’m sure there’s several people out there getting upset at the use of “secular” music within the church.

What I know is this: in my personal life, their music touches me. I don’t know if I’m “worshipping,” but the music inspires, energizes, and challenges me. That’s more than I can say of any worship song at the moment.

Lyrics like these show a surprising amount of spirituality:

Love that will not betray you,
dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man
you were made to be.


But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand


You told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

So I will continue to let their music inspire me and touch me. I’m encouraged that I’m still able to find any connection with music. A fellow worship leader shared in the comments of this blog how he was reconnecting with music after doing the job of worship leader for so long. He stated: ” I am rediscovering my love of music in general and the inward solace it brings to me.” I think I might be finally getting to that point myself.

This article makes some interesting points about music like Mumford & Sons. It is extremely well written and it sorta puts what I just wrote to shame. I really can’t put it any better than this writer did.

Worship: the opening act

This article totally convicted me. Please click the link and read it.

Three things that I pulled out:

1) It scares me that this is happening in churches.

Has worship really become that scripted? Or that manipulative? Is it really that simple to tug on people’s heart strings? Sadly, I know the answer is yes.

Worship has simply become the opening act. It’s a way for the congregation to get “in the worship mood.”

2) It fits with so much of what I am feeling. It explains the disconnect.

If worship is really manipulated and planned out, no wonder my heart can’t connect with it. I’ve been told as a worship leader that I need to do more energetic worship, to encourage the people and make them forget about their bad weeks. I understand the need for this (I feel another post a-brewing for that one), but I prefer meaningful songs that say something and make people think. Not simply peppy. I just can’t connect with peppy.

3) I feel relieved that I am not alone.

I’m not the only worship leader that doesn’t feel worshipful? Hallelujah! There are others that have acknowledged that there is a problem. Instead of continuing ahead in the dysfunction, they’re choosing to step out of the shadows. This worship leader’s honest and raw interpretation of his worship experience is refreshing.