Monday, 2 June 2014

Worship Thoughts - The Philosophical Sessions

OK, right from the start let's be very clear that God sees our heart and it's this that he really honours, not necessarily our deep thinking!

1. Serving Jesus and serving people

There is a very fine line when leading worship and it can be hard to judge in so many ways. But the way we're looking at here is the tension between hearing from God and doing what he's called you to do - and still continuing to lead people.

To explain...  I was once counselled by a very good and experienced worship leader who had been struck by the fact that when we lead worship, we can become the servant of man above serving God. So for example, we worry about the fact that people don't seem to be into what God has put on us to do rather than following that call from God. This can imprison us and the worship and break off what God's call us to do, break creativity and break the flow. So we may feel to go into the 'hook' of another song, rather than simply sing the same song again - or sing a new line etc. Or we may want people to shout something rather than sing (insert your example here).

But there is a fine line with doing this and recognising that in a Sunday service there is a limited amount of time; that some people won't feel comfortable with new things (should you challenge them anyway... yes but probably slowly); that there may be better times and places to do new things in worship (even doing an evening and getting people used to it in advance).

I have seen two worship leaders who are very good at leading where they feel God is calling them to lead but less good at 'judging the room' and sensing where people are at. These two leaders will carry on doing 'what God's told them' even if it means no-one sings and everyone is sat down. On a Sunday service, I'd suggest this isn't ideal. In an ideal world, the new things we feel God has called us to do would connect with what's happening in the church - the two should be the same.

It is hard to combine the two 'tensions' but as long as we're aware of this, it's a healthy thing. The truth is that worship is complex, people are complex and as a worship leader (note the word 'leader') we must consider various tensions when leading. So yes, go with what God has put in you but also be sensitive to whether this is for you; for the church; for this time; if it could be done more effectively. And of course, reflect back to yourself on what you do.

But yes, feel a freedom to do new things and help draw people with you. I think some worship leaders would do well to remember that they are leading by example and bringing people with them, rather than frogmarching people or running off into the distance and expecting people to follow them. Good leadership does new things, draws people out and deeper but does so by taking people with them.

2. Songs to God, prophetic new songs and songs with the church

There can be a tendency for some worship leaders to get lost in the presence of God. While this is the place we all want to be and while everything else should flow from this, it's not the complete picture. While the eyes of the worship leader are shut, while they're abandoned to God and caught up into heaven, everyone else is lost and quietly sitting down and disengaging.

I know of one worship leader who was so caught up in a song that even a cursory glance around the room would have told him that 97 of 100 people were not captivated by the song - it had gone on so long that I joke not when I say some of the young people were playing games on their phones and some people had formed little groups and were talking!!

People were no longer engaged and it was because the worship leader had lost focus (in this instance). Worse was to come when the person leading the meeting (and who was facing the front) turned and explained that this song would continue because it was 'anointed'. Very few other people agreed.

The 'new song' is mentioned in worship on many occasions. And we must be free to bring the 'new songs' that God brings up out of our hearts. The 'new song' often builds from a loop of chords (perhaps from the chorus of a song we've been singing). As the band plays, sometimes one of the more prophetic singers or leader (or person in the church) sings out something new - Bible verses, or makes up something as they co-operate with the Holy Spirit. This can be extremely powerful and we should be open to this.

I heard one worship leader make a comment similar to the fact that the new song created in worship is more powerful than one that's already been written because it's what God is saying 'now' to you as a church, rather than a song someone has written for you. They even say that we shouldn't simply 'copy' the way songs are done. I've blogged about this before, but this is a perhaps well-meaning but certainly very incomplete explanation.

Yes, we should grow in a new song but a song (that for example Hillsong) sing has been thought about and prayed about over a long period of time. The music and lyrics are thrown backwards and forwards between worship leaders (inside and outside the church), musicians and others. The song is checked for its theology etc. In terms of the music and the parts of the song, these are practiced and thought, prayed over. Many times when we 'replicate' a song it's because the song is already excellent and the riffs better than ones we'd come up with. The 'riff' of a guitar etc or keyboard also communicates to the church when a song comes in / starts / stops / when sections of the song come in etc. We should also sing songs that people know. The same process happens for people like Matt Redman, songs from Worship Central etc. With a song that someone's written already, as long as the worship leader and the projection person have communicated (!) the words are on the screen.

When we sing a new song (and please hear me, there's nothing wrong with new songs, prophetic songs) but much of the above paragraph doesn't exist... It hasn't been checked theologically by others; no-one else knows it; it hasn't been bounced around to improve the song, words, melody etc; the words aren't on the screen (unless it's a repeated phrase with a good person on the 'words' to type them up quickly etc). I've  heard prophetic songs that have terrible tunes and nonsensical words. So just because someone sings a 'new song' on the spur of the moment (if they haven't already planned it) doesn't make it good or necessarily prophetic.

Remember that God's Holy Spirit leads us all the time. There isn't necessarily anything more 'spiritual' about spontaneity than in something organised - and God isn't necessarily more 'in' the new song than in the song you know. Many times when preparing for a service, I've spent a lot of time in prayer, practice, listening to God, listening to worship etc. Then out of that place - out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Out of the place of preparation God also speaks. God is in our planning as much as God is in our services on Sundays!

Yes, it's good to have prophetic singing (places like iHop pro-actively build it in to worship). Yes it's good to have times of soaking. But everything in balance and in the right time and place.

3. Open Worship and 'The River'

In a book called 'Following The River', there are various excellent points made. The authors of the book call for a good balance in worship. But one area where I found myself disagreeing was when they talked about a river of worship.

The book was written in an American mega-church / performance type of context. Neither mega-churches nor highly pre-planned worship is wrong - there is a place for both. The authors of the book felt that this kind of planned worship was wrong and didn't allow space for the Holy Spirit to move. The argument was that building such a tight structure into worship restricts the space for God to move.

The example they gave was from Ezekiel and the picture of the 'river'. In their view, the structured worship was worship that was like a straight river - going from point A to point G and then finishing, without deviation. And they have a point for sure. We should allow space into our worship. Many churches in their desire to honour God (and keep things on time) have built professional almost meticulous performance into their worship. There is something unhealthy about this for sure.

But where I diverged in my opinion was in the idea that structure is necessarily wrong or that a river doesn't ever go straight. The authors of the book in their desire to effectively build a good argument (which they do), stated that our worship should be more like a flowing, bendy, meandering river as this is what rivers are like.

But not every river is like this and not every river is always either straight or meandering. Rivers tend to do both in different places according to the soil / land / forces of nature etc. We must not say that a highly ordered God in a highly ordered universe with a world built on logic and order - doesn't like worship that is ordered. And we mustn't replace one straitjacket of structured worship with another - i.e. we can't say 'don't have worship that is ordered and goes from A to B because this is structure' and then say, 'what we must do is have worship that meanders like a river'. Because you're replacing one structure with another.

Our worship should be prepared and ordered. A worship leader once said to me that it's good to have disorganised worship because it gives the Holy Spirit freedom. Wrong. It's good to be very well prepared and to be very organised. We honour God and each other by being organised, by thinking, praying, practising, communicating with one another. Then out of this can come freedom. Freedom doesn't just happen. If you have a garden, you have to cut back the weeds and organise your plants so that it looks good and people can walk through it. It doesn't just magically happen. We plan and prepare so that we can have freedom.

For example, I know of worship leaders who would turn up on a Sunday and they would have no music, no song list for the person doing words. They would even have those in the band who were young and very inexperienced who would have no clue what notes to play. Sometimes they hadn't communicated to people they were playing, hadn't sorted a band and didn't even sort instruments for those needing to borrow them. This doesn't bring freedom - it brings stress for people! Freedom comes when either you lead in this way (if you're comfortable with it) with those who are. Or be organised so that you can be free.

Again, things are a balance. We're not so stressed over getting things right or being organised that it detracts from worship. But we also should be organised enough to that a lack of organisation doesn't detract from worship. As Mike Pilavachi says - anything that distracts people from worshipping God (bad organisation, no words, bad notes, people going off on one in worship etc) is bad worship!

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