Coming Back To A Heart Of Worship

Something a close friend, who is a worship leader, and I have been meditating upon and wrestling with is dynamic expression of worship. It is an exploratory exercise that reacts to a certain term I’ve heard my friend Peter Ong use to describe a great deal of worship I see in the church today: “worship karaoke” – where the band plays our favorite songs and we follow the words on the screen.

We have come to question the machine, that is to say, the industry of the Christian contemporary praise/worship distribution that licenses and markets this music to us. I don’t dislike all this wonderful artistry or musicianship, but the solutions that buying a “worship leader’s guide” has created new problems.

Ironically, the song, “Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman is a great example of this. The song was born under the circumstances where his pastor was discouraged when he saw that worship became too performance-oriented, and thus banned the band. “When the music fades/ and all is stripped away…”

Everyone was questioned as to what it was they brought for their offering – the musicians, the songwriters, the congregation. “I’ll bring you more than a song / for a song in itself is not what you have required…”

And in the midst of uncomfortable silences and new creativity, there was this return to worship, an acknowledgment that the music was secondary to the act of worship. “I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it / It’s all about you, Jesus”

When the “Heart of Worship” has been made into a cliche hit for years now, it can often have the opposite effect of the very spirit in which it was written. Familiarity, as has been said, can indeed breed contempt. And in the spirit of confession, I re-wrote the lyrics to that song to reflect how many of us at one time or another have felt during worship. I don’t mean it as parody nor as mockery, but as an honest starting point for how we view worship and that if we don’t understand the story that brought about Matt Redman’s lyrics, we may not fully be able to express the depth of them. Even if we were led to change the lyrics to how we truly feel, I believe we would capture a more honest and more authentic heart of worship.

God, who has made us in his image, as Creator made us to be creators. And at our best, we are able to creatively breathe life into our words and art and present them as offerings. Like the Psalmist, to present our emptiness and our weaknesses is not a sin, but shows our fragility without his salvation coming anew again and again. With heavy heart, I sang this before our congregation today, but my prayer is that our worship would begin anew.

When the praise band plays
All is stripped away and I simply come
It’s got a nice ring
Using someone else’s words
Does this bless your heart?

I’ll use someone else’s song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have inspired
Don’t push me deeper than this
Than the songs that I hear
Pretending to know who you are

I want to have a heart of worship
But it’s more about music
And the melody, Jesus
This is the only time I sing, Lord
Making sounds with my voice, but not in my heart

Though I sing these words, no one could explain
Why I fail to serve
I’m rich and want more, all I have is me
Every single breath

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Comments

  1. dan ra says:

    sigh…

  2. Peter Park says:

    I would agree with you that the song Heart of Worship can have the opposite affect. However, there is another way to go back to the heart of the song. Perhaps, the next time you lead you can cut down the number of songs you play. Then, play the song Heart of Worship, followed by a period of silence. It’s just an idea.

    On any given Sunday we sing 7-8 songs. There are some services where I feel we need to let a song breathe so I’ll only choose 5-6 songs. We may even have a moment of silence or very light guitar playing.

  3. MrPages says:

    Wow. Powerful post, David, thank you.

    We’ve been struggling with many of the same things, apparently. I’d strongly suggest listening to a talk by Bob Kauflin called Worship Music or Music Worship?.

    He has some interesting things to say, and some useful advice on this topic. The basic premise of the talk is that we have taken music in church to a level far beyond what scipture does, and have made it an idol.

  4. MrPages says:

    The download of the talk, and all their other talks and the pdf outlines that go with them, are now free, by the way. Look around the site, there are some interesting things there for musicians and worship leaders, as well as those interested in the theology of worship.

  5. daniel so says:

    David — Thanks for sharing your honest struggle. I have always been moved by the circumstances from which that song was born — your assessment of its ironic opposite effect in the church today is spot-on.

    I have urged students and worship leaders wherever I have gone to begin writing worship songs. Not for the glory of it all (particularly since those first couple of songwriting attempts are pretty painful) but because it is too easy — especially in the Asian American church — to rely on the worship industry heavy hitters to do all the talking for us. It would be a beautiful thing to witness the AA church rise up and sing to, about and because of God and what He is doing in their midst (specifically, as a particular community). I know there are churches that are doing this, but the standard seems to be what you have described here.

    David Gate has some interesting insights into worship (and the worship industry). He is one of those UK songwriters (recently of Soul Survivor) and is sort of a self-described crank, but he has an insider’s view and shares some pretty compelling thoughts on these kinds of issues.

  6. peterong says:

    yes, the act of worship is more about ME-ology than about THEO-logy…but I am learning that a part of our journey of worship requires a personal and inward reflection of our identity as beloved. The picture that stirs me is the one of Christ washing the feet of the disciples…they were appalled and resistant to this but as an act of worship, we sometimes have to receive the love of God. The journey of psalms are cry of personal afflictions of laments but ascends to the reorientation of our inward personal gaze towards God. But the song “Heart of Worship” is indeed a paradox…thus our tangled faith…needs a unraveling…

  7. Wayne Park says:

    oh man this is good.

    David, you’re talking about all the things I’ve been wanting to say for years!

    Your insight into “Coming Back” has been the exact sentiment I’ve had but never expressed. I grew sick of that song quick because nothing inherent in it can truly bring us back to the heart of worship. Coming back to worshiping in spirit and truth far transcends quaint praise choruses on a Sunday morning.

    On that note I have to disagree with Peter P and Mr Pages: coming back to the heart doesn’t involve stylistic changes or listening to yet another worship seminar by noted worship leaders (as much as I like Bob Kauflin) but that’s just not it.

  8. MrPages says:

    Actually, Kauflin’s talk is pretty much about how it’s not about music.

    Music can be part of worship, but it mostly isn’t, and we’ve made it much more than it is supposed to be.

    It’s not just “you’re doing it wrong, here’s how music is worship”.

  9. Thank you for bringing this ideal to life at Open Table last week. You live out your convictions in guiding people to deeper truth. It’s a big risk, and I appreciate it.

    You are a man of the Spirit, my friend. I appreciate that lead the way with your own repentance and that you have a great singing voice, too!

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