Some Thoughts About Church Worship.
Recently, I stumbled across old recordings of praise and worship from the late 70s/early 80s. When I listened to them, it stuck me how anointed the worship is; probably more anointed than a lot of praise and worship around now.
I don’t think I am saying this only because I am not a young person any more, and I am stuck in the past. I think there is something else going on. What comes out strongly in these live recordings is the voices of the whole congregation singing. The vocalists in the band cannot be heard and the musical instruments are faded into the background.
This is precisely why it is anointed. Because EVERYONE is participating in the singing.
This has stirred something in me; something that has been dormant for a long time.
For quite a few years now I have been somewhat uneasy and frustrated with praise and worship as we know it. I want to offer a sort of critique, but I am not so interested in changing the status quo. What I really want to do is to energise different ways of thinking and new possibilities to consider.
It is a risk to express my heart. I will probably be misunderstood, but here goes.
I am releasing this without editing. I repeat myself, it is not in sequence but I want to put it out there sooner rather than later, to stir something up. I hope it will break open something in the spiritual atmosphere.
To begin with, it is crucial to understand that singing and music in meetings is not worship. It is an expression (yes, a wonderful expression, which is indispensable) of worship. I say again, singing and music is an expression of worship. Worship is a response to a revelation of the goodness of God, and there are many ways to express that. However, singing and music is effective within a group in a way that other expressions are not.
Here is what I want to say:
Corporate worship needs to be handed back to whom it belongs—to the people.
‘Worship leaders’ (if that is what they are) need to get down off the stage - the stage is not a sacrosanct part of church meetings. The stage is not indispensable.
The people are the leading worshippers. They need lyrics and melodies that can be sung by everyone in the gathering.
We need to understand that God loves His people. He is with them and He communicates with them. God is in the midst of the congregation. Jesus leads the praise to God in the midst of the assembly. (Psalm 22:22, Hebrews 2:12).
To focus on a ‘band’ on the stage and draw the ‘centre’ away from the ‘midst of the congregation’ is a grief to the Spirit (if not now, it will be, as the Body grows in maturity).
A major prophetic name in worship in the Body of Christ has pointed out that many meetings are now controlled by sound engineers. Sound engineers are rarely part of the spiritual oversight of churches, yet by the flick of a switch or the tweak of a button they can set the tone for praise and worship.
Too often the bank of speakers and microphones on stage have created an apartheid within the Body of Christ. The more sophisticated and louder the PA, the more it reduces Christ’s precious Body (whom He indwells) to a passive audience.
Technology and PA needs to be stripped back.
A culture of excellence has ruined the spirit of true corporate worship.
The pressure on songwriters to come up with ‘cool’ lyrics has made some songs meaningless at best and suspect theology at worst.
Another household name in praise and worship has said that songwriters need to sit at the feet of prophets. This is very true. In fact, lyrics need to be drawn from the prophetic voice of what is being preached. Songwriting is not the monopoly of the musicians. They can put music to better lyrics.
Musical ability is not an automatic ‘pass’ to be involved in corporate expression of worship. Musical skill needs to be submitted to those who discern the corporate spirit in the meeting.
New layouts need to be pioneered.
Ministry has little or nothing to do with being ‘on stage.’ The ‘rock concert’ style has stymied the Spirit in the congregation.
We need a return to grassroots worship. The leaders of the early Charismatic movement (in the 70s and 80s) seemed to understand that they were there to facilitate the main worshippers—the people.
Dare I say, we need a return to (oh horror!) ‘folk worship.’ I don’t need ‘fiddle-de-dee’ style of music. What I mean by ‘folk singing’ is music and songs that are ‘owned’ by the people and that are not so lyrically obscure and musically complex that non-musicians are not able to join them or even sing them in house meetings etc.
‘Folk music’ is rooted in the culture of the people and is not limited to a few experts. That is what I mean by ‘folk worship.’
Praise and worship needs to be for the ‘common person’—easily picked up, easily learned by heart.
Constantly moving on to write new stuff, and abandoning the old, is misplaced. It is not necessarily about the latest song. This is the culture of ‘the charts.’ There is no such thing as ‘the charts’ in the Kingdom of God. It is about what brings the anointing.
Why are all worship bands set up like rock bands with the same instruments?
Why do we not experiment with different band set-ups?
What about hymns? Why do we not sing them? Who really cares if there are a few ‘thees’ and ‘thous.’ Don’t insult people’s intelligence; they still get the gist of what it’s about, even with a few ‘thees’ and ‘thous.’ In my experience, the singing of hymns is almost always greeted with a lot of joy and enthusiasm by everyone. People love to sing hymns. Again, the issue is whether it brings the tangible presence or not.
Charles Wesley wrote thousands of hymns as a way of teaching theological concepts to the illiterate and non-reading population. We are in a similar culture today. People don’t read as much. Think of hymns as a Twitter posting set to music.
Songwriters need to put theology into a singable form. We need new hymns.
What about antiphonal singing? Why don’t we try that more?
What about non-Western styles of music?
Why do some worship leaders and bands get off on their own passion and enthusiasm and then the people in the congregation become wearied? The self-indulgence of some worship leaders only wearies the people and uses up all the faith and the corporate anointing in the meeting.
Here are some suggestions:
Ditch the spotlights and fancy lighting rigs.
Ditch the videos and multimedia presentations.
There is nothing wrong with spotlights and video, in and of themselves, but corporate worship is a different animal entirely than a gig or a concert.
I am not trying to drive some sort of religious agenda, or force a sacred-secular split here. Anyone who knows me knows that a big part of who I am is about destroying the sacred-secular divide. But we need to understand something...
There is almost nothing in common with a concert and the concept of corporate worship in the Body of Christ. To put it simply, these are different genres. If leadership understands this it will be very good for the health of the Church.
Strip it back down to simplicity.
There is too much of a disconnect between the musicians and the people. The sound of the human voice of the congregation is a more important instrument than the lead guitar.
Close up the chasm between the stage and the floor. In corporate worship as it is meant to be, the floor is the stage.
Don’t spend big money on PA and sound equipment.
Sound teams may not like this, but they have to be able to fit in with a new setup. There are plenty of music events that are not set up like the Western style of rock concert. Learn from them and make adjustments accordingly.
An anointed minister that I know says that it is not what we have to do to increase the anointing. The anointing does not increase by doing more. Rather, if we want to increase the anointing we need to stop doing things. This applies to worship leaders as much as preachers. The anointing is blocked because of overdoing it. It is not that we need to do more; we need to do less. Stripping back will increase anointing more than adding things in. Go for simplicity rather than complexity, de-clutter the music and the songs to give the Spirit room to manouvre.
Worship leaders have a misconception that if they get passionately lost in worshipping God then the congregation will follow them in the same thing. Not necessarily true! I remember watching a very well-known worship leader and judging him because he kept his eyes open and did not appear to be entering into passionate worship. I was wrong. He was watching and discerning where the congregation were at. He rightly knew (and I didn’t know back then) that it was more important to facilitate the people.
As a worship leader, you are not disconnected from the body of the people. You are one of the congregation.
Why do worship leaders assume that the Body of Christ even needs to be led into the presence of God?
The role of ‘worship leader’ makes an assumption that the people need to be helped to enter the presence of God. This is an old paradigm and an outmoded way of seeing things.
I don’t believe it is meant to be the responsibility of the worship leader to lead people into the presence of God.
If you have this idea, and see it as your function to lead a somewhat reluctant people into God’s presence, consider this...
There are people in your audience who are more mature worshippers than you are. The only difference between you and them is that they don't have a good singing voice and can’t play a guitar or a keyboard.
There are people in your audience who enter very easily into the presence of God and who are already in it before you play or strum your first chord.
There are people in your audience who do not need to enter the presence of God because they are constantly aware of the presence of God within them and all around them.
Shock of all shocks, it may be that little old lady who can only warble out of tune, but she is a more advanced worshipper than the band on stage.
The worship leader does not need to go ahead of the Body; it doesn’t work that way. Maybe for some it needs to be this way, but a time is coming—and now is—when a different function will be needed.
The function of a worship leader in the new paradigm will be to musically serve what is coming forth from the body.
Is there anyone out there who resonates with this?
Anyone who is skilled at playing an instrument and singing but realises that the Body is the temple of God?
Is there anyone who has music in their head but cannot play an instrument or write music?
Anyone who is receiving lyrics of songs and hymns?
Is there anyone who has died and given up? Resurrection awaits you!
There is no genuine calling prior to death. The paradoxical thing about calling and ministry is this: you need to have a sense of calling, and then you need to die to that sense of calling so that it no longer means anything to you and you don’t care if you ever fulfil it or not. That’s the strange truth about it. You are called, for many years you feel called, then you go through frustration because you cannot enter the calling, then you give up hope and die and become happily resigned to not having any calling, and ONLY THEN you are ready to enter the calling.
If you are grieving your calling then you are still alive to it. If you cherish your gift more than people, more than having a heart of love, more than life, then you are not really ready for truly effective ministry. If you are still hurt and disappointed about ministry, you are still hoping for it.
Moses died to his ability and desire to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. His passion had only produced a dead Egyptian and the scorn of the Hebrews. Life conspired to make him forget about being the great Liberator of the Hebrews.
It is when you joyfully resign yourself to a life fully free of ministry (as it is currently understood to look like) that you know you have died to it. Only then can God resurrect it if He chooses to. When that happens you won’t really care about whether you do ministry or not; you just do as God opens up the opportunities. You can take it or leave it.
The Body of Christ has unwittingly handed worship over to the ‘musos,’ (musicians, sound engineers etc.) Many pastors delegate this whole area away from themselves. But corporate worship is not the sole domain of those who have musical and technical ability. In some way, that I do not fully know, the musicians need to be under the leadership of the people, the congregation.
Musicians and leaders of corporate worship need to be able to read the atmosphere of the gathered people. They need to be able to discern the ‘corporate spirit.’ In other words, how the Holy Spirit is expressing Himself through the gathered group.
The spirit of the Body is different from the spirit of the individual.
The Holy Spirit has a way of expressing Himself within the group that differs from just the expression of the Holy Spirit in the individual.
The spirit of the Body is the melding and the synthesis of every individual spirit in the meeting.
When worship leaders are not aware of this, there is a disruption in the synthesis and in the expression of the spirit of the Body. When the Body is not participating and becomes a passive audience, the spirit of sweetness in worship dissipates and the level of faith drops.
What musicians need to realise is that the ‘worship band’ is everybody in the room. The whole congregation are the vocalists. Maybe the congregation should bring some instruments to the meeting, even if they do not connect them to the PA.
Would it be chaotic? Maybe not. The Body of Christ is much more intelligent than many leaders give it credit for.
Have you ever approached a junction where the traffic lights have stopped working?Motorists work out how to give way to each other. Contrary to what we presume, there are less accidents because most motorists synchronise with others.
I adjure worship leaders; Open your eyes and look!
Get down off the stage. Abandon the stage and get down to the same level as the people!
Get the ‘band’ in the middle of the room and have the people gather around. Or put the band at the edge of the congregation or even mingled throughout the congregation. It can be done; I have seen it done. I have seen musicians at the back of the room behind the people; the singing was fantastic!
I have been in meetings where the musicians served the leadership of the people, and the freedom and anointing was wonderful.
I'm sure you will agree that the video I put at the top of this post is amazing! It's called a 'murmuration.' I put it on this post because it portrays the 'spirit of the body.' It shows a corporate harmony, moving in, to coin a term from C S Lewis, a 'great dance'
When I lived in Belfast, I would see this often as the days grew cold and the nights came early. Flocks of starlings about to fly south to warmer climes.
This is a number of individuals, but they form one whole. They have a uniting spirit, making them a whole. Though they are many they are one body.
Nature teaches us. We would be well advised to learn from nature. Nature teaches us the art of harmony; harmony with God and with others.
Forgive the obvious repeating myself, but maybe I need to. It is a 'rant' after all. A 'rant' with a smile and a light heart.
Obviously, people will disagree with what I have written. I expect to be passionately disagreed with. I also expect to be misunderstood. I am fine with that. I have no interest in changing that. If you are satisfied and happy that’s good.
But if you are frustrated, bored, longing for something different, maybe we can explore together, discuss our questions and begin to experiment with a different way of doing things.