O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Annoyed by Worship: Solutions

Yesterday we had a good discussion about some of the limitations of worship — or at least the modern worship movement, even though it defines worship too narrowly as “the singing part of a church service.”

And there are a lot of limitations, from vapid songwriting to theological confusion to an over-reliance on psychological/emotional touchstones like key changes, crescendos, and tempos.


I’ll readily admit to not being much of a problem-solver. I like to ask questions no one’s asking, stir the pot a little, and then let the discussion happen without getting too involved. That approach has its own problems, I know. But that’s always been my fleshly thorn: too many questions, and not enough answers. Also, too many chocolate chip cookies, and not enough celery. But that’s another blog post.

Let’s consider the annoyances mentioned yesterday in both the blog post and the comments and discuss what — if anything — can be done to fix them. It’s not as simple as saying “We need to return to the ancient hymns,” because some of those are just as goofy or inauthentic-sounding as any others. (I can’t sing “There is a fountain filled with blood…” without going all Stephen King in the theater of my mind.)



How do we worship, then, if we hate the songs?

How do we worship authentically if singing certain lyrics makes us feel fake?

How do we worship if the forms of worship — the music, the outward expressions, our own hang-ups — distract us?

How do we re-educate the churchgoing population on the purpose and definition of worship?

How do we worship if we’re questioning the purpose of worship in the first place? Can worship occur amidst the struggle to believe?


Now that we’ve complained about it, let’s offer some solutions. Let’s keep the discussion going. Your turn…

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posted November 5, 2009 at 8:43 am

Well, it would help first of all if we could stop limiting worship to the singing part of a service. I like music, sure, but music is not what connects me to God. Frankly, I'm suspicious of all the (in my eyes) manipulative practices in these musical portions of a service. For me, worship is what I do when the going gets rough, when I don't feel it. It's easy enough to feel the grandeur of God when standing on a mountain top looking at a beautiful sunset. What makes it real is when I feel that in an urban environment, or sitting on my own couch, or on my way to work. It's easy to give yourself to God when the music starts swelling and your friends are doing it too. What makes it real is when you're still committed in the middle of your school cafeteria, when there is no music and you're sitting with secular friends and someone asks about God. (this is where my preference for hymns comes in – the music is less manipulative and so I can enjoy the physical act of singing, plus the feeling it gives me that I belong to a community.)Personally, I struggle with my faith a lot. Why would Christianity be right and all those other religions wrong? Does God really answer prayers, does he interfere in daily lives? What is the meaning of the Bible, how can I find its truth when I all can see in it is cultural preoccupations? Knowing that the writers of the Gospels edited their work makes it hard for me to be able to say, "Jesus said so-and-so". How can I believe in God's love when I see so much hatred and petty hypocrisy in Christian communities? Singing songs about his love is not my way to worship. I worship by getting up on Sunday mornings, even when I'm tired, even when I don't feel like it, even when I'm afraid I'll have to sit alone at church and look like a friendless idiot, even when I feel alienated because of past experiences in the church. I go to church, I participate, and sometimes I can put those doubts to rest and know that even if I don't know how or when or why, God exists. Worship for me is when I sit in those pews on Sunday morning and try to trust him. So, to end this excessive comment, I'd say the first step to getting rid of some of the limitations of worship is to stop limiting the act of worship.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 9:00 am

Good questions.I can only answer your last one: can worship happen while we're struggling with all these things? For me, yes. I spend a good chunk of the "woship" (ie, singy) part of the service being distracted, feeling fake, wondering if I should be raising my hands, trying to figure out what the song is really trying to say, etc. Then comes the guilt – why can't I just worship the way I did when I was younger? I just did it. No questioning, no struggling, no being annoyed and distracted by mundanities.This is when I know God is with me. Because I finally feel authentic. I feel human, small, fallible, and in need. That's what I take to him, and that's when he meets me.Even if the songs are just background music to all this inner turmoil, it doesn't matter. The important thing is: God will meet you there.

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Bryan Allain

posted November 5, 2009 at 9:28 am

i have NO IDEA if this would work, but I always thought it would be interesting to mix up different styles of worship music now and again to keep the congregation on their toes.if you think it's a problem that most modern congregations equate hype music, key changes, and great beats with worshiping God, then take that stuff away.What if we walked into church one morning and it was just a guy and an acoustic singing some older hymns. And then the next week instead of 4 songs there was 2 songs, a poetry reading, and scripture reading. and then the week after that we all wrote letters to missionaries to encourage them during the normal "praise music" time.things like that might challenge the congregation to see that worshiping God in song and with our voices can take many forms?

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Barry Leathers

posted November 5, 2009 at 9:58 am

This will always be an issue as long as music is a part of a worship service. Ask 10 people to rate the music set at your church this Sunday, and you'll get 10 different responses. Music is emotionally driven, and we must recognize and deal with it as such – but it doesn't stop there…Ask 10 people to rate the message or sermon, or to rate the video you used, or the backdrop. The problem that needs to be addressed is our approach to corporate worship. We must understand there will be aspects we enjoy, and others that we don't. THAT'S OKAY! We need to appreciate the diversity. Maybe there's a song you don't care for, but that same song might be changing someone's life while you're complaining about it.All that to say, still anxious to know the first song I'll hear in heaven – wonder if I'll like the melody?

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Best Jeff Ever

posted November 5, 2009 at 10:32 am

Bryan, I think you are on to something… I can speak a little from my own experience. My wife and went from the largest church in town with a talented and well practiced worship team to the smallest church in town with one talented old man who had an affinity for old hymns and southern praise songs full of train references.The dramatic change in the worship style is jarring and awkward. And I was never, ever able to "lose myself" in the music, so I would generally just stand there watching this old man play his guitar and sing his heart out. On the occasion that I was able to still my mind and "be there" there was a part of me that was joining his expression, even if it wasn't outward. AND I still had my mental faculties to enjoy the meaning of the words instead of just the feel of the music.BUT, I still think that we shouldn't dismiss the manufactured musical cues that give you goosebumps. Is it just the music that you are getting carried away in? Yes, probably. Does that mean there is no value in that? I would argue that there is value in it. I would suggest that getting carried away allows us to relax and drop some of the defenses we use to cope in the modern world. I know for me it can be easier to reflect on myself honestly during a sermon if I've had goosebumps during worship. Did God do that? I think so, through the gift of key and tempo changes. My position is that we should be wise about "modern" worship music and know it for what it is… but we there's no reason to throw it out entirely.

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Angelia Sparrow

posted November 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm

I'm out of the faith, but I left just as praise songs were becoming really popular. I was old-school Methodist. 3 hymns, an anthem and a sermon. A closer and we're outta here. I loathed them in church. They're fine for church camp, but not formal enough or deep enough for Sunday morning. The self-hypnosis aspect always made me cringe. Repeating the same words over and over and over…Now, I find myself with the same problem when I have to lead a circle. Chanting. Oh dear. Praise songs with fewer notes and less gushy boyfriend stuff. Anyway, I'm with Bryan, mix it up. Try something a little different. And quit calling it "worship" in the bulletin or hand out. Call the whole service worship. My two cents, for what they are worth.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 1:36 pm

At risk of over-simplifying a huge concept, I'm going to skip out on this worship theology conversation. Seriously, many books have been written on this topic. Many.I did, however, want to chip in with a comment I've been thinking about since yesterday. Jason, I think drumming could be the corporate worship expression God meant for you to have – in David's tabernacle some guys were assigned to play the loud cymbals and that's it! I teach a spiritual formation class and open the entire discussion with Gary Thomas' book SACRED PATHWAYS. It describes 9 spiritual temperaments and how we should use our strengths and desires to connect with God in ways that make sense to us. Obviously those will not be the same for everyone. Then we can also use our understanding of other temperaments to help us understand why some people get so much out of a form of worship that leaves us cold. Also, just as a practical tip, anytime the corporate song is not to our liking, we are free to "go off script" and engage with God on a more personal level.

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Harry-Rami Itie

posted November 5, 2009 at 1:36 pm

How do we worship, then, if we hate the songs? I guess you keep quite and begin to pray to God in your mind till the song is over.How do we worship authentically if singing certain lyrics makes us feel fake? Same as aboveHow do we worship if the forms of worship — the music, the outward expressions, our own hang-ups — distract us? Close your eyes and focus on HimHow do we re-educate the churchgoing population on the purpose and definition of worship? Simple. Let them know that as Believers we are called to worship God EVERYDAY of our lives in EVERYTHING!How do we worship if we're questioning the purpose of worship in the first place? Can worship occur amidst the struggle to believe? True worship occurs when there is a deep understanding of who God is…Hope I answered them questions…

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Tess Mallory

posted November 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm

I think the drumming suggestion is a great idea! Having the church use percussion instruments allows the people to participate in a rhythmic, musical kind of worship, but doesn't tie up their minds with lyrics that they don't know. If each person was able to worship God with their hearts, and not just through someone else's words, perhaps it would enable them to truly feel the presence of God. Having been a "worship leader" and also someone who once aspired to write Christian music. (Okay I still write it, but have no idea what to do with it!) I am beginning to feel that music with lyrics may belong in our CD players when we are alone and can choose music that makes us feel closer to God and allows us to have a time of personal worship. Music evokes so many different kinds of emotions, and we each have our own individual likes and dislikes, so in a "worship setting" that can become distracting from the true worship of God. Maybe that's why the folks in the Old Testament had tamborines and drums and they also DANCED! Yeah, let's talk about dancing. That's a kind of worship that has truly been eradicated from our worship experience. Young people doing a "flag" exercise at the front of the church is not worship dancing. A choreographed presentation of modestly covered young women is not worship dancing. To worship in dance is to lose yourself in the beauty and glory of God, and the truth is the modern Christian is scared to death of such a phenomenon, more's the pity. But back to music – Music is an emotional catalyst for Christians and Non-Christians alike, partly because of the music itself, but also largely because of the words. If a worship song is well written, flowing, and touches something in my heart, then I find I can really worship. If it's an awkward song, or I don't like the tune, or I can't relate, then it limits my worship. But is that because it truly does, or because I allow it to? Hmmm. Back to the drumming idea — What would happen if everyone had a shaker, a drum, a tambourine, some kind of instrument, and closed their eyes and the "leader" started a rhythm and everyone truly worshipped God and allowed his Spirit to fill them and create a Joyfu noise? What if we didn't have to think about anything but the glory of God while we were worshipping through simple "sound"? What if we could just let go in "corporate worship" (hate that term) and WORSHIP? It would be so Divine.Sigh. Now I'm longing for that! :)

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Tess Mallory

posted November 5, 2009 at 3:37 pm

@Harry-Rami Itie –You made some EXCELLENT points!

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Travis Thompson

posted November 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm

I kinda think that since there will always be differences of opinion when it comes to styles of worship (music and other forms of worship) it's a good discipline for us to submit ourselves and be patient with the different styles as we would appreciate others accommodating us in the same way.I go to a church that is very multi generational an the styles of music vary greatly. I think it's great. Even stuff like mushy "boyfriendy" lyrics can be meaningful to some people (though I don't think anything that has questionable theology-which is not rare in today's worship music-should be used). I find that often, even if I never really end up liking a song, I can always find some redeeming value in it if I have the right attitude about it.

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posted November 6, 2009 at 12:13 am

Sorry to hear about your struggle with your faith Saskia. I know it can be hard battle at times.I tend to agree with Felicity. I will start with the corporate worship on a song, but I carry it in my own direction. I might stick with the melody, but the words will be what is in my heart and not just what is being sung by the masses. That is what praise music is. You are praising God for what He has done in your life.Worship itself is an act, so it isn’t limited to music.

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posted November 6, 2009 at 2:19 am

Since I complained, I'd better offer some suggestions. I remember once suggesting that CCM Worship music was a little self-oriented…and I got the response that hymns were like bad sex to today's congregations. At this point I knew things were out of control.1) Encourage multi-generational worship. Discourage separate services for "the youth" and the older attendants. It keeps worship from being about our tastes, and forces the body to work together in their time of worship.2) Change the title of the guy leading music from "Worship Leader" to "Music Leader." S/he is leading the musical aspect of the worship. It may seem small, but it keeps us in check. Also, please make sure they are content leading music and not working out their rock-star fantasies on stage. S/he's not the next Chris Tomlin, they are there to help people glorify their Lord.2a) Avoid worship-leaderisms. Don't shout the next line really fast just before singing it, don't prattle on and on why the next song is so important. Plus, don't act like Bono or Richard Simmons leading worship (i.e. "Come On People of God!!! "One more, You can do it!" "Hello Clevel– I mean Victory Fellowship!")3) Try NOT using music for a week or two, but rather read Scripture or traditional prayers. Use confessional prayers, reading The Book of Common Prayer, pray the Lord's Prayer collectively, say the Apostle's Creed — whatever it takes. If people are going crazy and "can't worship" without music, then it may be an example that our view of worship is unbalanced. 4) Use silence. Don't ask for a silent prayer and then fill the space with a guitar or (worse) singer…use real silence. Ask for people to reflect on Scripture, ask for people to pray silently for the sick…etc. The world tells us that every minute of time must be filled with noise and adrenaline. The church should help us counter that in our worship.5) Reduce the time the music is used. This will help you be a little more selective about the music you choose. It also helps the worship music from feeling like a weekly rock concert that overpowers the rest of the service. The church used to use extensive Scripture readings, creeds, and silent prayer for a reason.None of my suggestions have to do with the contemporary vs. traditional wars. Use both, use neither, I don't care. There are banal songs from today that should never be used again. There are hymns that should have been put out to pasture a century ago. Just work actively about making the music (and the worship in general) less about yourself and less about a handful of people putting on a show for the rest of us.

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posted November 6, 2009 at 1:01 pm

I don't think worship has much to do with us.Worship isn't a personal preference.We can discuss how people limit worship to music all day. It's a huge issue for many people (Christian & non-Christian alike).We can explain how your lifestyle, how you choose to live, either honors God or doesn't and that is real worship.But one question I don't think has been asked yet is if our hearts are in the right place as we discuss worship preference as it pertains to music.1 Timothy 1:5-7 says, "The whole point of what we're urging is simply love — love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God. Those who fail to keep to this point soon wander off into cul-de-sacs of gossip. They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven't the remotest idea of what they're holding forth with such imposing eloquence."As @Bryan Allain pointed out in the comment section of the previous post, there are PLENTY of instances in the Bible where people are praising and worship God by telling Him how awesome and wonderful He is over and over and over. As I think about it, in one of the most recognizable prayers, "The Lord's Prayer", Jesus tells us we should tell God how great He is even when we pray.Specific words, wording, phrasing, etc. make people uncomfortable and may not be true for everyone present in the audience (depending on what kind of church you are in). But it's not about you. It's about God.However, even if we were to be able to sing and speak words that were always comfortable, that wouldn't matter if we were doing it without sincerity.My idea, not about music preference, but about difficulty in being able to worship through music to songs you feel are too mushy or don't apply to you, is to find a way to make it apply to you.Try thinking about what the the theme of the song is, what the song is trying to convey, and tell God, in your own words that you agree with that and genuinely want to offer Him something.Words are only words. It's your heart that makes them worship.

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posted November 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm

There was a second thought I had, lol.All music, like art, is a reflection of what the artist intends, or, as some have called it, manufactured.This is something that has been going on since music/art was discovered/invented.Much like a painter, a musician writes a song to say something, to convey a feeling, to affect emotionally and/or mentally. That's what music is about, be it secular or not.To say that people are manufacturing worship is a misconception. Worship, in the form that pleases God, has little to do with words and music.

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Chris Hill

posted November 25, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Fun conversation. In Genesis 2 Noah built an altar and threw an animal on the fire as a sacrifice (a form of worship) to God. the scripture says God smelled the aroma and was pleased by it. I think there's something there.The aroma of cooking meat would probably have pleased Noah's nose and the scriptures say that God was pleased by it.So….could the sounds that please our ears also please God?If so….as a musician, I should probably practice more.

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posted June 4, 2014 at 8:53 pm

I agree and disagree with you.

First off I will say that I am a singer and song writer and that I love my songs more then anything I have listened to, because I can connect with them.
So my advice is that you sing your own song to The Lord of you can you connect with, instead of someone else’s.
Second I believe actions speak louder then words, so my ultimate worship to God everyday is staying obedient to His Word and loving myself and others.

I do not think it is bad to tell God that you love Him or that you give Him Glory, He is worthy of praise.

I highly doubt that you and every else has has a real encounter with The Lord, this is not your fault it’s the church you attend that wants to water down Christainity. My advice is to go to a real church that operates in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s there you will be amazed and really feel God in a real way.

Last I joined the Catholic Church a few years back and it’s the best decision I ever made, so go check it out and be open minded, a lot of lies have been told about the church that is not true. So please give it a try you won’t regret it.

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