Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A story about God

Different topic than planned, but I think the interests and talents of many of the regular readers of eleven makes this very relevant.
Some background... My friend just started taking over the worship leading responsibilities at his church. While he isn't the actual singing "leader" due to his position on stage and his role, his gift for ideas and persuasion have him at the forefront of the decision making processes. He grew up in this church, and watched it slowly die like so many other denominational churches have done in recent years. It was ineffective in its approach to almost all aspects of how to "do church" and was slowly reverting back to the stuck-in-the-mud traditional roadblocks that it had rebelled against many years before. Skip ahead to last year and a new pastor with his Faith firmly planted in scripture and a vision for the future. He denounced old traditions that had become more important than God. He lost members, but gained even more. My friend attended a service during that upheaval and felt God's strong urging to return to the church, which he did.

One of the last items that had yet to be revamped was the worship part of their Sunday morning services. They were still doing three hymns with a piano and organ. (Please hear me that hymns vs. chorus songs and piano/organ vs. guitars is not my point.) Through maybe divine intervention, the organ player left the church due to (her words,) "...all those hooligan teenagers sitting in the front row every Sunday!" I know some pastors out there that would love a bunch of teenagers in their church. But I digress.

The piano player is one of the most talented people I have ever heard play the instrument, and has a heart to match. When the pastor suggested a guitar, some drums, maybe a bass, to play with her, she jumped at the idea. So my friend, his amazingly gifted 21 year old cousin, another guy, the pianist, and a lady worship leader sat down to brainstorm. They discovered one thing about the songs the church had been using, none of them were being sung to our Creator. All the songs were about Him, what He did, where He was, things He'd done. Or the songs were about where the people were, what they believed, where they'd been. The group decided to do songs that weren't horizontal songs, but vertical songs. Songs sung to Jesus. Praises sung directly to God. Thanksgiving songs that when dissected could be best described as a conversation between God and me.

The result? The first week, and every week since they began this approach, the service was alive and on fire. The spirit of God moved into the building during their worship time, lives were changed, the wonderful Grace of God filled the place in response to the congregation's request to talk to their Savior. The direction and focus of their songs had changed, and the results were obvious. Then last week, the worship leader informed the group that some people had been complaining the old songs were gone. The strange part was they were still doing some old traditional hymns, just not the ones they were used to. So the complaints weren't about the loss of old hymns, they were about the loss of non-intimate, story type songs. As if falling into an old rut, she decided to go back to some old standbys. This pissed my friend off really bad. Why were they bending to the horizontal again? Was their real mission as worship leaders to please the masses getting their weekly God-fix or was their job to lead the people to the throne of God?

I was 100% on board with my friend's complaint until he showed me one of the songs she suggested. I may as well have been slapped in the face. It was a song I really like. I like to sing it, and it has great meaning. But he was right. It wasn't vertical at all. The song...
We are standing on Holy ground.
And I know that there are Angels all around.
Let us praise Jesus now.
We are standing in His presence on Holy Ground.

Do you know it? Good song, right? But what is it? It's a story out of the Bible. Sure, we can be thankful that such an amazing thing happened, but why aren't we telling Him about it and not each other. We may as well sing a song like...
Jesus fed the five thousand.
He fed them with only a little bread and some raw fish.
They even had some leftover.
We should sing about how good He is.

Or, how about...
David killed all the Philistines.
God helped him swing his sword.
All the women and children are fatherless.
Let's get together and sing about how God helped us.

As a worship leader, you have so very little time each week to get your congregation into an intimate time with their God, why would you waste it on story telling and not leading them in a one-on-one conversation with Him? Is there a place for songs that we sing to each other about how good God is? If so, where is that place and how much? And are they more, or even equally, important as the songs we sing straight to God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit? I know a lot of you are either now, or have been, worship leaders. Please share your thoughts and opinions and stories and put legs to these ideas.


Blogger Adrienne said...

Okay, first of all, you really should introduce your David and the Philistine song to the church, particularly, the children's Sunday school. I think it would be a huge hit. I'd really like to some dance choreographed with that!

Secondly, the praise songs, or veritical songs are powerful and important. We need those direct dialouges with God. But, what's wrong with reminding ourselves, and others, about the amazing gifts we've been given or the miracles we've seen? I think, songs like that are encouragement and a reminder of why we are telling God how much we love Him and praise Him. And why we trust Him and rely on Him.

I have no music backgroundd, but that's just what I think. And as far as which is more important? I'd have to say different songs, different days will minister in different ways and have different benefits. There's never going to be a standard one-size-fits-all.

Hey, how about a song about leprosy or something?

12:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree that we need both types of songs in a church service. Praise and worship, because they really are 2 very different things. We need to be reminded of what God has done for us and we need to worship Him in thanks and love for what He is to us personally in the everyday relationship that we share with Him.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Sweet Peripety said...

I have lots to say but I'll probably blog about it later. I got to rest! :-)

But, I am a mixed song kinda girl...but I could fit in to either service..all mainstream contemporary or all hymns.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

hmm... ill have to think about this one

12:00 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

I almost posted a huge response on here. I posted a new blog instead, so you can read my response there.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Steve F. said...

So here's a freebie - I found this one on the web quite by accident. The 2nd verse came to me from our youth group's responses to the first verse. I've had a lot of fun with this:

The Fish On Our Cars
author: unknown poster to rec.music.christian

(sung to the music of "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love")

There's a fish on my Honda
There's a fish on your Ford
With my fish I can tell the world I'm driving for the Lord
Let them see how God has blessed me by the car I can afford
And they'll know we are Christians by the fish on our cars
Yes they'll know we are Christians by our cars

source: http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/~af883/kwotes/songs.html

Now if you believe that's how it is
I'm awf'ly sad for you
'Cause Christ tells us of another way
And we know that way is true
And if the world will see the truth, my friends,
It's up to me and you
(much slower)
'Cause they'll never see our Savior
On the back of our SUV –
No, they'll only see God's saving love
By seeing you and me.

(sing it with us…)

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord...

12:15 AM  
Blogger Steve F. said...

OK, so that comment was just for fun - although, if done right, it's a humorous and touching way to refocus from materialism to what we are called to do and be.

But back to the heart of the topic... any time you are changing worship styles, there is a sense of loss. Those "old hymns" were part of what the congregation understood to be "holy," to be present as a community with God. It's the form of the cross - vertically, us with God, and horizontally, us with each other.

If God didn't want us to celebrate being together as His kids, why would He command us to love Him first, and love each other second?

Interestingly enough, I've always understood that song "Holy Ground" to be a praise song, a "vertical" song. (An oldie - one of the first, to be sure - but a praise song nonetheless.) To me, it says that wherever the Body gathers - in a church, or on a hillside, or in a public park, or in a stadium - that place then becomes "holy ground" precisely because when we gather, we do so to "praise Jesus now." That "ground" is "holy" because of God's presence - not because of what we've built or done to the ground (or even what we sing while we're standing on it...) :-)

Just some gentle thoughts about that song in particular, and "those songs" in general. Perhaps it will help you see things a wee bit differently.

There are two (well, at least 2) dangers in these situations where we are changing traditions in worship. One is to make the declaration (spoken or unspoken) that "old = bad, good = new." Another is to decide (or even imply) that there is one right kind of song to sing... or one way to pray, or any other kind of thing.

There's a danger in saying, "Oh, if you're not lifting your hands to God, you aren't really praising God correctly." (You can laugh - but I experienced that very thing in 2 different churches I visited! People actually doubted my faith because I wasn't raising my hands during the praise songs....)

A dear friend gave me a powerful gift when he prayed, "God, not every song we sing can be a new song. But we can sing an old song with a new voice, and a new heart. Remind us that no matter what we sing, we sing to you. Amen."

There's one other thing to watch out for - you said it here:
As a worship leader, you have so very little time each week to get your congregation into an intimate time with their God...

I understand that thought. I've had it myself, as a worship leader. But the danger in that thought is the underlying concept that I am doing this. I am responsible for whether the Spirit descends on this congregation. I have to get people's hearts and minds focused on God.

I've seen too many worship leaders - loving, caring, committed folks - destroyed by this. Because at best, it's 90% Holy Spirit, 10% us. Worship leaders invite, encourage, and direct - by words, prayer, and song. I know that you know this - but it's a gentle reminder that it's not all on you...

The very fact that you're wrestling with this shows your love for both God and your faith community. If I could encourage you to do anything, it's to remember both of those loves. It's not either black or white; God gave us the rainbow after the flood as a sign of hope.

Thanks for leading me to reflect on this.

7:39 AM  

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