I went to a Christian bookstore, aka “marketplace” yesterday and browsed through the CDs. Honestly, I shouldn’t be doing stuff like that, it gets my cynicism levels up like an overzealous spike of cholesterol levels. CD after CD flaunted titles like “today’s best” worship and “ultimate worship”. Because after all, selecting worship music is all about us. Told you I was cynical. Worship industry. Bah. I think I saw everything but purpose-driven worship. Now, I can’t stand anything that even has a whiff of the commercialization of spirituality, and that’s why I need to stay out of most of these stores as much as I can.

Anyway. I’ve recently been reading some people’s thoughts on worship. Yeah, I know, I don’t equate worship with music, but you know what I mean.

First off, there’s the question of how christian musicians are treated, which is sometimes more than a little pathetic, as Fernando Gros discussed last week.

If we want better music in our churches, we need to encourage the spirituality of our musicians and develop less coercive relationships with othem. We can start by recognising the sacrifice musicians make to develop their craft and the financial opportunities they forgo to provide music within church settings. We could drop the language of gift and recognise that music is , more than anything, a craft and a skill. We would do well to encourage our musicians in their spiritual journey, recognising that at times playing music in church may be in conflict with what they need for their spiritual development. We have to recognise that musicians not only need to play outside church for their creative development but that in doing so they create a fantastic opportunity to be missional through their profession.

He’s promised to follow up with an exploration of “some ways to better understand the role of theological content in worship and worship songs.”

Good thing, too… we need better theology in some of the songs we sing. In fact, a few of them could use any amount of theology, which would be an improvement. I’m quite glad to see a trend gaining steam with a lot of the current crop of worship leaders, the infusion of traditional hymns into their repertoire. It’s a good alternative to something else I was reading last week, from an interview with Michael Frost.

I write about this stuff as a disempowered critic. I have no ability to change it myself because I can’t write music or play an instrument. But I’m getting tired of singing love songs to Jesus-my-boyfriend. And frankly I feel silly when I have to sing songs so sentimental and cloying they could have been written for a 1990s boy band….
….it’s not singing that I don’t like. It’s the kind of singing that I’m expected to engage in. As much as this romanticising of worship bothers me, even more disturbing is the recent trend of singing worship songs in which I have to pledge my unfaltering devotion and service to him. You know, the ‘Jesus, I will never let you go…’ type song. In these songs I have to declare that I will follow him to the ends of the earth and that I will praise him all my days. In one sense, there’s nothing wrong with making such promises to God. The Psalmist does so on occasion. But frankly, I’m so much more comfortable with singing about the fact that Jesus has promised that he will never let me go. My promises seem hollow and unreliable. It’s God’s promises to me in Christ that are solid, reliable and unfaltering.

Frost nails it. Maybe this is part of the feminization of church that’s being talked about lately. Adam Cleaveland picks up the theme too, taking Craig Musseau to task for “Arms of Love.”

If there is any song that perpetuates the “Jesus is my boyfriend”-gospel, this song would be it. Singing a cute little love song to Jesus? Oh my loving Jesus – my precious (I couldn’t get Gollum’s voice out of the back of my head during this song). And of course, there is no place I’d rather be – I want to be in your arms Jesus – I want you holding me close, holding me near…oh to feel your touch Jesus. Oh to feel your arms of love…

Good old Cleave. He caps it off with a link to The CCM Patrol, “where christian music is allowed to get bad reviews. Really bad reviews.” Oh man, can I ever relate to this blog’s byline.

“Ultimate worship?” Give it up, that’s “industry” talk. Ultimately, you just worship, and I hope that the years ahead in the very near future will produce music to facilitate this, music that’s weighty… well-written, well-performed, and well-produced. Oh, and modestly-marketed at most.

Better still is the realization of what true worship looks like, and apparently it’s not an event. Fred Peatross posts Sally Morgenthaler’s views on the subject… one she’s written on in the past. He says she “has come to the conclusion that worship is not an event that will connect the believer with the missing.” He quotes her,

We have come to realize that it is time to move on. Sacramentis still believes strongly that corporate worship is central to the life and vitality of the Church. But we have become convinced that the primary meeting place with our unchurched friends is now outside the church building. Worship must finally become, as Paul reminds us, more life than event.

Excellently done. We can flesh this out by going to the source of the quote, Sally’s Sacramentis website for further (brief) info. Sacramentis, for those who don’t know, sums up it’s role up to now in this way:

Sacramentis has been a pioneer site on worship and culture for seven years. From the beginning, it has been a gathering spot for the best worship resources available. Sacramentis has also been a place where church leaders could go deeper into what classic Christian worship is and does, and where they could re-imagine worship for communities where church-going is no longer the norm.

They’re winding that all up and moving on… Fred has already quoted part of that explanation, but we might add the paragraph which follows after the one he quotes:

To this end, Sally Morgenthaler and the rest of the Sacramentis team will be focusing on the radically different kind of leadership it will take to transform our congregations from destinations to conversations, from services to service, and from organization to organism.

Now that’s exciting… and note how it’s turning missional, which brings us back to something Fernando was saying. And, of course, it catches my attention. Worship is not flocking into a building and singing about Jesus our boyfriend. It has much more to do with taking the majesty of God with us into everyday life. And above all else, it’s so much more about who God is than how we feel about it.

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