Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2 dimensional worship?

"In company with a number of churches singing contemporary songs, the focus is either on the praise and adoration of God, or the call to participate in his mission. There is little written to nurture the community life of the local Church, or promote belonging to the wider body of Christ.

In theological terms, the call to be holy and apostolic is evident, but the call to be one and to be catholic is lamentable.

The songs that are written and become popular are driven by album sales: they rarely come out of local creativity and a local church story. So sometimes they don't fit. Most are written for big bands and front-led performance with electronic amplification that makes the necessity for congregations to sing up superfluous.... the verbal style is excessively individualistic, and there is little that builds the sense of communal and corporate. The language and tone in many songs seems to appeal more to women than to men.

Here is a challenge for many fresh expressions.... the biggest platforms don't show how to be small Church, just as cathedrals are unhelpful models for village parishes."

so writes George Lings, in 'Across a Threshold', the latest Encounters on the Edge booklet from the Church Army on mission and fresh expressions. Highlighted bit mine.

I thought this was worth quoting at length, as it's a challenge I can recognise. I'm also wondering, with our cafe service and Messy Church drawing a lot of people who aren't regular churchgoers, whether there's any mileage in trying to rewrite the words of tunes they'll know from the secular charts. The danger is that if you do it badly, it's even more unsingable than the worst 'I love you Jesus and I want to give you a big slobbery wet kiss' kind of choruses. Wonder if we can do something with that Robbie Williams song?

The other challenge we face is how to develop our cafe service congregation from consumers of the 'product' (which is normally put together by a committed team from the church), to a community where people are part of what's going on, contribute to it, and shape it. Most succesful thing by far has been nothing to do with sung worship: giving everyone a fiver to multiply into funds for a school in a Kenyan slum. It's not just song lyrics that need attention, it's the whole way we frame and practice discipleship.


  1. I thought worship songs were supposed to put "the focus is ... on the praise and adoration of God". Am I being naive? Aren't we suppose to worship God, and only secondarily promote a sense of community? I agree that songs shouldn't be too individualistic. But I do have a real problem with the suggestion that the focus of our worship should be on the church rather than on God.

    And the same with our discipleship. By all means raise money for a school in Kenya, but don't make social action the focus to the exclusion of God.

  2. There are plenty of Biblical worship songs which are about community identity - written in the plural, and reminding Israel of who they are and who God is. A diet of worship songs which suggest that the only relationship that matters is that between me and God is deficient.

    Point taken on discipleship - the cafe service is something we constantly think and pray about, as to how to make progress with a group of 30-50 people, of all ages, who just come to this service once a month and nothing else. The challenge is about how we move from 'attending' to belonging, and find concrete and challenging ways for people to practice the Christian life - even before they've fully committed to it. It's very early days, so we're very much working it out as we go along!