Education and Expression

How many songs do you know off by heart?  It’s staggering to think of how many songs you know know all the lyrics of and how quickly you recall a song even if you haven’t heard it for years! A friend of mine in my small group recently managed to sing the 2010 Norwegian Eurovision song contest entry from memory – a feat that is as astonishing as it is tragic, but I digress. Songs are generally more memorable than sermons.

If you want to know the theology of a church, look at the songs they sing. Songs have come play an important role in worshipping together. Maybe the musical elements of gathered worship have taken too much of a prominent position in recent times but nevertheless singing is a great corporate act. Therefore, what we sing about is just as important as how we sing. This is the balance of the content of our material and the engagement.

As a worship leader and a writer of material for use in churches to aid worship, I believe there is a responsibility in my role to provide art that educates and expresses.

The old hymns are loaded with weighty theological statements written in a poetic language that is crafted to lodge in your brain – Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail! the incarnate Deity. They were educational tools. Often a pastor or minister would write his sermon for the week, and then encapsulate the major themes into song form to help the congregation remember his point.

Times have changed, but the fact remains that people learn songs faster than they memorise sermons. To the songwriters out there: What if the latest three minute masterpiece you are working on is the only ‘spiritual input’ a person hears this week? It’s a massive responsibility. In this culture of soundbites and snapshots, what are you actually saying through the lyrics your audience will be singing in the shower?

It is often said of current ‘worship songs’ that “worship songs must be born out of a place of worship”. The latest crop of songs are designed to express emotion and experience rather than impress these grand statements on one’s heart and mind.

For example, a recent song has the lyric ‘we welcome you with praise, almighty God of love, be welcomed in this place’. It has a decent tune, it’s catchy, it’s poetic welcoming God…

Is it helpful? What kind of theology does it promote?

For us to welcome God implies God has only just arrived and was therefore, at a previous point, not with us. Does this fit with an understanding of God’s omnipresence? No. If there is an understanding that the church is the house of God, or even that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’, why are we singing that he is welcome? Of course he is welcome, it’s his house! I wouldn’t come to your home and, as you open the door, begin welcoming you to your home. It makes no sense.

It’s a good song, its poetic but it’s probably not helpful in teaching people about a God who by his Spirit dwells in us and with us always. Poetry can be brilliantly employed to express our faith. In fact the Bible is laden with poetic metaphors of God’s character, and God himself is happy to limit himself to be known by those metaphors as we gradually get to know him more. But there is a need to express and educate through that creative process so that we can genuinely worship in Spirit, expressing our love and devotion and faith to God, and truth. Let’s not water down the incredible message of Jesus for the sake of catchy tunes and cheap lyrics.

Next up: Pioneering and Pastoral

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