Reformed Worship

500 years ago, On 31st October, a young monk challenged the status quo of the church by pinning his thoughts to the door of a church in Germany. He challenged the principles of the Roman Catholic church, in particular the practice of charging money for absolution of sins; paying for salvation.

The monk was Martin Luther, and his actions triggered what we now know as the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

500 years later and we are making the same mistakes again on, quite literally, an industrial scale. This time it is not salvation that is up for grabs for a price, but our worship; that feeling of connection with God, the ability to express our faith in creative ways, that artistic expression of eternal gratitude and recognition of who our maker is… is being sold to us.

We can purchase it for 79p a track or £9.99 for an album’s worth of blissful spiritual escapism. If we’re really desperate for a ‘worship fix’ (because of the hard week we’ve had, the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves, or just that we ‘need’ that warm fuzzy ‘worship’) we can pay out for a ticket for our favourite priests worship leaders’ concerts worship events.

In this environment, worship songs is not so much a bad description of a musical genre that shouldn’t exist as much as it has become a command: worship songs.

Musical expression, singing together, worshipping ‘in spirit and in truth’ are all fantastic and sacred acts in our individual and collective spiritual experience. But the industry that has developed around it is flawed.

To charge people to worship (in the narrowly defined way the industry has taught us to understand the very nature of that worship!) is surely wrong. To have transformed into a commodity material specifically created to facilitate worship experiences – and by definition turn those who purchase into consumers, albeit informed to a greater of lesser extent – is wrong.

Jesus had some very sturn words to say about those in his time who charged the public to worship; “you’ve turned the house of God into a den of thieves!” He threw them out. He removed their means of prohibiting people from worshipping unless they had the right currency, or the right album and the merchandise to go with it. He put an end to that system… and in the creation of this ‘worship industry’ we have merely reassembled the money-changers’ tables and sold CD’s and downloads from them instead.

What would worship look like in a re-reformation era? What would the Church’s gathered expression of worship sound like if we were free to express our worship indigenously in each local congregation instead of feeling coerced into replicating album after album? How different would our churches be if everyone brought to the table something of personal and vulnerable sacrifice instead of hiding behind bland, rehashed, boring lyrics accompanied by over produced backing tracks?

What if the record companies went the way of the indulgences salesmen of the past and worship was reclaimed, re-calibrated, refreshed and reformed. Just as the printing press was the new technology of the Protestant Reformation giving everyone the opportunity to read the Bible for themselves instead of relying on priests, what if we used the technology available to us – the internet, social media, live streaming apps – to distribute worship material across the globe for free?

It’s not about which mountain, it’s not about which record label or which singer, it’s not about the songs or the currency: A time is coming, and has now come when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.

Reformation.

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Leading worship with no musicians?

One question a lot of people ask me, or comment on, is how to lead worship when there are no musicians around. Is there an app for that? Here are some ideas.

First and foremost is this. If you are in the mindset that by worship you mean singing, it becomes very difficult. You basically have two options available…

a) a backing track of some description (perhaps a CD or Mp3 sing-along, or maybe some thing like this new little gadget: www.isingworship.com/), or
b) sing a Capella, totally unaccompanied.

I have done more of the latter than the former. I was once put in a position of leading songs in the middle of a field with no amplification other than a sole megaphone. Hymns and megaphones are an interesting combination but it seemed to work.

Alternatively you can take the opportunity to use other forms of expressing worship together. There are plenty of groups and denominations that use non music-based forms of worship. There is a rich archive of liturgy and ancient creeds to use and adapt and provide inspiration to create ways to express shared faith together. You can use communal reading of scripture whereby the leader reads a verse and the congregation either repeats or read the next line. There are plenty of scriptures that lend themselves to this kind of reading. Genesis 1 for example is thought to be a poem with repeating lines of ‘there was evening and there was morning, the Nth day’ (There is a PowerPoint for this reading in the resource section of this blog.) Psalm 136 has the repeat refrain ‘His love endures forever’ which can be really simple for congregations to engage with but also really powerful to speak over and over again about God’s enduring love throughout the Israelite story.

Then there are all the different ways we can pray together, different ways of reflecting (lectio divina’s and putting yourself into the story are great ways of reflecting together on Bible passages in worship.) how can we find ways of sharing our own stories and praying through our own personal experiences. Of course one major element of unsung worship is to share communion – breaking bread, either in a formal rich ritual way or in an informal lounge-like style can be a powerful worship expression and doesn’t need a musical accompaniment.

Recently I led a worship session which used many of these techniques. Those who took part were surprised at just how much they were able to engage in music-less worship expressions, and ever more so, how much they enjoyed it! There were times of silence, times of guided reflection, times of each person sharing and reading verses aloud together.

In that particular setting we did use a song or two at the end to close, but it was the unsung elements that had the biggest impact on these worshippers lives.

It may take a bit more preparation. It may require a bit more imagination and thinking outside of the box (and once outside the box you may want to use the box for something else!) but unsung worship need not be a terrifying or excruciating experience. When led well, unsung worship can easily be rich and meaningful and exhilarating as the latest anthem or album.