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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Limited Balance

“As worship leaders, how do you balance between allowing the spirit to lead, while maintaining a structure during a service?”

This tweet frustrated me.

The theology of worship implicit in this soundbite is thinly veiled; Spirit led worship is always spontaneous, chaotic and surprising. Spirit led worship is when we abandon the carefully prepared setlist and ad-lib, because the Spirit told us to, til our hearts have had their fill of the warm fuzzy confusion.

To imply that carefully prepared and planned worship cannot by definition be Spirit-led because it is essentially too planned and structured seems to be missing the point somewhat. The suggestion from such a theology is that the Holy Spirit is temperamental unpredictableness, totally unprepared, intent on causing chaos and happy to disregard any plans we may have spent time working on. However, this doesn’t sound like God the Holy Spirit I see working in the Bible; the God Spirit who, in Creation, brought order and structure out of shapeless chaos; the Spirit who, at Pentecost, systematically included and engaged everyone present in taking the message of Christ to the masses; the Spirit who empowers and partners with human beings to build the kingdom of God in any number of creative ways.

So, my response to the aforementioned tweet was “Does the Spirit not inspire the writing of songs, prayers and the order of service? Does he not partner with us?” and in terms of our worship being Spirit-led “He leads our worship long before the service starts and more than just the spontaneous bits we give him credit for!”

If we truly sit down and prayerfully plan our worship times, using material that has been inspired and crafted with the Spirit’s inspiration and guidance, and if we lead with sensitivity and a desire to see people encounter God together (whatever that may look like at any given occasion or setting) then the whole process is Spirit-led and therefore the outcome cannot be anything but Spirit-led.

Growing Pains (Behind the song)

Arguably one of the most painfully honest songs I’ve ever written. A song about wrestling with Faith and Life and the so called ‘Dark night of the soul’.

This is not typical of the songs I usually write, or at least not the ones that are aired publicly. But it is one I couldn’t shift from my mind and so I thought I’d share it. But I also wanted to share something of why I wrote it. I hope this makes sense…

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about how worship and emotion relate. Much of our worship expression, both personal and corporate, seems to be laden with emotional attributes – whether it’s heart wrenching, soul searching songs that make you cry or euphoric, explosive, passionate celebrations and declarations of who God is and what he’s done and is doing. There’s nothing wrong with those aspects. There is a danger of emotional manipulation in certain settings, but that’s another discussion for another time.

This song emerged from the question: What happens when the feelings go? How do I express my faith when I’m not sure if God’s even listening? Why do I feel so disconnected but at the same time so unable to just let it go and walk away?

“There’s something drawing me I can’t ignore.”

This ‘something’ is life changing, it is turning and is going to turn your life upside-down. It’s going to wreck your comfortable life and rearrange everything. But the troubling part is that the God who is the initiator of this chaotic turmoil seems to have gone AWOL. He’s very quiet on the subject and has been for some time. Suddenly the emotional aspect of worship seems redundant, like sending flowers to someone who’s not answering the door.

You know somewhere in the back of your mind that he is still God and the faith you have left, to which you’re clinging by your fingertips, still wants to believe that he’s there and he’s still faithful (if a tad silent) and he’s still worthy of worship so you worship anyway… but it hurts.

At least it hurts for a while, and then it becomes numb.
Am I losing my faith?
Is the God I once trusted just a figment of my own imagination?
I can’t see him, feel him, sense him, hear him… did I make him up? Did I build my life and my identity around an ‘imaginary friend’?

But what if…

What if it’s not the death of your faith that is hurting, it’s the growth?
What if it’s not the destruction of your faith that is uncomfortable, it’s the development?
What if it’s growing pains.

The most uncomfortable analogy I could muster was that of a snake shedding its skin. It needs to grow and develop in order to survive, and in order to do that the snake needs to take off anything that hinders that growth. It cannot stay sheathed in old skin – skin that served its purpose for a period, but that needs to make way for more developed, more mature, more resilient, more defined, stronger, tougher, wiser skin. And that process, I imagine, is awkward, uncomfortable, vulnerable but ultimately healthy.

If you’re going through this horrible time too, then let me somewhat reassure you, we are not alone! So many of the Psalms wrestle with this, thousands of people have wreslted with this throughout history. High Profile ‘SuperChristians’ have struggled with God’s tendency to go quiet on us: Ecclesiastes is full of it, King David wrote Psalms about it, St John of the Cross called it the ‘Dark night of the soul’, Mother Theresa was constantly challenged by it – so we’re in good company.

Just because he’s not constantly reaffirming them audibly, the promises God made us about never leaving or forsaking us are still true and good.
Faith is more than that fuzzy feeling. ‘Lurking doubts unsettle but the faith they breed is real’.

O Holy Night (Easter Version)

If you’re looking for hymns to use over the Easter season this might be of interest to you. An re-working of the classic Christmas carol ‘O Holy Night’ telling the Easter story.

Bb        Bb/D         Eb                        Bb
O holy night, the stars above are hiding
                                   F                    Bb
This is the night of our Saviour’s betrayal.
Bb                       Bb/D         Eb            Bb
Crushed by the weight of Calvary arriving
                  Dm                 A7               Dm
He faces death at the end of this trail.
        Cm                                  Bb
The sweat of stress, now mixed with blood of anguish,
F/A                             Bb
Running down the face of God the Son.

Gm                 Dm
Christ on his knees
          Cm                        Gm
With God the Father pleading
        Bb   F/A   Bb/D   Eb       Bb             F            Bb
Imm  –  an  –  uel.         Our God; our grief he shares
      F/A   Bb/D   Eb          Bb    F                    Bb
Imman  –  uel.         Our God; our grief he shares

Soldiers approach; with chains they come to bind him
Their weapons drawn, aimed toward the Prince of peace
Judas, his friend, by circumstances blinded,
Comes close to Christ and betrays him with a kiss
The Saviours’ heart, now aching more severely;
A sign of love inflicts a wound so deep
Christ on his knees
Denied his every freedom
Immanuel. Our God; our grief he shares
Immanuel. Our God; our grief he bears

Innocent Lamb, is tried like an offender –
‘Midst accusations; stood silent, pure and still.
Jesus the LORD in ultimate surrender
His mind is set to fulfil the Father’s will;
His wounds would heal the hurts of all creation
His death the perfect sacrifice for all
Fall on your knees
And praise our great Redeemer!
Immanuel. Our God; is raised to life
Immanuel. Our God; he reigns on high

Words and Arr. Jimmy Orr ©2011

Hypocrisy or Sacrifice

I’ve said it before and I’ll gladly restate it; I don’t have all the answers, and in light of that fact, this post poses a question that I have reflected on but as yet have drawn no conclusions. I’d love to know what you think.

Confession: There are times when the last place I want to be on a Sunday morning or evening is in front of a congregation with a guitar in my hands and a microphone perched ominously in front of my mouth. I’m not in the mood to sing the happy songs. I’m struggling to find the energy to stay awake let alone lead others in ‘wonder, love and praise’. Sometimes I feel stressed, sometimes angry, sometimes upset. Sometimes I feel numb. And the question that runs through my head is this:

Am I a total hypocrite right now, or is there something deeper?

There have been stages in my time as a sung-worship leader where I have been enthusiastic about my faith and church and spirituality and I feel connected to God in a very definite and tangible way. That is then communicated to the congregation in an authentic fashion. The hypocritical question never enters my head at such moments.  But there have been equal, if not more, times that I have felt disconnected, distant, doubting; times where I have struggled in my faith for various reasons that I won’t bore you with here. There is no enthusiasm or motivation to lead but I do it anyway because I’m on the rota and at these times the question of hypocrisy feels very real.

On a personal level I understand the theology of “Even when I don’t feel like it, God is no less worthy of my worship”. I’ve sung the laments; the ‘Blessed Be Your Name’s, I’ve chosen to honour God when I can’t be bothered to. But when I’ve been entrusted with the responsibility to lead others it feels more complicated than that. I feel like I’m going just through the motions, but I’m going through the motions for others’ benefit. Emotionally disengaged but carrying on with the delivery that enables others to partake in the event. Personally detached but facilitating others in their enthusiastic expression of worship together.

And therein lies the tension – is it hypocrisy (the act of promoting beliefs and values that one does not personally adhere to) or is it actually a servant-hearted, disciplined delivery that, despite my personal feelings and issues at any given time, I will lead and facilitate the congregation to worship?

Discuss…