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This morning I read a thought-provoking blog by Daniel Darling called “Don’t Let Non-Christians Write Your Liturgy.” The core message of the article is that we should be careful how far we go in attempting to make our worship services attractive and accessible to non-believers. There are certainly important steps we can take in this area, for instance:
- Making everyone feel welcome with smiling faces, handshakes, and helpful volunteers.
- Crafting language that avoids “Christian-ese,” and communicates the Gospel in everyday vernacular.
- Using methodologies that are culturally relevant without compromising the integrity of the message.
But what happens we take it too far? Do we reduce how much of God’s word is present in the service since non-believers may not be familiar with scripture? Do we stay away from subjects that might be a “turn off” to a non-believer? Do we use songs by mainstream artists so that non-believers will feel more at home and see that we’re “cool Christians,” not those “lame Christian stereotypes” they see on TV shows? (For more thoughts on that particular subject, check out this recent post.)
The irony is that by taking this paradigm too far, we actually divorce ourselves from the very thing that gives the church its life-saving power: the Spirit of God.
The irony is that by taking this paradigm too far, we actually divorce ourselves from the very thing that gives the church its life-saving power: the Spirit of God. We’ve committed an oh-so-subtle error in our well-intentioned desire to bring more people into the church and into the presence of God: we’ve started trying to figure it out on our own instead of relying upon God’s presence, power and Word. We would do well to remember the words of the prophet Zechariah, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6), and the apostle Paul:
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. – 1 Cor. 2:1-5
If we start letting non-believers determine the flow and feel of our worship services we risk missing out on the opportunity to give them what they really need: an encounter with Christ.
If we start letting non-believers determine the flow and feel of our worship services in our attempt to cater to their perceived needs and desires, we risk missing out on the opportunity to give them what they really need: an encounter with Christ.
As a worship leader, after reading Darling’s post I immediately followed up with this question: What about our worship songs? Are we at risk of committing the same errors in our song selection? Do we select songs based on the needs of our congregation (subject matter, musicality, range, lyrical depth) or based on a need to appear cool, accessible and attractive to non-believers?
Here are some dangers that we should avoid as songwriters writing for the church and as worship leaders selecting songs for the church:
- Avoid generic platitudes that lack theological depth or context. Here’s a question that can help us make discerning choices: Is this self-help or is this Gospel? Does this song sound more like Dr. Oz or Jesus?
- Don’t be afraid to tackle negative emotions. Many worship songs express joy, which is certainly a desirable emotion and should be the ultimate response of our hearts to God’s love. But many of our people don’t enter a worship service feeling joyful. Can we meet them in their negative emotion and provide a theological context for their emotion that helps move them toward joy?
- Don’t be afraid to tackle significant theological doctrine. To all my friends who are pastors and/or academicians, I regret to confirm what, deep in your heart, you already know: most people don’t get their theology from your sermons or from your books. They get it from songs because of the unique way that songs enable us to recall information. This is both a sobering reality and an incredible opportunity. Songwriters, worship leaders, we have a responsibility to deliver sound doctrine in our worship songs.
We are curators of a worship vocabulary with a responsibility to make sure that the God we depict in our songs is the God of scripture.
Worship leaders, we are not performers. We are curators of a worship vocabulary with a responsibility to make sure that the God we depict in our songs is the God of scripture. And we are shepherds of a congregation with a responsibility to lead them in a way that causes them to grow strong on the meat of sound doctrine and drink deeply from the living water of God’s presence and power.
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