Something a close friend, who is a worship leader, and I have been meditating upon and wrestling with is dynamic expression of worship. It is an exploratory exercise that reacts to a certain term I’ve heard my friend Peter Ong use to describe a great deal of worship I see in the church today: “worship karaoke” – where the band plays our favorite songs and we follow the words on the screen.
We have come to question the machine, that is to say, the industry of the Christian contemporary praise/worship distribution that licenses and markets this music to us. I don’t dislike all this wonderful artistry or musicianship, but the solutions that buying a “worship leader’s guide” has created new problems.
Ironically, the song, “Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman is a great example of this. The song was born under the circumstances where his pastor was discouraged when he saw that worship became too performance-oriented, and thus banned the band. “When the music fades/ and all is stripped away…”
Everyone was questioned as to what it was they brought for their offering – the musicians, the songwriters, the congregation. “I’ll bring you more than a song / for a song in itself is not what you have required…”
And in the midst of uncomfortable silences and new creativity, there was this return to worship, an acknowledgment that the music was secondary to the act of worship. “I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it / It’s all about you, Jesus”
When the “Heart of Worship” has been made into a cliche hit for years now, it can often have the opposite effect of the very spirit in which it was written. Familiarity, as has been said, can indeed breed contempt. And in the spirit of confession, I re-wrote the lyrics to that song to reflect how many of us at one time or another have felt during worship. I don’t mean it as parody nor as mockery, but as an honest starting point for how we view worship and that if we don’t understand the story that brought about Matt Redman’s lyrics, we may not fully be able to express the depth of them. Even if we were led to change the lyrics to how we truly feel, I believe we would capture a more honest and more authentic heart of worship.
God, who has made us in his image, as Creator made us to be creators. And at our best, we are able to creatively breathe life into our words and art and present them as offerings. Like the Psalmist, to present our emptiness and our weaknesses is not a sin, but shows our fragility without his salvation coming anew again and again. With heavy heart, I sang this before our congregation today, but my prayer is that our worship would begin anew.
When the praise band plays
All is stripped away and I simply come
It’s got a nice ring
Using someone else’s words
Does this bless your heart?
I’ll use someone else’s song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have inspired
Don’t push me deeper than this
Than the songs that I hear
Pretending to know who you are
I want to have a heart of worship
But it’s more about music
And the melody, Jesus
This is the only time I sing, Lord
Making sounds with my voice, but not in my heart
Though I sing these words, no one could explain
Why I fail to serve
I’m rich and want more, all I have is me
Every single breath