No 'Praise and Worship'If you stumble into a Servant Church worship gathering for the first time you will immediately notice one thing: you don't recognize most of the songs we sing together. For better or worse, you will get a unique musical worship experience at each of the community gatherings I lead. Attribute it to my deep desire to help restore creativity to God's church, my indie-rock pedigree, or sheer contrarianism: I believe that we can do better than simply providing cover bands who emulate Christian Rock radio song for song, note for note.
I start most conversations about my work by admitting that we don't ever employ any Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) or Modern Praise & Worship (P&W). No Chris Tomlin, no Hillsong, no Gungor. This is not to say that we don't praise and worship God. It is, however, to say that we don't employ music from what has become a primarily American/British genre called 'Praise & Worship'.
Why Not? I'm going to be honest, I think that most of this music sucks. I try to speak positively 95% of the time, but this is one of the areas in which I hope to be constructive in my criticism. I know that I am not alone in noticing this. Both musically and lyrically modern 'P&W' and 'CCM' music are anemic.
I should say that I understand that mainstream Christian music is helpful for some, and far be it from me to say that God doesn't work though much of it. I do believe, however, that there is a growing population that is not helped by the music coming from this highly commercialized Christian culture.
Because of all of this, the reasons that we choose not to employ mainstream praise and worship music are four-fold.
1. Much of it is Lyrically Anemic Lyrically it seems that much of it is made for children and the parents who purchase the music for them. Often they sound like intimate love songs to God. "Jesus draw me close, closer Lord to you/let the world around me fade away." This might make sense for someone to listen to in their bedroom by themselves. At our worship gatherings however, the short time we get together to sing and worship together every week, these sentiments can easily leave people thinking 'DO I NEED TO BE HERE FOR THIS?' There is little meaning or theology conveyed, and it seems to isolate everyone in the room rather than bring us together.
Modern P&W can too often boil down to a forced emotional message, much like that of a bad pop ballad. It might be necessary for youth groups to see God as their buddy or even lover, but as we grow up we need to nuance the nature of the divine relationship.
Similarly, most of the modern P&W deals with only eternal salvation, and hardly ever addresses the many other, more immediate forms of salvation in which Christians are called to participate.
The bottom line for me is that most popular praise and worship songs simply don't say many of the things I want to say to or about God. I have found that I am not alone.
2. Musically it is Lacking Second, musically, it seems that Christian P&W has been caught in a 1992 loop for the last two decades. We will address the musical genres involved in a later post, but it suffices to say that most contemporary music in white western churches in the past decade has been an unfortunate mixture of modern country, late-90s rock, Coldplay, and electronic elements influenced by the Matrix trilogy.
3. Christians Aren't Being Creative In Their Sunday Worship Third, in reaction to the lowest common denominator nature of CCM and P&W, I suggest that the church has got to get creative. Instead of trying to provide an alternative to the mainstream Christians need to reflect the creativity of their creator. We need to be influenced by all the same stuff that everyone else is, screw with it, mix in our own blood and sweat, and make something new that engages both our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as those around us.
While I think there is a difference in purpose between music created for creativity's sake and the songs we sing together on Sundays, I still see the need to avoid rote imitation. I want you to be able to walk in to a worship gathering and have a completely unique worship experience that reflects our unique location and role in Christ's body. I also want to be able to come to your community's worship gathering and experience something similar. I want to be exposed to a new expression of faith in God, I want to be changed, and I don't want to see a cover band.
Though you may not recognize all of our songs off the bat, I hope that they will be simple enough for you to catch on quickly, especially after a few weeks with us. More on this in later posts.
4. It Doesn't Help Us Reach Those Outside the Church Doors Fourth and finally, I want our music to not only make sense and be relevant for people already in the room, but also to people who didn't grow up in church and who have never sung a chorus of 'Lord I Lift Your Name on High'. People outside the church don't listen to Christian rock, and its not because of their poor spiritual state. It's because it sucks. Genre is language. We can't have people walk through our doors the first time and immediately realize that they don't know the language. And worse, that they'll have to learn it to participate. Our music should be as inviting and inclusive as our greeters.
So what I am suggesting is not a simple updating of our musical vessel to connect with the consumers, I hope to call our worship communities to something substantively different and better than has been the lyric and musical status-quo. We should reflect the sophisticated, complex, and beautiful God that we worship.
I certainly don't have all the answers, so I think it's time we start doing the hard work of expanding the Western church's musical vocabulary together.
Next week I'll outline the types of songs that we do use on Sundays (and there are a lot of them).
This is part of a series called Sunday Noise which is aimed at helping pastors, lay leaders, music directors, and worship leaders begin to think critically and creatively about the music in their worship gatherings.