Rethinking Contemporary Worship: Can We “Bring Him More Than a Song?”

Back in 1997, Matt Redman wrote the now famous song  “The Heart of Worship” as a response to a challenge from his pastor.  It seems that music had become an obstacle, perhaps even an idol to the congregation.  So the pastor got rid of the band and the PA.   For a month or so, they sang acapella.  This song was born during that time and was Matt Redman’s personal response to the challenge. 

Recently, we sang that song during a Sunday evening service.  I was struck by one line in the song: 

“I’ll bring you more than a song,  for a song in itself Is not what you have required….”

 The line struck a chord with me, and led to these two thoughts.   First, if a song is not what He requires of us to worship him, then  why are we spending so much of our corporate time and effort singing songs? Today we are spending more time in our services singing songs than we were back in 1997 and our services are about 30 minutes shorter than they were.  To accommodate this, we have had to cut other things out of our gatherings.  Recently I attended a friends church for Easter service.   We sang for a very long time, 41 minutes to be exact.  We saw a video, took an offering, heard a 25 minute pep talk filled with everything but scripture, and concluded with a one minute pastoral prayer.  That was it.  It appears that “bringing Him a song” is what the leaders of that congregation feel is the most important aspect of the corporate gathering.  As I have visited some 30 congregations in the past 2 years, I can attest that this is extremely common.  We sing a lot!

The second thought I have is this: If bringing a song is not what God requires of us when we gather to corporately worship Him, what DOES he require?  Further, if He does require something else, shouldn’t we be giving our time to that instead of what he does NOT require?  I think you can make a very good argument from the bible and early church history that singing to God is something HE has instructed us to do.  I am not suggesting that we stop the corporate singing time.  I am asking the question:  Should our corporate gatherings be as song oriented as they are? 

In part II of this post, I share a recent experience I have had that has caused me to seriously reconsider what a Contemporary service can be like.

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Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the serious issues that exist within the American Evangelical church. It is a place for like-minded people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on May 23, 2011, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Jim…great posting! You ask the question, “Should our corporate gatherings be as song oriented as they are?” The state of the “modern” church and the lack of mature saints and increasing number of false converts within the corporate gathering would lead the answer to your question to be a huge NO. If we model our local churches after the early churches, as they were instructed by the apostles, song and praise would have its appropriate place of not being held in higher regard than the reading, studying and teaching the Scriptures. The gathering of the saints was intended to be for the equipping of the saints – not to emotionally move the saints and entertain them in the process.

    Ever notice how most new believers are not as into the music portion of the service? They are confused partly because they still do not completely understand what all the hype is about. They are still looking to have questions answered and to be taught. Yet, when many pastors stand before them, they provide “how-to” sermons that make the saint feel good, rather than telling them what God says in His Word of what He expects of us.

    Not to overlook, many of the songs sung today in “contemporary churches” are not focused on “worshipping” Christ. Rather the songs exalt the person singing the song. Worship is to be a direct praise and exaltation to Christ. It’s like trying to compliment your wife without looking at her or giving direct attention to her. How likely is she to believe you are sincere in your compliment? So the same is for the drastrically shifted, entertainment-centered song portion of the weekend services for many local churches today. The compliments aren’t to Christ. Unless the songs change to be Christ-centered and Gospel-focused, the answer remains no. Read the book of Amos and what God had to say about their worship. Thanks again for the post.

    • You bring up a very good point that I had never considered: the new believer. You are right, they need to be taught and grounded in the faith. Think about what it must be like for a new Christian who isn’t fond of singing. What goes through their mind? When I came to Christ, the argument the church was having was “Drums are of the Devil, No their not!” (We know who won that one) We had a singing time led by a full band. But we also had an in-depth time of studying God’s word, prayer and other elements. Many, many mature Christians were the result of that model, and many church planters came out of it (thanks Ralph!)

  2. Corporate worship on a whole I think is good. Isn’t it suppose to help bring us into His Presence. To prepare us to hear the message that the Pastor has prepared for us to hear. Granted it could be just music to some, but to others it might bring them to the Throne Room.

    It all must fall back to the Pastor and his staff. We are just dumb sheep looking for something to follow. Every Pastor wants to get to the magic “300” member congregation don’t they. Just wondering off the top of my head.

  3. Good words! I look forward to part two. As a musician and worship leader (although not currently “leading”), I have grappled with similar issues. I’m not sure I think we sing “too much,” because a lot of what is described in heaven seems to involve singing. However, I definitely think that other things that happen in worship need more biblical soundness, and the songs that are sung should be as “vertical” as possible. I would agree that there’s too much “fluff” in a lot of so-called “worship services.”

  4. I don’t know if I agree that there is too much singing but I do agree that the songs should be about God/Jesus and should glorify Him. I don’t think they should be about what I am going to do. Our service has about 5 worship songs every Sunday, sometimes 6. It takes about 30 minutes for worship because we don’t just sing one and go on to the next. We worship and praise in between the songs. Very few of our songs are “fluff” as you call them. This past Sunday we sang “Stand”, “Blessed be Your Name”, and “No Sweeter Name”. Sometimes we sing old hymns. I love singing to God/Jesus. It is one of the ways we are to worship Him. I know the service shouldn’t be all about the singing but I believe that it prepares your heart for the Word and brings you into the presence of God. I believe He inhabits those praises and is pleased with the aroma that the singing brings, when it is brought with the purpose to praise Him and Him only.

    • Youre are right to think that God inhabits the praises of His people. It is Scripture (Ps 22:3). The focus of many songs sung in the modern church are erroneous and do not praise God, just as was in the Book of Amos. True praise to God focuses the heart and mind on God, killing the flesh, yet most walk out the way they came into the weekend service. Something has to change, right? We are supposed to be transformed and dying daily – not becoming more self-exalting. Thanks for sharing

  5. I would ask the question…why are we on a schedule? My family in third World countries tell me How they sing, dance, pray, hear the message, give tithes and offering…and if the Lord tell them to keep on going they do. I have family who have done this 36 hours straight. My oldest sister witnessed this while going to minister to them, instead she was the one who was blessed, and told me that what she witnessed put us Americans to shame. I would ask the question are we being seeker sensitive just for the new people? Are we playing typical contemporary worship music..some people I know call it white people worship..no offense to those of you of that race, instead of holy spirit filled prophetic singing either it be gospel or old hymns or just singing in the spirit. I would ask why some churches have a problem with lifting of hands, or dancing either with flags, banners, r just our hands…I could go on and on…for me personally….let’s forget the announcements, stop having donuts after the praise and worship…let’s just praise, worship in song/dance/tithes..hear the message the Lord gave Pastor to instruct, encourage, etc…and if we can have worship like new word son’s Jamaican praise medley or Israel houghton…then that would be icing :)

    • The modern day church has attempted to make Christ a boxed in geni, disregarding the Lords Word as the authoritative instruction for how the church should be governed, structured and active. The modern day church is not only seeker-focused or seeker-sensitive, but has began to cater more to the spiritually immature and carnal minded.

      We are living in a dangerous time, and not because of our enemy. Its a dangerous time because we have no clue when the Master will return to find us being disobedient and worshipping idols and things other than Him. The topic of this discussion is only a small problem compared to the greater problem of worship in general. We worship with our lives, not just song and dancing or good sermons.

      Much could be said, but to keep it to the Word alone – REPENT AND BELIEVE

  6. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we weren’t on a strict schedule every Sunday? I say we sing our praises to the Lord, hear the Word He has given the pastor, take the tithes and then let the Lord lead when the service is over. Most of our services where I attend are, yes white people music, but there are times when some gospel has been thrown in. When I sing at church all I want to do is glorify God and I want to help lead others into His presence so that they can glorify Him too.

  7. I’d like to add another dimension to the conversation. There is a legitimate expression of gathering that takes place as believers live out their life of faith in the public square. In that context, when two or more gather together, Jesus shows up in a unique way. He joins in the connection we make with each other to demonstrate His love through us to those around us who are searching to meet the real Jesus.

    Here’s my question. Our need to gather is without question. But why does our conversation about this connection always assume its behind closed doors and out of public sight. I wonder what Jesus would do if He walked into one of our gatherings? Would he invite us to follow him out the front door down the street and into the public square where He seemed to do most of His work of the ministry two thousand years ago?

    I’m not preferring one over the other. I am asking why the missional life of the church isn’t considered a legitimate form of worship? In that context would we be singing a different tune? Maybe those of us who have musical skills might be singing, “Jesus is is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, O yeah!!

    I think we need to broaden the vista of worship to include these possibilities. I can tell you from personal experience that between sets of easy listening jazz, my conversations with people in the audience have proven to be some of the most memorable worship services I’ve ever attended. It had nothing to do with the music I played, but the song of my heart that rang loud and clear to someone who asked me about my love for Jesus.

    Just wanted to add that to the conversation. I love singing in the congregation, but I love singing the song of the redeemed to a heart that hungers for God even more.

  8. I have a friend who Pastors a church in Kenya. He told us that if they prayed, and sang praises to the Lord until the person who needed healing got healed or they die…due to no hospitals, medicine etc…, or until a miracle happened and they received food or they would starve. Most of them have very little if any. They never worried about singing and praising too long at church, praying too long, hearing the Word of God too long. They lived, & breath church…that’s what’s keeps them alive! When he came to visit and share at our church he was amazed on how everything was on a scheduled time..he wanted to hear us sing and praise more, then we fellowshipped after church by taking him for a Mexican treat…he was amazed by how much we Americans eat..it was too much for him. He said his one plate can feed a whole family. That’s why they pray until they get food, they pray for healing…don’t have band aids!…we can learn a lot from our third World countries.

  9. Referencing the OT, approaching God was always preceded with worship. However, worship was most usually in the form of prayer; coming before Him humbly acknowledging His sovereign holy attributes and our subordinate dependance on Him. Songs can do this in part but they can be limiting as they are not speaking “live”, this is where a spirit lead worship leader is key. The Holy Spirit will lead us in corporate worship as we follow His leading. Worship is not all singing.

  1. Pingback: Rethinking Contemporary Worship: Can We “Bring Him More Than a Song?” « A disciple's study

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