The Cry of the Heart

heartThe final thought I want to leave us with as I conclude my series on worship is, how do we evaluate worship? As with many things, you can’t just ask one person. We all have our opinions of course, but most of us know we can only speak to our own experience. Neither could we ask a certain demographic like young adults, or our more “seasoned” members. I suspect even if we asked everyone at once the criteria for each person would be different, likely based on what was familiar and even what was going on in their lives at that moment. If, as I have tried to point out, performance level or even people’s enjoyment cannot be very good indicators of a worshipping community’s response and participation, is there much left for a person like me who plans worship services to go on?

In reflecting back on a Sunday morning worship experience, there are some occasional feedback comments that spring to mind. To be honest, though, most of what comes to mind is the ethereal looks on people’s faces—the passion or lack of enthusiasm I see on your faces staring back at those of us sitting on the stage. I would love to have some kind of congregationally based planning group to help me evaluate how planning for worship actually “achieved” worship, but so far my own leadership in this direction has been slow coming and difficult to say the least.

I do know one metric I would love to be the sole criteria for whether or not the plans for leading our congregation into worship have been successful: were people’s hearts pointed to and encountering Jesus? Among the various other criteria such as what is biblical and theologically grounded, the historical practices of the church, and the metric of our own sense of the familiar—whatever we end up doing, be that singing, praying, or listening to a sermon, no matter the technical excellence involved, if people are not genuinely encountering Jesus it was hardly worth the effort. There are always things that could have been planned better or gone as planned better and evaluating worship from a technical standpoint cannot be avoided. Moreover, evaluating the technical specifics of worship is both needed and necessary. The only way we can step down that path though is with a great deal of humility, honesty, and open mindedness.

Different elements of worship can both add to, or take away from, the flow of the corporate worship experience. This isn’t black and white territory either, for each person’s experience is subjective.  Amid all of this are bound to be both solid food and hiccups. As long as there is a human element involved, every now and then you get a curve ball thrown your way. One of the most difficult things a person can do is evaluate the technical side of worship with grace, keeping the proper balance of both speaking the truth and doing it with love.

Things being off can be distractions that take away from the experience of seeking God in community. Small details such as sound system quirks, a song leader being too far from a mic or singing too softly to be heard, various musical missteps, the lyric slide arriving too late on an unfamiliar song, a boring sermon—all of these things can play havoc on that faint nerve of OCD within us all. Yet what we do with this negative energy in worship can have a profound effect not only on our own worship, but that of those around us. There are powerful destructive possibilities at play as we find ourselves stepping into a critical role. Being a trained musician, speaker or sound tech means one can no longer be unaware of the many hiccups of a worship gathering. This sort of training in fact pushes us to be aware of things others might not be, as part of this training involves actively searching for fault to correct it. I know my training as a sound person and speaker can at times be an obstacle to being caught up in worship, it can stop me from focusing on a song or sermon in very tangible ways. Even without training, some of us can find ourselves knowing something is off, even if we lack the words to describe it.

Being critical however is not without its strengths. It calls us to ask dangerous questions beyond simply “did people like it?” It also helps us ask big questions such as, “are we merely singing these songs because they are familiar, or popular?” We can learn a lot about what we care about by what questions we are willing, or even are unwilling to ask. It takes a great deal of grace and humility to evaluate worship from a technical standpoint. This is because it pushes us beyond our own preferences and biases. If we are not pushed beyond our preferences and biases, we are simply being ruled by what is comfortable for us. I believe worship should be so much more than doing what we do because we have always done it that way or simply adopting whatever is trendy. I believe worship should be an experience of encountering God. The details are only semi-important, and hopefully help us along the way to that encounter. Yet on the other hand, the details matter a great deal and we should take them with the utmost seriousness.

A popular Christian artist named Matt Redman was a signed and successful professional musician, yet his church in Australia was deeply divided by the worship music. People grew so bitter about the rift between traditional and contemporary styles that the lead pastor took the bold move of cutting music from the worship services. After a few months without music they slowly began introducing spontaneous a capella music into the services. This singing came from the hearts of the congregation, not merely the stage. The church music rift eventually healed and became revitalized. The main criteria of the worship actions on a Sunday morning became “did our actions form a deep experience with Christ in the hearts of the believers in the congregation?” From this experience Matt Redman wrote a song called “The Heart of Worship” that became something of a surprise anthem among the early 2000’s contemporary worship music scene. So many churches resonated with the message of the song that nearly overnight it was sung in many English speaking churches across the globe.

For my final thought concluding thought about this series on worship, I simply want to leave you with the lyrics of Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship”:

When the music fades

and all is stripped away

and I simply come.

Longing just to bring

something that’s of worth

that will bless Your heart.

 

I’ll bring You more than a song,

for a song in itself

is not what You have required.

You search much deeper within,

through the way things appear,

You’re looking into my heart.

 

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

and it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

when it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

 

King of endless worth,

no one could express

how much you deserve.

Though I’m weak and poor,

all I have is Yours,

every single breath!

 

I’ll bring You more than a song,

for a song in itself

is not what You have required.

You search much deeper within,

through the way things appear,

You’re looking into my heart.

 

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

and it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

when it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

 

Agape,

James

 

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About jtower11

Hi there! I am James Tower: A husband, father, dreamer, visionary, thinker, poet, mystic, metal-worker, and scholar. I have served College Avenue Friends since 2013. I like to describe the way God has been at work in my life by saying that "He has been creating in me the heart of a pastor, the mind of a scholar, and the zeal of a missionary." I have an extremely nontraditional background as Jesus has given me freedom from the slavery of addiction to drugs, and my journey to faith came later in life after an overdose in 2000. I graduated with a M. Div with an emphasis in biblical studies from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland Oregon in 2016. I have a love for teaching and revealing the historical and doctrinal context from which the biblical text arises, and connecting its redemptive message to life today. Other interests include teaching a leadership class based on the Friends Testimonies at William Penn University, writing, and metalwork such as blacksmithing, a passion which I enjoy teaching others as a way of discipleship. View all posts by jtower11

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