Welcome to installment number two in our worship blog! I hope this week finds you well! This week I’ll be discussing part of my personal journey with music and worship, as well as some paradigms that we can apply to our understanding of worship.
When I was young I was absolutely bored to tears with piano lessons. Week after week my parents would drag me to one of my two teachers, Mrs. Teeter or Mrs. Bonk (what names right?). Each week I would complain about how boring it was, and each week my parents would say, “You’ll thank me for this later.” Yeah, right, I thought…
Well, Mom and Dad (and Mrs. Teeter and Mrs. Bonk) today is that day-that I put it in writing, anyway. Thank you! I really can’t express in words how important music has been in my life. I feel like if I lost the ability to play I would feel as though I had lost a limb. I have my parents and teachers (school band teachers too!) to thank for this channel of expression in my life.
And that is exactly what music became for me as I grew older. I gained some perspective and respect for it, and began to dig into it for myself. Music became a way to relay feelings, to let out my emotions, to praise, to lament, and to just have fun. It is so central to who I am that I start to feel itchy and on edge if I have not been able to play after a few days. As my faith matured, I realized that itch that I had was connected to something else: the worship of the Lord.
There is something divine about music, something transcending about worship, that allows you to speak in ways you cannot do with words. There is an element deep in our spirits that responds to song, and singing. Striking a chord on a piano can initiate joy, or overwhelm with sadness. A few well-placed notes can bring tears to the eyes, or set the imagination to flight. And what greater way to turn music into something truly good, than by allowing God to be at the center of it. God uses music to speak to us, and we can use it to speak to Him.
This blog is primarily focused on worship in the broad sense, however, I want to be a bit indulgent here, and talk about the music I have produced, and my own experience in worship music. This is not a plug, but instead an invitation to explore worship with me, and to see how we all play a part in it. I have been writing and recording music since I was a teenager, and though I am no stellar musician, it brings me great joy, and also serves as a way I can proclaim my faith to others. However, it requires a balance of ego to make your own music, and to be a worship leader for sure. I’ve often struggled with whether I should focus more time on corporate worship and less time on my own music. Do I seek praise from the world, or is my music and honest attempt to make a statement for the sake of the Gospel? Whether or not, I hope that my music says, “I love God so much that I’m willing to look like a fool for Him and play and record it.” If ever one of my songs causes someone to pause and think about Jesus for just a moment, then I think it would all be worth it. I’m simply happy to be able to have the opportunity to do so.
The Zac Hicks book, The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams is divided into chapters that look at worship through different lenses. There were several viewpoints expressed in the book that reminded me of myself. I saw where my personal music fit in to the broader sense of worship. The first chapter is title Worship Pastor as a Church Lover. I have always loved the Church, though at times it can be frustrating. I see the enormous amount of good, and life that come from the Church, and how that life has been poured into me. I would like to say, then, that my music reflects that. My music is my personal response to the love of the Church. My love of the Church challenges me to rise up to the call God has put on my life, and that call includes my musical talents.
The second chapter is titled Worship Pastor as Corporate Mystic. That word may throw you for a loop, but really it pertains to the mystery of God. It pertains to that “hard-to-explain” part of our Christian belief and worship. Mystery is at the core of the worship experience, and our religion. Even Paul says so in 1st Timothy 3:16,
“Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.”
Instead of being “weirded out” by this kind of mystical talk, I challenge you to become excited! We serve a God that is indeed great and mysterious. No one among us truly understands Him. What has been revealed to us, in Jesus, is love and a promise and a call to follow. If we trust that call, then exploring the mystery of our faith is an exciting adventure! That’s why music is so important in regards to worship. As I mentioned above, there is something divine and undefinable in music and our reactions to it. It transcends this realm, and takes us to a place where we can all proclaim as one, about the One. Our faith in God is complex, and deep, and it simply can not be defined by words alone. Music is a vehicle we can take to explore this mystery of God, to commune on a level that goes beyond the physical world. We can be awed by it, and let mystery restore our sense of enchantment with this amazing creation we inhabit, and with our Creator. There is communion created in worship, a connection between people and God, and people and people. That is indeed great and mysterious.
I feel like this is another place my music comes in touch with the broader sense of worship. My music has been described as “different” by many people. It does not fit a particular mold, and honestly, I like it that way. I like to see the mystery of our creator reflected in music. That means variety, and uniqueness. Just as our world is varied and unique. Of course, that means that not all of my songs are meant to be sung on a Sunday morning, but it does mean that my songs have a place at the table. They are made for contemplation, or as a personal prayer, or perhaps to catalyze a perspective shift on long entrenched views of God. I think that I inhabit an abnormal set of emotions and themes in my music that seem different, but are still part of worship.
Hicks talks about these different emotions and themes present in worship music. The easy ones you could think of are probably joy, pleasure, mercy, grace, fulfillment, celebration. But then he goes on to say (I also added a few of my own) that there should be more themes present in our worship, and these are not so easy to take in: fear, lamentation, humility, judgement, conviction, repentance. If we are to take in the full picture of our mysterious God, we must attempt to include all these themes, and experience all these emotions. You can find every single one of these in the Psalms. I challenge you to go through a few Psalms and see if you can see the themes at work. This is all part of the mystery of our faith. Our God is HUGE. He cannot be summed up in any small way.
To surmise I want to invite you into my journey of music and worship. I’m out to explore the mystery of our faith, and I want to express what I find as I go. Whether it requires lament, awe, or joy. This is part of a long tradition in our faith, since the beginning. I hope to use my music as a means to that end, and as a means to invite others outside the Church to journey with me too.