So lately I’ve had worship on my mind, and have been observing a shift in my thinking about worship in the past couple of years. Seems I did some of this before, in a blog series called Re-Thinking Worship. But I’d like to revisit this from a different angle, less from just tossing around ideas, and more about how those ideas are reshaping my whole approach and belief system about it–sort of comparing how I used to see it, and how I see it now.
We have a tendency, I think, to define things (like worship, for example) in the light of our own experience. We make the wrong assumption that all we can see of it is all there is. Kind of like the analogy of the three blind men with the elephant. Each one feels a different section–a leg, the middle, the trunk–and gets a different opinion about what the elephant must be like. (Have you ever noticed that no one speculates on how the elephant feels about being groped like this, or how it might react? Blind men should never ever grope an elephant. But I’m getting distracted…)
After spending my early years in the Episcopal Church, I spent most of my youth and adulthood in various charismatic environments; then, as a full-time worship leader, I landed with both feet in the “restoration” camp. Here is where I learned about spontaneous songs, prophetic worship, dance, banners, all the things people often associate with the restoration of David’s tabernacle (Acts 16:16). It was considered edgy stuff in the area I lived in, before most churches even had “arts ministries”. And my particular gifts (as well as those of The Wild One) flourished in that environment. There was a particular season of a few years in the mid-1990s when we could feel God truly breathing on what we were doing. Worship times would last 2 hours and more without anyone realizing where the time had gone. There was a genuine excitement generated, and worship became an adventure; we never really knew what would happen from meeting to meeting. We were like kids turned loose in a candy store.
A whole teaching about the Tabernacle of David and its significance in our day accompanied this flow of worship, and I taught it just about anywhere I could find people in a room. And don’t misunderstand, I still feel it is Biblical–although my interpretation of what it looks like has changed. I still believe God was in what was happening, even when sometimes our garbage got in the way of it. As I share this, I’m not denouncing my past–just maybe putting it in perspective a bit. Because what I realize looking back at that season is that although God may have been in it, He was never contained by it. I allowed this picture of worship to fully shape my paradigm, to the exclusion of other expressions, and to the point of letting it define my own gifts. I taught and lived this paradigm years afterward as if it were the length and breadth of worship, with the unintended effect that people often thought we were demanding that everyone worship as we did.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have it right; it was that I didn’t have it all. This was just one part of the elephant in front of me. (And everyone knows you should never grope an elephant–shoot, there I go again.)
In recent years, as I’ve come to realize that God is not contained in the walls of our churches–much less our particular worship expressions–and as I’ve let the false lines between sacred and secular melt away…it has (of necessity) changed how I see worship.
For example…I used to teach that the church should be the birthplace for the arts, because God’s creativity ought to inspire the creativity in man. I thought if there was anywhere the arts should thrive, it ought to be in the walls of our churches. I shared how wrong I thought it was for religion to stifle creativity (something I still firmly believe). I also taught that the worship (i.e., “Christian”) environment was ultimately the best place for our gifts to be used, and envisioned a place of worship where creativity and artistry were allowed to flourish in expressions of love to God, and thus, the worship service would never cease. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?
What do you DO with such a vision when God annihilates your picture of “church” and all of a sudden there are no more “walls of the church” to contain such artistry?
Or what do you do with such a vision when God smashes your imaginary barrier between sacred and secular, so that all of life becomes the “worship environment”, and you can no longer define a certain style of music or lyric or location as “Christian”?
Can you see how these things might present a problem? 🙂 When these things are the pillars on which your definition of worship rests, and suddenly they vanish, your picture of worship has to change. Simple as that.
So here are some specific examples of how my views of worship are changing:
- I still believe the church is a great breeding ground for the arts…but it is the fluid, organic church I speak of, not the institutional version. God is still a creative Being, and we are created in His image. His love and His beauty still are the greatest potential inspirations I can think of. Worship is still ultimately our response to God; and in a way, so is creativity. That’s why I think they are linked. But is the life of God breathed into the Body of Christ that is the inspiration…not the institution we have built.
- Worship is not a style of music, but an expression of the heart. I’ve always believed this and taught it, but I don’t think I really lived it. My focus was still on defending a style, mainly because my own style often came under fire. Right now, though…I don’t really even have a “style” to defend. 🙂 So that approach is moot to me…and a season of rest was probably necessary to shift that perspective.
- I still believe the church should embrace and encourage the arts, but not own or contain them. One thing I saw that made me sick inside was when it became more popular to have arts programs in churches, and church leaders started scrambling to develop them so they could have bragging rights that they had “the stuff.” What a profound missing of the point. Also, it is quite common to be critical of Christians who choose to use their gifts in the mainstream rather than in the churches–the implication being that those people are squandering or prostituting their gifts by not “using them for God” (i.e., bringing them into the “Christian” environment). But if all of life can be worship–depending on the heart of the person, whom no man can really judge anyhow–then expressions of creativity outside the walls are no less worship than a Sunday morning songlist. And those expressions outside the walls have a better chance of inspiring others to seek God–even if they are less “preachy.”
So all that to say…as far as worship is concerned, and my own part to play in it, the playing field has been greatly expanded for me. As an artist who is a Christ-follower, I no longer feel restricted or relegated to a certain context, or style, or lyrical content–because my worship is no longer restricted by these things. There are those who might look at my life and situation, and believe that somehow I’m drifting from my “calling”, that I’ve lost my way, because I’m not leading worship in some institutional church someplace. But for many years I’ve been crying out to God to show me “more”–and I think He’s answering that prayer. No doubt, sometimes I feel a bit “lost” in this broader playing field. Indeed, I do not yet know how things are going to take shape for me in this new season. But I don’t believe I am drifting. I am still a worshiper. And in all this, I am still following Jesus where He leads.