On the topic of music in the church, I’d like to think I have a background that gives me a voice worth consideration. With over 10 years as a professional ‘Christian musician’ – as bassist for the Paul Colman Trio (pc3), ‘worship rockers’ Sonicflood and many others – I now find myself not only singing, but also speaking to crowds about worship – what it is and what it isn’t. With music the thing that has earned me the platform to speak, it might seem strange to many that I now, metaphorically at least, am taking the axe to the notion of music in the church being ‘worship’.
Firstly, and sincerely, I want to apologize. I think it’s people like me, musicians within the church, who have helped to create a great deal of confusion not only about the word ‘worship’ – but also about what it actually means to be a worshiper. This apology comes from a very real and personal conviction, yet, at the same time, I am trying to make a point for all of us with this apology.
In the past I (and other musicians like me) have misused the word ‘worship’ as a synonym for music, in particular music intended for congregational singing by Christians – the songs we sing to and about God. More often than not we’ve used ‘worship’ as an adjective: ‘worship song’, ‘worship band’, ‘worship service’, ‘worship leader’, ‘worship pastor’, ‘worship experience’, ‘worship CD’, ‘worship centre’, ‘worship iPod playlist’, and so on.
But the word ‘worship’ is never used in the Bible as an adjective – to describe, define, categorize or reduce something else. Nor is it used to mean exclusively music or the singing of songs. To use the word ‘worship’ as an adjective is to atrociously reduce and change its meaning. I believe that the word ‘worship’ is most powerful and potent when it is treated as a verb – a doing word. It’s something I must do. Worship requires action, involvement, movement, engagement. It’s a process to be undertaken.
‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.’
‘Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s great mercy, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and let that be your spiritual act of worship.’
I’m sure that many readers of this blog may be familiar with verses from scripture like John 4:23 and Romans 12:1. As we read these words, few of us would believe that the word ‘worship’ is used here to mean singing songs or a meeting of Christians – what happens between 10 and 12 on Sunday mornings. The tug of truth assures us that our Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul are referring to something much larger, more mysterious, more wonderful, and all pervading. Furthermore, I’m quite sure that most churchgoers, upon deeper reflection, would know that true worship is more than singing songs about God.
Yet we continue to misuse and overuse the word. We might say ‘I didn’t like worship this morning’ when we really mean, ‘The guitar was too loud’ or, ‘I didn’t like the song choice’. We hear, ‘I got to church late and I missed worship’ or, ‘I’m going to find a different church where I like the worship more’. All of these statements mis-educate both speaker and hearer, as they suggest that worship is the experience of singing or playing church music, an idea that leads us away from grasping what worship truly is.
‘I could sing of your love forever!’
Martin Smith of Delirious?,
And almost every church band and congregation everywhere.
Nowhere in the recorded words of Jesus is there a command to sing songs about His love; instead, over and over again, He asks us to be His love. Worship is not singing songs about God’s love. To worship is to live selflessly, laying down my life – my worldly desires – and to love others the way Jesus does: demonstrated in His dying on the cross. More than a ‘life-style’, true worship is a living death–style.
‘If anyone would call themselves my disciple [or a worshiper] he must turn away from his selfishness, pick up a cross and follow.’
‘Pure and perfect worship in the sight of God is to care for orphans and widows and to remain uncorrupted by the world.’
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not against music in the church. I think we should sing and play songs that express to God our praise, love, hopes, hurts, faith, gratitude, and everything that’s in us. There are many places in scripture that convince me that this is an important and wonderful thing to do. As a musician, I am extremely grateful for that. Through personal experience I am convinced of the wonderful and mysterious power of music to melt my heart and direct my thoughts and praises to God – to somehow open a portal through which God chooses to move and touch me in ways that I cannot fully explain. Let’s keep singing! Absolutely! Let’s sing more often, for longer, more passionately than ever before! But let’s do so understanding that our church music, in and of itself, is not worship.
Words are powerful. Words – the way we use them – change the way we think. The way we think changes the way we live. The word ‘worship’, in particular, is precious and sacred in its original, Biblical meaning – meaning that is fundamental to faith in Jesus the Christ.
‘If anyone would consider himself a worshiper, and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his worship is worthless.’
By our constant, and (in many cases) knowing misuse, we are allowing the word ‘worship’ to change in meaning entirely. This is not an issue of semantics; it is an indicator of a far greater crisis in our faith. When we no longer have in our vocabulary a word that carries the true meaning of worship, we will not be able to talk about worship, we will not be able to think about worship, and we will not be able to lay down our lives in worship.
As wonderful as music is – a potentially powerful means to express worship – my life surrendered in worship is what is required. God doesn’t want my songs of praise, my musical expressions of worship, unless He also has me, surrendered as a living sacrifice to be His love to my friends, my neighbors, my enemies and, especially, the ‘least of these’ to the ends of the earth.
[Although originally from Australia, Grant Norsworthy lives with his wife, Brooke, and son, Max, in Nashville, TN, USA, and works as a musician, leader of congregational singing for church groups, and public speaker. His speaking engagements include seminars and workshops for church musicians. His work takes him all over the USA, as well as to Canada, New Zealand and Australia.]
For more information, go to www.grantnorsworthy.com