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I don’t care if you liked ‘worship’ on Sunday!

Perhaps my most provocative title, but don’t worry, it was more than just trying to grab your attention. It also isn’t a slight against our fantastic music team and all the effort they put in (except for maybe the lousy drummer). Rather it is a blanket statement that should be able to apply to any week at our church, as ultimately, our music is not there to please you, but to please God.

While we all know this instinctively to be the case, it is still a struggle for our hearts accept. I remember last year as we re-formed the music team and had many beginning musicians and experienced musicians who were new to church music. I was excited about the heart and passion that was developing, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t cringe at least once or twice and wonder what a newcomer thought. Thankfully, the quality of our music has improved dramatically since then, but I’m less sure on the quality of my heart. This morning I read these sobering words by R. Kent Hughes:

“Why do we worship? – is it for God or for man? The unspoken but increasingly common assumption of today’s Christendom is that worship is primarily for us – to meet our needs… The telltale sign of this kind of thinking is the common post-worship question, “what did you think of the service today?” the real question ought to be, “What did God think of it and those who worshipped?”” – R Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly man – pg 138-139

I would add to Hughes’s tell-tale sign my own question: “what did I get out of worship today?” rather than the more important “what did I give to God in worship today?”. I think we often make music into the attraction or entertainment element of our church services, the thing that might differentiate between us and another church. This is not just a problem for younger Christians who like the latest worship hit out of the Pentecostal megachurches. Even hymns can be used to this effect as they are often chosen to be the familiar one for the ‘oldies’ or simply to “keep the old-timers happy”. This is a man-centred approach to worship rather than a God-centred one.

So what is the solution? Well I think we need to re-frame how we talk about worship. On Sunday, Simon from Compassion said, to enthusiastic applause, that we don’t treat our music like a performance. But here’s the thing, I think we should. Except it isn’t the band performing and the church the audience. The church is performing and God is the audience! We should be asking what God wants to hear, and the type of music he likes. Unfortunately, the bible is scant on scores and musical compositions. However, it is big on lyrics! We do need to make sure the things we sing to God and about Him line up with worship in the bible. But perhaps even more important than the lyrics, is the heart.

Jesus, when addressing a controversy over worship had some powerful words to say. I’m going to re-write and paraphrase this (a dangerous thing to do to the bible), but I think the parallels are there: “Our ancestors worshipped with hymns, but you young‘uns claim that we must worship with loud pop music” “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, it’s not about whether you worship in hymn or in Hillsong… Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” (taken loosely from 4:20-23 with 4:23 unchanged). The remarkable thing about this passage is that it is the only time in scripture that I am aware of God actively seeking something from believers. It is remarkable that we may actually (as C.S. Lewis writes) “be a real ingredient in the divine happiness”. Therefore, it is not the polished-ness of a performance that impresses God. It is the love of each and every Christian and adoration for Him that he cares about. It’s a bit like receiving a card from my 4-year-old telling me that I’m the best daddy in the world and how much he loves me… and me pulling him up on the spelling. God just isn’t that interested in how we sound, or even what style we use, as long as those things stem from a love for him and a love for others.

So what? What are you to do with these meandering musings of your jet-lagged pastor. Well, for one, I think we need to start to change how we talk about Sunday music. We shouldn’t even ask ourselves if we ‘enjoyed’ it, rather we should seek to focus and surrender our hearts to God’s enjoyment of it. After church on Sunday, ask each other if God enjoyed that, or “what did you give to God during worship”? The other thing we should do is remove the focus completely from ourselves. I know how easy it is to judge the band, the quality of the music, the song selection, and just about everything that happens up the front on Sundays. But here’s the newsflash that I need to remind myself of often: the band isn’t singing to you. They aren’t playing to impress you, and no sorry, they don’t really care if you enjoyed it or not.

We gather on Sunday’s to sing to God. If you have to do it in a way that isn’t really your cup of tea, I think that would be an even greater gift to our God who sees the obstacle you face, and the sacrifice you make in order to praise him. Soli Deo gloria!

Pastor Dan