I have been involved with worship ministry for the past seven years, and there’s many different opinions out there concerning how today’s worship services should be conducted. Between some people insisting on maintaining use of the hymnals and some demanding that we progress into the 21st century with music no more than ten years old, sometimes we lose sight of what a true worship service is – a worship service. As redundant as that sounds, it needed to be said. We sometimes forget that our main objective is to engage in worship and insist that we focus on the means by which we worship – the songs. This is not necessarily a bad thing; however, I believe it is crucial that we focus on the music that is played in our churches every week and that we are being critical in our song selection. In this article, I am going to share what I have come to realize in the past seven years concerning worship music and how it contrasts with Christian music.
Worship Music Sings to God, Christian Music Sings About God.
Before I explain what I mean, let’s first understand what worship is. According to the Bible, specifically Psalm 95, worship is the act of ascribing ultimate value to something or someone. When we ascribe ultimate value to something, we center our lives around that thing or person. Every decision that we make is made in light of said thing or person. For example, if we have made our social appearance our object of worship – meaning we have made it more important than anything else in our lives – we will often find ourselves saying, “What will people think of me if I wear this?” or “How is this going to affect my reputation?” If God, on the other hand, is our object of worship, we would be asking, “What does God think of this?” Simply put: worship is not a single act committed at different points in time; worship is a lifestyle (as cliché as that sounds).
So now that we understand what worship is, let’s consider that in light of this section’s heading. Worship services are simply events where Christians come together corporately to validate their ultimate value being ascribed to God; or in other words, they are when Christians come and confess that Yahweh/Jesus is their God. So herein lies the issue I’ve seen too many times. Christian worship songs are not songs that sing about God; they are songs that sing to God because it is during worship services where we corporately express our allegiance to him, not other people.
Let’s take some lyrics from some popular songs played in churches all across America.
First, let’s look at John Mark McMillan’s How He Loves (you just thought that Crowder wrote this song).
To whom is this song being sung? God? Or your friend? This is a song being sung to a third party, and it’s not really even sung about God. If you pay close attention to the song, it’s all about the benefits that the singer is receiving. This means that if we sing this in church at a worship services, it’s as if we are singing to our friend about our own gratification. How selfish does that sound in the context of a service where we are supposed to be confessing our allegiance to God? Now don’t get me wrong, this is a great song and the words are true, but it does not fit the paradigm of what a worship service should be. Let’s look at a song that I believe is the classic example of how worship music should be written/played.
This is from Michael Neal’s Your Great Name (again, you probably thought Natalie Grant wrote this song).
I’ll ask the same question I asked about How He Loves; to whom is this song being sung? It’s clear that this entire song is being sung to God. Notice that the last section of each line from the verses is the same: at the sound of your great name. And notice the chorus, the backbone of the song, how it opens with a direct accusative proper noun (Jesus), and then continues to use pronoun you for the remainder of the chorus as it sings to him. This song is a classic example of what true worship music is because it is clear in its intent to sing to God rather than sing about God to other people.
Now does this mean that How He Loves is a bad song and that Your Great Name is perfect? Absolutely not. What it does mean, though, is that How He Loves is a Christian song and Your Great Name is a worship song. How He Loves is great for the radio and social events, but it should not be played during a worship service simply because it does not fit the mold of what a worship service is.
My favorite raidio station is J103 in Chattanoog, TN. Their motto is “J103 – life changing radio.” J103 plays a lot of Christian music because they know that the artists who play them are singing to a third party (the radio listener) and telling about God and his awesomeness. This is the essence of Christian music – to reach the hurt, the broken, and the hopeless. Worship music is then reserved for when the hurt, the broken, and the hopeless come together in a corporate setting and express their allegance to God Almighty. Just imagine 500 people standing in one room screaming, “You are high and lifted up, that all the world will praise your great name!” And then imagine those same people screaming, “He is jealous for me; love’s like a hurricane; I am the tree.” It’s clear that the first song is focused on praising God (which is why we call it “praise and worship”) and the later is concerned with the benefits we receive from God.
This separation of worship songs from Christian songs also transcends into the hymnals. I challenge you to go dust off the church hymnal next time you find one and read through the lyrics of the songs. Many of them fall into the category of Christian music rather than worship songs.
I hope that you, whether you be a worship leader, band member, or someone who’s never picked up an instrument in his/her life, can now understand more of what a worship service needs to be and that this understanding can help strengthen your worship. Like the seraphim in Isaiah 6:3, Sing to God in your worship, tell him how amazing he is, tell him how powerful he is, tell him how holy holy holy he is! This kind of confession tells him (the only one that matters) that you love him, that you acknowledge his attributes, and that you are 100% his.