Monday, March 3, 2008

Cutting the Fuzz in Worship

I don't like every song we've done at Element, but I generally and consistently stay out of the process of song selection, mainly because most of my objections are matters of personal preference and taste and because the guys who lead and have led worship for Element have been great not only in talent but in discernment.

But last night was a first (I think). It was the first time I recall actually asking (telling?) our worship pastor, Josh, to cut a song.

To his great credit, he didn't hesitate and he completely understood my qualms about it. We also were in agreement that the questionable line or two stood out all the more because the rest of the lyrics were glaringly deficient in substance. Had the rest of the song been somewhat solid, these lines wouldn't have stood out so much.

And to his great competency, Josh easily replaced the song on the spot with another and all went smoothly.

The lyrics in question were something along the lines of God not making the sacrifice but the sacrifice being something we alone can give to Him. The meaning behind them might have made sense, but I didn't understand them, and I reckon myself a fairly theologically competent person. It was just "fuzzy." And since the rest of the song had lines about dancing loudly (or something) and ringing bells, I just thought it was superfluous and too mushy. It was very me-centered, and that just makes my little alarms go off.
But Josh got it and everything was cool.

For you worship leaders out there: How involved are your pastors in the process of shepherding worship? How involved would you like them to be? Has a pastor ever asked you cut a song for theological reasons, and if so, assuming you did it, did you agree or disagree?
Curious about others' experience with this interaction . . .
(Feel free to comment anonymously.)


Bob said...

We sang that song in our church for quite some time, and to tell you the truth those lyrics did puzzle me but I usually let it pass. Then one day, a day when I was particularly boisterous in worship (not usually my style), it just hit me that these lyrics made no sense at all and nothing in the rest of the song clarified it for me. It kind of put a snag in my, umm, boisterousness. Anyway, we haven't sung that particular song in a long time at our church, so perhaps someone else (someone in "authority") noticed the same thing and put a stop to it.

Vitamin Z said...

I know the song of which you speak, at least I think I do. To me it was just plain confusing. I think I know what the author is trying to get at, but I don't think the song communicates that very well. Bummer, b/c I think the melody is great and easy to sing. I would want to use it if it were not that line at the end of the chorus "what I alone, give to you" or something.

Yes, my pastor is very involved and I think that is a good thing. I have blinders that others might not have and so I need feedback. My pride wants to rear up in the face of questioning, but I fight to keep that in check. Unfortunately the "keeping in check" has not always been the case.

Hopefully there would be trust and relational strength between pastor and worship leader so that conflict can be managed with a relative degree of ease.

joe byler said...

i'm not sure i know what particular song you're talking about,,, (someone fill me in???) but yes, i have not used certain songs due to theological content being "fuzzy"/questionable or for the lack of content depth.

My pastor is very involved in the worship set. He gives me freedom to do what i feel is best, but at the same time, he feels very free to point out any "problems" that he has or may foresee. And follow the line of authority, i submit to his leadership.

I think there is a healthy balance where the Pastor lets the worship leader do his "job", but at the same time is very involved and free to give his input.
Like vitamin z said, this requires the worship leader (like myself) to be humble and keep our pride in check. I also have to remind myself of the authority structure that I am a part of. God has given me (us) these checks and balances for a reason.

Mike Leake said...

I try to be very involved in the process. I am glad that for the sake of theological clarity you nixed the song. I know that I have done that in the past too. One that I particularly dislike is "Above All"...maybe it's that I'm not a big fan of Michael W. Smith (LOL). But theologically speaking, I feel it makes the Cross to much about us.

Sometimes I feel like a theological Nazi, when it comes to song selection. I understand the difficulty in writing songs...but there is nothing more frustrating than preaching one thing out of the Word and then proclaming quite another in our "worship".

Jared said...

But the cross is about us. :-)

No, but I think I know what you mean.
My problem with "Above All" is the mixed metaphor of a trampled rose taking a fall.

On your last statement about Word and worship disconnect: totally with you.

Daniel said...

How involved are your pastors in the process of shepherding worship?

-- As far as specific song selection, not very. They let me do my job. They have suggestions every now and then for songs that will help highlight the particular point of the sermon. But I am free to include or not include even those. Most of the time, I do though.

How involved would you like them to be?
-- i think they are involved about the right amount. I certainly would hope that they would tell me if we were singing a theologically unsound song though.

Has a pastor ever asked you cut a song for theological reasons, and if so, assuming you did it, did you agree or disagree?
-- No, though I have cut songs on my own before.

I also am curious about what song you are referring to.

Jared said...

I just looked it up. It's called "I Will Not Forget You." Lyrics:

(vs1) Many men will drink the rain
And turn to thank the clouds
Many men will hear You speak
But they will never turn around
I will not forget You are my God, my King
And with a thankful heart I bring my offering
And my sacrifice is not what You can give
But what I alone can give to you
A grateful heart I give, A thankful prayer I pray,
A wild dance I dance before you
A loud song I sing, A huge bell I ring,
A life of praise I live before You
(vs2) Many men will pour their gold
And serve a thing that shines
Many men will read your words
But they will never change their minds

Anonymous said...

I used that song quite often for my youth group at the church I used to work at. I've never quite understood those lyrics about "my sacrifice" and what not, but the verses spoke very well to something that I felt my youth needed to hear... that is, ignoring God's presence and work in everyday life, worshiping idols (whatever they may be), and living a life of praise rather than only at church... but those sacrifice lyrics still are a bit ambiguous...

Also, many of the other songs recorded by Waterdeep/100 Portraits/Enter the Worship Circle/whatever they actually call themselves are somewhat hard to understand, although I really like most of them...

Jared said...

Brandon, I can appreciate that.

I guess my responses might be:
a) surely there are other songs that express the same thought in better ways
b) maybe a time set aside in the gathering ideally for worship directed toward God (ie. things that are for God to hear, not us) is not the best vehicle for telling the worshipers things we think they should hear.

I wouldn't rule out that "side effect" of worship (because I do think that worship changes us, not God), but I think the message would be the best vehicle for directly challenging worshipers to live lives of thanksgiving.

In fact, if we preach first and express that challenge in an inspirational way, and then have our music time as our response to the call of God's Word upon us, perhaps the worshipers would feel joyous and thankful in their songs of praise more naturally and wouldn't need the songs to direct them how to feel.

Just a thought.

I admire your grasp of worship as encompassing all of life, not just music in a service.

Mike Leake said...

speaking of ambiguity...I almost labeled you a heretic, until I realized what you were saying :-)

In your response to Brandon you said, "(because I do think that worship changes us, not God)"...I was taken aback and thought you meant that we are changed by worship and we are not changed by God. Then I read it another 5 times..and realize that what you mean is that worship changes us, worship does not change God. Whew!

As far as my beef with "Above All"...The song would be phenomenal (if you can say that about a Mike-W song) if it did not use such a big word as "above" say that Jesus thought of us ABOVE obeying the Father and the Father's glory, in my opinion is to negate what happened in the Garden as well as what His central prayer is in John 12:27-28.

It's not as catchy but how about...he took the fall and thought of me quite a bit. LOL Oh, I'm certain that worship leaders dislike us pesky pastors that screw up their rhyme schemes.

Jared said...

what you mean is that worship changes us, worship does not change God.

Hahaha. Yeah, that's what I meant. :-)
My view is that worship is God-directed (stuff for God to hear from us) but worshiper-transforming (as are all disciplines of the Godward life).

I also agree with you basically on the "Above All" thing. Jesus' thoughts on the cross were about submitting to the will of the Father above all. But it was the supreme outpouring of divine grace in love for wretched sinners. In that sense, I get the spirit of the song and don't find it near as fuzzy as the "the sacrifice is mine alone" thing.