Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Reforming Worship

One thing the evangelical Church must do in its effort to reform our discipleship culture is reevaluate our worship and reclaim it for the all-satisfying glory of God. I plan to write a bit about our worship culture in the coming weeks, but for the time being I will say that I am generally optimistic about the new wave of theo-centric worship coming out of the pastorally minded artists of the emerging generation. It is not coincidental, I don't think, that this refocusing of worship on the glory of God (as opposed to the entertainment of or even ministry to ourselves) comes at the same time the younger generation is getting more interested in theology, in discipleship, in church history, and in doing church in a missional context.

At the same time, the contemporary church is in great danger of making worship an idol, largely because we make music an idol. We consider worship a tool, either as a stylistic way to attract "seekers" or as an emotional way to massage the spirits of believers. We are a consumer culture, and it is no surprise that worship music has become a bona fide genre, complete with its own rock stars.

One guy who is most definitely not a rock star but who nevertheless should be looked to for influence and shepherding in the modern worship movement is Brian Doerksen. You may not have heard his name, but you have likely sung his songs before. (He wrote "Come, Now is the Time to Worship," among others.) Doerksen wrote and played on the Vineyard label and in the Vineyard worship movement. He has a Mennonite background, but this is a guy who wrote a song with the refrain, All praise to You, my rock, who trains my hands for war.

We don't sing songs like that in church any more, do we? We are too busy telling God how he makes us feel or singing the praises of our own efforts.

Doerksen has a new album coming out. All of the songs are about God's holiness. The following is from an interview with Doerksen by Andree Farias of Christian Music Today:
You have 25 albums to your credit as a worship leader or producer, and thousands sing your songs every week. So why do so few people know your name?

Brian Doerksen: When I first felt called to do this over twenty years ago, I wanted to perform music on big stages. But God quickly called me to be all about worship, which is really "Notice God, don't notice me." I feel incredibly comfortable in my own way trying to live out the whole John the Baptist thing ("He must become greater, I must become less") especially when I look at what it means to be a worship leader—an artist who creates a "window" for people to look through and see someone greater.

That explains why you'd rather lead at your local church than getting your name out there or going on a high-profile tour.

Doerksen: It is connected. To me, if I'm going to write worship music, inspiring others and putting songs in the mouths of the local church, if I'm not anchored in the local church and finding my primary identity there, it's going to feel false.

I hear people say, "My goal is to write a song that the whole world will sing." I kinda look at them sideways and ask, "Why don't you try and write a song you want to sing in your prayers to God? Or a song that your local church wants to sing, where you're serving, where you're known and loved." Let God worry about the rest of the world.

American worshippers are enamored with celebrity, hence the popularity of artist-based CDs and "special event" albums. Why is that?

Doerksen: I think that's related to American culture. More than anywhere else in the world, there's a fascination with stars, with the platform. So I'm not at all surprised that, even in worship music, the artists who tour more and the ones who have more visibility are accepted more in that context. I do quite a bit of work in Europe, and it's not quite that way there, or in Canada [where I live]. It's more organic—[people] are more concerned with the song and what it wants to say rather than who created it.
. . .

You've always held God's holiness in high esteem. Why make an album focused exclusively on that?

Doerksen: Two reasons. The positive reason is, when I went to withdraw and seek God at the beginning of last year to learn what he wanted me to do, I had such a powerful encounter with him and his holiness. The more I meditated, the more it became the only thing I wanted to sing about. From all the days and weeks of doing that, I knew that that's what I would have a story in—a public project with integrity where people would get a look at the private moments in my life.

The negative reason would be simply my deep concern about some of what is going on in the modern worship explosion—the shallowness, the man-centeredness, the banality. I wanted to do something that was about God and his core attributes. A song like "Holy God" is a God song, not a song about our feelings towards God. It's not our response to God. So this was my way of saying, "Think on these things."

As one of the "forefathers" of modern worship, it's interesting you're not happy with the direction of the movement.

Doerksen: I guess I don't see myself as central to the creation of the genre. But because it's become so popular, a lot of people can connect with the form yet not fully understand the heart of modern worship. Some of these bands were more CCM-performance oriented, but all of a sudden sold more records because they released worship albums. So without understanding the heart and theology behind it, I'm actually not surprised that there are some things going on that cause many of us to [question it].

Of course, when the hymns explosion happened a few hundred years ago in England, there were critics saying they were too man-centered or to emotional. But today you smile and note that many hymns are full of truth. To critique something is one thing, but to do something better is extremely difficult.

So if I'm providing any critique on the modern worship movement, I feel like I then have to do something, and Holy God is my response to that. I know I didn't totally get there, but hopefully I got there partway. How can you fully express the mystery of God in song, or even in an album? Everything is just a little glimpse or window that you're seeing. One day we will step through that window and be immersed in the holiness of God. Then these things will be distant memories and we'll say, "We barely touched it."

I love what he says about being rooted in the local church. I was once asked by a friend who had a friend who was an aspiring worship leader how his friend should go about "breaking into the business." I told him his friend should get a job at a church as a worship pastor and let his aspirations to be a worship recording artist take a backseat.

Currently evangelicalism's worship values and preaching content go hand in hand. We preach self-help and stray into self-centeredness in our worship. Because Gospel and worship go hand in hand (the proclamation of the Gospel provokes the line-crossing decision to either worship God or continue worshiping ourselves), if we work on reforming one aspect of our worship service, we make it easier to reform the other.

Finally, check out this post by Tim Hughes at Worship Central. Hughes uses the acrostic CHRIST to call for a recalibration of our worship values. He concludes his post:
“Worship without mission is self-indulgent. Mission without worship is self-defeating.”

So there you have it, our values in worship.

Christ Centred

Holy Spirit Led






Anonymous said...

so helpful!
so valuable!
so needed!!
thank you for posting this.

salguod said...

"worship leader—an artist who creates a "window" for people to look through and see someone greater"

I love that quote.