Saturday, October 28, 2006

Near/Far: Second Iteration (subset one)

In the comments to the previous post, Near/Far: Second Iteration, vocalist/guitarist of the band Wayfarer, Ryan Chubb, asked some questions that sparked more thoughts on my behalf, and when I realized my answer to him was post-length in itself, I decided to make it an update to the original post. And now it's a post all on it's own.

Ryan asked:
"My question is how do we define these things? What is passion if many equate it as exuberance? How do we avoid forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusions without making it a complete existential free-for-all?"
I guess what sparked my choice of words (which are admittedly and deliberately provocative) were instances where I've witnessed it.

For one, visiting a prominent mega-church and observing that they have little golden "mood lights" above the congregation, which rise and fall in luminence in connection with the rise and fall of the music, and seem to be designed for the express purpose of causing a corresponding rise and fall in the "mood" of the congregation. I believe they typically call this a "worship experience".

At first, I would have simply called it beaucoup de fromage (extemely cheezy), but ultimately (as I saw more and more youth ministries and churches adopting the same methodology and language) it bothered me because it's contrived, not real, not from the heart, and definitely pre-packaged. In which case, I would more likely just call it what it is: "manipulation".

Second, in some (not all) worship gatherings of charismatic, pentecostal, third wave and -- yes, let's admit it -- YWAM people, I have oft-times observed somebody (whether a leader, worship leader, or well-intentioned young person with a "word") say something to the effect of: "If you're not dancing, you're not 'free'. If you love God, you must dance for Him (right now)." With the unstated condemnation that, up until that moment, God wasn't happy with our worship, and that if we don't dance right now, we don't truly love Jesus.

Usually followed by the band diving into "Undignified", so we can all repent appropriately of our substandard expression of worship. (I've played this song myself, to be honest, but I've never used it to manipulate people into "performing" in a certain way)

Let me be really, really, REALLY clear: I absolutely LOVE freedom in worship, but to me, "freedom" looks more like a creative diversity of worship expressions, not the uniformity of one posture dictated by the agenda of the few.

Just before the most recent occurrence of this mentality, I was thoroughly enjoying singing Redman's "Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (great lyrics to this one!), and all around me, people were singing, some kneeling, some dancing, some with hands in the air -- a wonderful picture of the Body being free to express different creative postures of worship in a corporate setting.

Then, of course, there was the "word" about dancing for Jesus, and the requisite playing of "Undignified", and suddenly the worship of Jesus felt highjacked by a human agenda. Let's face it: some people don't find dancing to be part of their repertoire of worship expression. They just aren't dancers, and by forcing this narrow expectation on them, their focus is taken AWAY from worshipping Jesus, and placed on whether or not they were performing according to an agenda.

Secondly, and even more serious, is that these kind of "dance or you don't love God" kind of statements actually misrepresent Jesus.

Can you imagine this scene playing out in the heavenlies?

Angels: "Jesus, look over there! We see a whole crowd of Christians, from many different countries, language groups, denominations, and generations, all joining together to worship You! Isn't it awesome?"

Jesus (totally losing it): "Oh no, not again! They're doing it ALL WRONG!!. Quick, Holy Spirit, goose somebody down there to tell them that they don't love Me unless they're dancing."

Manipulation in worship -- although I'll concede that there are times where it's actually unintentional -- is a trap that anyone involved in worship has to be aware of, and guard against.

So, Ryan, when I posed the original statement which provoked your very excellent questions, it was these kind of things in the back of my mind that prompted what I wrote.

But let's open up your questions to everyone. For the record again, here's what Ryan was asking:
"My question is how do we define these things? What is passion if many equate it as exuberance? How do we avoid forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusions without making it a complete existential free-for-all?"
Thoughts? Insights?


Bill Kinnon has written a very good and thought-provoking article after being a part of this discussion here. Check out Bill's The Power of Music in Church.


  1. I was in a church for a number of years where the dance mentality was so strong that it became an unofficial part of the mission of the church. In one service, the worship leader (who was a really good guy and not at all manipulative) paused for a minute or so between two songs for a bit of silence. Later, two of the "intercessors" came up and told him that they were really praying at that part because it was obvious that we just couldn't "break through" - meaning, of course, that we weren't "exuberant" enough.

    Then again, my lack of frequent dancing also led to my termination from a staff position in that church, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

  2. I think that's good Rob, and my experiences are similar to that as well. I like what our lead worship minister says - I try to give people's worship a language, a voice. I don't really "lead them" where I want them to go, I work with them in where they want to go. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this attitude and I think it helps our worship team stay away from any kind of manipulation.

    However, we do things to help people more easily enter into a place of worship that is more focused/less distracted. This might be seen, by some, to be manipulation. So it's a fine line IME.

    I would also add that we manipulate people's emotional response to any type of worship or ministry experience. Our emphasis on crying, for example, is one thing that irks me. It's also one thing that very well may contribute to some men (and women like me) feeling very uncomfortable and controled and ... well... "girly". Ok there, I admited it, I'm not stereotypically girly. ;) In all seriousness though, trying to evoke an emotional response and essentially dictating to people what that emotional response should be is not only fundamentally wrong, it doesn't actually work.

  3. UGH! This was such a GREAT post! I am someone of both worlds, having grown up in a hymn-n-organ fundamentalist church and then attending Bible College at a charismatic church (and visiting many via our missionary trips), and am now back in fundamentalism (though much looser than the version I grew up in, I'll say that)...

    I can't tell you enough how much I wriggle and cringe at the fundamentalist 3 chorus, 2 hymn set, with each song pre-determined (sing verse one, chorus, verse 2, chorus, last time do the chorus slow, repeat last line twice, end). AAAAAAAUUUUGH!

    But it's equally painful to be a part of what you've described in your post--the whole, "God just told me that He wants to rain blessings down on all those who hold their hands up and open their mouths." So then you have to stand there with your mouth open like a bird, or you are either, a.) a bad christian, and/or b.) not going to get blessed... Or someone gets a word from God that we all are supposed to dance, or be excited that we're going to sing the same song fiftythousand times, or whatever it is that "the Spirit is saying."

    So HOW to find a balance...or maybe not even a balance, maybe dumping both and finding a new paradigm... ?

    Can we just sing, and be led of the Spirit individually as to whether we want to sit or stand or dance or sing? And can we have grace for those who want to dance when we don't want to, and for the song leader (if there is one) who is repeating the chorus twenty times (or for the song leader who has to write down how many times the chorus will be played, days before it's going to be played)? Is there a place where we can have graciousness for others when they don't do it the way *we* would, WHILE also experiencing true individual liberty to worship God as we sense we ought?

    Wishing I had some sort of answers beyond just wishing I could experience the above.

  4. I think dancing is particularly egregious in worship when it is offered by people of European decent who clap on the 1.32 and the 3.17 while also attempting to "shake their booty" in some sort of arrhythmic fashion. (Undignified ain't the half of it - nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, hey!)

  5. Rob, On your previous post I was thinking it's mainly the manipulative aspect you mentioned that brings out so much ire over "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs.

    However, some people are certainly uncomfortable when that hidden line into over-familiarity with God is crossed. While I know the Psalmists and prophets did, in fact, seem to cross that line while maintaining and air of respect, even I sometimes don't know where the line is for me. I can't sing "I'm desperate for you," but there are any number of phrases with similar intent that I'm comfortable with.

    Back to the main point- I too recoil at manipulative worship. But, I don't think there's any way to address the issue wholesale. Each congregation has it's history and personality, and thus has to be led individually. If I were to suggest dancing in worship rfor example, I probably would be invited not to return as worship leader. However, I have to resist the urge to ask the congregation to sing, sing more, or ...blink occasionally.

    Passion is ... not exactly relative, but... maybe a variable? I think the greatest challenge worship leaders have is to learn not to look at the outward expressions of their congregations as indicators of their own "success." Bottom line is that we like to see people experiencing "true worship" because it makes us feel like we've done a good job. So it's easy to fall into the "prove you love God by doing _______" mode for selfish reasons. And now I think I've gone off point so I'll stop here. :-)

  6. I love a good upbeat time of praise and I also love those calm, slow, sweet times of worship, but only when the praise and worship come from heart felt passionate expressions of devotion to God. Exuberance does not equal passion. Its interesting that our word passion comes from the Latin word passio that was specifically coined in the second century to describe the travails and suffering of Jesus’ Crucifixion.

    This passionate expression of devotion comes out of a regular relationship and journey with our Lord. Without this “though the week” relationship, you simply have nothing to praise or worship him about. You would not have seen him heal a broken heart, or draw a friend into a new kingdom relationship with him, or understand his eternal power and divine nature in a sunset, or feel his love for the stranger expressed through you, or feel his love for you in those quiet times you spend in his word.

    Some will disguise their dark souls with exuberance and enthusiasm at their regular Sunday morning pep rally. Others simply don’t know any different. They have been taught that this is what true worship is. And many leaders would never attempt a change out of fear of losing so many of their members.

    I wonder what it says about the Body of Christ when so many need/demand a pep rally to make them feel like they have had a spiritual experience and leaders give it to them?

  7. I am so glad to see you discussing these ever so important questions…there is SO much harm to be avoided…and so much life to be found if we can walk this path maturely…again music is such a powerful thing.
    There are so many excellent points above…like Cindy’s warning against pragmatism…and the Blind Beggar’s unearthing of passion’s older/deeper meanings - ‘suffering’…

    To this point I’d like to see passion less about exuberance (not that it can never be that) but more about a ‘laboring’ to that place of rest in God’s presence…and this should not be forced or coerced with lights or maj7th chords…I wonder sometimes if we may NEED to include the concept of ‘dearth’ now and again to our diet due to our culture of over-consumption…I know that seems to help a lot when trying to answer the question – is this about me? I guess I wish there were some nights of planned extended free worship and then some months without any music at all…a fasting if you will to keep a healthy perspective.

    Rob, I agree with you that most manipulation is perhaps unintentional – and that true worship must come from the heart in order to be authentic – but even this needs to be fleshed out…what is ‘from the heart’? Where again is the line before it becomes emotionalism? Don’t get me wrong…I long to see naked passion in worship to respond to God’s ineffable beauty…but I’m also deeply worried about how we are doing this…when does freedom become anarchy?

    One thing is for sure our music and our leading should never contradict the themes of our songs - God’s glory, grace, mercy, justice, humility, love, and the caring for our neighbors.

    To jump back to your near/far topic, I think Martin Smith said it best when he sang ‘Sometimes you’re further than the moon, sometimes you’re closer than my skin…” Such a passionate song without the cloying ‘near’ or the coldness of ‘far’…genius!

  8. On the flip side, I think there's value in encouraging people to be more "free" in their worship while in church. I see so many people who look and act like they're afraid to enjoy singing during worship times. I've heard people say they're afraid because they can't sing or its not comfortable or whatever. Worship in this context (not the daily moment to moment worship) is a dialogue between the worshipper and God. In my never humble opinion, people should be encouraged to worship without so much thought about what the person next to them might be thinking. Should it be forced? No. Should encouragement be given to expression? A resounding yes.

  9. Scott,

    I've seen this from time to time, as well. For some people, it IS a breakthrough to be more exuberant, but unfortunately it became THE sign of "breakthrough" for everyone.

    (sigh) Why is diversity of worship expression not seen as an extemely positive thing???


    I agree 100% -- not only does it not "work", it wouldn't be too far-fetched to suggest that it actually encourages people to "fake it to fit in".


    I laughed at all of your examples because I've experienced all of them (especially the "fifty thousand times" bit). It also brought to memory the many times where a certain song has just been played, and it's obvious to everyone that God is speaking through that song, so the pastor makes us play the same song AGAIN, just to keep "the anointing" flowing. It never works the second time.


    ROTL! Were you visiting one of our old churches?


    Thanks for those gems, especially about judging our own "worth" as worship leaders based on peoples' reactions. I'll be there isn't a worship leader on the planet who hasn't struggled with that one.

    Blind Beggar,

    That's a great point -- without our own during-the-week worship as individuals, corporate worship probably DOES look more like a fix-for-a-week (as in addiction) than an expression or overflow of what's happening already.

    You wrote:

    "I wonder what it says about the Body of Christ when so many need/demand a pep rally to make them feel like they have had a spiritual experience and leaders give it to them?"

    The cynical side of me says "consumerism" and "pandering" respectively. The more reasonable side would like to believe that some good teaching and modelling might be an effective course correction towards spiritual maturity. Whether that ever happens may be dependent on the status of the debt reduction program, which would be truly disappointing.


    Ah, you mean the Lament -- the largest single category of Psalms? Basically, the blues of the OT? I'm with you on that, although I was once a part of a church that had gone through a long season (two years) of tragedies (including the death of one of our pastors), and we got so stuck in "lament" mode that our worship was unbalanced towards "oh God, where are You?" to almost the exclusion of all else. Balance is so hard to find!

    When does freedom become anarchy? Hmmm. Perhaps it's not so much about actions that look like anarchy, but more about the attitude of "it's all about MY expression of worship, so don't get in my way"?

    I'd like to hear other peoples' thoughts on this very important question:

    When does 'freedom' become 'anarchy'?


    Yes, encouraging freedom would mean a variety of worship expressions happening simultaneously. I've really enjoyed leading worship when I can see people sitting, standing, kneeling, dancing, praying, arms in the air, hands in the pockets, etc. The freedom was in the fact that everyone was being (as our slogan for youth ministry used to be) "normal people, full of God".

    Sort of an antidote to Cindy's comment about wishing people would even just blink occasionally. :)


    A thousand apologies! When I got your email this morning about accidentally posting the same thing several times, I went in and deleted two of them. But somehow that erased ALL of your posts.

    (insert appropriate penance here)

    Any chance you remember what you wrote, and could post it (once) here again?

    Again, milles pardon...

  10. I love this discussion on this one. I was raised in the Charismatic church in which guilt and manipulation ruled during worship. I am not saying all do this, but I think every church in a 200 mile radius of me in California does. I went to this one church for a while in which the worship leader would come out and lead worship in the pep rally way for an hour and 30 minutes. Then because the pastor also liked to lead worship and he was back praying not in the service and wanted his own worship would come out and say the Lord wasn't in the place and we needed to worship more. Didn't we want a blessing from God. This was every week. Oh I think I failed to mention he lead worship for an hour. I felt like I was worked up into a frenzy and never allowed to come down. I like Scottb was asked to leave the church because I didn't dance enough. I was told I wasn't spiritual like them so I couldn't be a part of the church as I was bringing them down. Sorry for the long post.

  11. i was just thinking today about elijah and the prophets of baal. remember how they were having a contest to see which god would get the alter to burn up? the prophets do everything they can to get it to work, and to make it happen.

    then old elijah does the opposite of what they did, dousing the wood in water, making it unreasonable that it would work.

    i think it's a good sign of who really had faith in the situation. elijah knew that there was nothing he could do to get the alter to start burning, so since it was god's deal, he just let him do it.

    we can run around and try to hype it up, hoping that either god'll do something, or at least that someone'll have an experience, or we can have faith like elijah, and know that if anything's going to happen, it'll be god doing it anyway, so why work so hard? what's the big deal if it doesn't work - i mean, think about it people, we all mostly look like idiots anyway following jesus, so why not at least let him do his job.

  12. Here are the results of the re-digging in my mind (and computer ;-)):
    Oh this sounds soooo familiar. Our church is one of the conservative sort, and we just started a praiseband (not for sundays ofcourse...). The person who wanted to do the leading of the worship has the same legalistic attitude, just the subject is a little different (we almost don't dare to dréam about dancing or raising hands): there's one way to play s'th the right way, and that's the way we all agreed on (usually his way). There's NO artistic freedom in the band. Not even an attempt to try to play s'th in a different way, just to have two ways (to choose from). He is, ofcourse, very against jamming. Not to get to musically know eachother, nor to find out other ways to do s'th. And what I'm talking about is just the rehearsaltime, not even 'performing'.
    For me it's still very strange to read (and hear about) all these strange ways in letting eachother free (NOT) in how to praise our Lord and Saviour. The only thing to prevent this attitude is, living very close to God, I think: Praying and especially listening. Sometimes I think: if Jesus would be in our church, would He apply for worshipleader? And IF He did, would He fit our worshipleader-profile? Or would He thunder a 'message from God' from the stage, or try to convince all of us by sitting next to us and tell a story, as He did so often when He was still among us, to let us discover the truth ourselves? I sometimes get the creeps when I think of Jesus walking into our nowaday life: what would He cry about, that we have a hard time to understand?
    Greetings and salutations ;-D

  13. Gideon Strauss points to a great Stanley Hauerwas comment on this topic (well sort of):

    "One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend."

  14. I think, as a worship leader, that worship in a corporate sense as it relates to an expression from the heart through music, is the smallest form of worship.

    Worship leaders hate it when I say that, but it's true. Would God rather that we live our lives as a form of worship to honor Him, or whole heartedly sing some songs, with maybe a dance or tears thrown in.

    I think worship leaders truly spend too much time trying to invoke musical, corporate, worship, when they should be focusing on making worshippers who go out and live lives that honor God. Relegating a worship leaders position to music is thinking too small. The truth is, that a teaching pastor is as much a worship leader in my mind as the musical one.

    The whole music industry has turned the musical form of worship into something more about human glory and profit than glory to God. It's difficult to see through that smoke when we compare our churches to Willow Creek and Hillsongs.

    Here's to authentic worship in daily living.

  15. Lucaso,
    I couldn't agree more. I prefer to be referred to as as music or song leader, but find that isn't catching on too well in my world. I cringe every time the pastor says, "Now let's worship some more" and he gestures to me and my husband to start the music. But if our pastors don't lead the way into teaching that worship is a whole life not just a song singing venture, it's pretty tough to accomplish through song leading alone- which is all i'm allowed to do.

    Any suggestions for worship music leaders on how to "make(encourage) worshippers who go out and live lives that honor God" rather than just sing the songs?

  16. PJ,

    Like Scott's story, I'm amazed (in a train wreck sort of way) that you'd actually be asked to leave because of not diving into the hype without a second (or any) thought. On one hand, nothing surprises me anymore, but on the other hand, it's grievous and criminal that it does.

    Phogan (Seanster rhymes with monster),

    Exactly! Do we believe God actually wants to "show up" (to use the old Vineyard-speak) or not? You're right -- let's just let the Spirit do what He does best!


    I'm glad you were able to re-post! And your questions are sobering ones: WWJD on a worship/being in church level? Would our "worship leader job description" qualify as "wood, hay, and stubble"?


    Do you have strong feelings on this one? :)

    I wonder how many of those who (A) welcomed Jesus with shouts of "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday were also (B) in the crowd that shouted "Crucify" a week later, and if (C) when they calmed down later, might have realized that they'd been manipulated by their (worship) leaders?


    You raise some very good points, a la St. James: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27) and perhaps Isaiah:

    "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58:6).

    But I would also like to suggest that singing in worship, individually and corporately, is "normal" for Christians. The Psalms are full of examples of this, and even my non-Christian friends like to sing when they're happy, sad, angry, or whatever (or write songs about it, anyway).

    I think we're all trying to find a way to be "both/and", rather than "either/or". And I would heartily echo your desire for worshippers who worship daily by noticing and caring for those around them (not unlike "Practicing the Presence of God", as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection wrote several centuries ago).


    Are there songs that you could introduce in worship that point to these kind of actions? I'm aware of some older Vineyard songs that are a combination of worship/exhortation to ministry, but I'm sure if we looked, there should be some more recent ones as well.

    Or maybe you could write some?

  17. Good post buddy.....
    Back to UNDIGNIFIED....
    One cannot really sing this song unless they truly become contextual. So, I think that when people sing this song, that they strip down to their underwear (linen ephod) and truly become undignified as David.
    Good post, great responses and food for thought!

  18. Gerry, re linen ephod. You first! I'll have the video crew ready.

  19. Soulpastor,

    Oh yeah, I'd like to see YOU do this at Soul Sanctuary, and see how many heresy-hunting websites shriek about your church being the new frontier in emerging worship! :)


    Hmm. Soulpastor is, as you know, a handsome and debonair type of pastoral dude, but I think a video of him "doing the David" might qualify as too much information (wink).

    But hey, better him than me...

  20. I think we avoid manipulation for me when...

    a) we empower the people rather than just the leader - I like Mak's lead worshipper idea rather than worship leader.

    b) we try and find a holy space rather than create an event

    c) we realise that music/worship/body postures are only 3 ways of worshipping - not singing does not mean lack of engagemet

    d)we move away from directive statements even in words and talk about underlining values - we realise that some people they're a visual person staring at a plan white wall...

    e) we realise how self conscious some people feel and indeed how powerful a mob mentality can be on the flip side

    f) we take away words some times, we take away singing sometimes, we don't have to plaster every space with sound

    g)we affirm people not their actions

    h) we realise that the moments where God walks through the room for me are not going to be the same for you and don't seek to impose our style just cos we happen to have the PA kit

    i) we have diverse range of music/image/kinetic/aural activities that alllow people to just not sing about loving but connect with justice, mission, love for communities - we need to reflect about what we do, who we are doing it with and who are do it for