Monday, October 02, 2006

"I" and "We"

What are your thoughts on this?

The business of worship music has become such a huge moneymaker that we've even had worship songs that address the issue of what worship has become for some of the writers: "I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it, when it's all about You." [from Matt Redman's "The Heart of Worship"]

Though it's is a good song, I have a difficult time singing it in church. To me, it sounds less like a congregational worship tune than a personal confession. I've never made worship anything other than what it is, so I have a hard time saying that I have.
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In almost every case, the songs that touch me the deepest, whether they are old hymns or newer songs, were written by someone who had suffered great loss or who had been through a spiritual or emotional trauma. I sense the heart of the writer when songs come from that perspective. But I sense this kind of authenticity all too rarely in the worship music of today.
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One morning as we sat around our table, a guy from Australia by the name of John Smith and I got into a discussion about modern worship music. John said, "As much as I love your country, I think you're really missing it when it comes to worship music."

At first I couldn't decide whether I should be offended or not, so I said, "Go on."

John continued, "Look at the early Jesus-movement years. The songs back then were largely written with the idea of 'we' instead of 'I.' They were much more focused on the collective community aspects of worship and not so focused on making it an individual endeavor."

John was onto something. Back in the Jesus-movement period, we had a strong sense that we were in this Christian thing together, brothers and sisters. We worshiped and learned together. The songs of that time reflected the community quality of our faith. Was this something we were losing?

That night, at the evening session, I took note of what types of worship songs we sang. Several groups from different parts of Europe led worship, singing their songs in their native tongues, with English translations projected on a screen. The vast majority of the songs European Christians had written were "we" and "us" songs. But the groups also threw in some songs from the United States—and I was surprised to discover that the majority contained lyrics centered on "I" or "me."

Maybe the prominent use of "I" in American worship songs is nothing more than an attempt on the songwriters' part to make people feel a personal connection with worship and with God. Still, I couldn't help reflecting on the many times that worship has exposed things I'm doing wrong, not just in my personal relationship with God, but with other people. The Christian life in general and worship, particularly, is for the most part a group activity for the family of Christ. If worship is all about me and God, then I've got blinders on.
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As churches grow and become centers for what some would call huge clubs, the tendency is for us to allow ourselves to view worship as a sort of spectator sport. We gather on Sunday morning and find ourselves caught up in a slick, professional kind of experience. We look on as the band and singers present a version of worship songs that is most enjoyable and acceptable. We appreciate the level of professionalism while allowing ourselves the liberty not to become involved personally in the worship experience. In essence, we go along for the ride.

I'm not just criticizing others. I have been guilty of the same thing myself. Over the years, I've found that as a worship band is doing its thing, one of two problems can occur for me: either the band is so good that I sit and listen without entering into worship (my producer brain takes over), or the band is so horrible that I'm distracted from worship. But I have found something that can cut through every issue of musical performance, and that is the attitude of the people who are leading worship

Taken from Matthew Ward's new book, My Second Chapter: The Matthew Ward Story. Read more of an excerpt here.

P.S. There is more to come on this topic.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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Anne said...

Hmmmm. Interesting.

Seth Ward said...

I like this. I think alot of modern praise music can get pretty egocentric.

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