If worship music and I were in a relationship we would be Ross and Rachel. We are meant to be together but we’ve had our ups and downs over the years; even been on a break but ultimately everyone knows we’ll end up together.
Even writing this about how I am falling in love with worship music again, or at least the idea of worship music, I know that by next week we could have had a massive falling out.
Worship music for me was always about a song that could create an emotion in me. One that made me feel close to God or excited about God; made me feel like all the stuff that I know messes me up is forgiven and gave me hope.
There were songs that I loved to sing with other believers and honestly some of the times I have felt most at peace in this life has been with other Christians singing these songs. I remember listening to Amy Grant and Marantha! worship cassette tapes as a kid in the car. Going further back I remember Psalty. Worship in song form has shaped my faith in so many ways.
Then something changed. I started to grow tired of worship music and I started to tire of God. I am pretty confident that the correlation between my struggles with worship music and with God are linked. There are obviously a lot of other factors such as sin or life circumstances or my doubt (or my misbelief that doubt relates to the absence of God), but none of these were as loud in my life when my relationship with worship music was strong.
So what changed?
Well I did for a start. After a while Psalty just didn’t cut it. So he got thrown out (If your get that reference then you were a Psalty kid too) After a while I also became embarrassed by many practices in church some of which were music related.
Which was a big thing for me.
Music was something that was important to me. Music was the thing that most of my close friends and I bonded over. Discovering new music, going to shows and generally spending all our money on CD’s was our favorite thing to do together. We liked the same bands and we liked different bands but music was at the core of most of what we did together.
The problem with worship music was that it just didn’t match up to the music I was listening to. It wasn’t as good musically, most of the songs sounded the same and it all seemed so contrite. As a teenager most of my spiritual experiences were to be found in a dark club watching a band rather than in a Church with my hands in the air.
Worship music it seemed to me, became less about worship and more about performance. Worship leaders had to look good, kids at shows were there more to be seen than anything else and the lyrics were unconnected to anything that I was going through or feeling.
If I didn’t feel good during the worship part of a service then I felt left out as if I was an imposter. Music and faith was all connected in how you were doing. But what about the times when I didn’t feel like God loved me? How could I sing ‘Blessed be His name’ then?
Then there was of course the style of music. I hate most Christian music. There I said it. I know I am not the only one. But even the style of music wasn’t so much the problem as was the lack of creativity that it showed.
And here in lies the problem I had with most worship music. I believed and believe that God is a creative God. A God who is constantly creating and recreating life. In our individual lives, in our communities and in every part of human life. But I believe that Christianity excludes this character of God more often than not. If a Christian artist is relying on sounding like Snow Patrol or by changing the lyrics of Coldplay songs to express something then we are in trouble.
Now, I realize that much of this post is negative and it has probably made some people upset or angry and that is ok. It is ok because for a long time I felt that way too. For so long I fought against worship music in my mind until I realised that my unhappiness was actually a good thing. It was a good thing because my problems with it mainly came from the feeling that there must be more. That worship music should be creative, surprising and ground breaking.
My unhappiness was simply the process of me increasingly lining up more and more with who God is.
A God who loves to create.
So as I struggled with worship music in church and the subsequent struggle with who God is I realized that there was hope all along. That God had been trying to say something to me about who He is and who I am.
So I took worship music back. I started to look for music that was creative, yet still pointed to God in a way that helped me grow. I looked for music that was honest, even when that was ugly in comparison to how much of worship music portrays those who are feeling good about God as the norm.
I found artists like Gungor. Bands who didn’t rely on old formulas or old cliches. Bands whose sound changed with every album. Bands who were creative and equally comfortable writing songs about struggling alongside songs of praise to God.
About a God who wants worship to be something that doesn’t just deal with the nice, happy emotions but with the ugly, unspeakable ones too.
Worship that is real and honest.
Or as we’ll discover in Part 2, worship that is more than just about music.