[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]
Worship all over the world will move onto a higher and richer plane when song-writers take First Corinthians 12:4-7 seriously: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The apostle continues to list, in verses 8-10, a wide range of spiritual gifts, using this formula: “To one is given through the Spirit ….., to another ….., to another ….., etc. He concludes by saying “All these (Gifts) are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
Contrast this with the practice, common over the last thirty years, of concentrating a wide range of different gifts into the ministry of one person. In our 21st-century churches, Worship-related gifts include: vocal leads or performing, playing instruments, writing lyrics, composing the music. (There are also technical abilities: studio or sound-desk skills, capturing and projecting the words.) The world-wide Worship Explosion has been led by many individuals who are Singer-Player-Composer-Lyricists. Four separate Gifts in One Person. She or He can rise to heights of fame, generating platinum status with CDs and DVDs that gross millions. Because of their fame they will be accorded a fifth Gift: Worship Leader. All five gifts in one person.
And for every Worship super-star there are hundreds of ordinary Christians who copy their multi-tasked heroes at local-church level. They are likely to be asked to ‘Lead the Worship’, which means ‘compere the church service from its commencement till the Preacher takes over’. To do this requires special abilities such as * a conceptual big-picture vision of the total Service; * public prayers that include worship, confession, intercession; * relevant Scripture readings; * appropriate testimonies on occasion; * stimulating participation in the church’s week-long programmes; choosing appropriate songs/hymns; co-ordinating the vocals, musicians and the projectionist; inspiring the congregation to sing heartily to the Lord and to one another; often drawing the Service to a close that harmonises with the preached Word. The Worship-leader needs the over-arching spiritual ability to connect all these components into one themed congregational experience.
Because few Singer-Players are gifted in all the competencies of Leading the Worship Service, and because their gift is a Musical Gift where they are most comfortable, the richness of a fully-orbed Worship Service is likely to be reduced to 30-minutes of singing a list of their favourite songs, a short prayer and then ‘over to the preacher’.
Meanwhile the Holy Spirit is disappointed. I can hear Him muttering: “Why do they overload one person with so many expectations? I apportioned different Gifts to various persons, individually, as I decided.”
“I gave Jill the gift of writing the Lyrics. She knows her Bible well, and has studied theology. I have equipped her with poetic imagination, and she expresses herself well, in concise phrases. Why don’t they use the Gifts I gave her?”
“I gave Nikiwe the ability to Compose Music – because of this she instinctively hums tunes that are easily Singable by the congregation. Yes, I know she is so shy she could never lead up-front. But her musical skills have been honed at university. I intended her to team up with Jill. Why don’t they serve Me together?”
“Yes, I can see the reason why. When I gave Gert the gift of Singing, and the ability to inspire the congregation to sing-along with him, he worked hard to develop these Gifts. I’m pleased about this. But he has assumed that, because he has these gifts, he can also Write Lyrics and Compose Music. But look at his words: they are shallow and sentimental, with Biblical phrases and Christian cliches haphazardly strung together. His music wanders without structure, and though he sings it well, the congregation can’t follow its meanderings. They just give up and listen.
World’s entertainment model
“He has patterned his concept of Music on the super-stars of the commercial Worship scene, and they have patterned their concept of Music on the super-stars of the commercial World Stage. They compose their own Music, and write their own Lyrics sourced in their own Feelings. Then they sing them and wow the fans, who sing-along with them at their pyrotechnic concerts. And so the world’s entertainment model has influenced the Church’s worship model.”
The Holy Spirit wistfully whispers, as He courteously moves to the sidelines, “I wish the Church would recognise that I seldom give One Person a Combo of Gifts. In the Music department alone, ‘there are varieties of gifts’. To one believer I have given the Gift of Lyric-writing, to another the Gift of Composing Music, to another the Gift of Playing a musical instrument, to another the Gift of Singing, and to another the Gift of Leading an Integrated Worship Service. I long that they would harness all these Gifts, and all the Gifted People, ‘for the common good’ of the whole congregation.”
The same ‘Gifts of the Spirit Principles’ apply to the wider Church’s Worship Music. Most congregations have Singers, Players and Service Leaders – few have Lyricists and Composers. But the world-wide Body of Christ is well-endowed with these. Yet because of the way gifted Singers assume the Combo-Gift model, they write their own Lyrics and compose their own music. The Holy Spirit didn’t plan it that way. As a result, many Contemporary Worship Songs are Shallow and Narrow, and not easily Singable by the congregation.
It wasn’t always this way. Check out the credits in a musical edition of any Hymn/Song book published before 1980, and you will usually find the words were written by a pastor or theologian with requisite Gifts, while the music was written by a Gifted musician. Few names will be found listed in both the Author’s Index and the Composer’s Index, because the Gifts needed for Words are not the Gifts needed for Music. They complement each other, for “all are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills”.