When worship is boring and apathetic

[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]

As a talented Worship Leader handed over his responsibility to his successor, due to new work requirements that take him away many Sundays, he wrote to me expressing a concern that lies heavy on his heart: 

“One thing I really feel strongly about is that many of the worship team members do not actually lead WORSHIP. They only lead SINGING. They look either bored or shy up on stage and it really takes away from what the worship could be and should be. Sadly, Baptists are shy people and it is nigh impossible to change this aspect of our worship. I remember many Sundays when I was still leading, when I tried SO hard to get people to liven up and enjoy the worship, but there were still so many in the congregation that stood with their hands in their pockets or gazing out the window or yawning during a song…. what to do!?”

Click on banner to register

I’m glad he noticed what’s going on in the Congregation. Many Worship Leaders are oblivious to the people they are leading in Worship. They don’t even notice when no-one sings because the wrong lyrics are projected on the screen. But, yes, I too am concerned with the apathy he refers to in this paragraph.  

Terminology trends
Perhaps this is related to more recent trends in Worship Service terminology, which I’m noticing: 

# “Worship” used to mean the whole scope of our interaction with God – now it is reduced to  a synonym for ‘singing in church’.

# Worship is also ‘performed’ by artists!  And when ‘worship’ is modelled by ‘artists’, then we ordinary congregants can’t worship – the task is too professional.

# A serious article on “Worship” refers to the congregation as the ‘audience’, not as ‘Worshipers’?

# Promoters of “Worship CDs” refer to us as “Worship Consumers”, not as “Worshipers”.

# Where can we find CDs of actual ‘congregational worship singing’? I have a collection of these, but the most recent is at least 10 years old. Since then, ‘artists’ have dominated the ‘Worship’ market.  We are in danger of losing out on Corporate Worship. 

The more obvious and easy answer is to make sure the Songs we choose are easily Singable by ordinary believers in the Congregation. Just because they sound good on studio-mixed CDs doesn’t mean they will be sung well in church. Furthermore, the lyrics must be meaningful, not boringly repetitive, cliched and bland. The words must be worth singing!  They must grip the mind and emotions. 

Deeper solution
I’m convinced that the deeper solution to these unChristian trends is to follow the only instructions in the New Testament about how to Sing.  These are in Eph 5:18-20 and Col 3:16. In blended Summary: ‘Controlled by the Holy Spirit, we must Sing God’s Word to Each Other. Our songs must Teach and Admonish each other with all Wisdom, using Every Genre of music: Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs’. 

What do we find in many churches today? We are singing My Desires and My Love to God, instead of singing His Word to Each Other. Our Songs contain little Teaching to build us up, little Admonition to steer each other into holy lifestyles. Many Songs are shallow and narrow, lacking Wisdom. We favour only one genre of Music – Contemporary Spiritual Songs. Maybe there’s an occasional Hymn, but we never sing Psalms. 

And what about the many other Ingredients of a meaningful Worship Service?  Prayers of Confession, of Adoration, of Thanksgiving and of Intercession. Testimonies, stories of God’s active involvement in our daily lives. Scripture and Sermon.  Reports of Evangelistic and Compassionate Outreach into our communities.  A Missions slot that lifts our vision to the Wider World of other faiths.  News of the Persecuted Church. More Prayers that intercede for those of whom we’ve heard. Prayers for our Govemment and Nation.  The Offering. Baptisms and Communion. 

Let’s avoid lumping all the Songs into one long standing session — intersperse them, relating each Song to what has just been prayed or reported. The Reading of Scripture and the Exposition of God’s Word also require related Songs to embed them in our forgetful minds. Not every Service will embrace all of these, but they will feature over time. Each Service will inspire with meaningful variety from God’s smorgasbord. 

If we embrace “Worship” as God meant it to be, then boredom will evaporate. Those on stage, facilitating interactive Worship, will sustain eye-contact covering the whole congregation. They will avoid losing themselves with closed eyes in their own little world of ‘Me and God’. The Leader will ensure meaningful bridging between the songs and between the various ingredients of the Worship Service. The congregation will be aware of Jesus who is present, and relate to the whole Worship Service in an inspirational and meaningful way.

One Comment

  1. As a student of Hymnology during my theological training years,+ being a teacher of ‘Psalmody,the lifestyle of a Believer’, I’m convinced the Word of God does not have to be helped & modernised, to make it relevant today. True, language changes, but not the message. Our songs & Hymns still are relevant, as are many of those being composed today. Balance is essential