I have, and at times still do, worship Worship. Simply put, I have cast self-made idols of songs themselves, the artists, the melodies that have taken me to deeply emotional places, lyrics that stirred my soul, and even the “worship production” experience itself.
Worship is essential. It is written into the fibers of who we are. So what is the problem?
I first felt a tingle of conviction last year while listening to “Sinking Deep” by Hillsong United. I’d listened to it 100+ times, then suddenly it struck me: there were a multitude of shouts of excitement from the congregation before a word of the song was ever sung! It seemed as though God asked me, “Were those for Me, or were they for the song itself?” It was then that I realized what I had made of that song – what had at first had led me to a place of beautiful wreckage, had become an addiction – I was hooked on the feeling, which the song helped to produce.
Worship music today is at its peak melodically, lyrically, and production-wise, yet while that is a blessing, therein also lies the danger. Is our focus on the melody or the Maker? Are our hearts centered on the song or the Savior? The feeling or the Father?
In the mid 90’s I fell in love with the genius of a teenage blues guitarist named Jonny Lang. In Paul Herman’s article about Jonny Lang’s conversion, he referenced a YouTube clip for listeners to hear several girls scream out “We Love You, Jonny!” Then Jonny does something unexpected. He starts playing the melody line of “I Love You Lord” right before going into “Breakin’ Me.” The first time I heard this I broke into tears. Jonny could have easily heard the adoration and kept it to himself and went straight into the song. Not this time. Jonny then recognized where true worship is deserved and he redirected it to the maker of melodies. That is worship, and it truly was “A Sweet Sweet Song.”
For the past two years I have been invited to be a part of Kingdom Songs Worship Writing Retreat in Nashville. Last year, several of us rented a cabin for the retreat. Following the retreat, about 15 of us had a cookout and bonfire at the cabin. Knowing we were having this, I invited a true mentor and friend Malcolm Duplesis to come. Malcolm has been instrumental in laying the foundation for many of the most well-known Worship artists in Worship Music today working in the Worship community for over two decades.
After dinner, Malcolm began to talk about what he is seeing in today’s worship culture. He then said something that left the room silent: “The best thing that could happen to the church today would be for churches to stop playing music during its services for three years. The greatest idol in the world is worship because we are supposed to be about loving Jesus, but a love for worship fills the void that is meant to be filled by Jesus.” He then went on to reference how he has seen the church as a whole over the past decade shift its focus more on the production, sound, and away from Jesus. That statement was a challenge to our group to change the culture.
To be clear, we are created to worship. There is nothing wrong with loving a song, going to a concert, following an artist, or even having a fondness of a particular church’s music. God works in all of these things, but we must be careful however not to worship Worship itself.
God may move in the midst of the melodies, and stir our heart through the songs we sing, but our minds should ultimately be captivated by our Maker, not the melodies. May our sights be forever fixed on our Savior above the songs.
What could we do better as worship pastors to help our churches elevate Jesus above the songs? Comment below.
Chip Connor is a Ragamuffin, Song Receiver, & the CEO of A Thousand Hills Music, LLC.