Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Heart of Worship

(I write the following with great reluctance because I am writing about worship in churches and I myself am often involved in helping out with worship. Everything I say here I say first to myself.)

The Sunday after returning from India I went to two different church services - after all, having come off three weeks of listening to two sermons in the morning and two in the evening, it seemed odd to hear just one!

The first service I went to had a worship team of six people, plus three people running sound and the equipment that projected the words onto the screen at the front of the room. Keyboards, guitars, bass, drums, vocalists were pounding away relentlessly on the stage. 

Hardly anyone in the congregation was singing.

The songs were unfamiliar for the most part; and the music was pitched to the range of the music team leader, impractically low for 98% of any given congregation. Even the one traditional hymn that was sung had enough variation on the well known tune and timing to make it painful to try to follow.

The second service had piano, keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, vocalists. More of the songs were familiar and the pitch was selected so that people could sing along; but as song followed song, chorus followed chorus in a stream of sound that got muddied and stretched on for far too long, people who had started the morning singing joyfully started to taper off.

And to add insult to injury the words of many of the newer songs spoke little if at all to my soul.  They seemed trite, shallow, focusing a great deal on Me and what I want, need, believe, think.

I was left feeling exhausted, drained, frustrated, irritable.

I was left feeling muted.

The ensuing sense of discouragement I had for the remainder of the day perplexed and troubled me enough that during this past week I have thought every day about what is worship. I have mulled it over with other people - discovering that I am far from being alone in my thoughts on this topic - and have realized that last Sunday is not untypical for services in North America these days.

My observation is that in today's churches' ongoing search to remain relevant, to be au courant and not to lose the gnat-like attention span the younger generations are purported to possess; in their overwhelming desire to "engage" the congregation, what has been lost sight of is the worship of God, one of the chief reasons we are at church in the first place.

The teams have clearly spent hours practising; so much so that they seem to have rehearsed any spontaneity right out of the music. It has often become a performance and they are playing their parts. The music vies with the preaching to see which gets the most airtime rather than the music being the lead up to, the complement to the message. The preacher dares not ask for a closing song that might illustrate the point he has made because it's "not on the list."

What has been pushed to the side is the faith - and the words that describe that faith - of our fathers and mothers, those members of the diminishing older generation who are the cornerstones of the churches we are attending. These people who are spiritual giants, prayer warriors, generous contributors to their churches, now sit there in polite confusion, trying earnestly to sing the new songs that sound so thin, that are so unmelodious to ears who have been accustomed to hearing anthems of praise ring out strongly.

We continue to sit in our seats, following along to words that flash in front of us but rarely opening our mouths. We sit there getting colder, waiting for the "worship" to be over so that we can at least hear the pastor's sermon and find something that touches our souls and restores the joy.

New is not always better. More is often less.

Finally what was troubling me became clear to me when I watched a clip of a song I taped on my little camera. The song leader, Mung No, has no formal training in music. The pianist has taught himself to play the piano. There is no thought of a worship team trying to lead the congregation to worship ...

... because the congregation doesn't need to be coaxed to worship! Their hearts are overflowing with praise and thanksgiving for what God has done for them. Everyone knows the song and almost everyone knows what the song means. No one is self-conscious, but rather is conscious of who God is and how good He is.

This doesn't mean that there are not difficulties and extreme hardships in the lives of many of the worshipers. Mung No has himself undergone terrible suffering and uncertainty in recent years. There are people in that congregation who don't have freedom to worship when they return to their own places. There are people who are sick and can't afford to go to a doctor. There are people who can't afford a candy bar much less a trip home for the summer. There are people who have nothing.

Nothing, that is, except for God. And they rely on Him and lean on His word and promises. They have not forgotten the joy of their salvation.

So with hearts overflowing, they sing willingly and with gratitude while the slightly out-of-tune piano rings out with praise and the song leader holds the reins lightly and with reverence.

Worship teams and leaders have a sobering responsibility in a service. They set the tone of what is to come and can draw individuals together to worship God in unity. They can lead people to the very feet of Christ.

The congregation has a responsibility too. Genuine worship reflects a walk with God that is central to a person's life, not just an added benefit.

Click on the link below. Forgive the poor quality of the video. Turn up the volume.

This song might be considered old-fashioned, maybe. But its words are timeless, its joy is infectious and it contains the heart of worship, which has very little to do with "Me" and everything to do with the One we praise.


  1. i'm sitting here at my kitchen table with tears streaming down my face. unable to go to church this morning due to sick little ones, i've been so sad to miss church.

    *this* spoke to my heart more than any other sermon could. this is something that both tony and i have struggled with ~ the concept of worship. i sense both of us being more discouraged by the time "worship" is over, then uplifted and prepared to hear what Jesus wants to say.

    thank you, dear karyn, for writing this. for putting to words what so many feel.

    and that video! beautiful. the genuine, *spontaneous* joy that was so obvious on the faces of the leader, the pastor (?) and your dear, dear dad. *that* is what i miss...what i pray and hope returns to "mainstream" christianity.

    i miss you and our talks. this was like sitting down across the table from you as we sit in the purple chairs and drink our lattes.

    love you.

  2. Thanks for sharing that Karyn.

  3. This was read aloud in our home and was much appreciated. All the children watched the video - It was a joy to see.

  4. Without faith it is impossible to please God. With faith, pleasing God is the first pleasure. So evident in what is seen and heard here. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Karyn; I loved this post - so completely true...sometimes more is less. The video brought joy to my heart and a smile to my face. It's a song I remember belting out as a kid, but have not sung in so many years. Thanks! CarolynJoy.

  6. I was reading through the new postings today and when I read yours I was like, "somebody other than Scott and I feel this way!" We went to my brother's church in Georgia and not only was the song service just as long as the preaching part, it was loud and repititious. Maybe one hymn put in, but mostly none. My family sang out because that's the way we grew up and I tried to sing the ones I'd heard before, but it was hard. The background tracks literally hurt by ears and body. It's hard to imagine how that prepares one's heart for the message, but I was thankful that the S.S. lesson beforehand had started the work and thankfully the Lord had given the preacher just the message that we needed to hear. I do think, "what about those who walk in fresh with no hear preparation?" Sometimes there is not that joy with many who come to our services in Kindersley, but we try not to let it steal the joy that the Lord has already given us. The most amazing times of singing hymns have been at preacher's conferences and at my dad's funeral. To hear the church packed with people that love the Lord and are truly thankful for what he has done in their life is AMAZING! I love to sing hymns and thank the Lord for giving those words and the music to people who preserved them for us today. People that don't appreciate them are really missing out. Maybe even missing out on being saved. Thank you for sharing the video, I loved it:)"

  7. Thank you for your words. I am thankful that my family and I have a good Bible believing conservative church to attend while we are in the U.S. (We are usually serving the Lord at the Bible College where Karyn's parents served in India.) I am not ashamed to go to a church that sings old time hymns and preaches on sin and salvation. I am not ashamed to be called old fashioned. But that said, I also have thought long and hard over the past 6 months about what worshiping God means. When I had to leave India and come to the U.S. to straighten out my visa problems I was very disappointed. I did not want to leave the ministry at the Bible college in India and was unsure about how long I would be in the U.S. The Lord impressed on me that He wanted my heart more than my service of teaching Sunday School, Jr Church, English class. In the 3 weeks that I did not minister to more than my family, I learned to simply give every part of my life to God in worship.

    We need to return to the Bible and learn what pleases God. He should be our focus of worship.

  8. Dear Karyn, Thank you so much for sharing this. I was crying remembering all those days and now recall how blessed we were. So good to see uncle Ironside and dear brother Joh. I just love to hear that music... Rachel Chelli Shah


I love to hear from you! Please leave me a leaf to read ...