“While I was growing up, my basic understanding of Scripture was that the Bible is a road map or user’s manual for the Christian faith. There are some individual stories within the manual that taught me, but I had a hard time seeing a connection between those individual stories. This mentality led me to a faith that was confusing, frustrating, and extremely unsettling at times. (…) It was as though I had a bunch of puzzle pieces that showed little bits of the larger picture, but they didn’t make any sense on their own.”
(Jon Huckins – Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling)
I’m reading Teaching through the art of storytelling right now (a very interesting book by the way – I’ll post a review when I’ve finished it) and came across this quote. It struck a nerve in me, as I completely recognize this. I grew up in church as well, but I didn’t see the big picture either until later, despite being a committed Christian.
I’ve been thinking about what it takes to present our young people with the bigger picture for a while now, to connect the dots for them or help them to do that themselves. And one of the things this process has made me wonder about is the role of the type of worship songs we use in youth services or youth small groups.
What theology does your worship teach? Does it reinforce this fragmented puzzle of what being a follower of Jesus is about? Or does it support the bigger picture?
We were singing in a nursing home with some young adults a few weeks ago as part of a weekend on spiritual disciplines (this was done as an act of service). Because we wanted to reach the people who lived there, we picked some classic ‘old’ songs to sing. As we sang these both in practice and in the nursing home itself, it struck me how different the lyrics were than the songs we sing now.
These were what I would call ‘instructive’ songs who spoke of God’s character (‘What a friend we have in Jesus’), of what Jesus had done or ‘true worship’ songs who simply praised God (‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine’). There were songs about the cross (‘The old rugged cross’) or ‘testimonial songs’ who sang about what Jesus meant to me (‘He the pearly gates will open’). But all these songs had one thing in common: they were about God, about Jesus, and not about me or us.
If I look at some of the more modern worship songs we sing in church, I feel they are so often focused on us. Lord bless me, Keep me close to You, I want to be in Your presence, Lift me up, these are just some quotes from songs we sing nowadays. They reinforce the image of God as someone who only exists to bless us with whatever we want or need. And some of them are downright wrong theologically (a Dutch worship song says this for instance ‘we have given You everything You deserve’ – if that were only true!).
What kind of theology do these songs teach? If our students were to put all the lyrics of the songs we use in youth ministry together, what picture of God, of worship and of being a follower of Jesus would they get? If we are worried about our students falling prey to the pitfalls of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism for instance, we may need to take a critical look if our worship isn’t reinforcing that image of God.
Our worship should have but one focus: to give Jesus the honor He deserves, to praise God for who He is and what He has done for us. Worship isn’t about us, it’s about Him. The goal of worship is not to ask God for stuff, but to praise Him despite our circumstances. This is one of the reasons why I love Matt Redman’s song ‘Blessed be the name’ so much because it expresses exactly that: no matter what happens in my life, I will bless God’s name.
Let’s not forget that music and the worship songs we teach our students can also greatly impact them. I read this wonderful illustration dated around 1900 about the hope and assurance certain songs can reinforce in us:
During the recent war in the Transvaal, when the soldiers going to the front were passing another body of soldiers whom they recognized, their greetings used to be, ‘Four-nine-four, boys; four-nine-four;’ and the salute would invariably be answered with ‘Six further on, boys; six further on.’ The significance of this was that, in ‘Sacred Songs and Solos,’ a number of copies of the small edition of which had been sent to the front, number 494 was ‘God be with you until we meet again;’ and six further on than 494, or number 500, was ‘Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.’ (Source)
Have you ever looked critically at the theology your worship teaches? What could you do to show a complete and honest picture of God in your worship?