Values and Principles of Worship, revisited

There’s actually more to what we did, and what I believe, than what I put in that last post.  I’ve incorporated those ideas further into this outline, and rearranged some of the old ideas as well. Expanded thoughts are below the cut.

Purpose Statement:
Worship is form of expression and communication to God from believers. It is therefore personal and individualized while remaining solidly truthful and pleasing to God.

Three Principles For Worship:

  1. Worship should be truthful. (Rom 11:33-36, Ex 20:16)
    • Songs should be doctrinally and biblically sound.
    • Lyrical content should be valued over form, but with neither being devalued.
  2. Worship should be God-centered. (Col 3:17, Ps. 95:6, Rev 5:12)
    • Focus of songs should be on God.
      1. Songs should be unique to God’s character
      2. Songs should not focus on the singer or his response – they should be the response.
    • Songs should not be overly controversial, as only the Gospel should be a stumbling block.
  3. Worship should be a personal experience. (various Psalms)
    • Worshippers should feel comfortable to express worship in their own way.
      1. Worship leaders should allow for differing levels of physical response to worship.
    • Worship leaders should strive to provide a worship environment free of distraction.
      1. Songs should be familiar, or made familiar, to the worshippers.
      2. Musical style should be relevant and familiar to the worshippers.
      3. The leaders should be skilled in the role in which they serve.
      4. Worship leaders should not “perform” – it is not a concert.

The first point deals with the base core of the song – is the song truthful? Do the attributes it attribute to God fit? Are the promises we are making in the song genuine? Are the statements honest? A good exercise we would do in correlation to this point was to take the songs we sang, or were going to sing, and reviewing them line-by-line to match up to Scripture. At this point we would take out songs that had doctrinal flaws, incorrect assumptions, or insincere statements. Sometimes these aren’t obvious at all – for instance, the song that claims “You’re all I want” may fail this test, because our major problem lies in the fact that he isn’t all we want. Our desires are a problem, and so by making the song say “I only want you” you are essentially lying. While it seems pedantic, it is important to be consistent here, so these things are worth looking at. So we look closely at the lyrics and make sure they’re in line – they’re the important part. Music is important too, but this comes first.

The second point involves looking at the songs a bit more closely. What we would often do was subject each song to a test. We would look at the song and see if the song addressed general concepts that were not specific to God – for instance, the “God is my Girlfriend” test, where you would substitute a woman’s name for “God” or “Lord” and see if it still worked. If it did, it was out.

Assuming it was still in, we would look at the song’s focus – is the song talking about the singer? Is it about his response? There’s a song that says “I could sing of your love forever” – well, that’s great, how about you start now? It’s pointless to sing songs like that, instead you should be praising God or dwelling on his attributes. Worship is not a time to talk about yourself. It’s a time to talk about God.

We would also look at the song and see if it would be the sort of song that was controversial in nature – and this could be lyrically controversial, culturally, anything. Maybe the song has a Calvinist bent that you don’t want to get into, or a history at the church that would make it distasteful for the members. These sort of things add an unnecessary element of distraction to the setting, and can easily be avoided. Doctrinally controversial issues can be addressed in the Word itself through study.

The third point deals with the environment you setup for worship. After songs passed the above tests, we would establish a musical arrangement of of the song suitable for worship. Many songs that we used for worship were written as performance pieces, so they had to be adjusted. As awesome as a wailing guitar solo may be, it really doesn’t belong in this environment. We also looked at the key and vocal range and adjusted accordingly so that most people would be able to sing the song without difficulty.

It is also important not to hamper your fellow worshippers or limit them into your particular style of response. Some people prefer to sit, others to stand, others to lift their hands, or sway, or even dance.  That should be allowed inasmuch as is possible while maintaining an environment free of distraction. For example, if there is a group of worshippers in the front row who prefers to stand still, perhaps raise a hand while worshipping, and one guy in the middle of that group who prefers to dance, then he should be able to simply step forward, or to the side, so as not to physically disrupt those next to him, and worship as he will.

When I attended Summit‘s Student Conference, I remember a person who would stand in the front row next to me and dance anytime we sang during worship.  The dancing wasn’t a distraction – but the constant bumping was. I asked her if she’d mind trading places with me so that she was on the isle instead, and the problem was solved. There was no need to ask her to stop dancing – just to stop bumping me!

There are churches who approach this incorrectly, and ask people who are more or less physically responsive to alter their behavior or even leave without giving them these sort of simple opportunities. There is nothing wrong with people either sitting still or dancing about – both are seen in Scripture. And from a practical standpoint, if you’re singing a song that talks about dancing and singing for the Lord, and you’re suprised when someone actually starts to move, well, you may want to look more closely at what you are singing!

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