Monday, June 9, 2008


Why is it that hymn-singing churches seem to be less inclined to confuse “worship” with “music”? Put another way, the churches that have abandoned, or all but abandoned, the singing of classic historical hymns appear more likely to use the word “worship” when really all they mean is “music” or “when people sing in services.”

This question has been burbling in my head for a while, but I haven’t taken time to sort it out. My initial conclusions, such as they may be, fall along these lines:
* There is a general sense among those who do not sing hymns, that a developed line of thought with multiple stanzas is too cerebral for the emotional act of worship. That suggests that worship is primarily emotional, and not volitional or intellectual. “Too many words” is how some have actually expressed this to me. So, music in the service is their time to genuinely worship.
* There is an appropriate understanding that worship is participatory. So if a group is engaged in an extended set of singing (and accompanying physical postures, gestures, and rhythmic accompaniment) this is worship. It is contrasted with the parts of the service in which we receive – especially the sermon – and appear to be more passive.
* The youth rally culture certainly has played a part in this. I remember when the youth pastor (at another church, in another state, in another decade!) regularly took students to a regional youth rally on a Christian college campus. I distinctly recall when his language shifted from “rally” to “worship” – though nothing changed about the event. And that language shift corresponded to a shift in the way he and the students talked about music in the church. These students are now young (and not so young!) adult leaders in churches, and my youth pastor friend has planted a vibrant congregation … where people call the musical part of the service their worship.

Does it matter? I think it does. If words matter, then these words matter. Calling our shared music in divine service “worship,” elevates music to a role not warranted by scripture, and demotes the biblical understanding of worship. Sure, at some level it’s only words. But words are all we have. So I continue to try to be gentle in correcting someone who says worship when he means singing. And try to carefully teach that our musicians are leading in the congregation’s musical expression of praise, adoration, prayer … and yes, granted, worship.

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