I finally finished the book I started reading for fun back in January. It’s only 212 pages, but took me 6 months. Don’t judge.
It’s called Rythms of Grace, by Mike Cosper, and it’s all about how the church’s worship through music tells the story of the gospel. I got it from my cousin Lauren following a conversation about how we feel, in many evangelical churches anyway, the music/worship teams don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about why we do what we do, or how we ought to be going about that purpose. We also don’t tend to talk a lot about what the church’s music history, just about what’s new.
I don’t think at all that worship teams leave this conversation out of our meetings on purpose. I think it just happens – most teams meet once a week or so for practice, and then arrive early Sunday morning to rehearse again before the service. It’s all we can do sometimes to make sure the microphones stop buzzing and the bass is balanced, so conducting an intellectual study about where we came from, musically, is not really on the schedule.
The book begins with an extensive history and description of the music and worship in our Christian heritage (all the way back to the creation of the universe). He talks about how worship is not just music, but all of creation moving towards glorifying the Father. (After all, “[t]he word worship comes from the Old English weorthscipe, which combines who words meaning ‘ascribe worth.’” Pg. 27.) But today, we tend to think of worship as being done through music, and he cautions about idolatry in the Contemporary Christian Music industry.
Two things really stood out to me as take-aways from this book. One is that the church service as we know it is fairly new, and I think we may have strayed a bit from it’s original purpose. Cosper encourages church leaders to adopt a gospel-shaped liturgy (the elements of the weekly service corresponding to phases in the salvation story), and thereby reinforce the salvation message into our weekly rhythm.
The other idea that stood out to me in this book is his discussion of the types of songs we sing. I’ll confess, at this part in the book, the author got too vague for me (I may re-read this chapter at some point), but he did get me thinking about our language, purpose, sounds, and heritage in the songs we sing. Cosper essentially asserts that the songs we sing ought to be culturally relevant to our Congregation, honor and remember those who were here before us, and embrace the local community, allowing them to be welcomed with open arms in all times.
This got me thinking about the songs we sing now, about where they came from and if we could improve our repertoire. First, there’s the sound issue. Music is cultural, and our culture changes. “For the past twelve years of so, ‘worship music’ has been its own musical style, a sort of quasi-Britpop sound pioneered by British artists like Delirious, Matt Redman, and other Kingsway artists. Somehow, the good work those men and women did in writing songs for their context became ‘canon’ (the rule) for everyone else. Now people hear is and say, ‘It sounds like worship…’” Pg. 180.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a four-on-the-floor driving Britpop sound, but that’s not the only sound for worship. In Heaven, it will be every tribe, tongue, and instrument rising together somehow in perfect blend and majesty. There will be no foreign sound because God made it all, and it will all be for Him. I wonder if we could add new sounds, different, strange sounds into our Sunday mornings so that we can experience even a taste of that beauty. (Yet at the same time, not so strange as to alienate our local community as well. It takes a lot of listening.)
Then there is the language issue. Cosper talks about how language, too, is cultural. We tend to stick with church-speak and jargon because it’s comfortable, if is it’s not understood by newer Christians, or even those who grew up with it. I remember when I was a child I was scolded one day for not singing with the church one of the songs. I said I didn’t sing it because I didn’t understand what it was saying. “Should I be singing if I don’t understand it?” I don’t remember what my parent’s answer was, but I still think about that today sometimes. Sometimes there are metaphors and references in songs I just don’t understand, as least not in the way the writer intended. Should we be singing those, or exchange them for words that mean something to us?
Language and music are infinitely mold-able, and we are very creative people. There are certain songs that mean so much to me, and to me they sound like worship, like Sunday morning or any time. I wish that we would sing them in church. But even on weeks when Massimo and I are leading we don’t chose these songs, because the Congregation may not know them, so they can’t sing along, or they don’t mean the same to them, so it would not be a time of worship. So we submit to the needs of our church and I sing along to them in my own time.
Nonetheless, I would like to share a few of them below as perhaps fresh songs to listen to on your own, or even add to your own services. To me, these songs “sound like worship,” not because of their particular music style (which does not really fit into the typical corporate worship sound), but because of their lyrics, spirit, and truth. I hope, too, that anyone interested in worship takes a look at Cosper’s book. It will not take you six months to read, I promise, and it will give a new appreciation for what happens on a Sunday morning.
“Ultimately, the future hope of worship rests not on the shoulders of any of us getting the equation right, but on the God who promises to restore it.” Pg. 42.