If you have been in church for any length of time you know that worship is one of the most critiqued part of a church service. Style, volume, length, song selection, instruments, and wardrobe all seem to all be "fair game" for commentary from well-meaning church attendees and conscientious church leaders.
While many of these aspects of worship fall into the realm of preference, there is one aspect that I have seen discussed more often recently that I think needs closer attention - the theology of the lyrics that are sung.
Growing up in the church, I never really thought much about the lyrics that I was singing in worship. I was raised in a wonderful Baptist church and our weekly worship consisted of hymns and it was all I could do to just follow along in the hymn book. As I got older, I started to listen to more "contemporary" worship and still the lyrics were not on my radar. The beat, feel, and sound of the song were far more important to me.
Something changed a few months ago and I started to be far more aware of the lyrics that I was singing in worship. I noticed that as I became more focused on what I was singing more often than not I found myself pausing.
Sometimes the pause would lead to contemplation, as I focused on the depth of a word or a phrase. Sometimes the pause would lead to introspection as I considered how the meaning of the lyrics applied to my situation. And sometimes the pause would lead me to raise my eyebrows and think, "Huh?"
I have come to value paying attention to the lyrics in worship songs. In fact, I would encourage every Christian to seriously make an effort to understand what they are singing when they worship. The lyrics that we sing have more power than we give them credit for. When we speak something from our lips - even if we are not fully engaged mentally - those words impact our conscious and can solidify or tear down truths. This is why awareness of the meaning and theology that a worship song is proclaiming is important.
As Christians, our minds should be engaged and attentive to what we are proclaiming with our lips.
Every so often a worship song will come on to the scene that will cause Christians to collectively have a "pause" moment.
I remember when How He Loves by John Mark McMillan first came out and we were introduced to the infamous "sloppy wet kiss" line. Some thought that it was a beautiful, poetic rendering of God's invasion into humanity while others thought that it was of the highest order of blasphemy.
Do you remember the first time you sang Your Love Is Extravagant by Darrell Evans in a corporate setting? The chorus lines go like this:
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, oh so intimate
I find I'm moving to the rhythm of your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in the secret place
Intimate, fragrance, intoxicating, secret place - not exactly words that most of us are used to using when it comes to our relationship with God. Some people were elated at the unique approach while others grimaced when thinking about using these words in worship.
And how could I not mention the most recent song to create discussion in Christian circles - Reckless Love by Cory Asbury. Some love the creative use of words to and understand them to convey the depth of the love God has for mankind. Others argue that it gives a false understanding of the nature of God and undermines His character.
The intention in this post is not to argue the theological validity of these songs or any other. My purpose is to emphasize that when songs like these come on the scene, it is a great reminder and opportunity for the Church to confirm and assess what it believes. Unique, confusing, new, and even controversial worship lyrics force us to re-engage theologically.
We are forced to answer questions that we sometimes take for granted:
These are very important questions.
Answering them is a very good thing!
When a worship song makes us pause and ask these questions, we are forced to grapple with the truth of Scripture and clarify our theology. When this happens in humility and honesty, I think that the Church gets stronger and we all win.
So whether or not these songs pass the test of theological purity, I appreciate that they have caused us to pause.
There are many who feel that the modern worship movement is lyrically shallow, theologically aberrant, and musically bad.
This is certainly not the case with all worship music, but we should be mindful of the fact that while the quality of lyrics and music can be subjective, the quality of the theology of our worship cannot be subjective - a musically strong and lyrically stimulating song with mediocre or contradictory theological truth should be avoided.
When you are at church this Sunday I encourage you to be mindfully engaged during the worship time. Consider what you are singing. Think about the truth that you are proclaiming. Wrestle with the theology of the lyrics.
In doing so, perhaps you will understand God in a way you never have before, perhaps you will be challenged in your relationship with Him, or perhaps something you sing will make you raise your eyebrows and think, "Huh?"
Any one of these things will make you do the one thing that is so important in worship - pause.
And as we have discovered, pausing is a very good thing.
Zachary Malito is a husband, dad, youth pastor, writer, and leadership coach. Zach currently lives in Westminster, Colorado with his wife and 3 (almost 4) kids. Visit www.zachmalito.com and www.elevateleadershipcoaching.org for more content.