It's late on a Tuesday night and I'm sitting in a bar with a dear friend. He comes from half a world away, a place that is layered with evangelical conservative tradition. We are talking about meaning, purpose and the relentless search for both.
We share a common dissatisfaction with the status quo and a fear of becoming simply cynical and therefore ineffectual in the practice of our faith into meaningful action.
We both are heavily involved in worship praxis. Music, lighting, visuals, curated experiences. I've spent years writing, leading and being involved in these experiences. There's an uncomfortable feeling under my skin that calls me back to Scriptures I heard over and over as a child.
The more 'creative' our worship experiences become, the more consuming. It's not uncommon to hear young people say 'I live for worship, man!'
I think we're doing too much worship
Too many songs declaring the messages that have been well-expressed in the Psalms for centuries. There is nothing new to say, only new ways to say it. And the creative endeavour of pursuing the arts pleases God, but is not a necessity in this time and age.
Worship experiences filled with lights, swelling music, video and atmosphere become visceral experience rewards for another hard week at work, another week of good behaviour.
What I'm saying is – if the intent of my heart is true, I cannot worship God any more with a 40min set list, lights, video and sound than if I say aloud on waking, 'God, you are the I Am. I breathe by your grace and offer my life to your love.' Then I go about my day, with the expression of God's love and grace threaded through a multitude of actions.
A modern working definition of worship has become synonymous with singing, music, prayers in a led, constructed experience. If we equate the quality of our worship with the level of euphoria we experience, we've lost something. Conversely, if we follow a liturgical practice devotedly but without a sense of life – we also do disservice to ourselves and God. It is simply that if worship in this form demands too much of our attention, there is much about the Gospel that we have left behind.
With the exception of some instructions in the New Testament letters from the Apostles to believers in other churches, the Christ gives little expectation or demand for the ritual of worship as we know it and much encouragement to the way we would engage the world around us.
So I find myself deeply disturbed by how much time we spend in the pursuit of worship. I will not write a song about it. I will not try and recreate worship by stripping it of creative visual and aural practice. I won't exchange an electric guitar for an acoustic one. All of these things have been symbols of 'reimagining' authentic worship in the last 20 years.
In our heart of hearts, I think we know it's true. As human beings, we have the capacity to engage mind, body and soul in ecstatic experiences. And yes, those experiences enable us to draw near to God. But our drawing near must be more than emotional. It must also be intellectual, mindful, rational and most of all, it must come to fruition.
Internal and personal
The change is internal and personal. I accept that my songs are an offering of art and beauty. Beauty matters in the world. My soul is also beautiful and the work of my hands and mouth on a daily basis is perhaps the most sacred offering.
'You sing songs of praise on your way to the temple, but ignore the oppressed you walk past.'
The shallow response to this truth would be to take off on a short-term mission experience or to engage in some community projects – so that I could reasonably say that the actions I take mirror the words that come from my lips in worship song.
Or the braver thing is to imagine how I would give honour to God if I did not sing. What would our meetings look like if we did not use music as a worship offering? What would our communities do to express worship or to 'draw near'?
Think on those things and examine what you sing on Sunday. How you sing and what you think about in the drifting choruses. Examine your worship and tell me is it enough, too much or are we not actually worshipping at all?
Tash McGill is a professional writer and communications consultant who has been involved in youth ministry for 15 years, working in local churches as a volunteer and bi-vocational youth pastor. She is passionate about adolescent development, community formation and hospitality.
Tash McGill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tash-mcgill.html