Why we need our own worship music
Almost all of the churches in the Baptist denomination use corporate worship music, in some form or another, in their weekly gatherings. (By “corporate”, I simply mean songs that are “communal” in form, function and expression.)
Throughout history, Christians have sung their worship because Scripture is soaked in songs and musical allusions (the Psalms are the obvious, but not the only, place to look) and because music connects with us on so many levels, both in gathered worship and in daily life.
Music Engages On Many Levels
Music is distinctive in the way that it can simultaneously engage our hearts, our emotions, our intellect as well as our physical bodies. This means that music can be a potent and formative catalyst in directing our worship due to the ways in which it involves so many of our senses and faculties.
Worship, however, is more than just a “vertical” experience between an individual and God. While the Bible gives us many examples of songs that are offered as personal prayers directly to God, in gathered worship songs can also be sung toward other believers for the mutual benefit and edification of those around us (Eph 5:18-20, 1 Cor 14:26). Our worship also brings into articulate speech the continuous but soundless praise of the created order (Ps 19:1-4, Luke 19:40). Worship songs can even be directed toward ourselves, in essence reminding us of God’s past actions and what we already believe and know to be true (E.g. See Psalms 42 and 77).
The best corporate worship songs encourage high levels of participation from our congregations and serve to help us articulate God’s praise in a common voice. Great melodies have the power to stick in our minds long after a church service has ended and as such they can be deeply formational and influential. Scripturally rich songs can be great companions throughout the various seasons of our lives as they bring back to mind Biblical truths and help us to recall significant times of encounter with God.
A Missing Element In Our Worship
While there are many diverse opinions in our churches about musical styles and trends (which is beyond the scope of this particular discussion) I believe that there is at least one important element missing from much of the music we use in our Baptist churches. Generally speaking, across the board, the music we use in corporate worship is mostly imported and not “home grown”. There is nothing inherently wrong with using songs and other worship resources from other denominations, traditions and nations. In fact, I am grateful and frequently inspired by the worship of others around the world. What we lack, however, by effectively “outsourcing” our worship is that we end up singing songs that are written from and for churches that have stories and cultures that are very different from our own.
This is not necessarily, or always, a bad thing. As Baptists we are free to adopt and adapt our worship practices and ministry expressions to best suit and speak into the culture within which our local churches are planted. We can introduce corporate worship songs into our services from any number of global churches and songwriters from a variety of cultures and denominations. This fact in itself implies an important decision-making process that beckons wisdom and discernment, but that is a topic for another article.
Cultivating Our Voice In Corporate Worship
As rich and varied are the resources available from around the world for our corporate worship, I believe that Baptist churches still need to cultivate their own voice and sing their own songs. I believe that we shouldn’t be content to simply use music from other denominations and have few songs of our own to sing in corporate worship. I believe that it is an important for our Baptist churches to sing songs that express our heart, values and journey with God. We need corporate worship songs that capture the essence of our particular spiritual “DNA” as a movement.
Worship songwriters, like preachers, have the immense privilege and responsibility to prepare, imagine, create, write and communicate to their congregations in ways that are authentic to their community. Songs and sermons alike must faithfully express who God is and help people genuinely respond to what He is doing within and around them.
I would love to see more of our local churches encouraging the songwriters in their midst to hone their craft and write great songs of corporate praise. We need to raise up songwriters who can do this in order to help us worshipfully express together what God is doing in our particular Baptist churches, both locally and denominationally.
The good news is that there are some very encouraging indications that worship-oriented music and arts are being awakened, developed, supported and celebrated in our movement.
1. One Worship Conference
The One Worship Conference of 2013 was held at Parramatta Baptist Church on Saturday the 25th of May. One Worship Conference is a gathering to encourage, inspire and equip worship ministry teams and leaders from Baptist Churches. The theme of the conference was “integrity of heart and skilful hands”, based on Psalm 78:72. This was a great opportunity for worship teams to connect with others who serve in worship ministry in different churches. I’d encourage you to make it a priority to come along with your worship team in May 2014 if you’re involved in worship ministry in your local church. To keep up to date with the details, visit www.oneworship.org.au.
2. Songwriter’s Intensive
The 2013 Songwriter’s Intensive was hosted and organised by Baptist Pastor John Crawford and was held at the beautiful grounds of the Noonaweena retreat centre on the Central Coast. This incredible event aimed at providing a unique environment for a small group of songwriters to be able to connect, write songs, record demo’s of their new songs and engaging in life-changing times of prayer and ministry. The heart of the event was about more than just producing songs, but to genuinely care for the lives and ministries of those in attendance.
The event is designed as a boutique retreat-style event, meaning that only a small number of people can attend each time, but the good news is that there will be TWO more Songwriter’s Intensives held in 2014 to cater for the growing interest. For more information, visit www.worshipcanvas.com.au for upcoming dates, testimonial videos and to listen to some of the worship song demo’s that were written at this year’s event.
3. Live Recording of New Worship Songs at Revive Conference 2013
For the first time ever, there will be a live recording of some great new Baptist worship songs at this year’s Revive Conference. Four new tunes from Baptist songwriters have been selected from songs that were written at this year’s Songwriter’s Intensive. These songs have great potential to be used in the worship gatherings of local Baptist churches like yours, and I believe they start to capture at least some of the heart of what God is doing uniquely among us as a denomination.
Visit www.worshipcanvas.com.au and click on “Songs For Revive” where you can listen to the demos and download the chord charts and lyrics for free. We hope that these songs will be a blessing to our churches and that we will see even more songs birthed from Baptist songwriters in the years to come. (Don’t forget to visit www.revive.org.au to register for this year’s event!)
How You Can Get Connected And Involved!
If you’re a worship songwriter, worship leader or worship team member, let me encourage you in the important role you play in the life of your local church. There are a growing number of opportunities to be connected and inspired by what God is doing in worship across our denomination.