Scribed by Andrea Hunter
This column’s title, Back to Basics, is based on a small booklet written in 1981 in the wake of the Jesus Movement (not the one in the first century, but the one in the 20th century). And looking at it there are things that bear a return visit. I’ve spent my adult life studying sung prayer across history, and all things related to worship, communication, and technology. I’ve tried to create spaces and places for people who love Jesus to tell their worship stories in print, on tape, vinyl, CD, video, LIVE, and every other medium and means of distribution known to man. What I’ve tried to do is to learn from the learners of the past—and present—and create opportunity for others to do the same.
Though I said the following 40 years ago, it is more true now that it was then:
“It has been said that ‘those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them’ At this juncture in history—when crucial choices are demanded of all Christians—repeated lessons are not only a waste of time, they are an irresponsible waste of resources and potential. Today, the outcome of Christian involvement in modern media is hovering between victory and disaster. Now is the time when the utmost clarity, determination and courage is required of us all…
WE BECOME LIKE WHO (and how) WE WORSHIP
“For too long, the roles and goals of Christians in the media have been defined by secular values and models that divert the worship leader and artist from his single most important function: serving people.”
When you actively participate in the Holy Spirit’s campaign to refresh, renew and reform sung prayer and worship, you are serving God’s people in ways that impact their lives now and eternally.
One of the learners I’ve learned from is Marva Dawn. She embodies Christ’s role as servant in worship leading like no one I know. I’ve learned from her: love is the very best teacher. When she has taught at our conferences, it takes everything she has to be there as she suffers from numerous serious chronic health conditions, but in every setting, she is 100% present. She loves God, loves to talk about Him, teach about Him, and lead His Body in prayer—sung or spoken.
TRUE WORSHIP INSPIRES WONDER
When Marva speaks of worship in her childhood, I’m inspired and I wish I could transfer that enthusiasm to every person in the Church worldwide. I wish everyone could be filled with that kind of anticipation at the thought of praising God and gathering with his people. You can hear the excitement in her description:
Worship was always filled with glorious sights and sounds. Our church building had an intricately carved altar, ancient Christian symbols everywhere, and beautiful stained-glass windows that reminded me of whole stories in the Bible. We sang all kinds of music—new and old—often with various students playing their brass instruments or flutes. What I saw and what I heard in worship throughout my childhood deeply formed my faith and my enraptured desire to praise God with all my heart and mind, voice and life. I loved worship! Especially I loved the singing.
That encompassing history—past and present, old and new—with God and His people experienced in worship made her want to be a co-laborer with the Spirit in forming worship in others. She also actively took on reforming worship where she saw it losing the edge of biblical fullness and orthodoxy. It birthed an unquenchable passion that many have drunk from. Though to the world she was lame—with her amputated leg and braces and unending health challenges—In the Lord she was dancing.
WHAT IS DRIVING WORSHIP AND WHERE IS IT TAKING US?
The key thing to understand in the technological age is the principle that technology drives media (all those things that communicate to us, the ways we broadcast ideas, symbols and concepts): Marva’s stained glass and the stories it told, her hymnal, and even the ancient symbols. But technology isn’t neutral; the means of broadcasting media become part of the messaging. In all things worship, it is important that technology serves the message and not the other way around. There are troubling things that we hear about from time to time. Not so much in our proclamation of the gospel, but how music and art in our services of worship do or do not support the Word of God.
Songwriting has been at the center and it’s been prominent in every movement of God through time. In communications, it’s about how artists, preachers, teachers, worship leaders incarnate the Word of God. The writers and producers of culture in our churches not only generate media, but they are formed by it, both the secular and the sacred.
We borrow from cultures of different sorts. What’s novel in culture and stirring up the culture is the seedbed of worship writers and becomes a vehicle of worship, but the medium often has attachments. Culture is a difficult word to convey because no one knows exactly what you’re saying fully about the actual content. In the Church every generation finds new expression to make the message clearer. That’s called enculturation.
THE IDOLS MUST FALL
If we could look through Marva’s glasses formed by worship, or better yet, the Holy’s Spirits we would have a detailed MRI of cultural elements—and media attachments—that support relationship with God and those that impede it, those aspects of media and technology that applied in one way flow toward God when implemented in a service of worship, or conversely can carry us along and away from Him. Technology can either serve the Church or contribute to idol-making or become an idol itself.
And as it says in Isaiah “the Idols will vanish completely” (2:18). My prayer is that with discernment and passionate love for God, we will be able to utilize all things in ways that exalt Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, encourage and deepen relationship, and extend hope and faith. And we will tear down the idols.
WORSHIP – THE ALPHA & OMEGA
According to the book of Job (38:4-7), considered the oldest writing/media in the Bible, worship is primordial. It has existed from the very beginning…even before the creation of man. And the newest book in Scripture, Revelation, ends on a note of worship as “The Spirit and the Bride say come…” From beginning to end, let us appropriate everything that amplifies worship and let us actively strip away everything from worship that dilutes awe or distorts our role as servant leaders. In a world of experts, let’s be humble servants.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy…
I believe we’re in the beginnings of one of God’s periodic reformations of worship. To be able to hop on and serve what God is doing, we need to dig through worship principles of the past. Immerse ourselves in Scripture: the more we study the Word of God, the fresher becomes our delivery of the Word in worship. Pray and ask God for his New Song (not novel) but fresh and refreshing for this season. Let’s explore the wisdom of the past so we are prepared to enter the future wisely.
We’re building a runway for your thoughts on the topic through this column and our upcoming conferences and gatherings. I hope to see you there so together we can explore more about re-forming worship.
CEO/Publisher of Worship Leader magazine, Song Discovery, and National Worship Leader Conferences