What Time Is It? Worship Confronting Culture

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Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that the prevailing “status quo” has always influenced us and our relationship with God at any given point in time…whether or not we acknowledge it. His book The Prophetic Imagination has sold more than a million copies and is one of the most influential contemporary theology volumes today. To make his point, Brueggemann notes the prophet’s role in the context of Israel’s history and community. At various times in the Bible, the prophets “deconstruct” or denounce the prevailing culture on God’s behalf. 

A Time to Uproot

When His people have become “established” and comfortable, numb, losing vision then God’s prophets freely criticize oppression by the people of God. The prophets act to call the people out of the weight of bowing to slavery (accepting slavery for themselves or enslaving others) and back into who they were called to be. Once the prophet speaks, things taken for granted in the social context are now suddenly clearly out of line. Individuals and family groups within Israel must decide how they will respond to these denunciations—whether they will be obedient to what God asks of his people. We can see how deeply committed Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many of the other prophetic figures are to the task of making this message clear.

A Time to Plant

At other times in the biblical text, however, various leaders, such as Ezra, are tasked by God with rebuilding the walls. Similarly, Jesus offered more than just a social critique. Instead, he provided a completely new society. In his vision, the world is reconstructed anew. In these cases, the work is not about breaking away from the prevailing culture, but more about just actively getting on board with what is happening.

Brueggemann argues that these are two interconnected types of prophetic action. His work suggests that picking the moment or time is the key, which draws on the idea in Ecclesiastes that there is a “time for everything under the sun” (Ecc 3). 

What is the Time Today?

So the critical question is, what is God asking of us as Christians, creatives, and worship leaders at this very moment? 

How we answer this question will assist us in discerning the right posture with which we enter worship. It will determine how we as leaders guide other Christians through these times, pastor them through the emotions they may feel, and use the spaces available to us in any given moment. It’s critical that we judge this rightly. 

You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever followed the wrong impulse. A word of critique in the wrong moment can destroy a team. To continue to deconstruct the status quo past a certain point deeply hurts those around you and brings disunity to the church. But similarly, if you never address the sinful attitudes and practices of worshipers, then you’re fostering a cheap type of performance that will not bring glory to the message of Jesus, but rather hinder it. 

Both constructing and deconstructing are biblical actions. What is in question is the time. What time is it? 

The Clock Is Ticking

There is a children’s game, “Mr Wolf?” that we play in Australia. Each participant takes a step at one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock…on and on until it’s DINNERTIME when everybody races back to the start! There is grace upon grace upon grace…but sometimes there are consequences. The difference between whether we should be moving forward or backward in that game is the time. 

The Bible suggests that God reveals the times to those who ask in prayer and gives wisdom liberally (1 Chr 12:32; Lk 12:54-56; Jas 1:5). Thank goodness for those of us who desperately need it! I’ve tried to tell the time by “reading” the people around me, making sure that I observe what they are going through. 

We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Some communities are affected by that more than others. But for many of us, the ways we gather together have been changed dramatically– some of us are meeting online, while others of us are present together in person but spread out in “social distancing” and wearing masks. There are many emotions that people bring into worship from their personal and family lives. There are layers of grief as the world we once knew disappears, and as a new world with its challenges and opportunities appears. 

In amongst all of that, there’s extreme political polarization. The challenge to authority is stronger than ever before. Various groups remain unconvinced by medical science, epidemiologists, and global health authorities. The economic costs of shutdowns and lockdowns are debated at length in public spaces. Many congregation members have reduced working hours or have lost their employment. Some of us have loved ones who have died. The anger at the injustices of the existing structures has been overwhelming. In some places, there have been violent riots.  

A Song of Truth 

I think maybe this is the time for telling the truth. This is the time for describing the world as we see it and being honest about how we really are doing. Nobody does that better than millennials! There’s a recently released song by Hillsong’s Young and Free, and it cracks me up because it’s just so real. 

There is no fear of telling the truth within perfect love. In fact, perfect love casts out all fear. You can tell by how our youth yell this song that there’s something it has just gotten right. It’s a bit uncomfortable to hear, and there’s a Bob Dylan reference that some people don’t get, but it’s told the time. As worship leaders, let’s be prophetic to the culture around us and offer something more. Let’s talk about the higher way…and about what Jesus offers for those of us who are longing for something more genuine and true.  

“All of my Best Friends” 

Words and Music by Joshua Grimmett, Aodhan King, Ben Tan, Benjamin Hastings & Karina Wykes

I don’t want to be on my phone, but I can’t be alone

Welcome to the modern way

Trying to be somebody I’m not, but it’s not what I want

Tell me there’s another way

All of the lights I chased are now faded

All the cheap thrills

Were only time wasted

Tell me why society’s plan should define who I am

Surely there’s a higher way

All of my best friends

Are sick of pretending

We want the truth

So much is missing

So give us the real thing

I know it’s You

I don’t want a stereotype

To decide who I am

It never knew me anyway

I’m over trying to

find the next hype

Cos the high never lasts

Imma go another way

All of the lights

I chased are now faded

Dylan was right

The times they are changing

Tell me why society’s plan should define who I am

Surely there’s a higher way

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