Songwriters Getting Beneath the Surface
(This article was originally published in Worship Leader’s July/Aug 2009 issue. Subscribe today for more great articles like this one.)
I was a young worship pastor the day Dr. Gordon Fee came to our church.
“Show me your songbook and I will write your theology.”
I sat there gulping and thinking . . . “We sing that song because it’s upbeat and got a great groove – that one because it’s popular.” It struck me that often we send our preachers away to study the scriptures so that they can preach sermons that people promptly forget. (Can you recite back a chunk of even last week’s sermon?) But we tell our worship leaders and songwriters – just write us a simple song we can sing in church! People are remembering and singing the songs we write and sing . . . but are those songs saturated with truth that will endure longer than the ‘groove of the month’? If we want our songs to stand the test of time, we are going to have to dig deeper theologically, and be prepared to embrace a lifestyle of study.
That’s why it’s time to dig down to bedrock – to make sure that the foundation of everything we do in worship has a solid foundation. We do that through studying the scriptures. The Bible records the stories of ordinary people learning what it means to worship and follow God. If we want to know the way forward in worship we need to know our Biblical roots in worship. Some of this digging needs to be private – building our secret history in God through prayer, worship and study. But studying is also part of the fabric of biblical community. It’s wrestling together with scripture to broaden and deepen our thinking in worship.
One of the ways we are endeavoring to deepen our biblical understanding of worship in our church is having a monthly worship gathering for all our leaders and musicians. I see these gatherings as far more important than a musical rehearsal, and in fact we don’t rehearse, other than just before our services on Sunday mornings for several reasons.
In these monthly gatherings I, or one of the other leaders, will open up one passage and focus on growing in our understanding of biblical worship.
Another way to renew our biblical understanding of worship is working through good books. These are not just ‘worship’ books. Books like ‘A long obedience in the same direction’ by Eugene Peterson. This book counters the instant society in which we live by bringing us inside the Psalms of ascent. It helps us understand how the ancient people of God walked out their worship as they made pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
One of the biggest obstacles to embracing the study of worship in the scriptures is that we think we need to be experts in linguistics – the original Biblical languages and archeology. Let me make a confession.
I’m not an expert in anything.
There’s only one thing that I know. I yearn for God and want to know Him more! I know that I don’t know much. I am not a biblical scholar – but I have some friends who are. They help me answer questions (“What did this mean to the original hearers?”) but most of all, they teach me to ask questions; to be a seeker. If we are seeking – God will reveal himself to us, and as we study, our worship will be renewed!
Brian Doerksen is a songwriter, recording artist, author, conference speaker, and pastor.. He is known for his many worship songs including “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship,” “Refiner’s Fire,” and “Holy God.” Visit briandoerksen.com.