- I am calling worship leaders to earn their eight-minute worship song by taking us on a musical and worship-filled journey instead of simply stretching out a three-minute song
In Matthew 6:7 Jesus talks about a subject I believe relates to worship music.
Matthew 6:7 (ESV) And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
He tells people to not babble on and on, thinking they will be heard because they talk a lot. I admit I can fall prey to that malady. In fact, you may be thinking that while reading this article. While that might be a valid complaint I would like to turn the focus of this verse on a recent phenomenon in worship music: The eight-minute worship song.
When driving, my wife will load up a playlist of modern worship songs. I often watch the little dot moving from the beginning of the song to the end on her dashboard display and wonder: Why is this song eight minutes long?
Why is this song eight minutes long?
I rarely have an answer.
Many modern worship songs pass the 6, 7, 8 minute and beyond mark yet it is simply eight minutes of pads and vamp. There is no journey; no ebb and flow. There is no grand crescendo, no display of musical prowess, no intricate melodies that are inverted. No movements.
I understand that many of these are pulled from live performances and I know that there can be a beauty to extending a song in the live setting, but please extend it with purpose and meaning. If I wasn’t there and I missed an incredible instrumental improvisation or an additional verse, I would love to hear an account of that. Unfortunately, that is not what I am hearing. What I hear is the song and then a long vamp with some sort of worship leader version of scatting. No disrespect to worship, but this is boring.
The length of your worship song is not in direct correlation to the level of beauty, the amount of joy it produces, or the depth of worship it invokes.
Ironically, going back to the verse in Matthew, Jesus’ charge is to not keep on babbling like pagans, and yet, the pagans have often shown us how to construct an eight-minute song that evokes passion and joy.
Let me briefly examine Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. I have chosen it because
- It has the word Heaven in the title and…
- It is almost exactly eight minutes long.
In the days of 2 to 3-minute pop songs on the radio, how did this song get such tremendous amounts of airplay? Simple. The eight minutes are meaningful and take you on a journey. For a fun exercise, try listening to Stairway to Heaven and note the time when there is a significant change in the music: An instrument is added, a new melody is introduced, a familiar melody is altered, the chord progression changes, etc. It is rare to go more than twenty to thirty seconds in that song without something different being introduced. The contrast between the acoustic beginning and the guitar solo and dramatic driving chords near the end is stark and beautiful. The song is eight minutes long and all eight minutes are earned and interesting. There is no babbling on and on.
The church should take note
When I read the narrative on Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18) I see a stark difference in the length of time each faction uses. In verse 26 it details that the prophets of Baal were calling from morning until noon. That’s a long time. Contrast that with Elijah’s experience with the one true God. Elijah sets up an altar, douses it with water, and says a prayer that I was able to say at a comfortable pace in 14.52 seconds. And God immediately acts. He doesn’t need eight minutes to move. He sets up, speaks for under 15 seconds, and fire rains down from Heaven.
I’d like to ask our worship leaders to give us more than eight minutes of pads & worship scatting. Take us on a journey. Let your guitar player play an actual, beautiful & soulful guitar solo. Give me a point of reflection to meditate on during an interlude. Add a movement to the song. Take me on a worshipful journey. If you are going to make a song eight minutes long, earn it.
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Joshua Foote has been involved in worship ministry for over two decades as both a musician and an educator. He is now serving as the Family Director at a church plant in Southern California and also works as a virtual educator. He lives with his wife and three children. His favorite job of all time was working at a record store and there are few things he loves more than live music.