That’s a good quote don’t you think? Prior to retirement, Pastor Mike was the leader of Ginghamsburg UMC, you can find their story in many places online–it’s the largest church in our conference, but it started out 35+ years ago smaller than WUMC is now. That’s certainly a story for another time, back to the quote….
To close out our series on worship, there is something final to share about it… I pick the songs. Maybe you all knew that already, I have picked every song since January when that was handed over to me shortly after starting here (save for guest speakers, I extend song selection to them). The questions have come to me:
“We have plenty of songs in the hymnal, why don’t we use those?” and just as often, “There is so much great music out there, why do we keep using the hymns?”
When someone asks to sing the old songs, I smile and nod my head knowing that I’ve picked hymns even older than our hymnal (some of which I don’t even need the paper in front of me to sing, but I use it cause I don’t want to skip a verse cause I’m excited!). When someone asks to sing the new songs, I smile and nod my head knowing that I’ve picked new songs that challenge their concept of what a new song is. Worship is more than music, and if we are too focused on the style of music then we are too focused on being religious, and I dare say too focused on ourselves. As pastor, I pick songs not because of some quota between the old and the new, I pick based on the message of the lyrics in conjunction with the message of the sermon. It is about having a consistent message said across multiple avenues, we have a blended worship service that intends to take the richness of the tradition and heritage of the Church and also recognize the contemporary experience and expression of faith-we have a holistic worship service in that sense.
The objection raised: “I understand the message of the songs, I just want a style that speaks to me…” Who are we singing to, friends? I’m certainly not singing to myself, and despite all the praise of having a good singing voice, I am a nervous wreck singing in front of people— I don’t like to sing for people. The song is not for me or you, it’s for the Lord. I hate southern Gospel music, I tolerate many of the Gaither standards in my personal taste-but you better believe it that every time I preach on the healing hand of Jesus Christ my soul is going to pour forth, “He touched me, OH He touched me! and OH, the joy that floods my soul!” When I get really serious about the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” I have to start the chorus, “Build Your kingdom here, let the darkness fear, show Your mighty hand, heal our streets and land, set Your Church on fire, win this nation back, change the atmosphere, build Your kingdom here, we pray!” Whether you believe the kingdom is built internally, inside of you, or we have the opportunity to literally live in the kingdom on earth-“build Your kingdom here” “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” “we pray.”
I don’t get hung up on worship styles… the so called “worship wars” are over-both sides lost because they were both filled by people that were too religious to see that God wanted to make them new. Psalm 96:1 “Sing a new song to the LORD!” and Ephesians 5:19 “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” — sing the old, sing the new… sing to the Lord. That’s what people who have been made new by the power of God do.
Maybe you’re not there yet, I confess God is still working on me with the southern Gospel crowd– Bill and Gloria Gaither are slowly growing on me after 34 years, maybe in another 34… The point is this, all the old songs were new once (and believe it or not, “worship wars” are nothing new to the church in that respect either) and all the new songs will be old one day too. If we are focused on our preference, we’re focused on us more than God. I want to be made new, I want God’s power to be at work inside of me-I want the same for anyone else who walks into worship on Sunday morning. Sometimes that means we need to reach back into the heritage of the Church for words that need to be explained to our modern mind (“Here I raise my Ebenezer” “Bind me like a fetter” – admit it, several of you love “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and had no idea what it means) and other times we need to express the brokenness we experience today (“If you’ve got chains, He’s the chain breaker. If you feel lost, He’s the way maker. If you need freedom, or healing, He’s the prison shaking Savior, if you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker!”).
Having said all that— you have a song, hymn, or spiritual song you’d like used in worship? I work in specific requests (not “More hymns” or “More contemporary”) as they fit with the sermon topics, the season of the Christian Year, and the experience of the people of God. I also try to stay away from singing a single song multiple times in a given season. My door is open, my inbox is ready… please send them in.
May the God we worship make us new!