// “sing your praise to the Lord” / some thoughts on Worship Culture™. //

As a student at Liberty University, I am surrounded by all the best of Christian culture, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity to live and learn on a campus of people truly dedicated to following Christ just as I am.

…That being said, I am also surrounded by some of the less-than-positive aspects of Christian culture, because as much as we love Jesus, we are also fallen and imperfect humans– so the church will not be wholly perfect on this side of heaven.

I know that we too often tend to fall into a habit of criticizing various things about Christian culture, to the point where it fosters a spirit of negativity that is less than effective in kingdom efforts. There are times when I have to catch myself on the brink of a personal-preference complaint that has no real significance. However, I do think that it is important to be as discerning of Christian culture as we are of secular culture, and I think that as Christians we hesitate to offer a critique of one aspect of our culture in particular: worship music.

Do you want to know something great? Critiquing certain worship songs does not make you a bad Christian. Critiquing certain aspects of “worship culture” does not make you a bad Christian. It’s perfectly okay to have a critique when there is a valid concern behind it.

There are two aspects of worship that I want to discuss here: the particular worship songs that we sing, and the environment in which we sing them.

One thing I have noticed, both in my home church and at my school, is that they go through cycles of worship songs– and only ever sing whatever is popular in Christian culture at the time. Sometimes these popular songs are quite beautiful and heartfelt; other times, I’m left staring confusedly at the lyric screen and wondering what on earth I just sang. I know that one’s liking of a song is a very subjective thing, so I won’t go into specific song lyrics here, but we all know that sometimes, a song is just bad. Whether it’s poorly written, or entirely too repetitive, or has lyrics of questionable meaning in relation to the Lord’s character… we just know it’s not the greatest song. Yet a lot of times, we sing them anyway– over and over again.

This would be more forgivable if we didn’t have worship songs that are well-written– but we do. Every time we sing hymns (which is more rare than it ought to be), my heart thrills at the beauty and timelessness of the lyrics. Contemporarily, there are so many artists whose songs we could sing– anything by Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson, Shane & Shane, Citizens & Saints, etc. would be amazing. That day we had Keith and Kristyn Getty at convocation was one of my favorite times of worship ever (skip to 3:50, 20:30, and 30:00 in the video for their music– Come Ye Sinners, He Will Hold Me Fast, and In Christ Alone). What if worship was always this beautiful and special? I get excited just thinking about it!

Another thing I’d like to comment on is the environment we tend to cultivate for worship sessions. At my home church as well as at Liberty, they dim the overhead lights, turn on colorful mood lighting, and get the cameras and graphics rolling. The worship team/band/collective (depending on where you are) gets onstage (front and center), sometimes in coordinating outfits, and proceeds to lead everyone in a time of worship that has the vibe of a concert. Now, I know that presentation isn’t the purpose of worship– but that’s exactly my point. The lights and the show isn’t bad in itself (although I know people differ on that point), but what if we deviated from that every now and then? What would worship look like if we kept the natural/brighter lighting, if we took away the sound equipment and the camera shots and the graphics, if those leading us were among us rather than on stage, if it was just a quiet acoustic session? Would we have the same passion and energy for Jesus without the style and show that is currently our corporate worship? I don’t have the answers, but it’s something that definitely needs to be considered.

As Christians, we are called to be authentic and to create good art. It’s possible to have both, but I think that too often in Christian culture we gravitate to one side or the other (or sometimes, neither). This includes worship– after all, wouldn’t you think that the songs we create and sing to give honor and praise to the Creator Himself ought to be of the highest quality of all music?

There’s a quote by Andrew Peterson that I love:

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If all our art– music, literature, movies, paintings, etc.– is meant to point to grace, to the Gospel, to the grandeur and glory of God, and to do it well, shouldn’t our songs of worship do so that much more? Why do we settle for offering our Creator mediocrity?

The show of worship should never be greater than the substance of worship.

This shouldn’t even be a point that needs saying, yet here we are. I’m going to say it again: The show of worship should never be greater than the substance of worship. Can I get an amen??

We have high-quality worship music available to us. We have the option to change up the way we worship and the environment we worship in. It isn’t confined to one style or setting. Let’s pursue higher quality and authenticity in the way we worship, because in doing so, we will glorify the One who has given us the ability to create and to worship Him.

If you, like me, want to find more good-quality worship music, I’ve got a Spotify playlist right here that can get you started, full of soft and well-written Jesus-music:

And if you don’t have Spotify, here’s a few videos of some worship songs with the best lyrics:

Rich Mullins – If I Stand

RED – Pieces

Andrew Peterson – The Dark Before The Dawn (acoustic)

Relient K – Be My Escape

Celtic Woman – Amazing Grace

If we could sing songs like these in worship sessions/services more often than (or even as often as) we do the popular, repetitive, sometimes less-than-meaningful stuff, that would be fantastic. It’s good to mix it up every now and then. I promise. 🙂

{love always, Em}

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