Worship: the State of the Union - part one

Posted by Admin on 25 September 2013

WeAreWorship: When it comes to worship, how do you see things? What do you think?

Stuart Townend: Well, I think it’s important not for us to underestimate the value and blessing of what’s happened over the last 30 years. Before then there weren’t a lot of songs being written, but accompanying the charismatic movement we saw a wonderful birth and fresh expression of real emotional, devoted worship to God. It’s been a wonderful outpouring of expression of worship to God. I suspect that more people are writing songs now than ever in the history of the church and that’s a wonderful thing.

I think we’ve come on a bit of a journey, in a sense we are growing up and maturing in that movement. Over the last few years we have seen a correction of an imbalance: we have seen more content in worship.

WAW: Why have we needed that?

ST: I think we got too carried away with describing the experience of worship in our songs. It became quite me-focused, and there was a danger in that. Of course we need those type of songs - heartfelt expressions of intimacy and love to God and the wonder of being in his presence - but part of worship is to focus on Him, to sing about Him, for us to turn our attention away from ourselves and onto Him.

But there has to be a balance in it. The best songs and hymns balance objective description of who He is and subjective response of what we feel. So in a song like ‘Here I Am To Worship’ the verses describe who He is and what He’s done and the chorus responds ‘so... here I am to worship’. It feeds our mind the truth of what He’s done and gives us the opportunity for response. ‘How Great Thou Art’ is exactly the same.

Some of our songs are too subjective though. They just say ‘here I am Lord, I stand before you, I come to you, I love to feel you’. If you have a whole worship time like that you’ve not given yourself any foundation for response to worship.

WAW: And how does that then have an impact on our lives?

ST: The danger is that you become an experience seeker, so the foundation of your Christian life is not the truth of who He is but the feelings that you’re having. Of course it’s wonderful to have warm feelings on a Sunday evening in a worship time, but you won’t feel like that on Tuesday when the pressure’s on and you’re at work. If that’s how you associate how God loves you (because he makes you feel nice) then when you don’t feel nice you don’t have much of a foundation for knowing that God loves you. Our lives need to be based on what we know about him, not what we have felt.

WAW: So how did we fall into this trap of preferring experience over truth?

ST: I don’t want to be too critical of it - it’s been a natural progression - and it was understandable. I remember how wonderful it was to find a new intimacy, a new depth of relationship with God. I just wanted to sing songs of adoration and worship to Him and I loved being in His presence.

It was natural to enjoy that, but there are things that happen as a result. Particularly as - dare I use the phrase - the ‘worship industry’ has taken off. Because these songs became so popular it established a commercial footing, and the danger with that is that people then follow what they see as being the most popular thing. I felt a certain degree of frustration over a number of years as I saw people not really thinking about the lyrics they were writing but producing more of the same. Rather than taking a step back and thinking ‘what should we be writing about?’ - there was a bit of ‘me-too’ about the way some were writing.


[end of part one...]

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