What Image of God Do Your Worship Sets Paint?

  • Written By 
  • Jonathan Swindal

I have two toddlers. You can imagine how much of my life is dedicated to monitoring what goes in my kids’ mouths. Well, it used to be.

 

My wife and I quickly realized that, not only can we not control all the things our kids will be tempted to put in their mouths, but that it’s very normal and somewhat healthy for kids their age to try rubber mulch and lollipop sticks from another child. For them it’s about sensory development and, well, sugar, of course. It’s one way that they grow and develop the ability to discern flavors and textures.

They learn words much the same way, by repeating everything my wife and I say (particularly the things we were hoping they wouldn’t catch).

My 20-month old is learning how to shape words and the sounds they make. My 3 ½ year old is two steps ahead, repeating not just the words, but the tone in which we say them. First, they learn how to say words, then they learn what to say, and eventually will learn what words mean and how to integrate them into their vocabulary. 

This is not dissimilar to how we learn our shared faith.

Typically, we first come to know Jesus and then discover what his life means – and equally as important what it doesn’t mean – for our lives over the course of time as we learn and worship together with other believers.

Many of us think of the “worship time” as the expression of what we feel about God, and the sermon as the time of teaching. But this is deeply misguided.

 

Zac Hicks in his book The Worship Pastor asks the question: If all that people knew about God were from the worship services that we lead, what would they know about Him? And more importantly, how would they relate to Him?

Now, we shouldn’t carry the weight of responsibility for all that people know about God, but it is helpful to ask those questions as a way of evaluating what we sing.

I suspect that if some of us answered honestly it would be something like this: they believe that God is our friend who lends his power to give us victory over the difficult things in life, mostly through miracles, signs, and wonders. Others of us might tell a different story. Something like: above all God hates sin, and, fortunately for us, God sent Jesus to wash away our sin so that he can look at us again. Are these caricatures? Yes… hopefully. 

But they reveal an important point: most of us have a proclivity to think about, talk about, and therefore sing about certain attributes of God and aspects of the Christian life while excluding others.

 

Congregational singing is a vehicle for the communication of the story of God.

 

Our sung “worship” is the confession of God’s character, his work (past, present, and future), our identity, our reality, and our future with him (as mentioned above!).

As worship pastors, we need to be regularly reminded that we hold the God-given responsibility of choosing the words that fill people’s mouths in corporate worship that describe God, life with God, our shared identity as children of God, and our hope of eternal life together.

More often than not the words we are singing are – at least mostly – true. But do they tell the whole story? 

 

This post will be the first in a series that explores how we think about songs and put song sets together.

 

I also want to bring up some popular, yet controversial lyrics in songs for the sake of learning to think through them pastorally.

We’ll be asking questions like: Is this phrase true? If so, how might people hear and interpret this? Is the “controversial” nature of the lyric good for pushing our thoughts about God beyond the “boxes” we tend to create? Or is it harmful, propagating ideas that need less attention not more?

I am certainly not the authority here and do not intend to tell you what you should do. But I do hope to propose some ways of approaching out-of-the-box lyrics like “the reckless love of God,” “you’re never gonna let me down,” “You didn’t want heaven without us,” “the wrath of God was satisfied,” and maybe more.

My hope is that you and l both will give more attention to the words that we’re putting in the mouths of God’s people.

 

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