Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Global Radio of worship

Global Radio is a UK media group that owns stations such as Capital, Heart, and Smooth Radio. It is known for running very tightly formatted stations that play a relatively small number of songs regularly throughout the day and encourage their presenters to only give short links between the music. BBC national stations in contrast, whilst they do have their own formats, tend to play a much more diverse range of music and encourage their presenters to be creative. For example, in the last 30 days, Smooth Radio played 797 different tracks whilst its main rival BBC Radio Two played 4222 different tracks. All this information can be found at where much fun can be had comparing all kinds of different stations. (Pause whilst my wife says I'm sad for finding such sites fascinating.) 
I would argue that the biblical approach to worship* involves something far closer to the BBC approach, but too many churches have worship that is closer to Global Radio. The bible sets out that worship when the church comes together is meant to be a creative experience with everyone having different gifts they can contribute. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says 'when you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation'. That suggests that each time a church worships together, there should be different elements in the mix, as different people bring different contributions as the Spirit leads. The same should be true with songs with the Bible again showing a huge range of diversity as a model. Psalms alone has 150 different expressions of it, with others scattered throughout the bible. On that basis, we should seek to be diverse and creative in the songs we sing. 
 However, I would have to say that the experience I come across in many churches is different. Like many people who have been Christians for any length of time I have upwards of several hundred worship songs in my memory. I might need the words projected on a screen to jog my memory to the lyrics of some, but I would recognise them in an instant. However, go to many churches for three or four weeks and you will hear the same 15-20 songs being used week after week. This isn't just a concern over lack of creativity. I think it also affects how the congregation engages with worship. Am I the only one who finds it incredibly difficult to keep my concentration, or for lyrics to speak meaningfully to me, when I am singing a song for the eighth time in the last ten weeks? 
 A similar concern exists over to what degree the principle of every having a contribution to bring is reflected in many churches, and there is a responsibility both on those leading worship and those in the congregation in this regard.  
 For those leading worship, it is so important to leave space between songs to allow contributions to come out. It is so frustrating during worship times when the aspect in relation to the songs is great, but songs are all it consists of. As soon as one songs finishes, the next starts, with no room for anyone to participate (or a variation, even more frustrating, is when there is a pause between songs for the worship leader to pray aloud themselves, but to then immediately launch into another song without waiting to see if anyone else wants to contribute). 
 A key plea to worship leaders in this regard is, please don't be afraid of silence-and from the times I've led worship myself I know how difficult it can be to judge how long to leave a silence, but those silences fulfil two important purposes: 
a) even for those of us who are used to bringing contributions, it can take a few seconds to open our mouths whilst we try and figure out 'is this the right moment to bring this? Does it fit with the flow and themes of the worship at this point? Have I got this right?' It can be really frustrating to have taken a moment to ask these questions, only to find that before you can open your mouth, the worship leader has decided that, as there has been more than five seconds of silence, they had better start another song. This is all the more important in encouraging those unused to bringing contributions to step out, as they may well need more time to pluck up their boldness and speak. 
b) it is in silence that new phases of how the Holy Spirit is moving in a meeting can sometimes develop. People starting to sing out in tongues, or a more general sense of the Holy Spirit at work develops. These sometimes take moments of silence for them to emerge and grow. 
 However I did say that there was also a responsibility on those in the congregation, and that is in believing that God really meant what He said in saying that when we come together, every one of us has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation, and that bringing these contributions is so that the church may be built up. If you are someone who does not regularly contribute during your church's worship times, can I encourage you to believe with confidence that God really does equip you during worship to have something to bring, and that what God is giving you to bring is something that the church needs to hear in order to be built up. 
 We have an endlessly creative God and we should reflect that in our worship (even if you like Global Radio). 
 * In raising the subject of worship, I'm aware that some will argue that worship is a seven days a week, whole life issue and not just about a church meeting-and I agree with them. However, the Bible does set out the particular benefits, and importance of, worshipping together, and the expectation that God will give us all gifts to use during such times. Some have adopted the term 'sung worship' to differentiate this from 'whole life seven days a week worship'. I've avoided using 'sung worship' in this article, for the reason that it falls into the trap of suggesting that worship together is all about songs whereas, as discussed above, it is about bringing many more gifts than just song.   

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