Confessions from a Worship Leader

As promised, this next post is written by a good friend of mine, Elder, and Worship leader. Pat Altes has been leading worship at Christ Community Church for just about two decades and has a wealth of insight to offer us. I am sure you’ll enjoy hearing some of his philosophy of leading worship.

Here it is…

Do you know what it feels like to step into a Hallmark store and try and find that “perfect card” for someone you care about? You want the card to reflect what you would actually say if you could….perhaps in a way that you would if you were a just little better with words. But still in a way that you would actually express it.

That’s what I think a good worship song should do. Like all metaphors, this one isn’t perfect. But I believe worship is our honest effort to express our thankfulness to God, our view of God and our feelings toward God using some work of art that someone else has crafted…but that accurately reflects our heart.

It should be in language that we fully understand, and language that we would normally use. Like all the elements of the greeting card (photo, typestyle, verbiage), it would also express something of our personality and our relationship with the recipient.  It wouldn’t make sense for me to express my love for my wife, Sharon, using Shakespearean language….there’s nothing inherently impressive in doing that, and most of all, she would know right away it wasn’t really “me” speaking honestly to her.

In an effort to bring meaningful expressions of worship to God, we need to use musical styles that reflect our corporate personality, since it is our efforts to communicate to God.  Think about it; the driving force of the Reformation itself was to bring the gospel, God’s word, and worship, into the “vernacular”….the language of the people.

That is the reason that as a worship leader I stayed away from using some of the hymns. Some really aren’t in the language of the people.  Singing “Jesus, Lover of my soul, Let me to thy bosom fly” isn’t something we would say.  At least anything I would say.

Don’t get me wrong….when it comes to worship songs, sung to Almighty God, really “content is king”. The songs of the church should sing about God’s greatness, or express our desperate need for Him, or demonstrate our relative views of Him as God, and us as being….well, not God. The words of these songs need to be faithful to the Scriptures and be theologically correct, while focusing our words and thoughts on the “recipient” of our musical greeting card, the Lord.

I would never suggest editing out the strong elements of the story we sing about, or the God we sing to.  The story of the cross…man’s sinfulness and his desperate need for forgiveness….are all radical, confrontational assaults to the human ego, and yet necessary elements in order to have good worship. That is still the story we should sing about, because our singing about this honors God.  And there should be songs about faith and love and trust, expressed directly to God in song. It’s all pretty powerful stuff.

Relating to God and His story in a manner that is “contextualized” for our culture isn’t new.  It’s an idea that goes back 2000 years. The point of Jesus’ ministry was to make God the Father accessible to his people, without special pretense or adornment, and our songs to and about God should be based on that concept of honest expression of our thoughts.

So, what do you think?

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~ by Anthony Orzo on November 24, 2009.

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