gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, discipleship

since when was worship a competition?


having had the privilege of worshipping with so many different folks over the years -traditional/contemporary, liturgical/charismatic and so forth- the one thing i hear most often (usually as an intellectual critique) is the idea that the hymns written and sung in more contemporary contexts are too “me” focused and not communal, too much jesus language lacking trinitarian inclusiveness and the lyrics are trite and too repetitive. OUCH!!

now let me start by saying, yes, i know that there are some sorry excuses for songs out there in EVERY genre. as many poorly written p&w (praise &worship) songs that there are, we cannot deny that over half of those hymns in the hymnals are unknown and unsung for a reason….

i believe our worship must engage the whole of our being not merely the space between the brain and the lips. is the “me” not important in my worship of the one who created my being? i think even the most famous hymn writers of the past saw the need for our own vulnerability and confession toward god -“then sings my soul, my saviour god to thee,” “be thou my vision, o lord of my heart,” “great is thy faithfulness, lord unto me.” i believe that the me centered-ness has less to do with who i think i am but it is who i know god to be. it is a recognition that i am in need of this god that i worship. like guests we welcome into our home for the first time, the conversation usually remains surface-y and factual. however, as relationships grow and flourish it is only through intimacy that we learn to love….conversations move beyond the weather and what i think to how i feel about this or that -my fears, joys, hopes, and needs. this is what i LOVE about the psalms and david’s intimate relationship with god told through hymns and songs -these are prayers evident of relationship!

great leaders, artists, musicians, spouses, parents and friends know that repetition is not only the key to memory, increased communication and productivity but carries incredible weight in any relationship. i know for me, as one who grew up in a family where the words “i love you” were never spoken, i love, need, and thrive every time those words are uttered to me. repetition is good. i know when i was leading a large team of musicians and artists, it was imperative that i repeated the vision, expectations and encouragements over and over again for cohesiveness and morale. repetition is good. in this way, my words and songs of worship and adoration, repetitive as it may be, carries such weight. this repetition is not from an insufficient vocabulary or lack of intellectual fervor but it is that i find the words to hold prophetic and profound meaning, even in the simplest of phrases. no, it may not ring with the proclamation of what i believe doctrinally such as when we sing the creeds but my song is the story of redemption, thanksgiving and transformation.

too jesus centered…. perhaps? however, when we speak of one, are we not implying the relationship within the triune godhead? according to john, for to know christ, is to also know the father who sent him. the son, as the giver of the spirit to the hearts of god’s people, enables our participation within the triune life of god. in other words, the spirit allows within us the ability to know god and see the good that has been freely given to us from god. so, as we profess god in the person of christ, the spirit then shines a light or mediates knowledge of our own humanity. it is this recognition that brings forth raw and desperate worship, calling on the name of jesus, while the spirit participates in our uttering.

let us not rush too quickly in silencing the diverse voices of worship. god dwells in the praises of god’s people, whether arising from the great hymns of the early church or the fresh songs of the now. it is not only about what we do but about the relationship between what we do and the transformation that flows out of it. may our worship, our lives, be as incense -pleasing and acceptable to god.


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5 thoughts on “since when was worship a competition?

  1. Angela Nasby on said:

    Hey Gail! Thanks for giving me your thoughts on Facebook. This is the 1st time I’ve had a chance to view your blog! Great post. I echo many of your thoughts.

    When I’m choosing new songs to introduce to our church, many don’t make “the cut” because they ARE a little to me-focused to be considered worship songs. But that doesn’t mean they’re bad songs or that they’re not valuable to the body of Christ (or to me, for that matter). Many people struggle with their identity as sons/daughters of God and it’s nice to be able to sing a song that speaks the truth of who we are. I’m not sure that Sunday morning is always the most appropriate time for that but I’m certainly not offended if someone includes a song like that in their set. Now if the entire set is all about me, that’s a different story.

    I also think that there’s a difference in songs that are about me and songs that express gratitude to God for what He has done for me. I generally have no problem with those because we’re told to come into His presence with thanksgiving! But I do have to say that my absolute favorite worship songs speak simply to the attributes of who God is–not necessarily what He does but rather just elements of His character. He is so perfect and holy and entirely OTHER than we are that it is amazing to just get lost in all of that!

    As a worship leader, I’m constantly trying to find/write songs that are “vertical” in the sense that they sound like a conversation between us and God. That seems to be the most consistent filter for me…because my greatest desire is to point people to Jesus so that they can encounter the God of the universe. Which also speaks to the “Jesus-centered” argument… I find it interesting that may people who complain about this can’t list more than 10 worship songs that are addressed to the Holy Spirit…I’m just sayin. 😉

    I think the main thing that I’ve noticed in our contemporary, “charasmatic” services is that there seems to be a need to re-define WORSHIP. It’s so much more than music, but since that’s the most common vehicle we use to express it in our services, maybe we need to really examine the point of the songs we sing. Is it to encourage each other, like a Godly pep-rally? Is it to remind ourselves of who we are in Christ? Is it to ask God for things? All of those things are fine and good, but are they really worship? These are just the things that have been on my heart as I’ve been placed in the position of leading our congregation in worship.

    I look forward to hearing more of your heart on this topic! I hope you guys are all well!

    Love Angela

  2. Angela Nasby on said:

    okay now re-reading that, i think i use “quotation marks” too much. ha!

  3. gailsongbantum on said:

    thanks for your thoughts angela! great to hear that you are back to leading worship….so anointed and LUV your songs!

    these are all really good questions that you pose re: what exactly our songs are intended for? this would be helpful in our songwriting as well. i must write a blog on this…haha

    i’d love to hear how your WL training went when you get a chance.


  4. Cool site, love the info.

  5. This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,

    A definite great read.. 🙂


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