From Music to Worship: A Chapter in My Story

It is old news (literally, from infinity) that worship is not synonymous with music or any other ritual or art form. Some people are still discovering this, however. I am fortunate not to have grown up in a tradition in which worship was confused with music. In our church, a United Methodist congregation, worship was confused with liturgy and social prominence. Sure, we had music in our services. But no one was fooled into confusing it with worship. As far as I was concerned, Pearl Jam was more worshipful than the music I heard in church. However, it was not recently that I expressed genuine worship to God through music.

Several years (10 or so) ago, I experienced what it meant to worship God in Spirit and Truth for the first time. I was attending a weekend youth retreat coordinated by a group called Happening Ecumenical. 50 youth and I camped out in a church building for an entire weekend, with high schoolers from all over southwest Missouri. We all had one thing in common: none of us had a clue what was going on. Part of the experience was in the secret... or should I say, secrets.

We started out by designing name tags for ourselves, using a butterfly-shaped piece of cardstock, a few magic markers, and a piece of yarn. We wore them around our necks the entire weekend. Everyone was jealous of mine, of course. ;-) After that, we did an icebreaker or two to get comfortable with all of our newfound friends. Pretty soon after, we gathered together and sang some songs to God. A couple folks whipped out their guitars. Someone slipped a transparency on the overhead projector, and away we went.

This was my introduction to "contemporary worship". Raw, unproduced, unrehearsed, unpolished. Of course, I was a little nervous singing at first. After all, this was new to me. But I noticed that several people around me were very "into it". Through their fervent participation, as well as an environment of constant encouragement and Christ-centeredness, I began to "let go and let God." By the end of the weekend, I was a sold out worshipper of Jesus.

It wasn't until my junior year of college that I experienced a quality "live band" worship service. A few bands made their way to SBU and pretended to lead worship. But for some reason, the Spirit of Christ was missing. During my junior year, I joined my college ministry's worship team, after demonstrating my committment to our church for a full semester (a requirement for serving in leadership in that ministry). The following semester, our college pastor took the worship team to a collegiate leadership conference called Thirsty, hosted by Passion (the 268 generation). From the first strum of Chris Tomlin's guitar, I felt like I had entered the throne room of God.

Throughout the rest of the conference, from the painfully Christ-centered preaching of Louie Giglio to Erwin McManus' calling us to be barbarians for Christ, my life was forever radically transformed. And the worship leaders (Charlie Hall, Matt Redman, David Crowder, Nathan and Christy Nockels, Chris Tomlin) had a lot to do with it. They truly discipled us through their leadership. They and their band members worshipped with everything they had, and they did so in very deep, theologically-thick, contemplative, and celebratory ways. You could tell that these folks weren't just Jesus musicians. They were pastors... mature, seasoned, committed followers of Christ. They were on a journey and were begging us, daring us to follow them. They were after God, and if we were going to keep up, we were going to have to hustle. I was up to the challenge. (This, by the way, was the conference at which Passion Hymns: Ancient and Modern was recorded.)

Over the last 4 years, these pastors and worship leaders have continued to pour wisdom, creativity, and inspiration into my life, along with several others. They helped me to avoid the otherwise ubiquitous misguided focus on music and "hit-making". Their hard-pressed passion for the centrality, supremacy, and sufficiency of Christ ran like a river through everything they wrote, sang, and played, and this helped keep me centered in the person of Jesus. They refused to let their songs and sermons be reduced to touchy-feely camp songs or sound bytes. They captured the mystery and yet the revelation of God; the majesty and yet humility; the friendship and yet the fear; the joy and yet the pain and sorrow; the assurance and yet the struggle. These mentors have shaped who I am, both as a worshipper and as a worship leader. Tim Hughes, Shane & Shane, and Delirious have been a tremendous help as well.

So what's the point of the story? Why am I telling it to you? Well, first, because the more of ourselves we share with each other, the closer we will be. But secondly, I want to let you know what a significant medium music has been in my connection to God. I am very sensitive to this issue, as I know some of you are as well. It's one of the primary ways God has wired me to worship Him. But He didn't just make a recipe for food, but certain dishes. Not all music helps me connect with God, and I'm sure the same goes for you. I believe God wants us to be creative with the gifts He's given us, to stretch ourselves to the limit of possibility. Part of this is breaking out of the mold from time to time. I broke out of my mold my sophomore year of high school, and again in my junior year of college. And I am willing to break out again. I hope and pray that each of you is up to the challenge as well.

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