It has surprised me a little that I have written so much this week in relation to songs and sung worship. It probably not been as surprising to me to realise the reaction. From tweets, comments and questions, something hit a nerve when i suggested in this article: http://wp.me/p2Az40-G8, that in regard to the Mission of God that the church partakes in, in loving its local community, whether individual or collective, the songs it sings are largely unimportant.
As a massive detour here I have a confession to make.
Not only did i grow up pretty Evangelical, i bought it hook line and sinker. I became immersed in the created christian youth sub culture of the late 80’s and 90’s. It was a subculture that had its own music, in reality its music shaped its culture, at a time when Christian Music, even in the UK, included stuff that tried to be contemporary, and not ‘just’ worship. Yet the biggest stages at that time were the Worship arenas, Stadiums, even Wembley, was tried to be packed out to Sing worship songs. It was a culture that tried to sing unending songs of how Jesus saved people and sing of these songs forever. These songs emerged out of the prevailing culture of the church in a renewal age, and hoped that generations of people singing these songs would transform the world, possibly one song at a time. It maybe created a worship culture, and a culture of worship. And I was in it…
When I stood at Wembley, on a cloudy day in June 1997, it was a transformative experience.
For, over the course of that year i had been working in Hartlepool on a gap year, trying to work out how to do ministry with young people, some of the most challenging, and disruptive with limited education or knowledge to help, just raw enthusiasm and an experience of faith existing in a christian culture. At Wembley, in 1997, it was meant to be an event to change the world. It held within its advertising and narrative during, a belief that during a process of a variety of worship leaders were to perform, people would sing and lives would be changed. As i stood there, amongst many things i thought, one was, this culture, however relevant it is trying to be, is a million miles from those young people in Hartlepool. Yet this culture tried to do through music was to bring about change and revolution, it could only do that if you could access the stages of its performance, its language, and its culture. Yet the songs that shaped it we’rent about a revolution but about personal faith. The songs that continue to shape church today, developed from that same culture are still largely about personal faith, about personal worship, and the love of God to a person, or songs about singing. Sung with the gusto of being relevant/contemporary in style – but are they prophetic in tone?
Yes, we go to church to reconnect and align our lives to the God of our faith, and connecting poetically through song is one way of doing this, as are other expressions. Yet one purpose of church also, is to reorientate towards, and rehearse being a church in Mission, to the ongoing performance of the Gospel in the world. One of the ways that Church should consider itself is to be both practical and prophetic (Healy, 2000), and i wonder if the call for worship to be practically helpful in worship (i think it ticks this box), and socially prophetic (hmm not sure) is one to be thought through further.
It makes me wonder whether the soundtrack or Psalms of the culture are being created outside of the church, as prophetic statements against personal struggle or the systems that enforce this- one being through movies (see I, Daniel Blake– as an example), as even politically charged music in ‘pop’ culture is largely underground. Politically motivated songs in BBC6 music were derided as ’80’s fodder’ on a recent programme. And so , if politically charged music, or the prophetic psalms of real life are sidelined to the margins, the student music nights – (or as we found in Perth 10 years ago when we gave young people the freedom to play their own created music at the accoustic cafe) – what might the response of the local church be in its music, its liturgy, its worship – to the plight of those for whom it stands alongside. How might songs of the gospel reflect Gods heart for the real poor in society? for example…
Do we have a prophetic song for the state of the benefit system that causes people to need the foodbanks we as a church advertise?
Or a prophetic song for the students who dont have EMA to help them in further education?
Or a prophetic song for and with those suffering within a system that has created Mental Health issues?
Or a prophetic song about the culture of its local area – it local needs and gifts? (*insert name of town here)
If various cultures in world history have benefitted from the truth of the Gospel and Gospel songs to propel their cause, ie Apartheid, the civil rights movement, where and what now might the church sing in being subversive, prophetic, challenging and provoking, gritty even- to aid and fight for and with those in real need in society? (whilst the church imports its worship from outside its local culture- will it ever?) something that is real and reflective.
Its possible that the young people playing their own songs, in their pubs might have got there first, the psalms of the culture, psalms of fight and hurt are becoming the soundtrack of local cultures of young people. Maybe churches might upset people by the songs they sing, upset establishments, and create movements of and for change. But would Jesus not join in with these songs?
Can the churches worship be socially and politically, as well as spiritually, prophetic? Could a gospel song become the soundtrack to a whole culture that reflect the needs in society? What might be the songs that shape a revolution for good in the UK today?
Blogging about these issues, wont change the world. The power of the poetic, and the song that unites and gathers momentum will do. If a practical and prophetic church is what the world needs, then its songs might become a sung voice for change in the world. A dangerous revolution.