Worship Porn

March 22, 2008

A growing number of people (like Alan Hirsch) are critical of “Jesus is my boyfriend” worship music. Some of the criticism is that it is over-romanticization, even eroticism, and specifically that men feel awkward singing love songs to Jesus, ’cause hey, he’s another guy and that’s just weird.

I, too, am critical of “Jesus is my boyfriend” but I think I mean something different. What I see is shallow sentimentality, what I call “white bread worship” — all fluff, no substance. Some of it is certainly shaped by the lyrics of popular songs, because I think the reason they become popular is that they are inoffensive. But I think it goes beyond the songs to the attitude of the worship leader and the way some churches view worship as a means to an end.

The Role of Worship

What is the role of worship, specifically musical worship, in a church gathering? For the “traditional service,” it can be overly cerebral. The music itself can be challenging and therefore one must concentrate on getting the notes right. The better lyrics are lofty, beautiful, and stirring; the worse lyrics are so anachronistic that we no longer know what we are singing. (I’m sorry, “Here I raise my Ebenezer” means nothing to me.) The flow of the gathering is herky-jerky: flip to this page, stand up, sing this, sit down, flip to a completely different page. The interspersing of music seems fairly random, interrupting the liturgy.

“This is just like what you do in the Vineyard, isn’t it?” No. It’s not.

In contrast, there’s the “contemporary service” — what is the role of musical worship there? It’s to set the stage for something else, a transitional device to prepare people for central high point: the sermon. Instead of being cerebral, the focus is on being emotional. Well, one emotion: happiness, the only safe and church-approved emotion there is. The goal is to make people feel good. Worship is evaluated according to whether it “engaged the people,” meaning did they stand, sing and clap. And the way you do that is by singing safe songs in the lowest common denominator, and by cheerleading. Oh, and between songs don’t forget to say a pointless prayer, again as a transitional device.

I’m probably going to come off as a Vineyard bigot here, but bear with me.

The wide acceptance of “contemporary worship music” is often cited as a success of the Vineyard movement to which most such music can be traced. When my non-Vineyard family members see a church that has a “worship band” with drums, bass, maybe even an electric guitar, they often comment, “Oh, this is just like what you do in the Vineyard, isn’t it?”

No. It’s not.

The musical forms are simply the surface. What continues to make the Vineyard unique is the underlying values, and especially the value of intimacy with God — music as a vehicle for meditation, for prayerful surrender, for healing by “doing business with God,” for the refocusing of your life on the amazing worthiness of God. Worship is not a means to an end: it is the end, literally. As Keith Green asked, will you be bored in heaven, or will your heart be captivated?

Transparent Intimacy

A good worship leader leads the way into this kind of worship by his or her own example, by being transparent, honest and real. When I lead, my goal is to bring myself before God, and in full view of others, rip open my chest to reveal my heart. I want to demonstrate intimacy with God, which feels pretty vulnerable. Yes, it is “a performance” in the sense that any good musician takes their craft seriously. But it is not “a performance” in the sense of putting on a show face. If anything, I am taking off my mask and letting you see a glimpse of what I do in private when I spend time with God and my guitar (or my iPod in the car).

Out of this come songs of honesty, both of pain and adoration. Songs sung, not about God, but to and with God. Something like, “You are beautiful, I love you.”

Intimacy is not the problem. It’s a lack of committed intimacy.

Now take that same song and remove it from those values. You get what I call worship porn — a shallow copy of the original, with no underlying story of ongoing commitment and interaction with the Holy One that calls for change in your life and effects that change into being. And only one type of emotion. And the point is to achieve that emotion.

In this context, I can understand why there is a backlash from people committed to the transformative power of Christ. When “You are beautiful, I love you,” is sung by people who lack good teaching about worship and good examples to guide them, everything changes. The depth those words carry when I say them to my wife of over twenty years is different from the way I said them as an adolescent wanting to have a girlfriend, in love with the concept of being in love.

The words are not the problem. Intimacy is not the problem. If anything, it’s a lack of committed intimacy. It’s porn.

Let me use a real song example to push the envelope, one that grips my heart:

Let me know the kisses of your mouth
Let me feel your embrace
Let me smell the fragrance of your touch
Let me see your lovely face

Yes, it’s erotic: “Take me into the king’s chamber”! It is so erotic that most churches won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. Men, if it troubles you to sing that to God, may I suggest that it reveals a weakness in your theology: that God is exclusively a male figure to you. We say God is not male or female, but do we really believe it? We are not teaching it, or the implications it has for how to live it out. This is not a bubble-gum adolescent pop song. It is love, adoration, surrender.

Old couple in love
Photo by adwriter (license)

Songs of Pain

Another thing that distinguishes porn from the real thing is that it is about “performance”: instead of taking off your mask, you put one on. The emotional range is one-dimensional. In worship porn, everyone is expected to be happy and fulfilled, so the worship leader smiles big and the worshipers pretend that everything is OK. Well, everything is not OK, but songs of pain or doubt from the Vineyard movement haven’t caught on in the “contemporary worship” movement. When’s the last time you sang,

Lord I groan, Lord I kneel
I’m crying out for something real
‘Cause I know, deep in my soul
There must be more

or

Whom have I but you
Whom have I but you
Though the mountains fall, they fall into the sea
Though my colored dawn be turned to shades of gray
Though my questions asked should never be resolved
Whom have I but you
Whom have I but you

Such songs are deemed off-putting. I tried singing “When the tears are falling… When I’m all but drowning… I cry a silent prayer that comes out of me” in a church where worship is largely happy-clappy, and it made people uncomfortable. I was told that lament didn’t fit the church’s culture, or the goal of getting people “engaged” by singing and clapping. (But the people there who are most like my non-church friends said, through tears, that it was the deepest time of worship they’d had in a long time.)

Singing Is Not the Goal

Here’s another form of worship porn: Singing songs of sacrificial service, when you’re not sacrificially serving. It’s not that what you sing has to be true of your own life, because one important function of worship music is singing into being the things we want to be true. But again, there has to be a context of meaning and desire. Here, I totally agree with Mike Frost: Get out and live a life of mission, and your worship will come alive with desperation. Take those same songs and remove them to the safety of a context of personal benefit, and you get people feeling pretty good without actually doing anything. That’s like — well, I’ve used enough sexual imagery already, so I’d better not say.

We were in an environment where the purpose of the songs wasn’t to sing the songs.

Combine these aspects with a style of worship leading which is all about “being just like the recording.” The vocal nuances are copied. The arrangement of the song map is set in stone, because “that’s the way we practiced it.” Perfect those transitions, so there can be no deviation in the song selection itself. These things subtly work together to create an understanding that the purpose of the song is to sing the song. The experience becomes strictly one-way, from the leader to the people, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to interact with the people and the leader respond to that. Then instead of letting people interact with the music on their own terms, interrupt whatever is going on with prayers or chattiness between songs — thus inadvertently taking the focus away from “doing business with God” and putting it back on the worship leader.

In such an environment, I started to think that maybe my “heart of worship” had become hard and cold. Then while visiting family, our family got to visit a Vineyard on a Sunday morning. It had been a while since we had been in a Vineyard, and that had been in a different area, so I wasn’t too surprised when I didn’t know a single song. I was surprised that it didn’t matter that I didn’t know a single song — the transparency of the worship leader’s heart immediately drew me into a state of worship I had forgotten was possible. I wasn’t asked to stand, or sing, or clap — though most people did those things, I felt no pressure to conform. The leader mostly had his eyes closed and just sang his heart, so it didn’t matter that I mostly just let the words wash over me as I stood silently, with tears.

When Kay & I compared notes afterwards, we found it interesting that unfamiliarity with the songs did not pose a barrier to either of us, but that we had had the most spiritual time of worship in years. Maybe it’s because we were in an environment where the purpose of the songs wasn’t to sing the songs. The underlying Vineyard values may not have been copied by the “contemporary worship” movement, but they are still alive and well in the Vineyard.

Eh, maybe I am just a Vineyard bigot after all.

What Can We Do?

So back to “Jesus is my boyfriend” — I’m afraid the “I’m a guy, I don’t do that” criticism will lead people to shy away from intimacy in worship. Intimacy is not the problem — it’s that it’s too shallow. Divorced from a context of deeper worship values, intimate songs come across as bubble-gum pop or as porn. While some songs are deeper than others, the problem is not the songs but with the context. Even mediocre lyrics can be meaningful when they are sung with meaning.

OK, enough complaining. If you are a worship leader, here are some biased suggestions to consider:

  • Go experience worship in a Vineyard. Part of the Vineyard heritage is to bless non-Vineyard churches, so they will be happy to share their experiences and understanding with you.
  • Talk with your pastor. You’ve got to be together in this.
  • Go with your pastor to a Vineyard worship conference. Pay attention to the underlying values.
  • Rediscover that God is not male. What are the implications?
  • Worship in private. What moves you? Why? What happens as a result?
  • Lead people into mission outside of your worship service.
  • Work to find (or write!) songs that express the unique call that God has given your church.

Related posts: Beyond worship music

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

39 responses to Worship Porn

  1. Good stuff Jon. As always, I appreciate your ability to go deeper.

  2. Randall, it just means I’m jealous of you. 😉

  3. Whilst God may not be “male or female” He is ceratinly not androgynous. I’m not comfortable singing those songs to God, because:
    1. God is ALWAYS described as male.
    2. Jesus was male.
    3. It displays a gross lack of respect for God.
    4. God rebukes people and says that He is NOTHING like us. We are not to be familiar with Him.
    If “Here I raise mine Ebenezer” means nothing to you, you really should try reading your Bible more. So it’s not my faulty theology, it’s yours, and it is promoting this porn.
    As for the difficulty in lyrics and music, I assure you that it is only difficult because you are not familiar with it; people on the “other side” will find your style difficult as well. My daughter, and most children find the “traditional” lyrics and melodies far more memorable than the contemporary music even though we go to a church that plays more Vineyard music than “traditional.”
    My last comment:
    I don’t know by what standard you decided that your worship in the new church was “spiritual” but from my own experience, the staid, up and down, flip-flop style you complain of in traditional churches, is just as bad in contemporary churches. Constantly repeat the same words, moaning over and over, leaves my emotions numb.
    Sing to me the victory and sacrifice of Jesus. Tell me of His faithfulness not my wants, desires or intentions. The song is about Him and His glory, not about me and my fantasies.

  4. I can’t help myself…I feel compelled to write this.
    I have no problem singing to God, ‘take my hand; hold me; guide me.’ As a father, I’ve often carried my children when they’re sad or hurt, and said to my heavenly Father, ‘hold me, like I’m holding my daughter; protect me and keep me.’ He’s my heavenly Father, not my lover.
    I don’t know about your wife, or you, but my wife and I don’t smell like roses all the time and our breath isn’t all that tasty. You’re peddling a hollywood love and a hollywood Jesus. You’re not worshiping a Jesus who dwells in unapproachable light who is Holy, who hates sin and as your Father has forgiven the hatred you’ve had for Him. You’re worshiping a fake Jesus. I don’t care how emotional it is; it’s still a fake God. You’re right – you’re promoting worship porn.

  5. This is a great post!
    And I sense that you’re a big fan of David Ruis’ music… 🙂

  6. Michael,
    Since you blogged your own response as well as leaving a comment, let me point people at it: blog.noblebereans.org
    I think we are coming at things from quite different points of view. It is hard to compare things when, I am guessing, our experiences are so different. My posting was essentially a critique of a critique of “contemporary worship”. The original critique decrying “Jesus is my boyfriend” music is a complaint that worship music expresses, as you say, a “Hollywood love” which is shallow. I totally agree. What I am trying to say is that, while some songs are more vapid than others, the problem is deeper, and I am afraid that in the backlash, people will discard a great treasure.
    My worst experiences of “traditional worship” are with songs that predate Bach, and thus lack commonly established forms of meter and melody. Chants are moving, but in my sister’s church a number of their songs seem to come from a transitional period that lies between chants and western musical form. Some hymns are wonderful, as are some liturgies. But the bulk of my critique is of contemporary worship, which I see as an unfortunate shallow copy of the Vineyard. So when you put down the way your own church plays Vineyard music — yes, that is probably what I am criticizing.
    Thanks for the Ebenezer reference, I found the passage. “Ebenezer” is not part of my language (or the language of anyone I know). In a way, it illustrates what I am saying about removing a song from its context. Songs often need teaching (I don’t mean preaching necessarily, though I am not excluding it) to give them meaning.
    I think our biggest disagreement is over portraying God as male. I think you illustrate my point that while we say God is neither male nor female, in practice we often do not think so. You say, “He’s my heavenly Father, not my lover.” I celebrate your view of God as father; my challenge is that there are other aspects of relationship with God: savior, master, teacher, parent (mother as well as father), and yes, lover. That last word may tweak your sensibilities, but it falls in line with mystical traditions that run throughout church history. I don’t know if the notion of Christian mysticism bothers you, or if it simply a concept you have not encountered. My prayer, Michael, is that you and I will continue to discover the many-faceted riches of relationship with the triune God.
    — Jon

  7. Ha ha, Robby, you’ve outed me — yes, David is my greatest worship hero. His songs crying for justice illustrate what I mean about getting away from one-dimensional worship, and for David they come from a context of serving on the streets and leading others to do the same.
    Oh, and anyone who dances around while playing bass is all right with me. 🙂

  8. I was part of David’s inner-city church in Winnipeg for about six or seven years. And I’ve always enjoyed his music as well, for the same reasons you’ve listed. He would be leading worship at a conference one night, and having street people into his home to share a meal the next. Great example to all of us.
    Glad you enjoyed the bass/dancing — does it matter that the dancing is, shall we say, less than nuanced? 🙂

  9. Robby,
    Oh, well then, you know what I’m talking about better than I know what I’m talking about. And I was jealous of Randall, but now I’m jealous of you.
    As for the dancing — hey, your fingers were flying, right? You were busy. 😉

  10. Jon,
    A friend of mine came to visit today, I haven’t seen him in a while and I know that he’s more of the Vineyard “type”, so I bounced my thoughts off him, to see whether I was harsh. I took on board your comments and I appologise if I seemed harsh; as a student and lover of music, it is a somewhat passionate area for me.
    I agree completely about shallow worship; I agree that there is no point in singing about something that means nothing to us, but that applies equally to any musical strand you adhere to. Your complaint about the “backlash” is what I’m trying to draw attention to. You’re doing the very thing, you’re afraid people are doing to Vineyard. You dismissed a great treasure, because it meant nothing to you, just as many people could say about the lyrics of many Vineyard songs. Bearing your heart and soul is precisely what Robert Robertson did; rather than trying to connect as you want people to do with Vineyard, you’ve dismissed, and not tried to engage.
    I fully agree and couldn’t agree more (about shallow worship). However, as I made the point in my blog, my issue isn’t that. If we’re serious about deep, intimate worship of God, as worship leaders (pastors and Bible Study leaders), rather than dissing a particular song that has been used by millions (probably hundreds of millions) more people than Vineyard ever has, for about 100 times longer than any Vineyard song has, surely we should look at it as an example of how to lead people into deep communion with God, rather than dismissing it. And yes, that may mean teaching people what the phrase means.
    Regarding mystics, I looked at the list and randomly clicked on one: George Fox (founded the Quakers). Hmmm – how much do you know about the Quakers? I then clicked on Antoinette Bourignon who called herself the new “Eve”. Brigham Young also made the list you refer to (he founded the mormons). Phineas Quimby (advocate of mesmerism amounst other things); Rudolf Steiner who denies the deity of Jesus Christ. I’m not at all impressed by this list. Yes, I’d heard of “Christian” mystics, but you’ll find that most of them held heretical views on the deity of Jesus and of the way of salvation.
    I’ve not encountered the “lover” side of Jesus. I don’t see it anywhere in the Gospel. Perhaps you could point it out to me. The disciple whom Jesus loved, never described Jesus that way when seeing his unveild glory. I dare say, that when you see Him, “lover” is not the first thing on your mind.
    I apologise if I was harsh on my blog, I didn’t intend to be, but I do hope that you’ll look past the roughness and realise that if we’re serious about deep worship, it needs to be based on knowledge, not emotion. Emotion is great, but it is not the measure of effective worship or spirituality.
    My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children.
    (Hos 4:6)
    Rom 10:2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

  11. Michael:
    You’ve not seen the lover side of Jesus?
    How about the story of Adam and Eve – where Adam is looking for the one – and is put to sleep – and Eve is taken from his side? Can’t the same be said of the second Adam (Jesus) – and his beloved bride (the church)?
    How about the story of Isaac and Rebeccah? Remember – the servant goes to a distant land to find a bride for the beloved son? This is a story of Christ and his beloved bride – the church.
    How about the story of Ruth and Boaz? Remember – the kinsman redeemer pays the price and restores the beloved bride after she had lost everything? This is a story of Christ – and his beloved bride – the church. This is what He did for me !!!
    How about the story of Jacob and Rachel – where he works years for the love of his life? This is the story of Christ – and his beloved bride – the church.
    How about the Christ the bridegroom – and the church the bride – mentioned in Eph 5? Spotless and without wrinkle.
    How about the picture of the beautiful bride in Revelation 21? Prepared as a Bride beautifully dressed for her husband?
    Who is this coming thu the desert leaning on her lover in the Song of Songs?
    Is the Song of Songs just a porn piece – not really intended for the Bible?
    How about the prostitute who anointed his feet with oil and assigned her hair to the dust just to wipe off His feet? Isn’t that a picture of us in our of our imperfection coming to Him in total surrender? And in all of that – He accepts us!
    You don’t think Jesus is a “lover”? Wow, what Bible are you reading?
    I’m sorry – I’m a hopeless romantic – and I see that everywhere in scripture. Psalm 45 is one of the most awesome Psalm’s to the hopeless romantic.

  12. I didn’t know what that Ebenezer line meant either. But I do now. Many thanks – it makes me FEEL so-o-o-o good to find something in the bible that I didn’t know was there. As to whether we “love” or are “in love” with Jesus, I think this is an English language problem. If in doubt, ask a child. And watch carefully as that child unhesitatingly wraps their arms around and tightly hugs the one they love.

  13. Jerry,
    Obviously I read the PG version. As far as I’m concerned, Song of Solomon isn’t a porn piece.
    If you’re asking me about whether I see that Jesus loves me and chooses to express that through various illustrations, then yeah, I’d agree. But as for singing sexually suggestive songs, ahh no.
    I’m pretty sure that the woman at Jesus feet wasn’t thinking that she’d like to bed Him. But obviously I missed it because I read the PG version.

  14. Sorry Michael,
    perhaps I was a bit too harsh in asking you which version of the Bible you are reading. I like love songs a whole lot – and get a lot out of them.
    I don’t ever think of the Lord in sexual terms – but sometimes songs may sound that way.
    How about – He touched me, oh He touched me, and oh the joy that fills my soul. Something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.
    Now – you can look at that from a physical perspective – or you can look at as the Lord knows how to get way down deep into your very inmost being and touch you. That’s how you know it’s Him – cause He knows what you’re made of – and He knows how to touch you. That’s something that goes way beyond the physical – but for some reason the author couldn’t find a better word than “touch” to use. Our musical expressions are so limited to our natural world.
    Or how about – I walk thru the garden alone….
    And the love we share as I tarry there – none other has ever known.
    I am so sure the author of that song had a real experience with the Lord, and that that experience is only known by tarriers.
    Grandma once shared with me about the Lord’s love was like the waves of the ocean – they just kept coming and coming and coming and coming and coming. They were ever there for her. I so think of grandma’s testimony when I sing the song:
    Oh love of God how rich and pure, how measureless and strong
    It shall for evermore endure the saints and angels song.
    Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade,
    To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry.
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.
    I went to Bulgaria once – and this song so came alive to me:
    Over the mountains and the sea – you river runs with love for me
    And I will open up my heart and let the healer set me free
    I’m happy to be in the truth, and I will daily lift my hands
    For I will always sing of when your love came down ….
    Those are all love songs ….

  15. Michael, I appreciated your initially gentle response. But then you continue with snap judgements about how I have dismissed the rich legacy of hymns because they mean nothing to me. Eh, come again? BTW I can’t even tell you what hymn that “Ebenezer” line is from. Are you shocked? Sure, I could look it up easily enough. But I’m afraid my repertoire is not universal. I am more familiar with heavy-hitters like the Wesley brothers, Fanny Crosby, and Robert Lowry. This Robertson fellow (I know you meant Robinson), he’s a lightweight compared to them. My little blind lady could beat your guy blindfolded!
    I did not vet the list of mystics — I should have paid more attention to the caveat at the top that not everyone listed can be considered Christian. But I refer you again to the deep traditions of mystical union, regardless of how some have sullied it. I am far from a good example myself, but one time in a powerful experience, I felt God’s presence so near that it filled me with fear — and I mean I was afraid. Was that cerebral, or emotional? I’m afraid I didn’t spend time figuring it out, I was too busy trying not to wet my pants. Oh well, you can certainly find better mystics than me — take Frank, he’s one of the good guys as opposed to one of the bad guys. (But I realize he’s Catholic, so depending on your background that might reclassify him as “bad guy”.)
    Hmm, I have deviated from my normal nice-guy front and degenerated into being snarky. Michael, you have a knack for pushing my buttons — you must know me well. (Oh, in case you missed it, my post is primarily criticizing “contemporary worship”. That probably means we agree. Except where we disagree.)
    Celebrity deathmatch: Fanny vs. Bobby!

  16. A very insightful discussion!
    Regarding “the lover side of Jesus”, Jerry writes
    > This is a story of Christ – and his beloved bride – the church.
    I note he didn’t say “and his beloved brideS”.
    The church is called a bride corporately, not individually.

  17. Jon,
    I’m not saying that you have dismissed the rich legacy, its that you appear to have by what you’ve written and how you “value” or devalue the song. Just as you were complaining about how some people view/present Vineyard songs and not looking more deeply. It’s the pot calling the kettle black syndrome, which I obviously didn’t explain very well.
    I know you could have looked it up, I said as much.
    Jerry/Jon,
    I’m obviously not communicating very well – that’s what happens when you don’t take a break and reread what you wrote before you send it.
    I fully agree with the songs that Jerry wrote; I have no problem. But they’re not sexually suggestive. I’ve already written that I sing and ask God to hold me. But Jon’s original post, by his own admimission, is seuxually suggestive; ‘erotic’, he called it. I do not accept that there is anywere in Scripture where we are encouraged to view our relationship to God in a sexual fashion – I find it abhorrent. Analogy of husband and wife? Sure. Sex? No. Is my concept of God limited? I hope so; I try to limit it to how He defines our relationship and sezual doesn’t make it to my list.
    The Mytics:
    I knew you hadn’t “vetted” the list; I toyed with it to make the point: There “might” be one or two ok people on that list, but the majority are far from the truth about Jesus.

  18. Before anyone gets carried away: yes I did say Jon dismissed a great treasure and then later said that I didn’t say he dismissed the rich legacy, only that he appeared to do it.
    If someone tells you that something “means nothing to me” – do they value that…whatever it is? Nope. Are they dismissing it? Yes. – Especailly when used as an example of poor song choices.

  19. swordfishBob,
    That’s correct what you are saying about Bride without an S. I personally think that worship leaders need a strong revelation of THE BRIDE. The romance is between Christ and the church (US). ‘We’ are the apple of His eye – ‘We’ are His beloved – ‘We’ are the desire of His heart – ‘We’ are that bride. So much of this needs to be a corporate experience – and not necessarily an individual experience. If I don’t identify with “her” – then there is no romance.
    He’s crazy over her. He doesn’t sleep at night because of her. He goes to war because of her. And yes, He is passionate about her. But YES – absolutely – all of that is in context of the body of Christ. Sure He really loves her toenails too (an individual part) – but He doesn’t romance her toenails – He romances HER.
    This is not an EROS type of love – before she was even born He loved her. Thru her playing the harlot He loved her. He stood in faith knowing one day – she would be a ‘pure virgin’ – more beautiful to Him than Eve had ever been to the first Adam. He’s not in this for what He can get out of her – using her up like a box of soap. This is not selfish love.
    If the worship leader only has an EROS experience – I would recommend they stay about 10,000 miles away from one of those songs. David Ruis can sing those songs. I’m not sure very many worship leaders can.
    And in Michael’s case – thinking of Jesus as a female is unthinkable. Mine too. Jesus is the second Adam – come to earth to find a beatiful bride – put to sleep so she could be taken from His nail pierced side – resurrected so she would one day too arise (I think I have a song 🙂
    Much church music is me,me,me,me,me,me,me – like they’re warming up for an opera or something. I was always convicted by how many songs we had filed under the letter “I” – and how few we had under the letter “J”. It hit me in the face every time I opened that file cabinet. (We file songs by first line alphabetic order cause no one ever know’s the song’s name)

  20. Wow, that is really powerful jerry! Tears sprung to my eyes as I read the connection that you made between Eve brought forth from Adam’s side and the church brought forth from Jesus’. For some reason I never made that direct connection before and you have given me something new to reflect and meditate on. So amazing His love for me, but like we used to sing with Jon: it’s all about Jesus, Jesus.

  21. Great thoughts on worship. Thank you for pointing out that being afraid to surrender to God points to a deficiency in one’s theology. So many people stick God in the male only box and shut out aspects of God that have been revealed to us. Learning to worship God fully can push us out of the silly worship war discussions and get at what deeper worship is all about.

  22. Wow, some long posts here. Some great thoughts on worship. We have an awesome worship leader at our church, he is So gifted. The problem? We have no one to replace him when he is gone. Last week, a new guy filled in for him and, well let’s just say it wasn’t up to par. SO, I want to beg you Jon, to please come to our church!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To have another who is truly anointed to lead worship would be so wonderful. You’ve got the gift – you just have to find a place where it will be appreciated. COME TO OUR CHURCH PLEEEEEEEASE!! Ok, at least pray about it, K? Love you, H.

  23. Once again, I pass on the internet some well meaning believers that need to get out of the church more often. You guys should all read these two pages:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Rock_Hard
    http://www.imsdb.com/transcripts/South-Park-Christian-Rock-Hard.html
    “Worship porn” gives all of us a bad name and we are made a mockery because of it. Jesus told us we are blessed when people curse us because of him, not because of our stupidity in writing bad sexual worship songs about him. John the baptist defined true worship when he said “He Must Become Greater,I Must Become Less.” – John 3:22-30. Worship should be more focused on how great God is and how much less we are than him. He isn’t our partner. He doesn’t need us. Our righteous deeds are as filthy rags in his sight. People that write worship lyrics that have sexually associated lyrics need to get their priorities right.

  24. Seth, thanks for those links. Is it terrible for me to say that it looks hilarious? It illustrates the whole “porn” aspect, namely what happens when you remove intimacy from the context of relationship. Relationship, my friends.
    God does not need us. But here we are nonetheless. Covered with our filth, we stumble down the road — but God sees us and runs towards us.

  25. Helen, you and Randall are the only ones here who have worshiped with me. Thanks for the vote of confidence. 🙂

  26. Michael, I hope God will or has by now brought you to a place of dipping your toe in the contemplative stream. It’s one full of richness and healing. But then maybe I too am a heretic! blessings on you Michael from Jesus the lover of your soul.

  27. The Misfit Toy May 5, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Gen 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
    There’s at least some hint in the scripture that the later insistence on calling God “He” might be cultural baggage of the patriarchal society in which most of the words about God were written.
    I cannot understand or appreciate the hymns which strive to list all the marvelous attributes and accomplishments of God. I understand that many people who love God, love those hymns. I just beg, beg, beg you to keep loving those hymns, but to also make space for me, a devoted follower of Jesus, who, in singing, wants less careful theology and more dangerous emotion.

  28. Terri, you read through all that? Wow.
    I doubt that Michael will ever see your comment. But I know the Lord did, and saw it as a prayer.

  29. Mr. Toy,
    So you want songs that are less left-brain and more right-brain?
    I know you’re a dangerous person. 🙂

  30. I almost hesitate to post this given the serious and sober discussion here, but the trickster goads me on…
    Faith+1 Audio Clips (not a Rick Roll)
    Sacrilegious? You betcha! Imagine boy band songs with girl replaced with Jesus.

  31. The problem with “intimacy” is semantic. As others may have already pointed out (I only read a few comments), the love of a child is similar to the love we should have for God. That’s a healthy image of intimacy with God because he is our Father. When we begin to use lyrics that have connotation to a sexual relationship of a man and a woman we’ve stepped over a line. I’m not saying that because I don’t understand that God is not a man. I’m saying that precisely because I know he’s not. He is Spirit and we are to worship him in spirit and in truth. As a spiritual being he is my Father, not my lover (because “lover” bears the connotation of the one with whom you are sexually intimate). If you want to use a different word, fine, but if Jesus stood before me in the flesh right now I wouldn’t want to kiss Him on the mouth so I’m certainly not going to sing something that is not truth.
    Maybe we get confused about the church being the bride of Christ. That doesn’t mean that as an individual member of the body that I personally am the blushing bride. Marriage has a lot of spiritual meaning but anthropomorphisms can only go so far in describing our relationship with God. There’s talk of a bride, a veil, a banquet, etc. But that doesn’t give us the freedom to extend the metaphor into the bedroom. Jesus isn’t marrying a person. Jesus is using marriage as an illustration of the lengths he will go to for his “bride”. Let’s stay focused on the imagery already provided in the Bible without making up our own.
    PS – I think Marilyn Manson coined the phrase “Jesus is my boyfriend”. I could be wrong.

  32. Chris, you are evil! Man, they take it far, then push it right over the edge, heh. I found another good one, too.
    Reminds me of this old fake news story: Wal-Mart rejects ‘racy’ worship CD.
    (BTW did you know that a growing number of people see Jesus as the trickster?)

  33. i learned what an ebenezer was from teaching sunday school, of all things. we actually made our own remembering stones and i still have mine. i think that is the perfect example of how a worship leader has the opportunity to lead people in different types of worship, other than singing, if they take the time to see the many ways god’s people have worshipped. i think worship leaders should be equal parts worshippers and theologians, with a dash of talent (small enough to keep them humble). i think that combination leads to the kind of worship that truly ushers a group into the presence of God, not into warm fuzzies and clapping.
    as for the lament, i still appreciate that you did that exercise in church. the fact that it didn’t work is not so much a comment on the activity as the depth of worship and vulnerability that people have grown accustomed to in that setting. i’m studying the psalms right now and one cannot help but notice the number of psalms that cry out to god. in fact, my assignment is to write two psalms based on my own life: one a lament and the other a thanksgiving psalm.
    on another note, i don’t think that song of songs is an allegory about jesus and the church. i just re-read it a few days ago (along with my textbook’s comments). clearly, it is very explicit, but it is not porn for porn’s sake. it’s celebrating sex. in fact, i would even argue that its position next to ecclesiastes in both the hebrew scriptures and old testament points to a similar theme: enjoying the good things that God has given in this life.

  34. Nathan, I guess I don’t get it. Love has so many varieties; why limit the love relationship you have with God to that of a child for a father? (And mother? Sibling?) I see within all expressions of genuine love a piece of God, a different slice of a larger Person.
    I need to be cautious because I remember the enthusiasm of the charismatic movement and the backlash from people on the outside who felt they were being classified as second-class Christians. I totally believe that you will experience God as lover someday. I can’t say if that will happen in this age.
    As far as “scriptural metaphors” go, I’m glad the authors of the scriptures were under no obligation not to make up their own imagery! The Canon is closed but the scriptures are open though our lives, as we not only interpret them but embody them to cultures the authors never imagined. Creating new metaphors is a vital missionary skill.
    For me, the image of us as the Bride is compelling, and I find personal benefit in taking it all the way to consummation, with its depth of intimacy and role in continued creation. I understand that it may not help you at all. But I see a role for this imagery in incarnating the gospel into mystic Eastern thought (which is increasingly pervasive in the West).

  35. Frances, I like your ebenezer story. We did a similar thing in a previous church, referring to the story of walking across the Jordan River and taking a stone from the bottom. I think Kay still has her “Jordan stone” somewhere.
    Psalm-writing is a great exercise! I bet writing your own psalms helps you read them better.
    Ahh, the Song of Songs — my favorite bedtime reading. 😉 I like your explanation of what it is and why it’s there. But while people can argue authorial intent, I don’t think that limits its meditative application to Christ and the Church.

  36. The best line of this post: “OK. Enough complaining.”

  37. Jacquie,
    I’m afraid I don’t know how to read your comment. Well, since I don’t know, I’ll take it as a compliment. 😉
    Seriously, I wonder if you might elaborate (if it’s worth your time).

  38. I think most churches are missing the point completely when it comes to worship. When did the concept of a “worship team” become in vogue? Aren’t we all the worship team? I don’t need a “worship leader” to tell me what to do in church. It’s patronizing and condescending. I recently stopped attending my church of 10 years because the “worship service” has become nothing but a well scripted, well rehearsed multimedia presentation. The performers on stage perform for the audience in the seats. There is no reverence, nonstop talking, people doing Facebook on their iPhones during the sermon. Throw in some videos, the powerpoint presentations during the sermon (how on earth was the Word ever communicated effectively without Bill Gates?), and the coffee and doughnuts people saunter into the sanctuary with, and you see something that more resembles a Starbuck’s than a worship service. When I once heard the worship leader comment after all the singing was over “what great worship that was”, I knew it was time to go, since only God can judge whether our worship is acceptable. It’s not for us to decide.
    For me personally, worship is driven by Matthew 25, the sheep and the goats. I have recently become involved in a couple of local prison ministries because it got to the point where I told myself that worship of God is demonstrated through obedience and service, not being part of a “feel good fest” on Sunday morning. If our faith doesn’t result in the good works we were created for, then we are deceiving ourselves.

  39. Steve, thank you for tying worship back to mission. The disconnect between worship and mission is, I think, a key reason worship lacks context. Without the context, you can take the same words and they become a shallow substitute, leading people to pretend that they are doing God’s work. But you can take the same song and sing it in the context of hunger / desperation / celebration / living out the kingdom, and it becomes totally different.
    You’re right, the church needs to get over its love affair with itself.