Intimacy and Orthodoxy

Worship music sung during any given church service is a nexus of cultural and theological elements.  Lyrics that a congregation sings and hears regularly can be deeply spiritually formative in that they are easily retained and often repeated.  However, much of contemporary worship music does not challenge cultural distortions of intimacy and the way the culture of Western individualism has redefined the nature of relationships.  A missional response to these problems must begin with an assessment of the cultural trends and influences that have created worship music that excessively focuses upon the individual's emotional needs and loneliness.Subsequently, there should be a deeper consideration of the theological criteria and questions that are used to evaluate worship music.  Specifically, greater attention needs to be given to God's Trinitarian identity and its relational implications, as well as the nature and definition of intimacy between humanity and God.  Lastly, we ought to consider how songwriters and worship leaders can create a more astute means of discernment regarding the process and influences behind the composition of worship music.

Worship music is often criticized for being too "touchy feely", as Brian Mclaren puts it, "If an extraterrestrial outsider from Mars were to observe us, I think he would say…that these people are all mildly dysfunctional and all need a lot of hug therapy (which is ironic, because they are among the most affluent in the world, having been blessed in every way more than any other group in history).

Change is needed, but it is, "important to reflect on the nature of the needs reflected in contemporary worship music and the tacit theology that has been shaped in response to the sense on alienation in our culture."  Much of our worship music as it exists has emerged out from legitimate emotional needs.

Because a common solution to loneliness in North American culture is consumerism, worship can readily be treated like another product to satisfy this need, and the focus of worship remains the emotional longing rather than God's character.

Worship music written from this perspective, that stops here, will not encourage a more authentic relationship with God because mature relationship requires seeing another as more than simply an extension of one's own needs.

Songwriters often desire to communicate and promote a deeper intimacy of relationship with God, yet the a large majority of worship songs are addressed ambiguously to "God" or "Lord", but predominantly to Jesus.  If God is truly Trinitarian, than a fullness of relationship can only be achieved by addressing the "full" person of God in the Trinity.

Not sure that this can or need be always accomplished in a single song, but it does need to be addressed as a whole in the assembling of worship music for a service.

A missional focus in worship music recognizes, "The very heart of our identity as the church…is not that we are the people who have been chosen to be blessed, saved, rescued, and blessed some more…the heart of our identity as the church…is that we are the people who have been blessed…to be a blessing, blessed so that we may convey blessing to the world."

Worship with a missional focus is a strong counterpoint to personalized, healing focused worship songs in that addresses the question, "Now what?"  Now that Jesus has healed me or comforted me in my distress, how do I respond?

Missiology April 2007  Michelle K. Baker-Wright

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