This is part three of Asking Tough Worship Music Questions, a (hopefully) long-running series of interviews with worship leaders, pastors, and teachers from around the world. Thank you very much to David Gungor, who is one of the pastors at Trinity Grace Church in Tribeca and is also a member of The Brilliance, for his time and graciousness in response.
Question One: Why do we repeat lyrics?
Repetition and Rhythm. Repetition creates habits that become formational for the imagination. Repetition helps create muscle memory for spiritual formation. We repeat ideas to form habits and rhythms that are formational to our lives and communities. Our hope is that God uses these practices and rhythms to bring healing to our broken lives while simultaneously calibrating our souls to the unforced rhythms of the Kingdom of God.
Question Two: Who should our songs be directed to? Should they be song about God, to God, or of God? To God or Jesus? About Jesus?
Songs within our context are honest, artistic expressions of prayers. They are Trinitarian in nature and focus on following Jesus and living a sacramental life. Good Christian liturgy helps one recapture the formative, God-oriented action in worship and the sacraments. So, when putting together the music for a worship gathering, my focus has become less on trying to create an experience that is rooted in self expression, and more about being a facilitator to create space through music, prayers, scriptures, poems, and other creative elements, in order to lead people to a place where they are able to participate by listening, receiving, and joining in the story of the Trinity.
Question Three: Why do we sometimes sing sounds, not words, in praise?
I am assuming you are referencing people singing sounds that reflect things the we can’t quite put words too. i.e. Romans 8:22-23:
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
Melodies are like memories that reflect deep wounds and joys found within humanity that can transcend language.
Question Four: Why do we sometimes sing about ourselves – singing about how we react and respond to God?
The Christian liturgy tells the Story of Christ as the true account of our lives, and it is through the liturgy that we come to ever-fresh and deeper understandings of who we are and how we “fit” in the cosmos, of our nature and destiny as human beings.
Christians become protagonists in the Story of God.
Our songs will reflect this.
Question Five: Should we raise our hands, clap our hands, and dance, when we sing to God?
Do what you feel …
It can be a beautiful expression to show or do physical postures, or outward expressions towards God and humanity that reflect your inward thoughts and feelings. It can also be a dangerous tribalistic form of appeasing culture, community or the sky god(s) that we create.
My opinion is do whatever you do from the heart, and be honest.
Question Six: What role should spontaneity in speech and song have in worship?
Everyone has some form of liturgy and set of practices that help form a community. Some communities value spontaneity in speech and song, while others value preparation. I suggest not being dualistic in nature. It doesn’t have to be either or. I hope that communities will provide space to express themselves honestly. In my experience, usually the more prepared I am, the more I honestly don’t feel the need to just sing spontaneously. However, I am not opposed to being spontaneous.
Question Seven: How theologically and Biblically deep should song lyrics be?
As a worship pastor, I draw from the well of tradition that has been handed down. This is a story that we join, not one that we make up. It is not simply a practice of how we feel towards God, reducing worship to mere self expression. So as a worship leader, how then shall we help craft the liturgy? What wells do you draw upon? Does your church come from a tradition? If so, in what ways can you use that tradition, and create new ways to honour the tradition and give it a fresh voice?
When putting together the service, we try to make sure that our liturgy and songs reflect our traditions and yet creatively use beauty to inspire the Christian imagination in fresh ways.
Our theological well runs deep, and has space to wrestle with love, joy, peace, faith, doubt, hope, despair, death and resurrection.
With a robust liturgy, songwriters have more freedom to write artistically to the theological themes and movements of the liturgy. Songwriters and worship leaders create space to inspire the Christian imagination and reflect the larger narrative that the liturgy holds.