This is part eight 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 the team from Elevation Worship for their time and graciousness in response.
Question One: Why do we repeat lyrics?
Songs have the power to shape what we believe. And repetition, of anything, takes it from an intellectual level to an instinctual level. So when we repeat lyrics, I think the goal is to create a fundamental belief in what we’re singing. I grew up singing hymns in church. So when we’d repeat the refrain “Standing, standing, standing on the promises of Christ my Savior” I grew to have a stronger foundational belief about the faithfulness of God. And I don’t think it’s a mistake or oversight that Isaiah and John both described the song being sung around the throne in heaven as “Holy, holy, holy.” There’s power in repetition.
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?
I think it’s important to have all of these types of songs! You see a variety in the Psalms, so why not follow the pattern. We find those sung about God (Psalm 97), to God (Psalm 25), songs directed to the congregation (Psalm 100). And in the New Testament, we find what most believe to be hymns to and about Jesus (1 Tim 3:16, Col 1:15-20).
Question Three: Why do we sometimes sing sounds, not words, in praise?
Scripture commands us to “make a joyful noise.” I think it’s simply another way to express our worship and praise to God. Also, God told Joshua to have the Israelite army to “give a loud shout” and that when they did so, the walls of Jericho would collapse and they could go in. That was a shout of victory (even before the battle had been won). I think a good triumphant war cry has it’s place in today’s churches :).
Question Four: Why do we sometimes sing about ourselves – singing about how we react and respond to God?
We also see this pattern in the Psalms. I think authenticity in our songs is extremely important. I love seeing David’s journey as he expresses and describes his brokenness, which then leads him to dependence on God. I relate to that. I connect with that.
Question Five: Should we raise our hands, clap our hands, and dance, when we sing to God?
These are all biblical examples of worship, so they’re certainly appropriate expressions. I think we’re given freedom to express our thanks, praise and worship to God in a number of ways.
Question Six: What role should spontaneity in speech and song have in worship?
I think it certainly has it’s place in our times of worship. On a typical weekend at Elevation, we have 15-20 minutes of planned and structured worship, where we’re leading our church in a pre-determined order and flow of songs. Then before the sermon, we usually have a song where we’re prepared to be more spontaneous and allow the moment to look different each service. Sometimes it lasts shorter, other times it carries on for quite some time. We’re intentional about teaching our church how to be comfortable in both environments.
Question Seven: How theologically and Biblically deep should song lyrics be?
I don’t believe that ‘deep’ necessarily means a lot of lyrics, or a certain calibre of words. Of course, any song we sing in worship and in our churches needs to be rooted in scripture and should have its foundation in biblical truth. But while I consider a classic song like “In Christ Alone” to be deep, in that it (poetically) walks through the power of our salvation through Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross, I also consider a song like “I Surrender All” to be deep, even with it’s simple refrain: “I surrender all, I surrender all, all to Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.” Ultimately, if a song is creating a stronger dependence on God and a deeper awareness of His presence in my life, then I’d consider it to be deep.