The Future of Modern Worship
I have just had another one of those strange feelings. Another telephone interview has just occurred with an excitable American lady calling from Virginia Beach in Virginia. She asks me where I'm from and with just a little too much mischief for my spiritual reputation I reply "Littlehampton beach, Littlehampton". She exclaims "is that in England?" and I reply with even more mischief that "it is the capital of England and the centre for world revival". As is usual she hasn't heard the new record (bless her) but thinks it's "awesome anyhow" and believes with a passion that Delirious? hold the keys to the future of modern worship.
When I secretly contemplate to myself, there are two things I am sure of. Firstly, that God is worthy to be praised and has always been from the dawn of time to eternity. And secondly, Delirious? is doing nothing new but just hanging on the coat tails of the Kendrick's, Wesley's and further back, Handel himself. Whenever I hear that phrase spoken over us, however kind it is meant, it literally puts the fear of God in me, and remember, we're not talking about any old god here, like the god of rock 'n roll - we're talking about God with a capital G "GOD". Not even the G in Stu G's name comes close believe it or not!
I must digress at this point. When people thought that Eric Clapton was God - probably what they really meant was that they felt the presence of the big "G" when he played. And this here I have come to understand as the greatest mystery and paradox - that God uses people like us, full of contradiction, private sins, little self-belief and a bit scraggy around the edges (Darlene Zschech exempt of course!) and yet gives us the keys to the "Glory box". The grace for playing music that pleases God, grace that makes God our biggest fan (you know the sweaty one who is always squashed against the crash barrier) cheering us on shouting "come on, come on, I'm worthy to be praised and desperate to change lives, sing with all you have and walk reverently before your God". This is not a job for the elite, this really is "power to the people" and it's the people, you and me, who must humble ourselves and let God play on our heartstrings and allow us to build small windows so that from time to time we can all peer through and glimpse the beauty of our creator.
So, to the future of modern worship. I immediately digress again. People for centuries have worn clothes but the style and cut has changed and always will change. You get my point don't you, that we will and always have worshiped God but the way in which we do so has and always will change because God is a God of change and loves creativity. Of course the challenge in writing a piece like this is that you are forced into talking about the wrapping around the sweet knowing how important it is, but never, never, ever being more important than the sweet itself. So with that in mind, I will for a moment indulge on some thoughts for the future and how important packaging is in this consumerist society (and yes, that includes every one of us). All of us care about packaging whether we admit to it or not and must understand that God cares about how we present ourselves and our art too. We know that when Solomon built the temple, how eloquently he listed details of decoration ranging from golden emblems to pomegranate carvings. Of course God's priority was the temple but we see him taking great delight in decorating it! Yes, God plays on our heartstrings, but let's be diligent and tune our guitars up properly.
Yes, God delights in the song of the Lord, but it's not going to bless the people as much if you've got a case of the "wobblies". Let's have common sense too - none of us would call a plumber out to fix our cars, so encourage people to do what they're good at. So again to the future of modern worship! I have to say that what excites me most is "freedom". Freedom is being free and being free is freedom. That's what I see, it's the truth that sets us free and we must continually sing of the truth that Jesus really is the saviour of the world. Even though as church we have lost our grip on many things (i.e. the media and communications) let's never forget that everything we love and believe about Jesus is true. So let's jolly well stop singing about how it "feels" to know his love or "your arms keep me warm". Let's shout it from the rooftops that it's all TRUE, and that this truth about the greatest man who walked the planet is still alive today. God the father IS to be feared, and it's His mercy that triumphs over judgement. The main disease we have inside and outside the church is "not sure-itus".
All of us are so influenced by the pick 'n mix religion culture that exists today that sometimes we don't even know who we're singing about on "our God reigns" and whether we believe it anyway. Let's get some facts back into the music and as the planet resounds with "Jesus is Lord" let us all be changed by the truth that holds the keys to awakening in this nation.
So, more about freedom. Oh no, I am about to completely contradict myself. I'm always doing this but let's be honest, rock n' roll is about being yourself, giving red and yellow expression to a black and white world. Whether we play the violin at HTB, the organ at All Souls, the acoustic at Spring Harvest (ovation guitars excluded of course) or drum pads triggering huge sampled sounds, we are all in God's great rock n' roll band. And why, you ask, because rock n' roll is about breaking the rules and with God's help we can, and must, continue to believe that God can do anything with music. Believe that God can sing when we play, know that music has the secret keys to someone's soul and that one note can bring tears, joy, excitement, rekindling of dreams, the need to forgive, the realisation that we are nothing without God. And how do we know these things are true? Because God loves music and music ushers in the presence of Jesus, and yes, Jesus is freedom personified.
So, back to the world called future. We are not going to believe the packaging that God is going to put around music because it is and has always been his secret weapon in softening the hardest of hearts as droves of our population run to a life of salvation. I see churches in night clubs (happening already) worshipping God to a huge garage mix. I see scruffy kids playing thrash metal in their garage worshipping their King and I see the OAP whistling to the latest Keswick hymns tape whilst doing up his old Bentley in his garage.
Freedom, freedom, freedom. It has no colour and yet all the colours. You can write two sorts of song as a Christian. Songs about the light and songs written about what you see 'by the light'. If you're good at writing songs for the congregation then keep doing it. And if you prefer to comment on life and society then do that. What we all need is a redemption of frameworks. In Ezekiel 44 v19 it says that the priests who ministered in the temple put on every day clothes when they left to go into the outer courts (i.e. the market place) meaning that they changed their appearance to fit in with the people. We must realise that there are two worlds, and we have to learn to communicate appropriately to the two worlds. This is why music is so powerful because it doesn't need words that so often confuse the brain. God raise up people to write about what they see, whether it's "great is the Lord" or "did you covenant, or live a dream in your head". The future is doing both. Let's stop being confused by the two worlds but delight in the different packaging that unlocks the message inside.
This is the future where "two hearts beat as one" where worship isn't just a jolly sing-along, but church becomes an expression of all the God colours and a creative hotbed for all the painters, sculptors, photographers, ballet dancers, opera singers, stand-up comics, film directors, clothing stylists, sound engineers, actors, novelists and loads more. Children discovering techno instead of t.v. and pop stars discovering purity instead of pain. Let the future be full of people "going into the ministry", the thing that they are created to do, and in doing so - fulfilling God's purposes for our lives.
Please God fill the air with your music. Top of the Pops, Radio 1, the Proms, the Opera House, the Country Music Fayres, the Dance Tent at the Glastonbury Music Festival - all filled with God's sound. The secret sound who's root is in the holy place, and yet is meant to be the trumpet call to the lost soul.
I despise the notion that worship has become a style of music that can be harnessed in "Nashvegas" and packaged for all the world. I despise the pursuit of monetary gain and decisions to just "do" worship because that's what's selling.
For us as a band we have and continue to work through issues like this, such as always wanting to "let out what is within" and make the records we want to but having the worry that if we don't sell any records then our staff don't get paid. I'm sure that we don't always hold the balance perfectly and there is grace when the balance shifts one way or the other. The main thing to reinforce is that there is one qualification to being in God's great rock n' roll band - that we are God pleasers before we are man pleasers.
Because music is so subjective to many different sorts of people, we have had to treat everything lightly - some thought that "Mezzamorphis" was the leaving of Delirious? into a world full of coke and women, and some think that "Glo" is the softening of our mainstream vision returning to kids drinking coke and flattery from middle aged women!
For us we want and feel compelled to do both. On the one hand because we want, and have to influence culture, but on the other hand Jesus is coming back for His bride and not Radio 1 believe it or not.
So, if you keep it simple or keep it loud, be free in the glorious love of God and let's run into the future like wide-eyed children.