When I was thrown into the social-distanced life of COVID, like everyone else was, I spent a lot of time thinking about my time on sabbatical, just a few months before we went into lockdown. Sabbatical had been a time of personal renewal and perspective, and in a lot of ways, it prepared me to live a quarantined life with my family.
What I realized was that I was relying too much on Sunday morning worship for my spiritual vitality, and because of that, my worship was suffering. I always knew "spending time with God" was important throughout the week, but like a muscle you use infrequently, my worship atrophied during the week and then lacked oxygen when I tried to use it Sunday morning. For most of my life, I would try to read God's Word and "talk to him" in prayer Monday - Saturday, but it never felt "natural".
Over sabbatical, I started to approach my weekly "time with God" more from the perspective of worship. Instead of simply trying to comprehend God, or do my duty of telling him things he already knew in prayer, I sought to celebrate my union with him in a "worshipful embrace" (Robert Webber's words). Worship became a dance between God's initiative and my response. Through daily rhythms of worship, we started to embrace God as a family not just with our minds, but as complete human beings. It felt a little odd at first, singing with just two people while our son screamed at us to play with him, or to name our emotions before we started pray, but God enters into our awkwardness in the same way he has entered into our sinful mess.
"The struggle is your worship."
I heard God speak these words to me very clearly during the forth worship service one Sunday evening. It is obvious, but we have all been wondering when "normal" worship will resume and the effects of COVID disappear. There's a weariness that many feel stuck at home, looking at a screen, or silently sitting by themself. Or maybe there's a weariness of jumping through a million ethical questions before you are able to meet with someone else in person. Or maybe for those who work for a church, there is a weariness of staring at a lifeless camera lenses and empty seats for over nine months. Or maybe your nose just hurts because you wear a mask all the time.
There is a deeper weariness though. It is a weariness that comes from one-direction digital conversations, from having to 'fill in the gaps" of changed relationships, of wondering if you've communicated successfully with someone over a text message, or from constantly evaluating your community from a distance. More than ever, it is easy to fall into judgementalism or fear of man. Without embodied communication, we are weary of maintaining connection with others, and worse, weary of maintaining a connection with God.
As the CCO seeks to engage college students through the hands of the local church, we have compiled a song list designed to strengthen the worship of student-led campus meetings as well as encourage unity amongst staff at CCO gatherings.
There are many great music resources for Christians, but selections that are singable for the average voice, yet artistically satisfying and theologically appropriate, are often hard to find. This is far from an exhaustive list of good songs to sing. Rather, this collection was submitted by the CCO community as recommendations for our worship and examples of different musical resources that fit in the context of our ministry needs for the 2020/21 academic year.
In an effort to preach (and sing) the whole Gospel, this year we have included Scripture references for each song. We also categorized them into three theological perspectives that provide context for how to use each song (Personal redemption, covenant people, and Kingdom labor) . The goal is that our singing would not just be a fun ritual, but that it would enable sincere worship for a diversity of students and ministries.
"Christians sing, it’s just what we do.”
Many Christians would agree with this statement, but most cannot explain why, and in a culture where singing is only one of many artistic expressions, it becomes harder and harder to make sense of historic Christian rituals and how they fit into worship. As we invite students and congregations into the Gospel within the context of local churches, helping them engage in worship is key to healthy discipleship.
“Worship" is a word Christians use a lot, but if asked what precisely it is, one gets different kinds of answers. In most cases, people usually just mean the “singing” portion of gatherings. As we seek to fulfill the Great Commission and bring people from all corners of the earth into the Church, there is a growing need to create an apologetic for the role corporate worship plays in the spiritual vitality of believers. Singing has traditionally taken up a significant portion of time in corporate worship, so without a robust understanding of why Christians engage in this public ritual and what actually happens when they do, there is little compulsion for people to unite themselves to local churches.
I do not aim to cover every aspect of Christian worship in this essay; that is much too large of a topic for just a few pages. However, there are a few areas of confusion specifically around singing that will greatly aid our ministry if we understand them better. We need to: 1) clarify what worship is at its very core, outside of singing, 2) describe how singing, specifically, is an act of worship, 3) define what singing is and how we engage with it, and 4) look at the effect singing has on us while we worship and what to expect when we do it.
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For Griffin Kozminski
This year is the first for me to be a parent during Advent and Christmas, and I have been enjoying the new perspectives it brings. I have heard many new fathers say that they found a new kind of love after the brith of their first child that they did not expect. While that is true, describing the experience of parenthood is not just a deeper sense of love, but a wider and expanded emotional palette. With the sense of joy and love for children also comes a more tangible desire for family and a heavier awareness of what could easily go wrong. Fear is often the dark side of love, and we want to hold on to whatever we can control.
As the CCO seeks to engage college students through the hands of the local church, we have compiled a song list designed to strengthen the worship of student-led campus gatherings as well as exhibit CCO singing culture to campus staff and church partners. There are many great music resources for Christians, but selections that are singable for the average voice, yet artistically satisfying and culturally appropriate, are often hard to find. This is far from an exhaustive list of good songs to sing. Rather, this collection was submitted by a group of music leaders within the CCO community as recommendations for our ministries.
In an effort to preach (and sing) the whole Gospel, we have included four theological perspectives that provide context for how to use each song (personal redemption, corporate redemption, Kingdom labor, and work of Christ). The goal is that our singing would not just be a fun ritual, but that it would enable sincere worship for a diversity of students and ministries.
It was so loud! You could hear it before you could see it. The combination of voices and the sound of loud instruments could be heard far away. It was a revival! Both young and old had come together for the first time, in a long time, to renew their dedication to the worship of God. But if you had been walking by, you would not be able to tell if they were happy or sad. Old patriarchs were weeping over forgotten memories of the way things used to be, and the 20-somethings were vibrant with excitement for the future. Regardless of the past, the future, or how they felt about it, they all sang responsibly with one voice,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever towards Israel.” (Ezra 3:11)
This scene comes from the time of Cyrus, king of Persia, and the return of the covenant people of Israel to rebuild the temple. While we live in light of the fulfilled promise of a savior, I cannot help but think this scene accurately describes our worship today as well. We may not be celebrating the stacking of stones or the re-melding of gold, but as the Apostle Paul talks about in Ephesians 2, we are being built together into a holy temple for the Spirit of God to dwell with. This “building together” binds generations, connects our weeping to our shouting, and is so "loud" that all the earth hears and knows that the Lord is good, and his steadfast loves endures forever towards his people. Jesus proclaimed this gospel in Matthew 9:38, and this year the CCO has asked us to pray every day at 9:38, that the harvest would be full and the workers would be many. As we enter Advent and Christmas, I am reminded of the great Gospel song, "God Tell It On The Mountain" and pray that the Lord would inhabit the praises of his people in all corners of the earth. Will you pray with us?
“I need the emotions in order to worship”, a student leader honestly shared with me at one of the handful of campuses I recently visited. What she meant in context was that she needed the songs and experience of worship to affect her mood in order to feel like worship was successful. I recently watched an almost-twenty-year-old documentary called Merchants of Cool, which investigated the advertising industry and its focus on adolescents. It claimed that not only has the industry been able to hunt down authentic forms of “cool”, but that it also invents its own forms of culture to market to teens. In a similar way, as I talk with and teach students about Christian worship, I am increasingly aware that they have been sold, over and over, the idea that “authentic” worship happens in a setting where the mood is right and their affections are focused on a feeling of intimacy. While intimacy is a beautiful and welcome part of Christian life, many leaders, churches, and record companies have appropriated this piece of Christian truth and have capitalized on its power to attract followers. Our union with Christ is not dependent on how we feel in any given moment, but the focus on experience is often a stumbling block for many. I myself have to daily fight the tendency to make worship all about controlling the mood of the congregation, and it is no easy battle to fight.
As this particular student leader and I talked more about how true emotional worship is a response that happens when our hearts and our heads are connected, she gave me great hope. She told me that, when she was a freshman, the leader who led singing at her fellowship was going to graduate and that there was no one who was able to step into that role the following year. She told me that she decided to go on YouTube and look up how to play the piano. She told me that she just wanted people on campus to be able to sing together, so it was not important if she was perfect at performing or sounded like she knew what she was doing. She saw a need and stepped up. She is not alone. On every campus like hers, I meet students who step out of their comfort zones and decide to lead others in singing. It is not always pretty, or comfortable, or well thought out, but it is always beautiful.
Even though students are often sold a narrow and performance-driven version of worship, they still make sacrifices for the sake of community and fellowship. While their past experiences are telling them that they need to focus on creating the right “mood” for authentic worship to happen, their hearts cannot keep from singing, even if it feelsawkward and distracted. What these students need, and what I try to help them see, is that when worship is an expression of the whole person, mind, body, and spirit, it becomes less about setting the right mood, and more about responding to the gifts and situations God has placed us in. What I long for them to know is that their emotions and their worship are not bound by authentic performances or the feeling of intimacy, but they are free in Christ to offer their talents and their lives to God, just as they are. They need to know that worship is not about mimicking a powerful experience they had, or comparing themselves to their favorite artists. They need to know that they are free to sing the Word of God and emotionally respond to its truth in any situation, even if it feels awkward. I am inspired by the students I meet and I pray that they would be free to worship in small or large groups, with little or abundant talent, and in both “authentic” or “awkward” situations. Will you pray with me?
When I was a boy, my family made a trip down south to visit my great, great, grandfather's farm, where seemingly mythical family stories were true; stories of lopsided cows, losing land rights while gambling, bareback horse riding, and eloping children. Scotch-Irish hillbilly blood runs deep in my own story, but setting foot for the first time on the remains of an Appalachian mountain farm felt like a foreign land. I realize now that is probably exactly how my kin felt when they too, as poor immigrants, first set foot on the mountain they would later call their own. I can still hear my great grandmother talk about seeing her first airplane fly above her while working in the fields on the side of a mountain. It was no wonder then, that I was completely awe-struck when my distant uncle, the last remaining relative on the mountain, brought out a wooden box of Native American (probably Cherokee) arrowheads he found over time while plowing the fields with his tractor. I had only seen Hollywood portrayals of "Indians" as a small boy, and getting to hold authentic artifacts of past hunters and warriors was a dream come true. I sat there, in the living room of a nice trailer house, imagining someone sculpting and sharpening every ridge of the stones I held. One, in particular, was perfect. Jet black, and perfectly symmetrical, I just knew as a little boy, that someone had taken great pride in making and using it. "Maybe a bear was killed with this... maybe a human? Why was it discarded? I bet someone was sorry they lost it..." To my astonishment, our host offered it to us as a gift. I could not believe his generosity, but my surprise quickly turned into envy, and later that night, my siblings and I got into an argument about it. We all wanted it, not to appreciate its history or craft, but as a toy for our own pleasure. I had quickly turned cultural gratuity into an entertainment novelty. And then it happened. I can still feel the snap of the tip as I broke it while trying to test its strength. My father was furious and my siblings were angry. We tried to glue it back together, but it just was not the same. Sorrow, shame, regret, embarrassment; I felt all of them, but it was not until many years later that I realized why.
If Christian worship is only about music and ritual, style and form quickly become the most important aspects of our communities. As a boy, I tried to use a gift intended to honor our relationship with deep family roots as a tool for my individualized imaginations. I did not feel shame only because something old was damaged. As beautiful as the arrowhead was, I was sad because I knew that I had treated my family's trust with disregard. When the church treats worship like I treated that arrowhead, we end up using cultural treasures for selfish gratification. As beautiful as worship is, when it becomes about the experience, we end up breaking the gifts God has given us and scorn our relationships with him and his people. We try to "fix the problem of style" in our churches, but the glue we use only fixes our rituals, and not our hearts.
As a leader and trainer of worship, I feel the weight of cultural trust and expectation continually. Everyone comes to worship with different cultural expectations, and as they walk into the room, I feel the potential for both trust and doubt escalate. The way in which we hold each other's cultural artifacts during worship has great potential to build trust in a community, but it also has great potential to break the beautiful tools God has given us. At its core, worship is a spiritual expression of our love of God, but all human expressions come from a cultural context. Therefore, all worship is both intensely spiritual and intensely cultural. In a ministry, church, and country that is increasingly multi-cultural, my job as a worship leader and trainer is incredibly exciting. But as I hold an armful of different cultural expectations and try to faithfully steward different communities to express devotion to God, it is also incredibly exhausting. More than ever, I am aware that I cannot accomplish anything on my own, and I am deeply reliant on a network of people who pray against the dividing nature of the Devil and for the unifying love of the Spirit. Will you pray for me? Will you pray with me, that the church would be equipped to worship in its full range of expression?
Now, as an adult, when I hold the arrowhead, I am still in awe of its story and beauty. The fact that I damaged it in my youth is no longer a source of shame. Instead, it reminds me of the part I play in my family's history and leads me to humbly accept my own faults. An object that once caused my isolation is now something that unites me to my family. As the global Church worships, we bring all sorts of damaged pieces of ourselves, and as I teach others to worship, my hope is to help them see these fragments not as problems to hide away and avoid, but as opportunities for redeeming acts of worship. Will you pray with me that the Church, specifically the next generation of worship leaders, would be equipped to graciously enable the saints to offer their broken fragments to God as a spiritual act of worship?
More about Daniel Snoke HERE.