Perfectly Balanced (as all things should be)
Why do we do what we do?
Welcome to The Bridge Church. If you’re new here, you’ll undoubtedly notice that we do things a little differently here than you might be used to at other evangelical churches. Perhaps it’s the geography of the service - the way we set things up and use our space; or perhaps it the style of the service - either more formal, or less formal than you might be used to from where you came; or perhaps it’s the form of the service - the way we structure and order the elements of worship over the course of 90 minutes. Whatever you’ve noticed, I want to tell you that much of it is intentional, and there are important reasons for why they are the way they are.
If you’re not new here, perhaps you’ve been here for a while and find our unique way of doing things familiar, or perhaps you’ve been here so long that you remember a time when things were different and perhaps long for a time gone by. I want to take the better part of the next semester on the blog to remind you of why we do what we do, and to help you remember the very intentional reasons we have for the choices we have made. Last time we looked at the purpose of the offering, and continuing over the next eight or so weeks we will be looking at the following aspects of our worship service to better help you understand/remember who we are, why we do what we do, and what are the goals of our choices.
The Geography of Worship - what we want you to notice and experience when you walk into our space for worship
A Peculiar People; a Thankful People - why we start with the offering
Perfectly Balanced as All Things Should Be - how we consider both who we are and who we long to be when choosing a vocabulary of worship (song style and selection)
The Proclaimed Word - rediscovering the public reading of scripture
The Applied Word - why the sermon is dialogical (discussion questions matter)
The Great Unburdening - the liberating power of corporate confession
Recognizing the Body - why we take time every Sunday for the passing of the peace
A Community of Hospitality - how and why we centre the service around the open table
The Power of Presence - why the prayer and ministry time at the end of the service is not just an addendum
Sending - what we bring back into the world
This week we continue the series with Pastor Jenn providing some insider information on why we sing the songs we do on a Sunday morning.
While there are a number of factors to consider when worship leaders choose music for any given Sunday worship service, primarily those factors are centered around two concepts: theme and context.
We try to choose songs around the theme of the particular sermon series. Sometimes Pastor Chris makes that really easy for us, and sometimes he wants to preach a sermon on “Slavery and Slaughter” (You might be surprised to learn that the CCLI "Top 100" doesn’t contain a huge catalogue on that topic!). Ultimately, whatever the theme, we want to lead you in singing songs that orient our hearts and minds and point us to Jesus. This is the initiatory function, it’s also why we begin our singing with a call to worship. We want to prepare you to not only worship God, but to be ready in your heart to receive what he has for you as the service unfolds. We also want it to feel like a smooth transition between the music package and the sermon. Which means that we don’t want to end a package with a rockin’ praise chorus right before delivering a message of lament (or vice-versa).
The other half of what we consider when planning is context. There is a lot of great Christian music out there. I am just as “guilty” as the next person of cranking the volume in the car and singing along at the top of my lungs. However most of the music you hear doesn’t translate well into the local church, and even more specifically, The Bridge Church. Sometimes it’s because we don’t have multiple guitarists and drummers, or an entire string section; other times it’s because the songwriter wrote it for their church and not ours; and frankly, most of what we hear on Christian radio wasn’t meant for congregational singing. Also, those are professional musicians you hear – and other than a few exceptions, we are amateurs.
There are also quite a few songs that have really catchy melodies, but if you actually listened to the lyrics they really aren’t that great. Your worship leaders take great care in finding the balance between singability and lyrics that are theologically sound. We know that people learn their theology through the songs we sing – think of the child who knows Jesus loves them because they sing “Jesus Loves Me”. The lyrics reflect more complexity as we mature but the theology doesn’t change.
And speaking of singability – what about those times you come to church and the songs and your circumstances don’t match up. Lyrics like “My heart will sing no other Name” are hard to sing when life hands you lemons and you are wondering where Jesus is in all of this. “There has never been and there will never be a God like You – a love so true” can be barely choked out when your heart is so broken and you’re struggling to understand why God let it happen. Your worship leaders take this into consideration as we consider how to serve the context with two complementary approaches to worship: Expressive and Formative. It is in the dynamic between these two approaches that we are convinced the church finds its most fully-Christian response to God. This is why we called this week's post Perfectly Balanced.
The Importance of Expression
There are Sundays when your heart and mind resonate so deeply with the music being played and the lyrics being sung. You can’t help but sing, raise your hands, drop to your knees or even cry. This is expressive worship – the first side of the worship coin. Expressive worship is important because:
Its focus is on authenticity – being honest with God about our situation and orientation;
It’s not just about praise – it includes the full range of emotional response to God, including disorientation, lament, confession, thanksgiving, and hope.
The Psalms are great examples of expressive worship. If you follow The Bridge Church on Facebook and Instagram, we have been going through the Psalms. It’s obvious that David and the other songwriters had moments of (uncomfortable) raw lament as well as praise.
And to be honest, modern worship could do better with lament. Finding a song to properly express the lament for that message, “Slavery and Slaughter” was truly impossible. Personally, I think this is why we are beginning to see a call-back to hymns in the newer songs that are coming out.
The Value of Formation
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could enter into expressive worship every Sunday? Sadly, that’s not realistic – we live in a broken world and we have experiences that fill us with anger, doubt, confusion and heartache. Moreover, we don't all come on Sunday morning having experienced the world in the same way during the preceding week. We don't have a common experience to express and so the music played is quite often out of sync with how we feel. When those weeks come, you know there is no way you can authentically sing those lyrics, even the laments – and yet, deep down you also know that the lyrics are true and that God is worthy of our worship. What do you do?
This is where the formative dynamic of worship matters. Formative worship gives us the words to “rehearse” our faith when our emotions and experiences don’t line up. “Rehearse” is not only a great musical word, but it is also the fundamental disposition we take when being formed by worship. We practice what we long to be, even if we know that we aren’t it yet. We sing songs that are deliberately dissonant (another great musical term) with our experience because we know that we are aliens in a world that we are not made for – that we are citizens of heaven and that, along with creation, we long for and groan for the realization of a world that is not like the one we occupy. So while we wait, we sing the anthems of the kingdom that is coming, as a reminder that we were made for something more, and that God’s promise of that new world is worth hoping in.
And in case you were wondering - yes, your worship leaders struggle too. We choose songs that our hearts aren’t ready to sing too. We haven’t “arrived.” We have just shown up to give back to God the gifts He has given us and to lead you in songs that His Spirit has prompted us to choose for that week.
Next time, Pastor Chris will be back with an explanation of why the public reading of Scripture is so important in our worship services.