Some musicians in my community were passing around this interview with John Mark McMillan. It’s an examination of his new record, and the questions he’s been asking about faith, spirituality and honesty (my paraphrase).
The article raised and stimulated a familiar discussion with my friends about “worship”. If I could paraphrase, it would be something like this: Where does honesty and complexity—particularly regarding doubt and struggle—fit in the paradigm of worship? (Particularly now that there is a whole industry and business model around “worship”.)?
Occasionally I have debates with people who similarly decry the sometimes over-simplistic approach to song lyrics in the songs we sing on Sunday. It’s not necessarily greater artistry they are looking for; instead they are frustrated with the lack of intellectual complexity and acknowledgement of doubt.
Where do these things fit in with our typical approach to Sunday ?
Sometimes, in some of my more grumpy, pragmatic moments I want to respond, “They don’t.”
But hear me for just a moment.
To “worship”—rather literally—is to attribute worth. It’s to tell someone (in my case, God) how great they are, how much you appreciate them, how much you love them.
It’s not the place for angst, doubt or intellectual parsing.
(If you’re married, try any of that with your spouse when a tender moment comes up; my hunch is that it won’t go all that well.)
My point is that we are throwing the word “worship” around a little carelessly, and then trying to shoehorn artists and songs into a bucket that doesn’t really need to hold them.
Maybe songs about doubt and deep theology are not only not worship, but they don’t have to be “worship.”
There is always room for doubt and uncertainty in my faith paradigm. Heck, I thrive on it. It drives me to search and know God more deeply. To me, that’s not worship. At least not directly. That’s me growing and learning.
But there’s also a discipline in my life when I shut off the search, and I express my gratitude, which often then grows into appreciation, love and praise for God’s goodness, faithfulness and grace.
Maybe we just need a new label for these other kinds of songs?
Are some of JMM’s more complex, searching, self-honest songs worship? Probably not.
But are they acceptable in faith and church? Are they necessary? Even critical?
Just don’t get hung up on trying to put them in a labeled bucket.