In the first installment of Course Corrections For Worship MinistryCourse Corrections For Worship Ministry, I maintained that Worship Is About US — Not About ME. I challenged us to use more plural pronouns in the lyrics to our worship songs, that is, to sing about us and Jesus more than we currently do. Here is the second guideline I shared with Biola Conservatory’s worship leading students:
2.Worship Is About GOD’S STORY — Not MY STORY
Much of what we sing on Sundays (whether using singular or plural pronouns) consists of commentary about God’s provision for our daily lives. We sing about God being big enough to help us overcome our fears, or faithful to meet our needs, and so forth. Now there is certainly a place for this, just as there is a place for us to sing about “me and Jesus,” in the first-person singular.
When God’s people gathered for worship in the Bible, however, the focus was strikingly different. Biblical worship was preoccupied with what God had done for his people in salvation history. Even many of the more personal Psalms treat the experience of Israel’s kings and leaders who, of course, were playing their part in the grand narrative of Scripture. Biblical worship was about God’s story—not my story. Here are just two examples, one from the Old Covenant and one from the New Covenant.
Old Covenant Worship
The construction and dedication of Solomon’s Temple arguably represents the high point of Yahweh worship in the Old Testament. God has settled his people securely in the land, and he has now given Solomon permission to build a permanent dwelling place for his Shekinah Glory. 1 Kings 6–8 narrates the construction and dedication of Solomon’s temple. The three chapters form a literary unit that is anchored historically and theologically in the very first phrase of the very first verse of the narrative:
6:1 — In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt . . .
Why connect temple worship with the exodus from Egypt? Answer: The exodus was God’s first great act of salvation in the history of his people. Notice how the exodus surfaces again and again, in the formal dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8:
8:9 — There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.
8:16 — “Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there. But I chose David to be over my people Israel.”
8:21 — “And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.”
8:52–53 — “Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you. For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord GOD.”
Worship under the Old Covenant was quintessentially about one thing: God’s great act of salvation when he delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and formally constituted them at Sinai as the people of Yahweh. Old Covenant worship was about God’s story—not my story.
New Covenant Worship
We find the same emphasis in the New Testament. The Bible does not tell us a whole lot about what actually went on in those early Christian gatherings. What we do know is that (1) the early Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper (“Communion” to many of us) and (2) this celebration represented the high point of worship under the New Covenant.
Here, again, the focus is not on what God did for me last week (or what he might do for me next week) but, rather, on what God has done (and will do!) for us in salvation history. Consider Paul’s familiar communion meditation:
1 Corinthians 11:23–26 — For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
New Covenant worship, epitomized at the Lord’s Table, seeks to direct the worshiper’s heart and mind to God’s work in history past (“the Lord’s death”) and to God’s work in history future (“until he comes”). Once again, it is about God’s story—not my story.
Much of what currently occurs in our Sunday worship services edifies us and glorifies God. A complete home makeover is not what I have in mind here. There remains a place for songs about me and Jesus, about my response, as an individual, in the first-person singular, to what God is doing in my daily life.
In view of the biblical focus on worship outlined above, however, I do believe that we need a significant course correction. We ought to focus much more than we presently do on us and Jesus. And we should do so in light of what God has done—and will continue to do—in salvation history, as we see events unfolding in the story of Scripture.
In a recent book I outlined two ways to conceive of the Christian life:
Popular Evangelical Spirituality:
Me — Experiencing God — In My Daily Life
Produces: A Person With An Experience
Early Christian Spirituality:
Us — Making Disciples — Until Jesus Returns
Produces: A Community On A Mission
The first approach is me-oriented. It is also experiential, in a highly subjective and personal way. And it is preoccupied with the here-and-now, lacking a robust sense of the biblical storyline. The best it can do, on a good day, is to produce a person with an experience.
The second option, in contrast, is communal and missional. It views the present in light of God’s future. And it more naturally generates a community on a mission, which is what the local church looks like in the New Testament.
My first theology professor claimed that God uses the arts—especially music—as a primary vehicle to move what we learn about God from our heads to our hearts. I could not agree more! What we sing on Sundays profoundly influences our view of God and the Christian life.
If we continue to program songs that speak almost exclusively about me and Jesus, we will only perpetuate the truncated, ultimately unsatisfying and unproductive view of the faith reflected in the first option, above. In contrast, singing about us and Jesus—especially about what God has done for us in salvation history—will increasingly transform our thinking to embrace the more biblical approach to life outlined in the second box above.