Our review of Whole Life Worship, Sam and Sara Hargreaves' book on empowering worshippers for the front-line.
A good many of my formative Church years were spent slap-bang in the one of the UK’s largest council estates. Many of those who served, in either leadership or voluntarily, possessed a fervent desire to “be the light” in the area (it bears mentioning that the name of this place had a literal meaning of darkness, as well as depth, but I cannot recall that aspect ever being drawn upon). There was neither vanity nor pride in this missional outreach. The people of that Church were eager to bring the light Christ's love to those in darkness.
Yeah, that’s great, but how does this relate to a book review on worship?
One of the most potent and fascinating chapters of Sam and Sara Hargreaves’ book Whole Life Worship is a look at the language of worship music today. On their way to reaching this, they draw on a great many ideas of how our worship feeds into our faith; its purpose, its power, and its identity, and how our gathered worship feeds into our relationship with the outside world. Both as a missional Church direction, and in direct relationship with Monday to Saturday life, there is often an expanse between the songs sung and the faith lived.
The songs that are sung, and the compartmentalised structure of "worship time", often incidentally create a divide between what is thought of as ‘real-life’ and ‘God’s presence’. That divide then feeds into an escapism in worship. Just think of all the songs which use abstract, or Christianese, language in their lyrics. Quite bravely, but not in a foolhardy manner, the Hargreaves even highlight songs like Chris Tomlin’s version of 'Amazing Grace' and the classic 'How Great Thou Art' for feeding into this split by telling of a world that is not a home, or place to give a great regard to (even though it is still, and always will be, God’s creation).
And how does this, then, impact on our dictum to look after the planet (‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth’, Gen 1:28) if, after all, it is not where we belong; if what is to happen is that ‘Christ shall come / With shout of acclamation / And take me home’?
The examination of worship lyrics in Whole Life Worship is a key starting point for looking at how we view worship. That words we use form that thoughts we hold, which spark the actions we perform, which are how we are known to the world.
Returning to my old Church, yes there was nothing wrong with their desire to bring light. But perhaps their language, aside from being a touch alienating to the surrounding residents who don’t speak it, and therefore not something they can easily connect with, have created a kind of dualism that is in part unbiblical. God’s world was not made, and therefore not inherently, bad: and the Church is not some squeaky-clean bubble to escape the world. What if, instead of using archaic light/dark divides to paint the lives of those outside the church, the church began to see the lives around it as first and foremost broken or cracked? These words which are commonly used today are much more potent in connecting the Church with the world in meaningful and change-making way.
That isn’t to say we should abandon these ideas of light and darkness, but rather use lyrics which speak better to people today.
It is at this juncture I feel the late, great Leonard Cohen best sung a verse that is as potent in Church's mission as it is a poetic expression of democratic peacemaking:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”
In this review I have drawn on a single thread of this book, but if you are involved in your Church’s worship, I do recommend you take the time to read Whole Life Worship. Not merely for the various other threads which this book pulls on, but also for the space it allots to putting this approach of worship for all of life into practice for your congregation. It is a knowing look at worship today, and a resource which is built on many years living out worship in all of life.
Whole Life Worship can be ordered here, and for anyone attending this year's Spring Harvest festival, Sam and Sarah Hargreaves will be speaking on worship during the event.
April 7th, 2017 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon