Worship in Full Spectrum: An Introduction

And so Jesus, in answering the question "Who is the greatest?", said to his disciples "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all," and then another time, referring to those who are worthy of following him, he said "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Mark 9:35 and Matthew 10:39)

Christians have come to see the above contradictory statements as true not merely because their Lord said it to them, but because within the perplexing contradictions there is indeed great truth. This perplexity is the beauty and mystery of paradox, of two contradictory ideas coming together to form a greater truth, to reveal greater mystery.  Some paradoxes consist merely of frustrating mind games which lead nowhere, but paradoxes of any worth lead us to greater heights, despite any initial confusion they may cause.  So in the case of Jesus' latter paradox above, the only way to find our true life while on earth is to lose our lives entirely, only to be found in Christ.  Thus, in giving up everything, we gain true life.

This is the aim of my series Worship in Full Spectrum: to find truths within the paradoxes of the Church's worship and its worship music.  Or perhaps my aim is to create paradoxes about worship and worship music in order to lead us to a greater understanding of it.  My belief is we will arrive at the greatest truths by simultaneously embracing concepts that seem to contradict each other, that in order to be what we want to be we will have to become its (seeming) opposite.

Let me explain with a few examples. Doing so will 1.) lay down a foundation for the core concept of how paradoxes help us "worship in full spectrum", and 2.) allow me to list out some of the topics being discussed in the weeks and months to come.  

For starters, as I hinted at in my previous post, I believe the only way to become a "relevant" worship music pastor/leader is to become irrelevant. I will expound on this idea more on future posts, but the core of the idea is that a worship leader who gives up on trying to be relevant to wherever the current worship music culture is going—thus becoming "irrelevant"—instead focusing on simply leading his or her congregation in the worship of God through music is actually the one being truly relevant. In other words, true relevance as a church music leader is not singing the latest songs "everyone else" is singing, but is instead striving to make sure their community is singing well musically and singing with heartfelt devotion to God, no matter the song list. True relevance is found in (a kind of) ir-relevance. 

Another paradox can be found in trying to answer the question "Should a particular congregation's worship reflect the local culture, the influence of various cultures from around the world, or only components universal to all Christians everywhere?"  The answer is most definitely yes to all three and I am not the first to think so (if you would like to work ahead, feel free to read this), but making sure a community's worship is simultaneously a local, cross-cultural, and universal expression of faith is actually quite a difficult undertaking, one that can really only be accomplished by embracing the paradoxes to emerge within the process of simultaneously thinking locally, globally, and universally about our worship.

Finally, as a way of putting forward my ultimate thesis of what our "Worship in Full Spectrum" will look like, I believe the scope of our worship and the music we sing within it should forever stand in the tension between many paradoxical concepts.  Our music and worship should be loud and soft, celebratory and mournful, festal and penitential, from old and new sources; a worship that fully dwells in the present yet remembers the past and longs for the future. And our music should do all these things all at the same time. Now of course this is a logical and practical impossibility, but that is the point. Worshipping God in full spectrum stretches, condenses, and turns time in on itself. It turns time into an expanded loop where all the possibilities of focus during worship are given the opportunity to become central in any given moment. This may mean we will celebrate Advent during Pentecost or Easter during Lent. It means we rejoice in the coming of Christ even as we wait for him to come. It means we mourn with those suffering loss even as we live in the power of the resurrection.

Worship in Full Spectrum is a worship that is never content in doing one thing, that finds contentment in never being content; a worship that draws from the full spectrum of our faith. And yet the Church's worship can ultimately do only one thing: adore and proclaim the greatness of the Triune God and of the crucified and resurrected Son of God. It does one thing by doing it in multiple ways. This paradox of Christian worship cannot be put on display through the singing of one song or through one worship gathering, but instead through the story we tell over the course of a season and a year and then over the course of numerous seasons and numerous years. Worshipping in full spectrum means living in a continual recalling of both the past and the future; we recall both into our present. 

To put it more practically: if we celebrate Lent fully during Lent we are better able to celebrate Easter during Easter. Because we have already lived into Lent Easter can be celebrated in full. At the same time, we can fully recall Lent if we need to. That is, if Easter needs to take on Penitential tones and postures we can easily enter that realm because we first learned how to be penitent during Lent. And, because we also allowed Easter to seep into Lent when we were going through Lent, we can simultaneously remain in the rejoicing and victory of Easter even as we allow it to be more penitentially like Lent. This is only one example. The seasons, holidays, parts of the liturgy, themes of worship, or truths of Scripture are interchangeable. The paradoxical opportunities are endless. That is, the opportunity to pair together seemingly contradictory themes from Scripture and the liturgy in order to illuminate deeper truths are neverending. 

Attempting to worship God in full spectrum will not be easy. Doing so will cause us to forever shift between the polarities that anchor the paradoxes that will lead us to greater meanings and fuller expressions of the Church's worship. For example, do "Do we rejoice or do we mourn?" "Is worship traditional or contemporary?"  We will continually be tempted to run towards and stay at the polarities, but this will never be satisfactory. The paradoxes, if we let them, will always draw us to something beyond what we once knew. With that, let us begin considering what it might look like to worship in the full spectrum of the Triune God and the Body of Christ.

Other Articles on Worship and Worship Music:
I Am An Irrelevant Worship Pastor
Worship Music Should Be Radically Contemporary
The Multiverse of a Worship Song: Matt Redman's "This Beating Heart"
Why I've Never Sung Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons" At My Church

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