Seventies Christian rocker Matthew Ward,formerly of the band Second Chapter of Acts, has written a book (My 2nd Chapter) in which he offers his observations on the current worship music scene. In the commentary on worship, Ward laments what he sees as a tendency of American Christian worship music to focus on the individual more than the corporate assembly of worshippers, and to treat worship in church as a primarily a spectator sport.
Christianity Today has published an abridged excerpt, from which a few key comments are reproduced below. Observes Ward:
Most of the songs I’ve written over the years have come from a place of personal experience, but if I had to fill a certain quota of worship tunes, I might tend to write more from a position of what I thought people wanted to hear. In almost every case, the songs that touch me the deepest, whether they are old hymns or newer songs, were written by someone who had suffered great loss or who had been through a spiritual or emotional trauma. I sense the heart of the writer when songs come from that perspective. But I sense this kind of authenticity all too rarely in the worship music of today.
Maybe the prominent use of "I" in American worship songs is nothing more than an attempt on the songwriters’ part to make people feel a personal connection with worship and with God. Still, I couldn’t help reflecting on the many times that worship has exposed things I’m doing wrong, not just in my personal relationship with God, but with other people. The Christian life in general and worship, particularly, is for the most part a group activity for the family of Christ. If worship is all about me and God, then I’ve got blinders on.
As churches grow and become centers for what some would call huge clubs, the tendency is for us to allow ourselves to view worship as a sort of spectator sport. We gather on Sunday morning and find ourselves caught up in a slick, professional kind of experience. We look on as the band and singers present a version of worship songs that is most enjoyable and acceptable. We appreciate the level of professionalism while allowing ourselves the liberty not to become involved personally in the worship experience. In essence, we go along for the ride.
I’m not just criticizing others. I have been guilty of the same thing myself. Over the years, I’ve found that as a worship band is doing its thing, one of two problems can occur for me: either the band is so good that I sit and listen without entering into worship (my producer brain takes over), or the band is so horrible that I’m distracted from worship. But I have found something that can cut through every issue of musical performance, and that is the attitude of the people who are leading worship.
For me, the best worship bands are the ones whose hearts are in the right place. This is an intangible thing, one that is difficult to explain. Yet it is something I have sensed in every kind of worship setting. I have heard bands that lacked the level of professionalism I’ve come to expect but, nevertheless, through their ministry, have found myself broken by the presence of God. I’ve also found myself at times equally broken while a band displays a wonderful level of musicianship. It doesn’t seem to matter what style of music they play or how loud or soft it is; there just seems to be an intangible ingredient that makes whatever they do carry the weight of God’s presence.
The times I’ve been able to speak with such bands after the service, I’ve found without exception that the singers seemed humble. Their performance was an extension of their own hearts. That is to say, they desired to get out of the way, to let God’s glory come through. They became facilitators of worship, inviting God’s presence to fill the sanctuary.
To me, it’s a classic example of how God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.