AN INTERVIEW WITH MY TWENTY FIVE YEAR-OLD SELF WHO HATED SINGING IN CHURCH
Last week, I shared a few self-deprecating stories about how I used to hate singing in church. Until about three years ago, I refused to sing on Sunday mornings and had a lot of opinions about how lame worship music was. Then I had an experience that changed the course of my life, as God revealed Himself to me in a way that significantly shifted my opinions about corporate worship.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. I was a guy who hated “worship music” with every fiber of my creative being. Now, three years later, I’m a worship pastor who asks people to sing every Sunday. Why the one-eighty? I was curious to explore the thought further, to see how my beliefs about communal worship have changed over the last few years. I was also really eager to make fun of myself some more and expose a few funny laughable skeletons from the closet of my past.
I thought maybe the best thing to do would be to interview my 25 year-old self.
So here it is, my exclusive, super-meta, egomaniacal interview with my 25 year-old self. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, actually you can. (And I did.) Enjoy.
28 YEAR-OLD WORSHIP PASTOR NICK: Hey, Nick! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with yourself today.
25 YEAR-OLD MUSIC SNOB, HATER NICK: Hey, no problem. My wife and I were just taking a break from binge-watching season seven of “The Office.” So I’ve got a few minutes.
WPN: Alright then, I’ll go straight for the throat. I wanted to talk specifically about singing in church. You’re a guy who loves Jesus, but basically hates Christian music, including worship in church. What gives?
MSHN: Man, that’s a fair question Nick. That’s sort of haunted me my whole life. I’ve always hated singing in church. And I used to feel sort of guilty about it when I was a kid. But now I think I’ve gotten to a more mature place. I connect with God in other ways. Singing along to music, especially with other people, just isn’t my thing, you know?
WPN: Really? Just recently you belted out “Semi-Charmed Life” with a bunch of people at a party. And you shout Bruce Springsteen songs at the top of your lungs whenever you roll the windows down in your car. You also sing to Jay-Z songs at the top of your lungs when you roll the windows up in your car.
So actually, you sing along to music all the time. So why not in church?
MSHN: Well, Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, and “Semi-Charmed Life” are all pretty awesome. Those are legit artists. Honestly, modern worship music is sort of embarrassing. Creatively speaking, I mean.
WPN: Fair enough. But you’ve done lots of embarrassing things. Like the time you kissed the dog’s butt for an arcade token. Or the time you tried to drink a gallon of chocolate milk in an hour during lunch period and spent the next 24 hours on the toilet. Or how about any of the haircuts you had from the ages of five to sixteen. Or the time…
MSHN: Well sure, but those things didn’t involve music.
WPN: Okay. How about the time in fifth grade when you secretly liked the song “MmmBop” and thought the lead singer of Hanson was hot and sort of looked like Jewel, and then you found it it was a boy. Or the time when you dressed up in a Nike beret, Hammer pants, and L.A. Gears and tried out for the talent show with a Christian rap song.
Or the time you and your brother’s band covered the Red Hot Chili Peppers and took your shirts off on stage. Or that dark period of your life where (gulp) Creed was one of your favorite bands. Or when you got really into Lenny Kravitz for like three weeks, bought all his records, and hung a 10-foot poster of him in your recording room.
Let’s face it, Nick. Embarrassing yourself to music is your mode of operation. Your life’s like one long, embarrassing music video.
MSHN: Alright, point taken. But at least some of that stuff is better than modern worship. The melodies in worship music are all so predictable. The arrangements are ripped off U2 and whatever band was popular on the radio two years ago. And the lyrics to worship songs are so trite.
WPN: Which ones? You mean the lyrics about loving and submitting to God? The songs about His kindness and fidelity?
MSHN: No don’t get me wrong, the sentiment is nice and all. But the lyrics to most worship songs are like a hokey Mad Libs ripped out of the psalms.
WPN: Okay, agreed. Worship writers need to step it up a notch or two. Or twelve. Totally with you there.
But it sounds like you have a context problem. Arcade Fire or Kings of Leon are great for a party. Slow worship music, not so much. But in the same way, worship music is extremely appropriate for a church service where God’s people are gathered. And Kings of Leon or Arcade Fire…not so much. Your favorite music is all great, but it serves a very different function than worship music. Does that make sense?
MSHN: Yeah, that’s a good point. But I don’t understand why church music has to be so unimaginative. Man, worship music these days is like the least creative music on the planet. It always seems stuck a decade or two behind mainstream music, like bad 80’s pop production or something. Whatever happened to all the solid church music? Like Bach or Handel’s “Messiah” or all that old-school gospel and those folks groups like the Carter family. That stuff was legit.
Church music these days is such a creative ghetto, and I just can’t connect.
WPN: I couldn’t agree more! Church music needs a serious revival. And I would argue that the people who can see that should be the ones leading the charge. I think there’s a lot of musicians like yourself who just bailed on the church. Lots of artists who can’t seem to find an honest way to express themselves within the current culture of worship music, so they find a different creative outlet.
But consider that the primary goal of God’s people singing together isn’t about creativity. It’s about commitment and submission. It’s about remaining centered on Jesus and the gospel. The primary function is really just worship. I mean, when the Israelites were saved by God in the Red Sea and sang their thanks, they probably weren’t worried about who does or doesn’t like “Revolver,” you know? When Paul and Silas were singing hymns in jail, they weren’t debating whether Radiohead is better than the Smashing Pumpkins.
MSHN: Yeah I get that. But can’t we be at least a little more inventive? Singing “Jesus I love you” over and over is really cliche, you know?
WPN: I agree, but sometimes there’s solid truth behind the cliche. When you say “I love you” to your wife over and over, is that “cliche”?
MSHN: No, I’m just reminding her and reminding myself that I love her. Telling her that I’m committed even when things suck. But that’s different.
WPN: How is that different? Even if the lyrics feel stale, most of us could stand to be reminded why we love Jesus, right?
I’m not saying creativity isn’t important to God. It is. I’m just saying, consider that you can dislike all the music in church and still have a profound experience with God. Consider that all the Israelites may not have liked the melody to Moses’ Red Sea “Song of Deliverance,” but they sang with pride because of the way God saved them.
Don’t you ever wonder if maybe you’re being too individualistic about the whole “worship” thing? What if communal worship isn’t just about you? What if it’s about joining your voice to the Kingdom of God, in the battle against all that’s evil? What if you could experience the real presence of God with your church community? What if I told you that God wanted to share that experience with you every Sunday morning, if you would choose to engage with Him during worship time?
MSHN: Yeah, that would be incredible. But I just don’t see how singing in church is going to make that happen.
WPN: Well, you’re right. Singing in church in and of itself won’t make that happen. And Nick, I can’t promise you that you’re going to have some overwhelming worship experience with God every single week. But I can promise you one thing: you’re missing out. I know you don’t feel like it, but if you would choose to engage in the discipline of communal worship, there’s a good chance you’ll experience God in new ways.
MSHN: Hmmm…that’s an interesting thought.
WPN: Alright, so here’s the challenge for you. Take the next few months of your life and choose to sing in church. Choose to engage in worshiping God every Sunday no matter what. Keep singing even when you don’t feel like it. Actually, you should sing especially when you don’t feel like it. Pray and ask God to give you revelations about Himself. Ask Him to show you His bigness and glory. Ask Him, as your Father, to teach you and guide you.
Then, keep an open mind and an open heart, and see what He reveals to you. If you really do all that, and if He really doesn’t reveal anything at all to you, then you’re no worse off than before.
MSHN: Fair enough. I can shake to that.
WPN: Awesome. I’m excited for you. I have a suspicion that God wants to reveal some things to you…