ONE HUNDRED PIANOS
I used to be notorious for complaining about the music in church. Not that the musicians were ever bad. I’ve always been blessed to be surrounded by good musicians in church. It was always the songs I couldn’t stand. And I had my reasons.
I didn’t like how almost every song sounded like a bad rip-off of a U2 song. I didn’t like how most of them sounded like Disney jams from 1997. I didn’t like the lyrics that sounded like 8th grade poetry. I didn’t like how high the vocals were always mixed. I didn’t like the dramatic key changes and vocal gymnastics that seemed impossible to hang with. I didn’t like that most of the lyrics felt like they were plagiarized from Scripture with no real honesty behind them. I didn’t like how some of the songs seemed to be bad knock-off versions of other bad worship songs. I had all sort of reasons I thought the music in church sucked.
My solution for all this was that I just didn’t sing in church. I figured singing hackneyed melodies and clichéd lyrics was probably a form of torture in some countries. So I politely mouthed the lyrics or read my Bible during the worship music each Sunday, happy to not participate but not wanting to distract anyone else.
I had this playlist, I think it was named “Christian Music That Doesn’t Suck.” I remember one Sunday morning my family was going to the late service and had some time to kill after breakfast. So I turned on the playlist and sang to my son who was a toddler at the time. I remember being especially moved by the presence of God that morning. It was a sort of pre-game personal worship time where I could be goofy and uninhibited if I wanted.
And you know what happened when I went to church that day? I sang along to the worship music just fine. It was as if my time with God that morning primed the pump for my worship in the corporate setting.
My sneaky worship fake-out move may have revealed some of my own immaturity. But it also taught me something important about communal worship. There are 167 hours each week when I can worship God in whatever ways I want to. But that one hour of the week on Sunday morning isn’t about me and my preferences. It’s about God and a beautifully diverse group of people with their own quirks and preferences and musical tastes coming together to worship Him in unison. The fact that I didn’t like the music was beside the point. The fact that the worship leader didn’t pick music that absolutely everyone liked wasn’t “wrong,” it was just human. It’s a natural byproduct of trying to get hundreds of people all on the same page.
The experience taught me about the symbiotic relationship between our gathered worship and our scattered worship. If we make no attempt to live a life that worships God, Sunday mornings might feel a little lame or even confusing. Which isn’t to say we need to listen to worship music all week long. Music is one meaningful way to worship God, but there are as many unique ways to worship God as there are people. We can worship God in the ways we work and study and interact with our friends and families. It’s in the words that we say and the things that we choose to value and the stuff we teach our children. It’s in the time we carve out to spend with God in conversational relationship.
The extent to which we live our lives as an act of praise and surrender to God will significantly affect both our own spiritual state and the way we interact with communal worship. As A.W. Tozer once said, “one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other.”
The majority of our “worship” doesn’t happen on Sunday mornings. The majority of it happens the other 167 hours of the week.
If we’re pressing into where God is moving in our lives, Sundays will seem less like a chore and more like a celebration. If we’re living lives of dependency on the Holy Spirit throughout the week, then we’ll have an eagerness and anticipation for His movement on Sunday mornings. It won’t matter what songs we sing or the way we take communion or what version of the Bible we read from.
Living a lifestyle of worship makes Sunday worship less important in one sense, and more important in another. When we worship God throughout the week, we don’t come into a worship gathering as consumers to be fed, but as thankful worshipers eager to join our voice to the praise of the One “from whom all blessings flow.” The habit of worship makes us less dependent on Sundays for nourishment, because we’ve been feasting in Jesus’ presence all week long. But it also makes us more excited to bring our gifts and voice to Sunday mornings, because there is something mystical and profound about the Body of Christ gathered.
So if you want my advice as a worship leader, quit trying to make yourself enjoy Sunday worship. I know that sounds heretical coming from a worship pastor, but it’s true. Instead, spend the other 167 hours of the week worshiping in all the unique ways God has made you to worship, and that one hour on Sunday morning will take care of itself.