Presence Music (Pt 1)

It has become popular over the years for pastors to remind their congregations that what we do with our lives is worship and not just the music we sing on Sundays. This, of course, is all good and true and needs to be said given how lacking the church is in discipleship. By all means, if we just show up on Sundays and sing, we are not living lives that truly worship God.

But that being said, I never really appreciated how this statement belittles the musical side of worship. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been helping with worship music in some way for over half my life, but these comments always bummed me out rather than encouraged me. I think it was because too many pastors over-corrected this statement. Music was now being advertised as “not really worship,” and anyone who didn’t like the music, couldn’t sing, or disliked spending time engaging God’s presence in this way, now had the space to treat music like it wasn’t important. Music was just that—music. Some kind of neutral traditional thing we all do in our churches before the message.

Eventually I heard one of my favorite pastors liken the music portion of the service to “remembering the story together.” This was the ultimate belittling to me. Worship music was now nothing more than monotonous education.

But I never fell for these statements. Don’t hear me wrong—if all worship is to us is singing songs then we’ve absolutely missed the point—for to use Lewis’ words, “all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.” But as a Christian who engaged God in music both before and after I became a musician, I just found myself unwilling to belittle the tradition. I found something in church music that was hard to describe. When I was younger I didn’t fully understand what that something was, but it was… something.

And after all these years, I’ve come to find that most people experience whatever they expect to find in singing worship music. If it’s all about liturgy, then you’ll experience tradition in community. If it’s all about story, then you’ll get some education out of it. If it’s all about professional sounding music, then you’ll get a good show.

But I’m not really into any of that. I desire to enter into music with the mindset of, “God, I’m going to sing to you because you’re worth it. I’m going to try to give you more of me than I ever have before. I’m going to hope to experience your presence today. I’m going to sing to you like I mean it. Even if I feel like I don’t have it in me today, I’m going to make this session of music a sacrifice of praise.”

This is presence-music. It’s a form of music that truly believes that singing actually matters. It refuses to accept that nothing changes when music is played. It adamantly declares that what we do in this service and in this time makes a difference.

And that is a huge reason why I believe you see God manifest so clearly in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Have you ever been to one? My goodness, some of these services simply refuse to move on until they have found the presence of God. I’ve led worship in some of these churches for over an hour with the entire congregation showing no signs of stopping. If you as a worship leader are willing to keep going, they’ll go there with you, because what could be more important than coming together to tell God how great He is?

These kinds of people are adamant about worship. They have to find the presence of God. They will find the presence of God. And with this simple motive backing their praise, they often find the presence of God. People get healed. Miracles happen. Demons are cast out.

They see what many churches do not, because many of us do not care about getting to the presence. We do not wait upon the Lord, we ask Him to do His thing in three to five songs. We do not extend the music, we force it to fit within a Planning Center schedule. We don’t really believe this time in music together could ever make a difference to anyone, so we cross our arms, play with our phones, don’t enter in, and then tell the people around us that they can’t judge a person’s heart based on their posture. The effects of this attitude have always been sensed, not just by the worship leader, but the rest of the congregation, whether consciously, subconsciously or spiritually. Deitrich Bonhoeffer felt the effects in his time, making note that “there are often those also who be­cause of some mood will not join in the singing and thus disturb the fellowship.”

This week we’ll continue to take a deeper look into what I call “presence music”—a form of supernaturally-minded music that gives us the space to engage with God when we sing to Him.

“Lewis, C.S. Christian Reflections. Edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids/Cambridge, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1967, p. 123.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. Translated by John Doberstein. New York, Harper and Row, 1954, p. 60.”

This post an excerpt from my book “The Rush and the Rest.”

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