Worship Music (Mostly) Doesn’t Make Me Feel Things


I’ve been thinking about worship music this morning.

Each morning as I sit down and try to write out something to God, I turn on Pandora to help me feel a little more spiritual. Usually this is some sort of instrumental station, but often I will attempt to listen to a more “Christian focused” station because maybe this will help my prayers be heard.

I have never been one for worship music, the kind where there is usually an interchangeable male singer. I can’t get into it. All the messages are good – Lord you are good, you are beautiful, thanks for loving us, man – but my heart is never in these songs.

To me, most of these songs feel like they are trying to be meaningful but are limited in their edginess, and the result is a sound not unlike if Nickelback tried to write a very deep song about vanilla ice cream.

I have only found a handful of worship songs that make me feel close to God. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a household of faith and never had the opportunity to discover worship music, moved by its difference and tone. It was always around, and like the pastor’s child that I am, I eventually rebelled. Not hard, mind you, but when my mother was listening to Chris Rice in the kitchen I would be in my room tearfully mouthing the lyrics to “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls.

Several months ago I was helping as a youth group leader at a large church on the north side of town. One night, the worship leader pulled us all aside and suggested that we might start dancing at a certain point during the worship portion of the night to get the kids more into it. I wanted to suggest that maybe she put a sock in it.

No matter the activity, confidence is key. Confidence can make most any ungraceful action look good, or at least look enjoyable. When it came to dancing in the middle of a group of high schoolers to a song I had no spiritual or emotional investment in, the result was an awkward amount of bouncing and a pained smile, so I looked not like a woman on fire for the Lord but rather like a marionette whose strings were held by an overzealous toddler.

I used to feel a little guilty that I wasn’t more into this aspect of loving God, the one where I was confident and “on fire” enough to wave my arms around and clap and pray, “Yes, Lawd!” over and over in a harsh whisper.

The college I attended held a worship night every Tuesday in a small chapel at the edge of campus, and I enjoyed the unpretentious nature of these gatherings. The lights would remain dim throughout the evening, and the still sincerity of the four-piece band actually did make me feel things. And I wanted to feel things, just not at a level that risked smacking someone in the face with my worshipping hands.

I once visited a church that had taken over an old supermarket, complete with automatic sliding doors at the entrance. The band was young and played with drama, set up on a large stage with colorful lights. There were boxes of tissues placed at the end of every row of chairs. I got the impression they were desperate for me to feel something, to move me to tears or my knees or to the nearest bowl of holy water to douse my sinful head, and for this I gritted my teeth and decided that no, this band or church was not going to make me feel anything, not the lead singer or his corduroy overalls.

This morning as I was journaling I thought about the box that I used to wonder if I needed to belong in, the one where I liked worship music and got really fired up over passages of scripture. It’s the box “real” Christians fit neatly into, the people who have all the Christian radio and light rock stations preset in their cars, the ones who whisper feverishly to themselves during worship.

Truthfully, I resisted being that person because I had always felt intimated by those who were so compelled to raise their hands in church and chant their own sincere prayers during the music. It was all too much for me, but it wasn’t that I didn’t like these kinds of people; I felt guilty for not being like them, for not being so overcome for Jesus.

The funny thing I have noticed about Christians though is that most of us don’t fit into the Christian “box” we are trying to put each other in.

I have learned that sometimes the people who are overwhelmed by their relationship with the Lord during worship run from relationships in real life. I have learned that sometimes people who speak about scripture with tender love are the same people who liberally use the word, “fuck.” And that sometimes people are more moved by the Planet Earth soundtrack than they are anything by Casting Crowns.

My car radio is preset to Top 40 stations and jazz. I will never think David Crowder is cool. And if anyone makes me dance at church, I will pray they are hit with a bout of whooping cough.

But if anyone asks me what the tattoo on my right arm means, the one of a seagull in flight, I will answer truthfully and say, “It’s the album artwork from one of my favorite worship songs.”

1 reply »

  1. I don’t specifically recall you and I talking about this topic, but your post today felt like it could have been coming from me! I really like and appreciate a lot of contemporary Christian music. I love to play it, I enjoy singing it. Too much of it is formulaic and, as you’ve found, trying too hard in every way. I’ve felt awkward and clueless and fogey-like when we’ve visited some churches. Despite true talent, too many worship bands are boring, and at the same time, far too enamored of their performance. Music in worship should never be a performance, although musicians in worship should be in pursuit of excellence. For me, when it’s all working in sync: my musical choice is appropriate and well-written, I have practiced properly and carefully, a small part of my mind is on my playing, and all of my heart and a large part of my mind are on He for whom I play – then. Then! His beauty and grace fill me, and the joy of being able to worship pours out of my fingers. What happens to the music then isn’t my part of the job.
    Oh dear – didn’t mean to go quite there… but I’m leaving it for you, anyway.
    Thank you, yet again, for the blessing of your words and heart. 💜

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