What Hallmark Taught Me About Worship

I love getting cards from my wife and kids on my birthday.  When I open one, my eyes immediately go to the handwritten parts as opposed to the print.  Often I’ll bypass the card’s printed words altogether.  As poetic and beautiful the author’s words may be, they mean almost nothing in comparison to the handwritten scribbles of my kids and the loving prose of my wife.  Why?  Because their own words come straight from their own hearts.

I am a songwriter and there are few things as exhilarating as successfully providing others with language to help them pour their hearts out to God.  Seriously, it’s incredible.  Not only this, but I am so thankful for the many men and women whom God has gifted throughout history to provide the global Church with language to express its heart to Him.  I love the unity that is expressed when a room of 10, 100 or 1000 worshipers are singing in unison to their Bridegroom.  There’s nothing like it.

However, I believe our corporate times of worship would be incomplete if this is all it consisted of.  In the same way, if I received a birthday card from my family and only found the preprinted words upon opening it, it would feel incomplete.

In addition to viewing corporate worship songs as “unifiers”, I see them as “conversation starters.”  Conversation starters are awesome but we don’t want to stay there, right?  There are people and contexts where we do actually want to stay there but that’s not what I’m talking about.  🙂

Conversation starters like, “What’s up?” are meant to take us somewhere deeper, more meaningful and real.  They hopefully take us to a heart to heart interaction.  Or, as Exodus 33:11 describes Moses’ relationship with God, “face to face.”

Let’s put it another way.  Many of the best worship songs were written out of a songwriter’s personal encounter with God.  I am blessed by singing them but I’m not satisfied if all I do is sing about Matt Redman’s encounter with God.  I want to sing about my own encounters with God!

Not only do I find it to be valuable for corporate worship to contain both “scripted” and “unscripted” expressions, but I find it to be biblical.  In Ephesians 5:19 I believe Paul exhorts us to come together and sing songs that are “scripted,” psalms and hymns, and songs that are “unscripted,” spiritual songs.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 14:15-16 Paul states that when he is in a corporate worship setting he prays and sings with both his spirit and his mind.  The context suggests that the type of singing and praying he is referring to is of the unscripted variety.

A culture of worship that values unscripted worship can be cultivated by teaching it, worship teams modeling it by singing and praying with their own words and creating space for it by using vamps and instrumental rests.

I believe God experiences an incredible amount of joy when His children come together and worship Him in unison and prewritten worship songs enable us to do this.  However, just as when we receive a card from a loved one, I believe He’s also excitedly looking in the margin of our worship times for those unscripted, unpolished songs and prayers that only come straight from the hearts of His loved ones.

Thanks Hallmark!

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