Four (Maybe Five!) Essential Orientations for Worship Music Today

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I’m often among the last people to leave a worship service. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m on the church’s payroll or not.

Because it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people, I love taking in all different kinds of worship experiences — especially when they’re led by my former students!

Historically, the four-fold pattern of Christian worship centers around gathering, proclamation, response, and empowerment, so I’m not a fan of equating worship with music only. But I do believe music is often a key factor in helping worshipers engage and grow more deeply with God.

Since worship also relates to our engagement with others, too, it’s important for us to worship communally, and to invite seekers to join us in worship, hopefully journeying more deeply in their walks with God.

When I was in the pastorate, we were intentional each week about including music that was both objective — songs about God — and subjective — music that includes us. Of course, there are many songs that are hybrids between the two.

So in recent months, I’ve been thinking more about finding a helpful way for ministry leaders to give fuller thought to worship music that gives appropriate focus on God while also encouraging more personal engagement, both individually and communally.

After mulling this over for a while, here’s a little model of the kind of music I believe is essential in Christian worship. I’d love to explore the nuances of this and even discuss how the various songs on CCLI/SongSelect’s Top 100 fit in my progressive model.

The model is quite simple, centering around four orientations for worship music, and maybe a fifth orientation for serious consideration, too:

Me Songs;
We Songs;
Thee Songs; and
Be Songs.

While worship is ultimately about God, it also invites us into partnership. Me Songs are self-explanatory. This kind of music invites us to personalize worship by using first-person pronouns like “I,” “My,” and “Me.” Through communal participation, we find ourselves in the human experience, including life’s predicaments that often lead seekers in search of deeper answers.

We Songs are more collective in nature, linking worshipers together in expressing ourselves in worship. “We,” “our,” and “us” are common pronouns in these songs, especially as they describe the commonalities we share in the human experience and our collective journeys with God.

Not surprisingly, Thee Songs are more objective music forms that center primarily on God. Elizabethan language is not required, nor is the goal necessarily the removal of all “I” or “our” pronouns. But with Thee Songs, the primary focus is definitely on God’s worthiness as the object of our worship.

Fourth, Be Songs are missional in nature, often sung best in the form of a benediction. These songs empower us to depart from corporate worship back into the world where we’re called to be Jesus’ hands and feet.

Finally, I’m wondering if we should consider adding a fifth orientation: Gee Songs. By this, I mean contemporary songs that make us think; popular, insightful music that lead us to consider aloud, “Gee…”

What are your thoughts on my progressive model? Which of these music forms are most prominent in your worship experiences? Which are least evident? Which hymns and choruses lend themselves particularly well to these four orientations in worship? How would you create a worship set that takes people through this kind of spiritual journey?

Lurch forward.

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