“When the music fades” – worship without music?

We’ve become accustomed to think of worship as the musical part of a church service. It’s the bit that gets the congregation warmed up as they prepare to listen to the message, or it’s the opportunity to respond to what we have just listened to (“we are going to respond now with a time of worship”).

Worship leaders  are often thought of as musicians. Many of us would probably find it odd to think of a worship leader who doesn’t sing.

I know that in our better, more theologically alert, moments we realise that there is more to worship that music – we know that there is a verse in Romans somewhere that says worship is meant to be all of life, or words to that effect* – but it’s easy to slip into default mode.

Worse, we then become judges of the performance of the “worship leader” and the band. How often do you hear people discuss what they thought of “the worship”? As if we were meant to give marks out of ten to what has just happened (we probably too it with preachers, too; but that’s another story).

One of the most popular songs to emerge from the contemporary worship music scene is Matt Redman’When the Music Fades.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

The story behind the song is very interesting: it’s a story about worshiping without music. At the time he wrote it, Matt Redman was part of Soul Survivor church near London. Worshipping through music had always been an important and significant part of what they did. They had seen great things happening in their times of worship through music. But they reached a point where they realised that something was not quite right.

On the surface, many of the things that needed to happen were happening. But, in the words of Mike Pivalachi, the pastor of the church, they “seemed to have lost the spark”. They were singing the songs, but their hearts were far from God.

They realised that they had become “connoisseurs of worship instead of participants of it.” They had made the band the performers and they were the audience.

So they “banned the band”. They sat around in circles and waited for different people to bring a sacrifice of praise. If no one did, they sat in silence. Eventually people began to come along with their prayers or readings or prophecies; someone might start a song accapella, and the others would join in.

When they thought they had learned their lesson, they brought the band back!

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus

*Romans 12:1 –

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

(Romans 12:1 ESV)


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