Worship Music 1 (aka Shut up about Jesus Is My Boyfriend.)

So most of my readers know I’m a pastor… ish.  I’m a youth pastor.  Well, I’m a youth pastor when I’ve got a job as a youth pastor.  Okay, I’m an unpaid volunteer with the skills and education of a youth pastor.  So I know what I’m talking about… ish.  I talk about God because he’s pretty important to me.  I talk about faithlife because it’s what I’m immersed in.  This is my place to ramble when I feel like rambling and respond to people that never knew I heard what they had to say and will never read my response.  Mostly it’s rambling responses.  So here’s the succinct intro to my rambling response: Shut up and stop complaining about “Jesus is my Boyfriend” songs.

The above sarcastic demotivator is the kind of crap I see on blogs defending the “purity” of worship.  The right way to sing.  The right songs to sing.  To some degree, they sometimes have a point, but more often then not it’s superior douchebaggery (kind of like this blog, but less mine).  David Crowder, who is pictured above (and it should be pointed out that he hasn’t changed his hair-style since he hit the scene in 1998) gets cited for propagating songs like John Mark McMillan’s How He Loves, which sings passionately about (dun dun dun) how God loves us.  It reminds me of the story of redeeming love found in Hosea.  It reminds other people of singing like “Jesus is my Boyfriend” … songs like Arms of Love, or In Your Hands (so close, I believe, you’re holding me now, in your hands I belong, you never let me go), or The Power of Your Love (hold me close, let your love surround me, bring me near, draw me to your side) hold the hallmarks of what’s hailed as a “Jesus is my Boyfriend” song.

I was watching a youtube video that popped up on my FB feed (okay, I was listening to a youtube video that my wife was watching that popped up on her FB feed) from a friend that showed a pastor ranting about how in his church they don’t sing songs that make it like Jesus is my Boyfriend.  They don’t “sing songs about us”.  They sing songs about God, because that’s where the attention should be.  They “don’t sing songs that go beyond what people are REALLY feeling,” like “If ever I loved thee, my Jesus tis now”.  A lot of Evangelicals seem to be agreeing with this.  Apparently there’s an underground backlash that our metrosexual worship leaders are unaware of, carrying the feeling that it’s inappropriate to sing songs to God that talk about our feelings, or our perceptions, or our commitments.  Sure, it’s embarrassing when we’re singing “I’m falling on my knees” and we look around and notice that no one (including ourselves) is falling on their knees, or “As we lift up our hands” and see that most of our hands are firmly seated in our pockets.   Hell, a few weeks ago I was leading worship at a small church and felt a rosy warmth spread across my cheeks as I began If We Are The Body (“It’s crowded in worship today”) with a congregation at about 10% of building capacity.  But there’s a heart, a core of the song that touches Truth.  We get mired in details so often that we miss the greater truth that God is bigger than the song.  Any song.  Anything we sing can only touch on the outskirts of who God is, as it’s reflected in our vision.

“We don’t sing songs about us”… why not?  Is it unBiblical?  Unspiritual?   What Spirit do you sing to that’s unconcerned with you, or your feelings, or your experiences, or your desires?  What Bible do you read that doesn’t give example after example of “I will”s, or “I am”s?, or “Please will you … for me”s?  Take a read through the Psalms and checklist how many of them fail to go into, at some point or another, the situation of the author, or their feelings, or their desires.  Then consider that these songs, sometimes national, sometimes personal, were held up as examples of worship for the Community of God, and YOU HAVE ALREADY ENDORSED THEM AS THE AUTHORITATIVE WORD OF GOD.  Sure, most of the time when we’re singing “I could sing of your love forever,” we realistically, you know, aren’t.  But someday we will, and isn’t that worth singing about?  Maybe we’re not physically falling on our knees, but there’s a greater spiritual reality that reflects the humility that it takes to sing it.  We’re not bowing down before our Lord and King, but, really, shouldn’t we be?  What’s wrong with holding up the ideal?  Waving the banner?  Pushing us towards getting our hands out of our pockets?

Songs like this call us to identify with a moment of an artist’s heart.  Those artists are sometimes super-spiritual people, but even they have days when they don’t feel like they could sing of God’s love forever; when they’re very firmly NOT falling on their knees.  That can be tough, because what are us normals supposed to do with that?  Most of us don’t have artist’s hearts.

God does.

Art elevates us.  Art shows us something higher than ourselves.  It’s not the songwriter’s fault – it’s not the worship leader’s fault – that so many of us need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the presence of God.  I take comfort in knowing that King David, a man after God’s own heart, sinned.  Then he wrote powerful praise music about personal repentance.  Then he sinned again.  Just because singing that we’ll never again turn away from God is patently untrue is no reason not to sing it.  Because it should be true, and maybe, with the right music, just for a second, in our hearts and minds, it is.

We have a God that cares about US, and what WE think, and what WE feel.  He doesn’t need to hear about himself, although I’m sure he appreciates it.  Worship is about our relationship with our Redeemer/Creator/Sustainer/Lover.  It should reflect a state of evolving relationship.  If we’re being led, let it lead us towards a deeper, more intimate relationship that says I love you, because God wants our hearts more than he wants verbal statues erected each Sunday.


About Aaron Mark Reimer

Aaron Mark Reimer was born in 1980 on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and his parents promptly moved him west to Ontario. He is a pastor, a writer, a speaker, a musician, and a bit of a geek. Published works include The Art of Being Broken, Worshipping Through John: A Devotional For Praise Teams, and a short story about going to Jupiter with his dad that he wrote when he was seven. He has one wife (Vanessa), two sons (Dúnadan and Taliesin), and many cats. Follow him on Twitter as @IAmAnErrorMaker

Posted on May 8, 2011, in Ramblings, Theological Reflections. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What about Hymns Aaron? I won’t comment specifically on this post, not yet at least, because I can see valid arguments on both sides of this coin. But out church sang a hymn at our saturday evening service and I was running the easy worship and as I’m reading the lyrcis to make sure they were correct, I realized that I had no idea what the song was about! Whether it is correct to sing “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of songs is a different argument than what I’m presenting. What if the hymn is such old english that I have no idea what it means, so i choose not to sing it. What is that say to newcomers if they feel they cant sing the song because they don’t know what it means?

    Just some thoughts I had last night and your blog made me think more about them. Sorry that they didn’t directly relate to what you talked about :).

    • I have a friend that was asked to guest lecture at a Bible college. He asked me to listen to some of his presentation and give him some feedback. The result was a bit of an argument. He’s brilliant, and uses precise words. He doesn’t say “sad” when he means “morose,” or “despondent.” The problem with that was his audience of 1st-year students weren’t familiar with many of the words he used, and while they said EXACTLY what he meant to say, they meant nothing to his audience.

      His argument was that effective communication needs to be precise and we should expect more from university students. My argument is that the point of communication is to have your message received, and sometimes that means compromising how you send it.

      Many hymns are awesome. They say things exactly as they should be said, but you’re right, sometimes they come packaged in language and phrasing that people in the contemporary church don’t receive. It’s made even worse by the fact that people aren’t asked just to receive the message, but to send it out to God. Would we expect to them to sing a song put up on EasyWorship in Morse Code? …. . .-.. .-.. / -. — / .– . / .– — ..- .-.. -.. -. .—-. – .-.-.-

      The NIV, when it was written was translated at a 6th grade reading level. That makes it accessible to the masses and has helped bring a lot of people to God. It’s also inexact. The Amplified takes a different tack and unpacks words to make them understandable in plain English, but sacrifices flow to do it. Both of them acknowledge what we know instinctively in Biblical studies: It’s pointless to hand someone who hasn’t studied Biblcal languages a Hebrew/Greek Bible and expect them to draw closer to God.

      So how should we use ancient hymns in modern services? First we need to evaluate how bad the language barrier is. That means handing a lyrics sheet to the most ignorant, rednecked, opinionated person on our team (usually the Tech Director) and having them point out the stuff they don’t understand. Do they really not understand it at all, or can they get the gist of it from the context? If it’s not too bad, leave it as it is. I personally think we should be as true to the artist’s intent as possible. However, if the artist was alive today, he probably would have written it differently.

      If there are words/phrases that people just aren’t going to get, we have a few options. We can ignore the problem. A lot of churches do this. We can throw out the hymn. A lot of churches do that. If we don’t want those two options, we have two others, both of which are more work. We can change the words. This is touchy. Can we do it accurately without changing the flow of the song? Sometimes clarifying one words causes a cascade of rhyme adjustments that make the song stupid, or make people trip over their tongues when the syllables don’t add up. Our last option is to educate. Can we teach people what the words mean without breaking the flow of the service? If so, why not? Let’s give people another tool to communicate with.

      That’s a long answer to a short question. The short answer is that just because a song is in “English” doesn’t mean it communicates any more than a song in Latin. If there’s a communication barrier, it needs to be removed. If it can’t be removed *well* then the song should be retired. If people can’t understand what they’re singing, they might as well be faking Tongues. #lordiboughtahondshouldaboughtamitsubishi

  2. Leissa Dawnn

    If I don’t feel comfortable singing a particular song, then I don’t. Most worship songs are either too high or low a register for me to sing anyways, so I don’t bother…but I have to admit I really do choke on the words, “…when heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.” I have trouble referring to heaven with imagery that makes me want to wipe my face with disinfectant. I also wish there were more worship songs that were honest about feelings of anger and ambivalence we might be feeling towards life or the Creator at a particular moment. Perhaps the “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs are also hard to sing for some because a lot of us don’t always feel that mushy sense of awe that we are “supposed to”… I can belt out “Show me what I’m looking for” with a lot more belief and authority than the heavenly ballads or paternalistic classics…Just saying.

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