Church Communications resources and tips from Justin Dean

Alien Language in Worship

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day and I saw a picture of a church service. It was your typical worship moment, but something this time struck me as being excessively odd.

It was a stage with your typical worship band. There was a giant screen behind them with motion backgrounds and worship lyrics. There were a couple youth up front standing in the mosh-pit area.

Seriously, nothing was different. But I think I finally saw it all with fresh eyes. It was one of those zen moments, seeing something for the first time. And my impression was this:

?Church is so weird.?

I finally saw things for how they were. There was an over-dressed lead singer, zealously yelling the words into the mic. There was a casually dressed older man on the keyboard, surrounded by haze and moving lights. The three teenage girls were standing in what would be a mosh pit, pretending to be interested in the music. The rest of the band was completely bored. And the lyrics on screen confused the heck out of me.

This was an alien scene to me. Though I?d seen it thousands of times before, I saw how weird it was. I saw what a newbie must see, every time they enter our worship services.

I?m not proposing we change our worship services completely. I believe there?s still a place for a band. Still place for older gentlemen on keyboards. Still a place for a teenage mosh pit in front. None of those things are wrong. But how can we help to translate our alien services to the newbies that might be bashful to explore this alien territory?

I believe the key is proper translation. I?m not talking about the words righteous, glorious, or eschatology. I?m talking about the complicated topics we bury in our pop songs. Here are some topics I see tripping people up:

  • God being ?higher? than anything else.
  • Being under the ?mighty hand? of God.
  • Jesus (or us) being the ?light of the world?.

These are all Biblical concepts. But these are also alien concepts to our visitors (and unfortunately, many of our congregants).

I?m not proposing we do away with Biblical concepts and terminology. Instead, we should be intentional with them. We should choose carefully what alien terms we introduce and put purpose in them. Too often our reliance on these terms comes less from necessity and more from our laziness.

So how should we approach these Biblical concepts in our worship services? How do we balance the truth and necessity of these concepts with the visitors to our alien planet we call ?Sunday??

Be aware.

There?s nothing wrong with people singing things they don?t understand. I sing along with ?Smells Like Teen Spirit? and I have absolutely no idea what I?m singing. We don?t have to dumb down our worship services. But we need to be aware that people might not get what they?re singing.[quote]We need to be aware that people might not get what they?re singing.[/quote]

Instruct clearly.

Nirvana didn?t introduce their song by saying, ?Now we?re about to sing a song about *slurred language*. Enjoy!? No, they told people what the song was about. Just like you shouldn?t introduce your next worship song by saying, ?God is higher than anything with His mighty hand.? Why not say, ?God is so powerful, there?s nothing He can?t do.? That helps give context for what we?re about to sing.

It doesn?t help the uninitiated when you invite them to worship our ?high? God. But imagine giving people their first glimpse into the truth of the Bible by explaining what that really means. You have that opportunity.

Be simple.

Finally, pretend you?re explaining these concepts to a four year old. I?m not saying to under-estimate your congregation?s intelligence or patronize them. But when you can explain things simply enough that a four year old would understand, that?s when you truly understand. And it?s really hard to explain a concept to someone when you don?t fully understand it yourself.

We are aliens?travelers passing through this world. We?ll never be able to remove alien language completely from our worship experiences. And that?s ok. But let?s not forget those that come aboard our worship ship. Let?s help them understand by translating some of our words.

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