I had the privilege to attend a Worship Central connect session recently where Martin Smith shared a message of encouragement. Not only encouragement, but a vision for the future of worship and a way out of the box we often put ourselves in as worship songwriters/ musicians.
So, if you’re reading this and don’t recognise Martin’s name straight away, it might help to remind you that he was lead singer for Delirious?. He also collaborated with Jesus Culture recently with their worship project called “Live from New York”. His well-known worship songs include “I could sing of your love”, “God’s great dance floor”, “What a friend I found” and many more.
He currently lives in Brighton, England where he is actively involved in the worship team at St Peter’s Church.
And this was the message that he shared with worship leaders attending the Connect session in October:
“What we’re involved in as worship musicians is the best job in the world. Nothing beats seeing the light coming on in people’s eyes and lives while making music on a Sunday morning. What a privilege it is to make and live music and serve God. When worshippers get on fire for God, that’s when nations change.
I’m in a season where I’m leading in church every Sunday. I face the same challenges and struggles as you do. Every week we try and make the music so that the presence of God can come and touch people’s lives. I believe that God is invested in music and creativity – that’s the way He sets the culture in a church/ a city.
1 Sam 16:14-23 tells the story of how David came to play harp for Saul. In verse 23 it says: “Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”
A boy came and played for a king and made him feel better. Today we have the same rules, the same human condition, nothing has changed. People are lonely, sad, far from God and they need something to make them feel better.
In verse 16 Saul’s attendants ask him to let them search for someone who plays the lyre. They said :“He will play … and you will feel better.” It sums up what the world is saying to us. It is interesting that he just played – no particular structure or specific lyrics. He didn’t preach, there was no altar call, he simply came and played.
God has put a gift inside of us and if we find out what that is and stick to it that’s all we need to do. For instance if your gift is to sing, then just sing. Don’t start a charity or a children’s ministry. If you sing, believe that God has filled you with His spirit to sing and believe that the world is literally going to split apart and the earth is going to move. And if you do that with your life, you will see amazing things. The same with if you play drums. It’s not about promotion, it’s about playing. Let’s stick to what we do and what we love. Usually the thing that we love is what God has called us to do.
The other thing that stands out from the passage is the question: “Is there anybody out there who can play the harp?” The world is asking the same thing. We are filled with the Spirit of the living God and if anybody should be making music that changes the atmosphere it should be us. But often we don’t, we just copy things. Is there anybody who can play for me, not preach to me, something that could make me feel better about myself. We’ve got to believe that we can make music that can bring healing to a generation. Not just making another great church service. We were born to sing over the walls and into the city (Neh 12).
So why does it feel like we’re a bit stuck? We love new songs, but 20 years in from starting with contemporary worship music, everything sounds the same. It’s not about style, as long as it’s authentic. The issue for us is that we need to get wild again. Earlier today we went to a lion park to do the tourist thing. The people were in a cage and the lions were in a cage/ compound. There’s two things wrong here – we’re watching a lion who doesn’t know how to be wild, it’s been institutionalized. But a lion is wild, it was born to be wild. When you see a lion in the wild, you see its power.
We mustn’t become church versions of who we really are. Toned-down versions of who we were meant to be. I’m a big fan of local church and have dedicated my life to church. It’s God’s genius and you cannot bring your family up in isolation outside of the church. But when it comes to creativity, unless there’s that true explosion of art and the wealth of what God has put inside us, then we’re not going to see the fullness of what He wants to see in our churches, our towns, our cities.
It goes back to this passage – when was the last time we played and we trusted God enough that that was enough. And people were healed and we saw miracles? We know instinctively if we’re just fitting in or being true to ourselves. And I know that’s so complicated, we sit under leadership teams (and it’s a good thing, because the other side of wildness is rebellion). But I think that God is saying “Come on guys, my heart is for this nation and you are my musicians (my Levitical priesthood) and we need to be a little bit wilder.”
And I think that’s what’s going to make the world sit up and listen. They don’t want a half-baked, toned-down church version of creativity. They want something explosive, real, passionate. Something that speaks about a God that is real. My prayer is to be a shepherd boy, that wherever God takes me I’ll be brave enough to be on fire for God and unleash His power.”