Our churches consume worship music like they do fast food, but a healthy diet must include home-grown and home-made, says Integrity Music’s Steve Harding
In the lockdown of 2021, I ate a lot of takeaway food. At the end of a challenging day juggling a full-time job and homeschooling two children, it was too easy to pour a (large) glass of wine, slump onto the sofa and order a Deliveroo dinner, instead of cooking something from scratch. While the odd takeaway is yummy, I knew it wasn’t sustainable, for my wallet or for my waistline. Nutritionists say if you want to get healthy, you should cook at home. Yes, it involves more preparation, thought and skill, but often it is healthier.
Perhaps the Church’s diet of worship songs is similar to our eating habits. In an average congregation we sing many songs from around the world; songs that bring different flavours. Songs like ‘Way Maker’ from Nigeria and ‘Yet Not I’ from Australia have a distinct revelation, a unique grace that reveals another facet of who God is. I’m so grateful for this varied menu, but as a worship leader myself, I’ve realised that it’s tempting to rely solely on songs from other communities rather than pursue a balanced diet of local and global flavours. And I don’t think I’m the only one.
What’s on the menu?
In the Psalms we see a broad banquet laid out: songs and poetry on a wide range of subjects, from the deepest grief, to the highest joy-filled praise. There is something for everyone, relevant to every season of life. What if we took the lead from the Psalmist and embraced the bitter taste of lament, the sweetness of joy, or the spice of a passionate cry for justice in the songs we write and sing.
I want to see the church write her own songs; songs written to feed the family. I have spent years collaborating with friends to encourage, challenge and critique our way to more and better home-cooked songs. Now, as part of the Integrity Music team, I get the privilege of gathering songwriters from across the UK. Together we are working on a project called Songs from the Soil and our vision is to plant a garden of songs for and from the local church.
Sing a new song
I suspect there are song ideas captured in voice notes on phones, or lyrics scribbled in journals all across the country. These simple offerings could help and heal, comfort and challenge as they point anyone who will listen towards God.
Do you have ideas you need to dust off and share with your community? Are there people you could encourage? Are you a student who improvises in their dorm room, or the grandmother who secretly writes poetry? Are you the person to gather these potential songwriters, these amateur chefs for a Saturday morning coffee and song share?
Once the table has been laid, and these songs have been served up, there is only one more step: these songs need to be sung! And there’s no point waiting until they are perfect. It will feel vulnerable, they may seem undercooked, but we need to be brave. We need to make space at the table for songs prepared in the kitchen of our communities; songs that capture the flavour of what God is doing among us.