What I’ve learned about Worship

So I’ve been thinking.

For just over a month now, our family has attended a church where we have understood little of what happens.

It’s not that we don’t understand any German, of course, but simply that when you are subjected to an hour of it at full speed, without the opportunity to ask for clarity, or to ask the preacher to slow down, it’s like trying to take a sip from a water hose a dam that just collapsed.

But then there’s worship.

Lines of lyrics repeat, the text is (mostly) slower. We can see the words on the screen and process on another level (aural + visual).

From about the first day, we could “get on board” with the music portion of the worship service, and we have loved that.

Here are some things that I’ve learned about Worship music since I’ve been in #MyNewHannoverHome

1. Not everyone knows the songs.

I’ve been SO guilty of this mentality. In America, we perform worship with the most popular songs from Christian radio most Sundays. This is no problem, because in most towns there are three or four options for Christian music on your radio dial.

It feels safe to assume that most people know (at least a little) all the songs you’re going to sing.

Here’s the thing: everyone doesn’t know them. And I know people with some level musical training are declining in the States (I was a music teacher, and I know all the trends regarding what the majority of students are not getting in arts education).

When I pastored at a church in Indiana, I used to tell people that these songs are “so intuitive, you’ll pick them up.” But they really aren’t.

In worship on Sundays, without the aid of music notes (like you would find in a hymnal or song book), it is very hard for me to pick up on a song and feel comfortable singing it. There’s nothing like insecurity and “just trying to keep up” to impede your heart from being prepared for worship.

The entire world is going to video. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to make more of an effort to teach songs, especially when they are new or haven’t been used in a while.

2. There’s great Christian worship outside of the english-speaking world.

It’s true that sometimes we sing Chris Tomlin songs. Or Matt Redman songs. Or [fill in the blank of your favorite worship songwriter]. Sometimes, they are even translated into German. Sometimes we sing them in English. It’s great.

But most of the time, we sing German songs, written by German Christians, and they are GREAT! I don’t know what I expected in this regard. I didn’t actually think that there were no Christians writing songs in other languages, I just hadn’t really given it any thought.

But the songs we sing are good songs, and have great lyrics, and promote good theology.

More than anything, I sense a missional drive behind the Christian subculture here, more so than I felt back home. The songs we sing are about joining God in his work in the world, more than him doing things (saving, healing, comforting, calming) for us. 

It’s not either or, this just feels like a more balanced place on the spectrum, and it’s refreshing.

3. Worship Wars exist everywhere.

I should clarify here.

I’ve seen no evidence of splits in the church where we attend here over things like worship.

But I’ve heard plenty of differing opinions, and it’s been interesting.

It’s not so much on style (though that is some of it), but we’ve had a couple of conversations about the use of English in the service.

Person 1: Why sing English songs when everyone is German?

Person 2: It’s awesome to sing the English songs in their original language because everyone understands it anyway!

Along the same lines, we had a conversation with a person who thought translations should be true translations.

When singing an English song, it is common to have German “subtitles,” or lyrics under every line.

The problem is that someone might rewrite an American song with a similar message, but not the same, and line-for-line the lyrics don’t work.

So if the German person is looking to see what they are singing in English, they may be seeing a translation that doesn’t actually match the english lyrics.

But a more literal translation may not be able to fit the melody and meter of the song, making it impossible to sing bilingually.

So what?

All of this is very interesting to me. But it has left me with a couple of take aways.

First, it is important to keep perspective on “worship.” Worship is not just the music on Sundays. In fact, while important, it is not the most important part of a church service. Furthermore, worship is not just the Sunday “worship” service itself!

Worship is an important part of how we express our faith as a community and as the Body of Christ, but it is not the only way. We have to keep that in perspective to let some differnences in opinion and musical style roll off our backs.

Second, there are awesome Christians everywhere, making awesome music in their language and praising God out of their experience.

Third, it wouldn’t hurt to keep in mind that everyone doesn’t already know all your songs upon walking through the door, and find ways to make that process of learning better. A small number of song books on hand for the people who would like them, with the songs your church is commonly singing. Notation on the slides (just a thought). A moment where the worship pastor leads the new song. Something so that newcomers can feel a part of what God is doing in the Church when they walk in the door.

Have a great week!



3 thoughts on “What I’ve learned about Worship

  1. Just wondering & curious NIck…..what about the “old hymns” there in Germany? Are they singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” or “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” in German??…..both by their very own Luther. Do they hold these works in as high of a place as some of us do here in the US?
    Just wondering. Tschuss!!


    • The churches we’ve been involved with thus far don’t play hymns. It’s really a mix of German worship Songs, English worship songs, and english songs translated into German.

      I assume the hymns are still stuck in the institutional church; our church has gone all-contemporary.


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