taking the words of Jesus seriously

On more than one occasion I have heard praise music called “7/11 music,” the same seven words sung eleven times. Because I tend to run in mainline church circles, this commentary is often served with a hearty serving of condescension and a generous side of superiority. After all, all that silly “praise” music is theologically shallow and in no way brings glory to God.

While the battles about worship and music are traditionally focused on the use of organs, guitars, hymns and drum sets, I have heard this same thing from those whom I would say have very creative music and worship expressions. So what it really comes down to is that many of us believe that the only true way to worship God is the way we do.

Now do not get me wrong, when I hear praise music that has a “Jesus is my boyfriend” vibe or organ music that seems better fit for a carnival, my skin crawls and my soul is not moved. And yet for some, that is where they meet God. Personally, I love a little bit of everything as I worship. Powerful organ music, deft guitarists, rocking bands, swaying choirs and the singing of Taize (And yes, Taize is basically the same seven words sung eleven times, *cough* *cough*) all can stir my soul. This musical buffet is not for everyone and not every community can pull it off, but this is how I meet God where I worship and I am grateful.

One of the reasons that people are so passionate about music is that this is where and how we often connect to the holy. To mess with or critique that choice is to mess with and critique the very nature of our relationship with God. Sometimes this may be needed and appropriate, but most often it only creates unwarranted conflict, cultural entrenchment and calcification of the Spirit. Whether it’s music or any other parts of our worship lives, the sooner that we embrace a reality that one music style is not more faithful than another, the sooner we will liberate our minds and hearts to experience God in new ways.

So when we so easily mock the ways in which others sing praise to God, we are buying into a culture of self-centered bullying, exclusion and judgement that have no place in the church. If anything, even in the face of theological differences, we should be finding ways to model to the world ways of dealing with difference that does not always lead to disembodiment of the faithful, but to the building up of the Body of Christ . . . and in achieving this, maybe we will truly be worshipping God.

Pass it on.


Bruce Reyes-Chow is a native Northern Californian and third generation Chinese/Filipino who has been living in San Francisco since 1998.  Until May, 2011 he was the founding pastor of Mission Bay Community Church, a church of 20/30-somethings in San Francisco, CA and from 2008-2010 was Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He is currently one of those “consultant” types who makes his way, writing, speaking, teaching and drinking coffee. His social networks of choice are TwitterFacebook and his Blog

This article originally appeared on Bruce’s blog at Patheos.com

About The Author

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A 3rd Generation Chinese/Filipino, armchair sociologist, and technology enthusiast Bruce speaks and teaches on faith, race, parenting, and technology in a variety contexts from seminaries to conferences to congregations to pre-schools. While he speaks to both religious and secular audiences, he committed to living and expressing a Christian faith that is beautifully complex, unimaginably just and excruciatingly gracious. Bruce is the part-time Transitional Pastor at Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley, CA and is a Coach and Senior Consultant with the Center of Progressive Renewal. He is the author of four books, The Definitive-ish Guide for Using Social Media in the Church (Shookfoil Books, 2012) and But I Don't See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race (2013), 40 Days, 40, Prayers, 40 Words: Lenten Reflections for Everyday Life (WJK Press, 2016) and, Rule #2: Don't be an Asshat: An Official Handbook for Raising Parents and Children. (Bacosa Books, 2016). He currently blogs for The Huffington Post, The Working Preacher, and Red Letter Christians. Bruce has been a Presbyterian pastor for nearly 20 years and founded Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco, a church of young, multicultural and progressive Presbyterians. In 2008 he was the youngest person ever elected as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the highest elected office of the 1.8 million member denomination. Bruce received his BA in Asian American Studies, Philosophy and Sociology from San Francisco State University (1991), MA from San Francisco Theological Seminary (1995) and an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Austin College (2010). Bruce currently lives in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters, and two canines.

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