Last evening, I went to the latest leg of the Spirit Break Out tour. The tour emanates from Worship Central, which has close connections with Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, the home of the Alpha Course. The evening was led by Tim Hughes (writer of such songs as ‘Light of the world’ and ‘The greatest day in history’), assisted by three other solo singers and the usual array of musicians.
It was a good evening, attended by 1000 or so people and yet I felt curiously detached from it. Before you ask: yes, I was there to enjoy worshipping God; yes, there almost certainly is unconfessed sin in my life (isn’t there with all of us?), but none I could call to mind! So I was there without any particular baggage.
In fact, I spent much of the evening comparing the experience with my last visit to see U2 in concert in August 2009! I decided that I was more aware of God’s presence there than at yesterday’s concert. Lyrics such as ‘I was born, I was born to be with you’ (Magnificent), and ‘You heard me in my tune, when I just heard confusion’ (All because of you) spoke to me more than those of Tim Hughes et al. I was more caught up in worship (or emotion?) with 50000 other U2 fans than with the 1000 worshippers. At the U2 concert, perhaps 5% of the crowd had a Christian faith. Last might, one assumes it would have been at least 95%.
So why did the U2 concert allow me to worship more freely? In no particular order:
- AtU2, I knew the songs – pretty much word for word! Last night, I knew perhaps half of the songs. My own church is not exactly on the cusp of the latest worship songs, but we do use some newer ones! However, I think churches often over-estimate the ability of a congregation to learn new songs. I usually work on the rule of no more than one per service, if that.
- U2 did not have to pretend that it was a rock concert! They, and we, knew that it was. ‘Spirit Break Out’ tried to take on the attributes of a rock concert, with light show, dry ice and seven lampstands (I wondered if there was going to be any significance in that?). For me, there was a sense of hype being generated so that the Spirit would come!
- U2’s lyrics are more nuanced and thought-provoking e.g. ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, always pain before a child is born’. Today’s writers of Christian songs tend to fall into religious cliché, and even to reclaim clichéd lyrics of the past. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that – we are comforted by the familiar, and our beliefs are reinforced – but there is often no sense of anything new in today’s worship songs.
- The U2 concert was more evangelistic, though I doubt it set out to be so! Like ‘Spirit Break Out’, it was there for the fans. Unlike ‘Spirit Break Out’, many of those fans were ‘unconverted’ to Christ. They came with many questions about life, where Christians tend to come with many answers. Yes, I believe that Christ is the answer! Yet I believe that we must all be allowed space to ask our questions and express our doubts about life, the universe and everything! Maybe a U2 concert is a more effective place for that?
I can’t deny that most at last night’s concert were engaging with God in worship. I’m just thinking that worship is so much more than we sometimes make it.