Turn Up the Neighbours the Eagles are Listening

kinnon —  June 18, 2009 — 28 Comments

This is a post on worship music. Which is why I’ve misquoted a lyric from Steely Dan. (Which would totally tick off a certain Dr. Masters – no, not that one – as this Dr. Masters would never be culturally relevant – even if my culture is probably stuck in the 70’s and 80’s.)


I spent too many years as a worship leader in various churches. My much loved ’74 Guild acoustic slung from my shoulders, my mouth pressed warmly against an SM58. On rare occasions I’d bust out my ’65 Tele – but I never really had the chops to do that guitar justice. (Fortunately, Liam does.) Imbi was usually the MD, on piano and vocals. At different times we were joined by various bass players, drummers, guitarists, mandolin players, saxamaphonists, flautists – but never anyone on Tuba. (For the young calvinists who occasionally drop by, I’m not suggesting Imbi was the “mark driscoll” but that she was the Music Director.)

Most of the tunes we sang were rather like bad Eagles tunes; I’ve Got A Peaceful Easy Feeling about you Jesus, and I want to give You The Best of My Love so we can Take It Easy in eternity together. JIMBee* songs for the gathered masses. (*Jesus Is My Boyfriend).

Never did more I, IV, V chord patterns empower so many bad songs sung lustily by boomers and busters whilst their then young children looked on bemused. Heck, we even wrote some bad songs ourselves – although ours did ofttimes feature a Diminished Seventh.

We wrung ever drop of “anointing” out of songs from the Vineyard, Maranatha!, Integrity and (blech!) Hillsongs. We looked forward to the days when the pews would be filled with even more butts bopping to our groovy JIMBee tunes – those butts there for the “worship experience”.

The prompt for this post was one from Jared Wilson (my favourite young Calvinist – you other two, I consider rather old now). Jared quoted a tweet from a buddy,

___________ wants to know why every Sunday can’t be a worship experience like Hillsong United created last night.


I wrote a comment that got lost somewhere in the pushed pixel universe of blogdom. The gist of it was asking, ‘shouldn’t the “worship experience” be God’s?’

In a comment on Jared’s post, Elle Pyke quotes Skye Jethani (from a book I need to get),

These pastors [who encourage church leaders to “embrace entertainment”], representative of so many contemporary Christians, believe that God changes lives through the commodification and consumption of experiences. If our worship gatherings are energetic, stimulating, and exciting enough then people will attend, receive what’s being communicated, and be spiritually transformed.

We’ve been confused into thinking that “putting on the best show” is somehow about “winning the lost to Christ”. “Worship Experiences” have little to do with actually worshipping the risen Lord. We judge those “experiences” based on our own feelings – as our own “needs are met.”

“God really showed up last night.” (Where had He been before He showed up? Shopping?)

“I was so blessed by the worship, man!” (Were people worshipping you?!)

“Oh man, the Holy Spirit really began to move during the worship.” (After a period of lethargy, the Holy Spirit finally began to do something based on us singing bad Eagles’s tunes. That makes complete sense.)

To paraphrase Matt Redman, “I’m comin’ back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about me, all about me, Jesus.”

Let’s be honest, shall we. Our corporate worship in the west is really about happy clappy people having a good time – in the hopes they’ll come back for more happy clappy times, begin to pay the price of admission (I think you call that “tithing”) and get signed up to serve in a “ministry” that benefits the corporation.

Jared says,

…it ain’t like God is a genie in a bottle and you gotta rub him the right way (bay-bay). Unless your congregation is a bunch of heretics, God is there among you every Sunday, and every day he is ready to be worshiped. If the majesty of God were truly in our hearts and minds, if our selves were alive to the wonder of the gospel, I doubt it would really matter if Hillsong United were on stage or if it were Brother Bob with his ukelele.

Now. I’d prefer that Brother Bob played his uke like this, but, “it ain’t about me” now is it.

Should worship on occasion be joyous? Of course.

But it also should be mournful. (Read the Psalms, people! David sang the blues. Shouldn’t we? Though we might consider whether to sing this particular verse of the Psalms.)

It should be contemplative. (That word will overly excite a few folk.)

It should lead us to confession.



The “experience of worship” should be God’s.

This post is already too long – and I have many more thoughts. I’ll come back to this in a later post.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

28 responses to Turn Up the Neighbours the Eagles are Listening

  1. Bill… last night I gathered with three young musically gifted seminary-student friends and we discussed this VERY Thing… I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this…and have you listened to this link to ptmin.org ? I think its at 47.40 min he says a few things about music that need to be said loud and often (the whole thing is worth a listen, though)

  2. Steely who? Just kidding…got some Fagen/Becker on my Itunes playin right now…”how about a kiss for your cousin dupree”…oops, too personal for the many red necks that read your blog! :0)

    NOW, serious moment here…great post! great post! great post! did I say that already? Bill, you hit it out of the park on this one!

    Now, where’s my Strat and Martin?

  3. The redemptive interpretation of Psalm 137:9 involves seizing the children of the world and dashing them against the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ, whereby they are broken and saved. I wrote a psonnet about this:

    link to psonnets.org

    Cool, huh?

  4. I’ve done my share of time on worship teams, mostly playing bass. A lot of what you said here really resonates with some of my experiences. It’s hard to change a lot of this stuff, isn’t it. I mean I have utmost respect for worship pastors who have to balance often insane demands of senior pastors, old church ladies, and of course, their musicians. So it’s tough to add one more worship criticism voice. Additionally, you’ll get accused of not appreciating the gifts and talents of the existing worship team and/or you are called elitist.

  5. Amen, Brutha!

  6. If we frame Ps 137 within a setting where we establish that in Revelation Babylon is fallen and make a canonical survey of the significance of Babylon I think that even verse 9 can be sung in a church and not have any problems, but then I may be naively optimistic. The pastor and others would have to establish some context. I am biased because I decided to set the song to music because of the challenge in that particular verse. Understanding the repayment element of the song also helps establish the reason for the closing line in the lament, especially in an exilic context where the psalmist ‘may’ have looked back on Israelite customs of child sacrifice and seen that Babylonian captivity was more than just a literal captivity. But I digress.

  7. when god moves does he take a uhaul?

  8. Bill – very good post. Thank you, bro.

  9. Hi Bill, I think Skye Jethani gets to the heart of the issue with the quote: “representative of so many contemporary Christians, believe that God changes lives through the commodification and consumption of experiences.”

    Commodification and consumption… We have made the gospel into an enterprise. I used to think this was particularly American. But I have come to see that elements of the Canadian church and the Australian church has also followed suit.

  10. …have also followed suit.

  11. Somewhere in Kentucky Michael Spencer is wiping a tear of joy over this post Bill.

    I couldn’t agree more. The really difficult thing about this in my view is that singing to God can be a powerful thing, and congregational singing can be a genuinely transformational thing (my denomination was built on that). But we’ve taken a good, powerful, and (I would say even necessary) thing and bastardized it for the sake of gross profit. Music is a powerful marketing tool.

    That’s like taking good food – not only nutritious and sustaining, but sensually pleasing as well – and converting it into a fast-food franchise. We’re robbed of its sustenance AND its true pleasure, and given a cleverly branded form of addiction instead.

    When food begins to control us rather than feed us to only thing to do is fast.

  12. Oh so close…my blog almost made it as hyperlink on a Bill Kinnon blog post. Wow. Look out Elvis, here I come.

    On serious note, yes, Bill, you need to get Skye’s book. If you were closer, I could lend you my copy. And no, Skye did not pay me to make that endorsement. But, if he does, I will buy you a book.

    Great post, and not just because my name is in it πŸ˜‰

  13. Dang, Elle. I knew I forgot something. Fixed.

  14. Jason, so well said! And speaking of your denom, or is that “movement”, check out my post on Todd Hunter today.

  15. Too true, Sarah. We Canucks and you Ozzies are something the same crap in the church.

  16. Only if they are renting Arks. πŸ™‚

  17. Michael,
    Very interesting.

  18. Dan, speaking of bass players. Did you hear the one about the bass player who locked his keys in the car? Took him an hour to get the drummer out.

    What do you call a guy who likes to hang around musicians? A drummer.

    I think I’m losing it.

  19. Susan, I’ll try and give it a listen, though I confess I’m not a particular fan of Mr. PT. Thanks.

  20. I’m listening to Pretzel Logic, a song I used to love to play. Thanks for the props, Robin. Now go pick up your guitar and play, just like yesterday…

  21. You and Michael (above) need to work together, methinks.

  22. Mike and Rob,
    Thanks for the kind words.

  23. Haha,

    Very good Bill! Here are another couple favs of mine. What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend? Homeless. How do you know a drummer is at your door? The knocking speeds up and gets louder.

  24. my favourite young Calvinist

    Um, thanks?


  25. Hey … my husband’s a drummer. Whatchyu got against drummers πŸ˜‰

  26. My middle child beats the skins relentlessly. Need I say more. πŸ™‚

  27. I’m a lay person who enjoys music on a $30 clock radio that includes a CD player. I couldn’t play an instrument if my life was on the line!

    But I have always loved music. Secular music (singer-songwriter} from the 60’s and 70’s actually had a role in my coming to faith.

    To this day there are secular songs that still impact me deeply. I used to think that statement was treasonous to the faith. Thankfully I can be honest without fear of what others think.

    I love all types of Christian music, dating back to the Jesus movement to the praise and worship of today. I even enjoy Barlow Girl as one of their songs impacted my daughter’s life in a profound way.

    I imagine I enjoy some music that so many seem to despise these days. Yet when I have listened to some of the music they enjoy I can’t make any connection with it. That’s fine with me as if that music is a good thing for them then I’m happy.

    I would think if a believer pours themselves into writing and then performing a song it must be pleasing to God. I would think God looks past the skill and more at the heart of the one who wrote the song.

    So I’m slow to demean any Christian music although there is a lot that isn’t for me.

    I do believe there’s the danger in performing or sharing your music be it in a church service or at a concert. The flesh is always wanting top billing and sadly that reality plays out as worship becomes a performance and we in the pews can be reduced to spectators.

    God has used music to calm my spirit when I have been through some very tough emotional trials in my life. I would be sad to think some would trivialize that music.

    The one thing I had trouble with is when a church would “redeem” the devil’s music by Christianizing the lyrics to songs by the Beach Boys and the Rascals, to name a few. I’d rather have listened to the original songs that were being taken back from the devil!

    I believe this is my first time here. The topic caught my eye. God bless!

  28. Hi …

    I’m several days late, due to the fact that I’ve just started reading posts on PP….but I thoroughly enjoyed and agree with your post..

    The Lord has had to take me behind the woodshed on the music thing….I’m somewhat of a musician, play piano, boards, flute, and write a little…so when we moved to this small BC town and found a wonderful church, my first thought upon hearing the music was, “they need help, and I’m just the guy!” They have an elder playing guitar campfire-style(he just learned about 6 mos ago),and songs out of a 20-yr-old lutheran worship songs book, and then the piano for the hymns…I had just left a church with a band up front, doing the usual worship-fest. I thought for sure they would welcome a few “fresh” ideas and music.

    Something the pastor said to me, (when I started pitching ideas to him), humbled me to my core – he said, “you’ll notice that Rod (guitar player) stands way off to the side….he doesn’t “lead” the worship, so much as let people know when to start singing the song, and when to stop. Everybody here is already focusing on Jesus when they sing – please don’t try to change their focus.”

    Really reminded me what it’s all about….

    thanks for your article!


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