Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Corporate language in worship

While I was at the National Pastors Convention, I had lunch with Mark Labberton, author of the new book The Dangerous Act of Worship. He mentioned that his church (First Presbyterian of Berkeley) had pretty much stopped using individualistic "I," "me" and "my" language in their corporate worship, replacing them with "we," "us" and "our" vocabulary in songs and liturgy. They haven't made a big deal about it; they've just done it. And Labberton said that it has really shaped the character of their congregation, that folks recognize that church is about their corporate identity as the body of Christ, not just the individualistic "Jesus and me" approach so common to American evangelicalism.

We're starting to do this in our own church. Last month for our annual meeting, we sang "Be Thou Our Vision" instead of "Be Thou My Vision." This past week Ellen and I planned and led worship, and while looking at our list of songs, we noticed that many of them were "I" and "my" type songs. This especially jumped out in the song "Lord, Have Mercy," which says "Lord, have mercy on me," which contrasts with the "Lord, have mercy on us" in the liturgy earlier in the service. We opted to keep it but changed it to "us" the last time through the chorus. Likewise, our recessional song was "May the Mind of Christ My Savior," and one of the verses of the original version reads "Looking only unto Jesus as I onward go." This seemed too individualistic an application for a corporate recessional song, so we changed it to "as we onward go," as well as all the other singular references in the song.

Now, I should clarify that we didn't change all individualist language in all of the songs throughout the service - several eucharistic songs were still "I" and "my." There's certainly a place for both, since worship is simultaneously personal and corporate. But if the bias of the evangelical church tends toward to be the individual, then we need to be more intentional about recovering corporate language. After all, we pray, "Our father in heaven," not "My father." And the great creeds of the church say, "We believe," not "I believe." So as we believe and pray, so too can we sing acknowledging our corporate identity as the body of Christ.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts... I have done some of this replacement work in some of the songs at our church as well. It does enhance the body's time together greatly. Thanks for the post!