Worship: Revisiting the Melodies of Our Past


Welcome to the Worship series. After our faith evolution, we now have a complicated relationship with worship music. Join us as we sing three songs (The Heart of Worship, How He Loves, and The Stand) on the worship songs that once filled our hearts and churches. Delve into how our changing theology and feelings have transformed our relationship with these songs. Embark on a musical journey that reflects our faith’s evolution and reexamines the role of worship in our lives.


Shelby: Hi. Welcome to Almost Heretical. I’m Shelby, and Nate is here too, and we’re starting a new series. It’s going to be a really cool one, focusing on the topic of worship.

Nate: Yeah, I’m holding a guitar, so that’s how, you know, a guitar, it’s on my lap. And this feels really natural. I mean, this is part of my story, right? So worship leader for a number of years, I mean, all the way started from when I learned how to play the guitar, which is a crucial instrument in Christian worship, but ancient instrument when I learned how to play the guitar. So this is like junior high for those non American folk. That’s like 1213, something like that. And, yeah, the worship pastor at our church taught me, and from there, it’s just like, okay, next week I’m, like, playing in the junior high group, and then I’m leading the junior high group worship, and then I move up to high school. I’m leading the high school group, and I’m leading all our when we go to retreats and camps and all that kind of stuff. And then our worship leader left the church, took a job at another church, I believe, and suddenly I’m the worship leader pretty much, for the most part, almost every week. So that was sort of writing songs for the church, and that led to eventually doing other camps outside of our church for other groups. And, yeah, I was, like, traveling up and down the West Coast and doing other stuff. I mean, not like a ton, but doing some traveling and some leading different events. And that’s a weird experience, too. It’s one thing when you’re leading for the same group every week, right? It was a church or a youth group or something like that, but when you’re kind of dropped into a situation and you just start, like, hey, lead this group into a time of an impactful, emotion filled worship experience. Like, just do it. It’s like, wow, that tells you people.

Shelby: That you’ve never met and you don’t know how they do this usually, and.

Nate: It tells you how much of this is the environment, the music. They know that song, and we know that song leads us into this certain thing. And it was a really special time. And that led all the way to when I moved to Southern California to be a part of kind of a large megachurch down there in Simi Valley. I’m dropping hints. We share all this stuff on Utterly heretical our second podcast for patrons. If you want to, we share more stories and just kind of tell more about our background and different events and things that happen. But anyways, at that church in Simi Valley, some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. I eventually started leading worship there, too, and that was like a megachurch. That was my first. I remember the feeling of like, oh, cool, I’ve made it as a worship. It’s all so funny now. But there was like tryouts, I guess that’s good. Yeah, but you had to like because there’s so many people that wanted to play at this at this church. So there were tryouts for worship leader, there were tryouts for drummer, tryouts for electric guitar player, tryouts for keys, tryouts for background vocals. There’s trials for the sound. So they were like moving everyone during this audition or these trials, whatever, they were moving everyone. So you would lead and then you would lead with this drummer and this electric guitar player and then it’s like, okay, switch and cycle. And then so there would be like a different one or something like that. But yeah, so I guess I made it. And I was leading at this church.

Shelby: That was your peak.

Nate: That was my peak, yeah, that’s sort of it. And planning the worship sets and emailing the band and getting practice organized for Thursday nights and sending out the chord sheets and transposing. Like if you’ve been involved in the CLI CCLI, the licensing stuff. I feel like that wasn’t as big of a deal back in ninety s and early two thousand s or our church just didn’t comply, or we were just paying that. I think there’s a standard monthly one you can just pay instead of doing itemized or whatever. That’s kind of like taking the itemized thing on taxes versus anyways, so I think we did that, but then, yeah, later on it became like you have to document each song you do and then planning center everyone who knows that tool out there. That became a thing in the mid two thousand s or whatever. And so that changed everything. It’s like, oh jeez, I don’t have to go to the filing cabinet and pull out all the chord charts anymore. Anyway. For anyone who’s been in this world or been a part of a worship team, worship band, it means something. And it’s still like I look back with really fond memories so we’re talking about the topic of worship, and I know you led a lot. And what did you lead kind of?

Shelby: Well, I’m not much of a vocalist, but I am a pianist and also played some guitar. I definitely was on the worship team at church growing up. I think I started probably when I was 13 doing piano or keyboard. I was pretty against the keyboard. I just wanted it to be the regular piano.

Nate: Had to be organ purist. Yeah, okay.

Shelby: But yeah, because I could play the basic four chords. I was the quote unquote worship leader for like a mission strip to Mexico that I did. Even though I literally have very little guitar experience and pretty bad vocals. So if you have the ability, you get put in the spot if you’re willing to say yes, I’m sure there’s a sermon there. The Lord equips who he calls exactly.

Nate: Doesn’t qualify the equipped no, god doesn’t.

Shelby: Call the qualified he qualifies. Something like that. I thought the word equipment.

Nate: That sounds right, though. I know it’s one of those twisty quotes where it goes back. I love those kind.

Shelby: I can’t believe neither of us remember it.

Nate: Someone’s like yelling at their phone right now. Like it’s just email us or Facebook group us in the patreon Facebook group.

Shelby: But anyway, I think it’s interesting that being over 100 episodes into almost heretical, that we haven’t done a series on worship before, just considering how crucial and central this is to most people’s Christian experience. And I think my hypothesis, and you might have a different one, is that maybe one reason is that it’s not as much of an intellectual conversation, usually. Not to say that obviously there’s intellect involved, but it’s a very emotional experience. And while obviously there’s words and theology built into it, there’s something really different about the musical worship experience than most other parts of church or Christian life that we’re used to.

Nate: Yeah. Especially in the Reformed, very doctrine centered world, which I think this show is kind of born out of that as a response to that because that’s where Tim kind of came from. That’s where I came from. That’s where you sort of came from. It was very heady intellectual. You can understand the faith with doctrine and theology and all these kind of things. And so I know for me a lot of times, and I think the churches I’ve been a part of in the past were sometimes accused of probably rightfully so, like not being as focused on the spirit and on the spontaneity of a worship experience embodiment. Yeah. Like these revivals that happened that would have been very foreign to my upbringing, but like, whoa, something weird is going on there because it’s a little too loose. Right. That was my sort of upbringing and what I was teaching in church is.

Shelby: Like, yeah, this episode would probably be pretty different if we had somebody on here who was raised Pentecostal because neither of us were, although we both have also experiences in that.

Nate: It’s just a whirlwind. I remember that being just like this. I was like, what? You guys are Christians? That’s what it felt like. I was like, Whoa, it felt very out of control to me. And do you guys even know any theology? That’s what I remember feeling, yeah, because it was later in my experience, it was in my mid 20s when I got a whiff of Assemblies of God Pentecostalism and it was night and day different than what I was used to. And so, yeah, the worship, I was very used to a worship set of like, hey, we’re going to do the verse and we’re going to do the chorus and we’re going to do the verse, second verse. If there is one chorus maybe twice, hit the bridge and then the chorus twice, and then we’ll be on to the next song and we might even have a transitional chord to play to get us to that next song. If it’s in another key, we’re not even going to stop the music, right. And let someone say something or chant or nothing like that’s going to happen. And then I go to the Pentecostal assembly of God, all that kind of stuff. And the worship set is who knows how long we might have sang that chorus 20 times, I don’t know. And it felt very like, whoa, okay. And I was kind of thrust into leading into that too, leading worship. And so kind of have to mimic and maybe this is a theme too, in worship. It’s like, it kind of mimicked what I saw someone doing in that group to fit in kind of with that group. That’s from a leader perspective but I think from a congregational perspective very much like I remember even in that oh, that reminds me. Even in that pentecostal environment. We would have this weekly worship service, I think it was on Monday nights or Tuesday nights or something like that. And we would ask all the heavy worshippers and by that we mean people that were like raising their hands and jumping up and down and clapping and that kind of stuff to be up towards the front. Because that sets the theme and the tone for the whole group because you tend to follow what you see. Right. And it kind of worked like it creates this environment in this atmosphere. And I think yeah. What’s the goal with the environment and the atmosphere? To get you to feel something, to then get you to do something, right?

Shelby: Yeah. Well, if we really want to start with the basics here, and I think where I do want to start is, first of all, just defining worship. I mean, I’m all about linguistics and this one is a particularly important word and I think we’ll end up acknowledging that we are using it in a specific way that maybe it could mean more.

Nate: I always grew up and I remember the sermon of the difference between worship and praise. Right. So praise is like the arrow out you’re telling others about and how great God is, and then worship is like you’re telling God how great God is.

Shelby: No, I never really heard that arrow. It was just like a singular unit. Praise and worship to me, which is telling, I think, in my mind, and probably in most people’s minds, praise and worship are kind of the same thing. I mean, I guess if you grew up in your kind of church, they’re not. But worship was largely praising God in the sense that it was very little lament. And I mean, that’s pretty interesting because if we go into worship, what is worship? There’s so many different obviously musical worship is kind of mostly what we’re talking about because that’s mostly what even though we might have been taught that worship can be all sorts of things. Like, it can be prayer, it can be meditation, it can be admiring creation, it can be serving others. Like anything is worshipping God because worship is some kind of act of, wow, I feel like a failure that I can’t even define worship. What would you define it as?

Nate: Well, I almost gave the baptism definition. Outward expression of an inward reality.

Shelby: It’s pretty good, though.

Nate: It’s an expression of your love for God.

Shelby: Adoration.

Nate: I would put the word emotional in there, too. It’s an emotional response to your love for God.

Shelby: And I think for me, it was very much this adoration praise. Like, if worship is about kind of giving God what he deserves and what he’s worth, which was very much when you go back and look at the history of worship and you think about the Old Testament, obviously the psalms are kind of the center of where the foundation of worship music or worship songs come from. And there’s been kind of a resurgence of talking about this, I think, even among the evangelical Christian world. But I think two thirds of the psalms are laments. And when I saw that statistic, I obviously had to go look up approximately how much of modern worship music is lament. And the first kind of result I saw was saying that out of the top 100 CCLI, I think it was of 2020, there was one song that could be categorized lament. So we’re talking 1%.

Nate: So that’s not blessed be your name. That’s a pretty happy lament song.

Shelby: Yeah. I don’t know if that would be classified as lament, but that’s probably I.

Nate: Feel like lament songs need to be in like three, four or like six, eight or something like that.

Shelby: Yeah, interesting. And then as far as, like, worship in the early church, we don’t have a lot of songs. There are a couple of what scholars would call kind of Christological songs in, I think, Colossians and Philippians. These sort of poet. Even in most of our Bibles, they’re printed a little differently, indented differently to look sort of poetic. And so scholars think those could be early Christian songs. And I mean, it’s actually interesting. A historian from, I believe, the second century, a Roman historian named Pliny wrote he actually was writing against Christians, but in his writing was describing them and said that they are accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsibly a hymn to Christ as to a god. So it seems like, oh, wow, singing is like pretty. That’s his description of who these people are. Although scholars also say that the word sing there, which is originally in I can’t remember if it was Greek or Latin, could also probably be translated chant. So it’s one of those meanings. I don’t think it’s too crucial. And then, I mean, we all have heard probably in Ephesians and then also Colossians, they’re very similar verses. They’re very in a very similar place in these letters. The letters are very similar structurally as Paul’s writing to the Church of Ephesus and the Church of Colosse and similar letters. And he writes, let’s see, the Ephesians, one says, do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the kind of parallel verse in Colossians says, let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. It’s kind of interesting as I was looking up those verses, kind of reminding myself of them, they’re both, like I said, placed very structurally similar spots. And it just so happens that the next piece that Paul kind of goes into is Wives Submit to Your Husbands. It’s just like a quick transition from kind of congregational church stuff to familial directions that we’ve talked about plenty.

Nate: Yeah, it’s interesting. You said the thing about you shall gather was it the word gather in there or something?

Shelby: Accustomed to meet.

Nate: Meet. So the idea is that there’s others coming together, right? Which is interesting because generally you don’t think of a worship experience being a solo experience. Right. That’s a quiet time or that’s some sort of a Bible not Bible study in the sense of with other people, but you’re getting the word out and you’re going to get into the word or you’re like doing your quiet time and devotions and that kind of thing. Prayer, these can be both communal and individual, whereas worship. We pretty much only think of that as a communal experience.

Shelby: Although that’s probably changed drastically because of our ability to now record and play music. Like anybody can play worship music while they’re in their kitchen making dinner. Now, that’s true. But I mean, 100 years ago, that probably happened a lot less, like worship probably was a much more when we’re in a group of people kind of experience.

Nate: Oh, it’s it’s that. And I think it’s also the recording technology. So the fact that we can now record a live concert experience, which is what most worship songs are now, even the original release of a worship song, it used to be like a Matt Redmond album where he just went to a studio and recorded those. Or I’m trying to think of other older even than that, but they go to a studio and record. Right. And now most of what comes out, and most of it is coming out of hillsong. But even the Chris Tomlins and the Matt Redmonds, it’s usually live stuff that you’re hearing. And so when you’re in your kitchen, you’re connecting still to a communal. The reason why you feel it so deep is, I think generally because you’re hearing all the voice when the lead singer cuts out and it goes to the bridge and everyone’s singing, it feel.

Shelby: Like you’re part of this army.

Nate: You can picture, you can see. Or they just go on YouTube and you’re like watching and singing along with 10,000, 20,000 people in some arena somewhere. And that’s what I was going to say. I guess it’s like after Deconstruction and I guess I’ve been doing one or two concerts since Deconstruction, but I’m just picturing like a Coldplay concert. I watch those on YouTube sometimes and you see this pretty epic I mean, these are like football, American football or soccer, proper football stadiums where you’re talking like 100,000 or more people in this one place, this one facility together. And some of the same kind of things you see happen in church that you think are just church things. It’s really fascinating. But they happen in those environments as well. What do you see? You see people close their eyes because there’s something that washes over you in that moment when you’re a part of something bigger than yourself and you feel small and you feel like whether I sing or not, my voice is completely drowned out in this sea of people. Right. You see people raise their hands.

Shelby: Yeah.

Nate: And you see people raise their hands and close their eyes. You see people, like, for sure, dancing. Dancing, right. Like running around. You just see all these types of things happen, jumping up and down, crying, clapping, screaming, chanting, like in excitement, just overcome with this thing. It’s interesting that those are very similar experiences. It makes you wonder if the common denominator here is the music and the gathering of people doing that together with a large group of people. I used to imagine like, that’s what heaven’s like, right? You’re going to be in this large sea of many people as you can think of in this large group together, just drowned out in the in the voices. And then I’m like, that’s a Coldplay concert, right? That’s an Ed Sheeran concert. You do see those types of things. And it’s not just in the church. I’m not trying to diminish that experience in the church necessarily. I’m just saying it’s not exclusive to that. I think it’s a musical experience. It’s a communal musical experience where you see these things happen.

Shelby: Yeah. And as we talk about, for most of the rest of this episode, kind of worship maybe through the lens of our experience having deconstructed. And I guess I kind of want to start by just acknowledging that we’re not out here to say that worship is somehow all problematic. Like there will be some problematic things that we maybe experienced or some theology within worship, but the practice of music and embodiment and like you were talking about, just like this, is there’s no doubt that communal worship, whether it’s of a Christian worship or any other religion or even people just all for a certain cause or, like you said, being part of something bigger than themselves. There’s no question that that is an incredibly important and impactful experience. And so just to lay the foundation that we’re not going to come in here and be like it’s all a sham and no, if anything, it might be. I think for a lot of us, I’d say this is true for me. I don’t know if it’s true for you, but in my experience growing up, I’d say I was a pretty I was very conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, all that stuff. And in a lot of ways, looking back, very disembodied and a lot of purity culture and your body is bad or dangerous and your spirit is what’s truly valuable and whether those things were said directly or not. So when I look back on it, most of my faith was a very mental process and so worship probably was one of the most important ways that I actually connected with my body without necessarily realizing it. Although I was always very uncomfortable in a lot of the physical expressions.

Nate: Me too.

Shelby: Yeah.

Nate: I wasn’t a very good Christian.

Shelby: Yeah. And I remember standing so I grew up in a small church in a small town, but then when I was old enough to drive, I went to the Hip Church in Portland, still the Hip Church in Portland if you ever show up. And it was a lot more I don’t know, I mean, it’s not pentecostal, but a lot more outwardly expressive than I was. And I felt yeah, like you mentioned before, very much like I needed to match what I was seeing here, not because I was trying to fit in, but because I just assumed that these people have a better they’re connecting with God better than I am. And maybe I need to talk to a therapist about this. I don’t know. But I would try and hold open my hands. Just start with the real bottom line.

Nate: Basic you’re talking elbows glued.

Shelby: Oh, yeah. Elbows still glued, but at least I’m trying to open my hands.

Nate: If you can’t see her, the forearm is now 90 degrees out. Okay.

Shelby: Yeah. It’s like I’m holding a platter, essentially platter pose. But it was more distracting to me than helpful. And for some people, I’m sure that’s not the case. I know this is just everyone’s different sort of a thing, but for me, I genuinely was just trying so hard to, like, maybe if I can just everyone up front would say, your posture is going to that invites God in a certain way, and there’s probably some truth to the way you posture. Your body allows is connected to your mind in a certain way. But I just was trying so hard, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing it more to prove to myself or to prove to the people next to me than anything that was actually related to God. So I want to kind of talk about our experiences. Obviously, we’ve been talking about this, and as we go into this, nate, maybe grab your guitar. If any of songs come to mind.

Nate: Of like, oh, that was the other thing. That was never me. I was never that leader. And then as the spirit leads, just play the song that comes to your I was like, I needed to have my printed worship set. I knew guys like that, and they’re wonderful. It’s just like, wow, that was a perfect song. Good job. And the other thing we will probably play some songs here going forward, and I realize for a lot of people, we hear from you in the zoom calls we do every month for patrons of the show or the private Facebook group that we have for patrons, we hear from you. And sometimes things like this, like hearing a worship song, even, is still too triggering for some of you, and it brings you back to a certain experience that was not positive. And I would just say, yeah, maybe just hit that little 32nd skip button a couple of times and zoom past the song, if that is you. And I also think that is telling right. That this specifically even just hearing a song, right, can songs have the power to instantly zap you back to a specific time and place, and you can smell the same smells and feel the same feelings you were feeling at that time, whether it’s a Christian song or not? I know. I’ll hear a song, I’m like, whoa, okay, I’m not ready for that. The song is not emotional at all, but it just brings you right back to that season of life. Or that time and worship songs specifically when they’re designed to be an emotional experience, to draw out an emotional response from you. I think they have the power to do that even more. So I understand if you need to skip. And for some of you, you might be in a place in your faith evolution where you’re like, I can hear them and I can smile and I can be like, yeah, I remember that one. Or sing along, even, and be like, yeah, I remember that. And those were good times. I’m in a different place now. Not saying you never worship. I’m not saying you never sing them. I don’t know. But I’m in a different place, and that’s okay. I think that’s largely where Shelby and I are, is we do get the guitar and out, and she’s on the piano at night sometimes, and we just jam out to some worship songs or just even Christian music songs, which that’s a pet peeve of mine, people getting those mixed.

Shelby: Yeah. They’re not the same thing.

Nate: They’re not the same. We ask people, give us some names of people you want to hear us interview, like worship leaders, specifically you want to hear us interview. And all we get back is, like, recording artists, like Christian recording artists. I’m like, that’s not what that means. Sorry.

Shelby: Maybe that’s just some of them overlap.

Nate: But some very rarely.

Shelby: I mean, Matt Redmond would probably be.

Nate: Like an overlap there maybe largely in the past, I would say more so.

Shelby: And when I when I think of Matt Redmond, of course, I can only think of Heart of Worship, and that feels like maybe an appropriate song to bring in here. And I think anytime I had to make my own little worship set, I would probably quite often would throw this one in here because it just yeah, I mean, it did it well. I’m interested to hear it again right now and hear what? If I still feel similarly. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

Nate: I still remember the the two chord vamp that you do when someone’s talking.

Nate: When the music fades when the music fades all is stripped away and I simply come longing just to bring something that’s a word that will bless your heart I’ll bring you more than a song for a song in itself is not where you quiet you search much deeper within through the way things appear you’re looking into my heart I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you it’s all about you jesus I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I made it when it’s on by you it’s all by you jesus.

Shelby: I don’t know. I have a lot of thoughts. First of all, I just want to note that I, of course, went into the harmony in the chorus because I’m so used to that, because. And we’ve, I think, talked about this on Utterly Heretical before. Most of these songs just seem to be written in male keys and the women have usually a hard time singing them. And so I learned to harmonize pretty well.

Nate: We did talk about that on the last worship episode we did on Utterly Heretical. So once a month, I would say, or maybe once every couple of months, we do a worship episode on Utterly Heretical where we play three songs and we kind of just analyze them, think about them, talk about them, reflect on them, reflect on them, but we sing them. And so if you like that kind of stuff, we got a lot of good reviews, the last one we did, and we talked about above all on There, which maybe we should cover that in a little bit here. But anyways, you can go check that out on Almost Heretical.com. But yeah, the harmony thing, they’re always, almost always done in male keys. I feel like I remember some church it wasn’t my church, but it was some other church I went to. I think it was an Orthodox Presbyterian church. And there was like a teaching done on the male key and how it should be in this key so that the men can sing the song. And it was pretty bad. Yeah, but I think some churches wouldn’t say that, but they still end up doing it in a male key because generally it’s a male lead because only men can lead for the most part.

Shelby: Although women were, I think, allowed to be worship leaders before they’re allowed to be other leaders. I mean, other than, obviously, children’s ministry. That was never a question.

Nate: Right. I don’t know why that is. Why do you think that is?

Shelby: Some churches are just desperate, I don’t know.

Nate: Or maybe realize how amazing their voices are.

Shelby: I think maybe some churches don’t see worship leaders as teaching. And so if you’re saying that women can’t teach well, they can still sing.

Nate: That is interesting, because a lot of the complementarian churches I know have, I would say over this is, again, the argument of churches follows culture. Like a lot of the complementarian churches I know it was a big deal if a woman ever led maybe 2030 years ago, but now it’s like not a thing at all. And they can’t teach, can’t be elders, but they can lead the music. But that’s been a change, right? So this is what I always say on this show, that the church is just like the culture, but 50 years later, and I think that’s one of those. So in 50 years they’ll be teaching and it won’t be an issue, but hope so. I think it will be. I mean, that will happen.

Shelby: But then also, singing that song was in a lot of ways, I do still like this song, I think part of what I like, and now having done more study of the Hebrew Bible, there was the line about, I’ll bring you more than a song for a song in itself is not what you have required. All right.

Nate: Flood of justice.

Shelby: Yeah. I think it probably comes from a specific line, but just it really rings of all the prophets of like, God. I mean, there’s a passage, Isaiah 41 or something. I think there’s also Amos yeah. Where God’s like, I hate your religious feast.

Nate: That’s Amos, I think.

Shelby: Yeah. So that reminded me of that. And I mean, I love those passages in the prophets because it just feels so much like, yeah, this is what religion is supposed to be truly about, is justice, which that’s what it’s interesting is, because in the song, that’s not where it went necessarily. Song in itself is not what you have required. You search much deeper within through the way things appear. You’re looking into my heart and then the rest of the song is about it’s about me worshipping God, but that’s not where the prophets went with it. It’s supposed to be about doing justice for the poor, mainly.

Nate: Yeah. Here’s Amos 521 through 24. I hate, I despise your religious festivals. Your assemblies are stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring me choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs, I will not listen to the music of your harps, but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream.

Shelby: And that is why I don’t give up on the Bible, I think, is passages like that are to me just stunning. And that’s the kind of religion I want to be part of.

Nate: The message is I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions, your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. The message, I love it. Yeah. I heard a lot of sermons on this because in the Francis Chan, David Platt crazy, love, radical form of Christianity that I was a part of, this type of passage was everything. It was look at the churches out there that they think they’re following God and they think they’re worshipping Him. They think they’re bringing him what God wants, and they’re not. And what God really wants is this like, yeah, maybe you’re singing or whatever, but that’s not it. What it is, is justice and like, taking care of the poor and and I still that to me is still I’m still like yeah, I think that is a much more beautiful form of Christianity to me. That that’s not really what changed for me. Not to get, like, way down a bunny trail, but it’s just the belief in certain ideas and theologies and doctrines and that type of stuff, that’s what changed to me. And some of the ways those limit, whether it’s the acceptance of certain people or the damnation of certain people, that’s what changed. Not do I hope that your religion and the religion that I claim of Christianity do I hope that that is one of where justice rains down and flows like a river, righteousness like a never failing? Yes, of course. That’s wonderful. And that’s a much more beautiful world to live in.

Shelby: I feel like I could almost track my own personal, my own Christian journey through the songs. I mean, sure, if you start really early on, I remember if we go way back, Sunday school, I remember singing, pharaoh, pharaoh, oh, baby, let my people go. And I remember feeling weird about it because we say I mean, there’s that little verse about like, in all of Pharaoh’s army, did the dead man’s float? And then you, like, pretend to sink under the sea. And I was like this feels I was a very sensitive kid. I mean, just as a basic, very unrelated example of how sensitive of a kid I was, I was in a little ballet studio performance of Mulan. I think I was probably five. And I was the short, stubby little army guy who, if you’ve seen Mulan, he has a name. I can’t remember what it is. It’s like Poe or something like that. And my one line to Mulan was, I ought to give you a knuckle sandwich. And I sobbed because I could not do it because I liked the girl who was playing Mulan. And I just was like, I cannot. So they gave the line to someone else. I had no line. So anyway, sensitive kids. So singing about all of Pharaoh’s army drowning. I don’t know that I said anything. I don’t know that it was even really conscious, but I felt uncomfortable that we’re singing triumphantly about that.

Nate: Yeah, that’s probably a good thing. And I wish something that more people and Christians would have that kind of inner compass on.

Shelby: Yeah. And then when I think about other the things that formed me, shaped me, the music that shaped me growing up. I am a firm believer in songs as a way of learning things. You can memorize anything when it’s a song and we listen to I think it was called, like, Seeds of Faith or Seeds of Truth or like a bunch of different albums that were just verses put to music. And I’m still grateful because I’m glad I have a lot of scripture memorized, partially just so I can use my brain as little Concordance. But then also a lot of these are really beautiful scriptures, beautiful wisdom, tradition. But then I feel like when I first thought, what are the moments in the songs that most shaped me? The first one that came to mind was from the 2008 Do Hard Things conference, which is funny because we’ve since realized that both you and I were there, but we didn’t know each other at that point. But it was so Dohard things. It was called this Teenage rebellion against low expectations. So it’s this massive megachurch full of teenagers who are being it’s this like weekend conference being taught about how, like, you can do more, you can do.

Nate: Our friends put on?

Shelby: Yeah. By Alex and Brett Harris. And the song that at least stood out to me, I feel like we sang over and over and over again, which I could be totally wrong, but this is my memory is the stand with the chorus, like I’ll stand with arms high and you want to just play it. It’s the stand, which is if you want to pull it, it’s a tough one because the verses in the chorus are so disjointed. I always had a hard time remembering how to get from one to the other, but the chorus, I just remember singing over and over again and feeling incredibly convicted, which now that I say that, I feel like that’s a pretty key word for worship, at least in my experience, was feeling convicted. This chorus, I guess maybe we’re going to sing it.

Shelby: No resolution, so you just repeat it as many times as you want. I think that was the altar call song and the altar call was a crucial part of the Do Our Things conference as well. And that song came back multiple times over the next decade just as a very convicting song for me, I guess the All I Am is Yours idea. So I don’t know, that one felt.

Nate: Kind of this I’ll stand even if no one else is standing kind of an idea.

Shelby: And then it had that like, arms high and hard abandoned, which I just talked about, how that was not really me. It took a lot of effort just to so for me, the fact that I couldn’t really raise my hands, I don’t know if I even finished saying that it was physically difficult for me to open my hands. And that’s the part that I said maybe I need to talk to a therapist about. But it made me feel like if I can’t just raise my hands and totally abandon myself, then I’m not fully giving myself to God. So it’s just crazy how those connections get made because it’s in thin musical form, so it’s easily memorized, which means it’s easily ingrained or embedded in our psyche, which most of us aspire for scripture to be that. But probably we have way more worship songs memorized than we actually have scripture. So it’s kind of interesting.

Nate: Yeah. And I think just think about this too. My brain is going back to all the letters you all have sent in via email and in the Facebook group and stuff like that, but just of this idea of manipulation within the church that some of you feel. And this wasn’t my experience at all, but I think there’s, like, an emotional manipulation that could happen, even unintentionally, even with the best of motives, through worship. And we talk about a church maybe being a breeding ground for different types of abuse. And we see that, right? We see these stories and it’s like, why does that happen? Well, you have this man of God kind of figure, right, that can do no wrong and is hearing from the Lord, goes up on the mountain during the week and they’re studying and they’re hearing from God, and then they come and deliver that to the congregation. Right? So there’s already that aspect of how dare you question the man of God. And so there’s this trust right there, right? I’m not saying these are all horrible people. I’m saying that could potentially be an unhealthy type of relationship, having this person that is so much higher and more significant and important than everyone else. I’m not even talking celebrity culture. This happens in congregations of 100 and fewer people, too. But then you add on top of that the mood that is set in a building that we’re all gathered in before, we hear usually from this man of God, and it’s largely created by this worship experience, this musical experience. There’s the synth sound that kind of plays behind all the music because you don’t want the song to just completely drown out or die out. You don’t want the song to completely just die out when it’s over, you need that kind of back behind. Right. And that kind of keeps you in that mood. I’m not saying these are all like bad things necessarily.

Shelby: They’re just acknowledged that they are strategies and techniques.

Nate: Right.

Shelby: Speaking of strategies, I mean, if we’re talking, like your analogy of a Coldplay concert, we wouldn’t have any qualms about acknowledging that. Yeah, we’re absolutely out to manipulate emotions. Not in a menacing way, but just they are trying to get people to have the most incredible emotional experience. And there are ways to do that using music.

Nate: Right. And we know that there’s meetings about that, right. And it’s all on the table. And we know that’s happening when we go to those things. If you’re smart and you’re kind of open your eyes and look around, we know that the light up bracelets, that’s to create some effect in the audience that we couldn’t get otherwise. We know that fog machine is to create this experience of clouds or some sort of I don’t know, I don’t even know what it does, but it does something. Right? And the lights and the fireworks and the pyrotechnics that happen different.

Shelby: I bet the fog makes you feel like ethereal, like you’re in a different world, kind of.

Nate: Sure, yeah. Because it’s not how things normally look.

Nate: We’re not usually looking through this kind of haze to see something. It looks a little more magical or something when you see that. So we know that in those settings, but I just think it needs to be acknowledged. Right. I still remember you talked about how this was all kind of structured and how it’s put together. And I was thinking about I don’t know if it bugged me or I was like, this is just weird. This was weird for me the entire time, long before faith evolution or anything like that. I guess our faith is always evolving, but okay, anyways, but was the idea of when I was structuring a service, it was like, okay, and then after your three songs, like, you pray there and that’ll basically you’re praying someone on the stage or you’re praying someone off the stage. I’ve seen the Memes now where it’s like music. You sent me one the other day.

Shelby: It was a bunch of gorillas that were like walking I don’t know what.

Nate: They were really like gingerly, really gingerly.

Shelby: Coming around the corner and making their way to the front of the zoo or something. But it was like the worship team or the worship team when the pastor’s praying the closing prayer.

Nate: I mean, there was all of us as kids peeking your eye open and being like, that’s how they get out there. But using prayer, which is supposed to be this act of talking to a living God, the Almighty being and you’re using it to get people on and off of a stage. And I remember thinking like and we’d even say things like and maybe a little bit of a longer prayer there because this is going to be a little more of a transition, this one, because we need to get the whole kids choir up on the stage, you know what I mean? So we’re like, okay, I guess I’ll talk to the Almighty God for 30 more seconds or so. It’s a very strange thing when you’re a part of kind of the behind the scenes of putting together one of these things. It’s very different than the experience of someone out in the congregation. And it kind of is like, I guess, seen behind the curtain a little bit. For those of you out there who helped create those experiences, it kind of changes things forever. I think. I’m always thinking about the structure of it when I experience one now of the production and the structure of it and all that kind of stuff. So all that to say, those little things. And there’s a lot of those types of things that go on not just praying someone on a stage, but there’s more stuff like that that you realize just how programmatic it really is. And it sounds like we’re like tearing this apart or something. I think these are things that are not usually acknowledged and I just want a chance to acknowledge them because your listener of this show, most likely you have a complicated relationship with a lot of these things. And so this is where we can freely talk about stuff and it’s okay to do that.

Shelby: I feel like I do want to acknowledge really quickly too, that we’re very much talking about this in a Western 21st century context, pretty North American, that this is not the only way worship is done and maybe not how it’s even historically mostly been done. And what’s coming to mind for me is this really crazy experience I had. I used to teach in China, I guess I was a missionary, but I didn’t use that word. And I still kind of get a little bit scared when I use that word because I’m used to the Chinese government listening to me all the time. But I was out in this little tiny village. I mean, I won’t say where it is. Also, I really don’t know where it was. I really don’t know where I was. And with a bunch of staying with this family who did not speak English, turns out I spoke some Mandarin, but I found out a couple of days in that they didn’t even speak Mandarin. It was like a dialect of Mandarin. So this is why communication has been so hard. But they were Christians and so we had a Bible and we would kind of point out passages that we both knew. And I was like, how we communicated. And they asked if I wanted to come to church with them, which I had no idea what to expect, so I said yes, which meant we left basically when it was dark. And I mean, it sounds like one of these crazy Christian missionary stories, but this really happened. And we walked down the street until we saw someone they knew who was in a big white van. And we jumped into the van and they look around. If the coast is clear, they went. And then we drove for probably 20 minutes. And every once in a while we’d pull over and pick up somebody on the side of the road who was waiting for the van. And it was like nobody was talking. And then we drove up this mountain and unload climb further up the mountain into literally this cave. So I’m like, okay, this is called the underground church. We’re literally underground in this tiny, tiny cave with these tiny, tiny ventures that you can see. They set up like every week. This was probably starting at eight or 09:00 p.m.. And went all night. Like we didn’t get home until the sun was rising. And I don’t think there was a single instrument there, but there was a guy who was kind of the leader, but he wasn’t like the pastor or anything. I don’t know that he taught more than anyone else, so there was a bit of sharing time, but it was mostly just singing, like they were singing and dancing these dances that they clearly danced probably every week. Everyone knew how they went and everything. Like there’s motions involved. And I was basically like square dancing, but Chinese Christian version. And I was so completely out of my element because to me, worship was a very it’s funny how we talked about how it’s very communal but it’s also very solitary in the communal experience for us. Like, you’re all in a big room together but you experience it by yourself. You don’t really interact with the people next to you. Like it’s supposed to be just you and God even though you do it everywhere.

Nate: That’s interesting.

Shelby: Yeah. Whereas with them, it was almost felt more about the people in the room than about God. And they asked me if I would like to come share a song from America. And in my absolute panic because I do not sing in front of people, I picked All Glory Be to Christ, which I don’t think has ever been a very popular song but it was popular among my friend group at the time. I don’t know if you even know it. It’s to the tune of Aldling Zein, I think.

Nate: Yeah, someone wrote it. I mean, I’ve heard it, I think.

Shelby: But, I mean, they’re all singing, dancing, clapping. These are the most high energy songs you’ve ever heard. They’re just going wild, loving it. And then they ask me to come and I stand up and I’m like, should nothing of our effort stand? Obviously, they have no idea what I’m saying, which is fine, but it’s like a dirge, basically. And they’re just, like, looking at me wide eyed, trying to be encouraging, and I finish and they’re all like, Whoo. And then they just go back to their super high energy clapping and it was incredibly embarrassing. Anyway, that was a long story. Just to acknowledge the type of worship we’re talking about does not encapsulate all worship. And, yeah, we’re talking about the type that we grew up with which for the most part, probably people listening to the show also grew up with which was a very instrumental orchestrated, planned Sunday morning church service kind of experience.

Nate: Yeah.

Shelby: Another song that I think of I was thinking of earlier that I think was very shaping for me and also gets that I think a significant part of worship for me and I don’t know if it was for you is How He Loves. And of course, it was a little controversial, edgy song because it had the line of, like, is it Sloppy Wet Kiss or unforeseen kiss? I mean, it was obviously written sloppy wet Kiss.

Nate: But if you were John Mark McMillan.

Shelby: John Mark McMillan. I knew it.

Nate: Made popular by David Crowder.

Shelby: I’d say yes. There you go. And the chorus like I just remember singing the chorus over and over and over again.

Nate: And I think that’s the difference. I think John Mark McMillan did sloppy wet and David Crowder did unforeseen. I think that’s why there’s the I.

Shelby: Feel like they probably both did Sloppy Wet. And then it was churches who they’re like, we cannot sing about Sloppy Wet Kiss with a bunch of, like, 70 and 80 year olds who are wondering why we’re not singing a hymn right now, they will leave the church. That’s not even funny because my childhood church really did split over worship.

Nate: Oh, I think a lot of people left churches over.

Nate: He loves us. Oh, how he loves us. Oh, how he loves us. Oh, how he love. Yeah, he loves us. Oh, how he love. Oh, how he loves us. Oh, how he love.

Shelby: I was thinking about how that song. You know, in one sense, it’s like the purest message. And probably, you know, the first thing you teach to children is Jesus loves you. God loves you. Like, I mean, how does it get better than that? And I think, looking back, I probably would have assumed that was a really high point, taking in that song and feeling the emotions of it. But when I really reflect on, I feel like what I was feeling wasn’t how much I’m loved. It was how much I’m loved when I don’t deserve it. And I feel like that’s also the message of Amazing Grace saved a wretch like me and just I feel like I can remember standing in chapel at my university singing a lot of worship songs, working to understand, wow, can you believe? How could God possibly love me? And how I didn’t personally really feel that. And I worked to feel less worthy because I wanted to be impacted more by how much God loved me. I look around at the people who are hands raised or crying because they’re just overwhelmed by how much God loves them. And I don’t think I naturally felt that. And so in order to naturally try to feel overwhelmed by God’s love, I needed to feel less worthy of it. So now, looking back, I’m like, I don’t know if that’s healthy. I think it’s probably not healthy. We should be raising people who are not at all surprised that God would love them, who feel like people who are worthy of love.

Nate: Yeah, this comes back to, like, original sin as far as all of Western Christianity, but or Protestantism, but then, you know, it’s in specifically Reformed circles. It’s the total depravity and there’s nothing good in you. And they think they draw on the filthy rag stuff from Paul and that kind of thing. But, yeah, it’s really damaging. And I would not say the main thrust of most of the scriptures that you read, but it’s helpful to get someone to action. I’m not saying that’s why everyone does it. I’m saying it does get people to action, move them to action. But it’s really damaging. I mean, a lot of therapy sessions start because of these types of ideas and beliefs that people grew up with about God. That’s the two chasm, or the chasm between the two cliffs. Example of there’s human on this side, there’s God on this side. And you are separated from God. This is how most people are introduced to this being in the west is that God is distant from you. There’s a broken relationship and there’s something wrong. And it’s not on God’s side. It’s you. You’re the thing that’s wrong. And don’t worry, it was from before you were born. So it’s always supposed to make you.

Shelby: Feel good about it.

Nate: Yeah, it’s always supposed to make you feel a little bit better. Like, this is just a problem that before anyways, not to get on. We’ve done that. Covered that topic a lot on this series. Go back to, like, Maka Nagasawa back in, I don’t know, episode 1020, something like that. Talking about a different type of more of, like, medical atonement which I think is a little bit more of a beautiful way to think about it as far as, like, healing and for the purpose of restoring and not the kind of atonement that we’ve talked of. The very penal type of atonement.

Shelby: Well, I think that wraps up my journey of through my music. You played three or four songs, but I’m curious, when you look back on yours if there’s any songs that stand out as formative.

Nate: Oh, probably. Hold on, I’ll pause for a SEC. Yeah, I mean, that’s a good question. I feel like I’m having a hard time thinking of them. Probably because from a very young age I was a part of creating the experience for other people. As the worship.

Shelby: You were the leader.

Nate: Yeah. So I was constantly thinking about so as I’m leading, I’m not so much and maybe this is other worship leaders were able to do this better than I was. But I wasn’t so much thinking about losing myself in the song. I was thinking about getting everyone else getting everyone else there and creating that experience for them. And the next song I got coming up and are the slides working? And all that kind of stuff. I started back in the Transparents. You had to print out your Transparents to put on the overhead projector, not to age myself. And then as a kid, I remember the slide projector with the actual slides that you dropped in and they press the button and it turns the thing on the top mechanically and drops the next slide in. And I never had to create those, but, yeah, I was right in the next with the overhead projector thing. But then, yeah, the slides and make sure everything’s working there because if there’s an issue, then I want to get it corrected. For the second service, I’m just very much my background is in radio and stage production and stuff like that. And so very much like the order of events and production and all that kind of stuff and keeping it. So, like, as far as thinking of a song that kind of was that significant special thing. It’s difficult.

Shelby: Do you feel like Worship was an emotional experience for you?

Nate: I mean, music is. A very yeah, it’s an emotional experience for me, but I’m not a very expressive outward person, so I think a lot of it was still largely in my head. It was very cerebral for me. But I guess there was a version of Old Rugged Cross by Chris Rice, which now that’s a complicated thing, too, with all the stories out about Chris Rice and his sexual assault and how that was going on for a long time and probably during the years of a lot of these albums and things like that, which is super sad and super wrong and seems like that just happens too much. Too much. And over and over again. But that song, just the song in general, the old Rugby Cross. But I just I just happened to listen to that version a lot. So that’s one just the because anything, anything connected with, like, eternity and like, when we reach the finish line and that moment and laying our crowns down and getting our reward of entering the kingdom with God and all that kind of, like all that kind of stuff was very kind of just riled me up a lot. That song was riled me up in a good way.

Shelby: Did you sing Cornerstone, like Christ Alone? That was later, but it has that I don’t know what you’re saying. Reminded me of that verse. When he shall come with trumpet sound.

Nate: Oh, may I then in Him oh, yeah. What him is that?

Shelby: It’s from crisis. Solid rock. I stand right.

Nate: Crisis. Solid rock.

Shelby: Yeah. What’s the opposite of dating yourself? I just, like, youngified myself by doing the new version before the old one.

Nate: I mean, that wasn’t like, in Deconstruction yet, but that was just a few years away from that starting I was leading a little bit at that time, but I wasn’t leading a whole ton when those kind of songs were coming out. But yeah, like stuff like that, that I know there were others, but that old work across.

Shelby: Okay, now I got to redeem myself. It’s When He shall Come with trumpet sound over may I then in him be found. There we go. That’s the traditional version.

Nate: Or like that one verse in Christ Alone, or the one verse in how great Thou art, like when he shall come.

Shelby: For some reason what joy shall.

Nate: Fill my yeah, like those type of things. Or what’s? The in Christ alone one.

Shelby: I got to blow through all the verses in my head to get to the last one there in the ground. Wait, that’s not even no. No guilt in life, no fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me. From lies first cry till final.

Nate: Yeah, you think about, like, final breath or the finish line or laying down your cross at the end and all those were really that song in Christ.

Shelby: Alone, that was a big one for me. Just beautiful. Like, these songs are beautiful. Even though sometimes really problematic. Anyway, sorry.

Nate: Keep yeah, so I think one thing I think we didn’t talk about a lot on here is problematic theology in songs. And we get into that a lot on Utterly Heretical, where we talk through worship songs. I mean, that’s primarily what we’re doing. We’re talking about the good and the bad, and a lot of it is things that we see differently now in some of these songs. So if you really enjoy that, this was a little bit of a different conversation, but if you enjoy that type of thing, I would really encourage you to go get the second podcast. You can go to Almost Heretical.com and just click to get those extra episodes under Episodes at the top. Go to Utterly Heretical, and you can get all that stuff because we find it helpful to really talk through that. And it helps us process I think it helps others process these songs that were really meaningful and really powerful. And today that’s what we wanted to do as well. Talk about some specific songs, but also talk about this whole experience of worship and singing communally together in a religious context, in a Christian context, because for most of you out there, you had that experience and it either meant something and still means something. It’s this complicated thing that you’re not sure what to do with, and we just want you to know that all of those things are we understand them, and there’s a lot of people that are feeling that same thing. We talk about these types of things on our Zoom calls with patrons, and it’s really interesting to hear just the mixture in there of people that can’t sing any I can’t hear it. I can’t sing it anymore. I just need to have a break from that for quite a while. And then there’s other people that are like, yeah, I’m still part of a church. I sing those things. Like, you all are welcome here on this journey and we’re really grateful to have you.

Shelby: Yeah, so this episode, we’ve kind of just started off by the series by giving some background of our experiences and talking a little bit about what worship is or was for us. But where we’re going, I’m I’m excited about we’re going to talk to a couple of different people, some people who have been worship leaders in the past and what that maybe change has looked like for them. And then we’re pretty excited, too, about a guest we’ll be talking to who is kind of moving forward in this space. Because I think when we talk about worship, it’s easy to just like it feels like something we’ve left behind in a lot of ways. But there are people who are trying to kind of figure out, how can we take this with us when we change and change it as we go?

Nate: Yeah, it’s fascinating, and I’m excited for this series. This is something we’ve kind of long wanted to do, and many of you have requested things like this, and so we’re excited to get to do this finally and to have you along and.

Shelby: Please help us shape the series. If there’s topics within this you want to talk about or songs you want to talk about, or people you want to have interviewed, you can get in the Facebook group through the website and we would love to hear what it is you’re wanting and we really appreciate understanding where we’re trying to go.

Nate: I also just want to say a quick shout out to our new patrons, holly and Jordan and Diane and Mary, Patsy, Jocelyn, Laura, Bill and Lisa, thank you so much for your support. We’re so excited to have you a part of the Zoom Calls and the Facebook Group and getting the second podcast. We do utterly heretical as well, and if you want to join them and to get those things as well, you can go to Almost heretical.com and we’ll see you on the other side.

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