Posted by Craig Borlase on 1 April 2013

Welcome back to the clinic: our occasional series that gets the world of worship to open wide and say 'aaaaah'. This time we're talking with the ever-creative, ever-thoughtful Troy Hatfield, lead worship pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church, Michigan.
Craig: You lead worship for a congregation of thousands, but you don’t opt for ‘one sound fits all’. Why not? 

Troy: In a community our size, with so many different people that come through the doors every day, there is such a lot of diversity. So if we just served up the one slice of the pie which sounds like CCM, it would only ever gong to connect with a small percentage of our community on any particular Sunday.

C: And what does that CCM slice of the sound like?

T: It tends to revolve around just one emotional tone: a sense of longing, of yearning for God. There’s also a common sound, like a mediocre U2 cover band of ten years ago. It can be tempting to stick with this, but there’s real danger in only ever serving up that particular slice of the pie on any given Sunday.

C: What kind of danger?

T: If we only ever hear the same sound then our responses can become a bit Pavlovian: we know that when we hear that delayed electric guitar sound or this roll of the toms our hands are supposed to go up in the air and we are supposed to feel a certain shiver. And if we don’t get the feelings then there’s got to be a problem.

C: That’s a risky place to be...

T: So we bring in different instruments. It’s hard for things to be a dirge when you’re leading with a ukelele.

C: Very hard.

T: I heard someone say recently that because of these really difficult economic times we need to be singing songs that allow people step outside of themselves. I though ‘OK... or maybe we need to sing songs that help people connect with the issues they’re really facing.’ Maybe these days we ought to make space for songs that say ‘I want Jesus to walk with me in my troubles, in the thing I’m experiencing now’. I think that’s a gift that we can offer people right now.

And I’ve been thinking about something called secondary simplicity. We’ve been good at simplicity - singing these songs that don’t really say too much, or that rely on cliche and repetition. But maybe there’s a way of saying something that as profound as well as accessible. So we’ve been singing an old spiritual called Guide My Feet: guide my feet while I run this race/guide my feet while I run this race/guide my feet while I run this race/I don’t want to run alone.

I’ve been teaching songs lately out of a primary school hymnal that I found in a flea market. There were written by some people who were trying to tell Bible stories through song, and we’ve found some great ones in there: 

everyone must sometimes suffer/we all have hard things to do/help to keep us strong and true/help us know that you are with us/you are with us/you are with us

C: Those sound different...

T: And our response can change too. I think that we need to have moments of joy within worship as well as moments of lament. Sometimes I start out a worship session by saying: ‘it’s OK for you to enjoy whatever happens during the next 30 minutes.’

C: I wonder whether we’ve got a bit caught up in the way we respond to worship - as if we don’t quite know how to do anything more than yearn for the presence of God. Is that just limited to worship?

T: There are all these guys in their mid-twenties at Mars, and one of the curses affecting them is the myth that they have to be passionate about something and pursue it. So they’re left confused and perplexed: what is their calling? What’s the thing they really want to do? What is their unique passion?

C: That’s a hard thing to labour under - the need to be brilliant and have a unique calling from God.

T: Yes - you can’t imagine the Greatest Generation [those who brought up their families after WWII] sitting around wondering about what was the right slot for them to fill within society. They just got on and did it, facing up to their responsibilities and accepting their duties. But today we’re bound by our emotions, and unless we can feel something we doubt its weight.

C: And I guess that while worship can compound that sense of wanting to be unique, it can also help to remind us of our duties, our responsibilities and the fact that Christianity is a team sport. Thanks for talking, Troy.

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