Aaron Niequist is a worship leader at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Writing in the most recent issue of Liturgy, he explains the long-held goals he had for worship in the church he serves. Those goals were described in an online article entitled, “Everything I Know about Worship Leading I Learned from an Irish Rock Star,” but now, ten years later, he re-considers.
Because of my background in large Evangelical churches (Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, Illinois), I lauded [Bono’s] ability to harness the energy of a stadium upward, affirmed his understand of the nature of praise, and was inspired by his relentless call to action on behalf of the poor. These were three characteristics of the kind of community we were trying to become, and U2 offered the ultimate example of worship in this kind of church.
But after seeing U2 last summer in Chicago, I no longer agree with what I wrote. . . .
[A]s I marveled at Bono’s ability to create such an epic worship experience, it occurred to me that this anthemic, euphoric, and cathartic euphoria is the perfect model for a traveling rock show but may be a potentially unhelpful model for weekly worship. And yet so many worship leaders––myself included––have been trying to emulate this mountaintop experience every Sunday morning for years, asking, “Did people lift their hands in the air? Did they sing loudly? Did they have a deeply authentic emotional experience?”. . . .
Mountaintop experiences are not the entirety of the Christian life. And if our worship experience communicates that this is what everyone should be feeling all the time, we do a huge disservice to people who are currently in the valley or will be in the valley––which is everyone. There is a reason the Psalms include celebration, lament, anger, joy, dancing, and doubt. In fact, while over 30 percent of the Psalms are lament, looking at the top 100 contemporary (or “modern”) worship songs, you see that almost none are lament. . . .
God is with us at every point of the journey and at every elevation of the mountain. But to become aware of this, we cannot always be shouting from the triumphant peak. And a gracious, holistic church will offer its community wise practices, clear teaching, and safe spaces to learn how to embrace God in every emotional space from the summit to the valley. . . .
Instead of putting all our resources into providing “amazing worship experiences” every Sunday, what if we spent an equal amount of energy teaching people how to have eyes to see God all week long? Yes, God can be experienced powerfully as we sing at the top of our lungs, and I hope we keep doing that. But God can also be experienced in our conversation with the stressed-out cashier at Target, if we have eyes to see. And God can be found while cutting the lawn, riding the subway, giving our kids a bath, weeping with a broken-hearted friend, and taking that first glorious sip of coffee in the morning. The question is not, “Is God in all those moments?” God is fully everywhere, for it is in God we live, move, and have our being. The question is whether we have eyes to see.
Aaron Niequist is a worship leader, songwriter, and pastor. Currently, he curates a discipleship-focused, formational, ecumenical, practice-based community called “The Practice” at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.
Aaron Niequist, “Too Much Bono in the Church?” Liturgy 32, no. 1 (2017): 42-45.