The Canadian Andy Park is sometimes called a “veteran worship leader.” If you are in your teens and twenties, it’s possible that you may not know about Andy, even if you have been around the Vineyard for a while. For thirty-plus years, Andy has been a transformational presence in the body of Christ, especially but not exclusively, among Vineyard worship leaders, musicians, and songwriters. No doubt, you’ve probably sung or heard at least one of his songs.
I’ve never met Andy, and I wasn’t around when he was on staff at the Vineyard Anaheim, but I honestly feel like I know formidable aspects of his heart through interviews I’ve heard/read over the years, by virtue of his dozens of songs that he’s written, by observing how he’s been an influential model for others (e.g., Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Casey Corum, Brian Doerksen, just to name few), and by taking-stock of his thoughts in his first book To Know You More: Cultivating the Heart of the Worship Leader (2004) and now his second book, The Worship Journey: A Quest of Heart, Mind, and Strength (2010).
In my estimation, Andy and Brian Doerksen are probably some of the most sage-like “worship leaders” that you’ll meet these days. Maybe because they are primarily life-long learners of the way of Jesus, and then leaders in various capacities. Something to be learned here, I think. They also resist “hipster”-like tendencies and categories so common in the “contemporary worship music” industry, and they fundamentally realize that “worship” – and, indeed, the “heart of worship” – is not ultimately about song, musicality, or even having a great congregational experience, as important as these may be. They are drenched in the love of the Father and have a wisdom on them to see how the heart of man needs the heart of God. This is reflected in their songs, how they steward their craft, and how they lead their lives under the direction of God Almighty. Youth and emerging worship leaders need seasoned models like Andy and Brian.
Andy is a clear, winsome and compassionate writer. There are so many gems “dropped from the heavens” in Andy’s latest book, The Worship Journey. I have now read it twice and continue to double-dip into its pages. On my second read, I decided to read it in companionship with Eugene Peterson’s masterful memoir, The Pastor. Both Peterson and Park articulate a “journey with God.” Andy’s seventeen chapters are not long and they are plentifully divided into various sub-sections. With ease and benefit, each day you could meditatively read a single section in a chapter if you wanted to do so.
Andy’s got a knack for interweaving stories, personal reflection, insight, examples from songs, with teaching, exhortation and encouragement. A powerful, attention-grabbing combo that made me want to read and know more; to know the God that Andy worships and to know how he worships that God through various seasons of his journey. I think that would be “mission accomplished,” from Andy’s standpoint, if his readers experienced those objectives.
There’s much that can be highlighted in Andy’s fine book, but I’ll focus here on just three major benefits that I see in The Worship Journey:
First, Andy envisions for us a “thick” concept of worship in comparison to a “thin” concept of worship. These are my distinctions but I think they accurately represent his intent. A “thin” concept of worship mainly sees “worship” as that endeavor we do when we gather or what we do privately with God: namely, we sing and make music unto the LORD and through music we engage God’s presence, especially at the level of our feelings and desires. That’s not a bad thing, in fact scripture offers teaching and examples in this area, particularly concerning the purpose of how we are to gather, congregationally. But that’s not the “heart of worship.”If it is, then we royally fail every time we don’t “do [this] worship” – engaging God primarily through music.
But Andy offers a “thick” account of worship because God’s glory and presence are meant to cover the totality of who we are becoming and to blanket all of our endeavors (the churchy ones and the non-churchy ones). How can we possibly live the “with-God” kind of life 24/7 in our everyday life IF we think that the primary way to engage and worship God is through music, which we are not doing 24/7? That’s not where we live, even as musicians. Andy offers us a good challenge here: to enlarge our concept of worship so that it refers to whole-life, “long obedience” (to borrow from Peterson) to God within our everyday life and routines. I think we do well (for ourselves and our congregations) to hear this challenge, especially when it’s so easy to think of “worship” as a brand and then to immediately brand worship as that which primarily refers to “worship music.” If we do not adequately attend to this challenge, a thin concept of worship will result in a “thin” account of discipleship to Jesus. This challenge is one of the most fruitful benefits that you can learn by reading Andy’s book.
Second, because of Andy’s envisioning of a thick account of worship, we can begin to see how worship is indispensible to our identity in Christ – indeed, as Andy’s seventeen chapters indicate, worship relates to how we work in our everyday world, co-labor in mission with God, rest, suffer, cultivate contentment, how we eat and play, enact justice, the unity of the church, mercy and compassion. It’s all interconnected and not fragmented between our “Sunday self” vs. our “Monday-Saturday self.” Only a thin concept of worship enables such fragmentation, where “worship” just becomes another thing that I do or rate as an experience. If we want to help people move beyond being mere “spectators” to “participants” engaged in the worship of God, we need to envision for them a thick concept of worship. Otherwise, a thin account of worship reinforces a spectator paradigm of thinking and living; worship becomes just another add-on to an already busy life.
Third, Andy’s book is strategically designed to be read in such a way that responsible and fruitful action flow from a reader’s life. He wrote the book to help us in our journey with God and with each other. He didn’t write it to merely go public on his otherwise private reflections. His reflections are poised for aiding our actions to be meaningful in our Father’s world. So, with that in mind, here are a few suggestions for how to use this book among members of a “worship community”:
- Create a “worship team” discussion group around some or all of the topics in this book and encourage people to read and apply Andy’s insights from the advantage point of their lived life. Envision some group practices as a way to test and experience Andy’s ideas. Maybe the group wants to work on contentment, for example. Make that a project. Take Andy’s counsel to heart from this area of the book and think about how to develop some useful practices in order to help people grow..
- Envision an expanded and thick concept of “worship leadership” as one moves from a thin concept of worship to a thick concept of worship. Think creatively and openly about how does “worship leadership” look, given a thick concept of worship? How might a leader’s time be spent? What should he or she value? How would this refine their role in a congregation?
- Work on clarifying our public use of “worship” talk. How can we help members in our church “get” the thick concept of worship by how we talk about “worship time,” “worship leaders,” “worship experience,” etc. Leaders are modelers. How can we model discourse in this area, not merely for the sake of being “correct” in our language usage but realizing that how we talk about things affects how we experience and imagine them.
The Worship Journey is a gift to the church. Read it with gratitude. Savor it with earnestness to know God more. Prove its trustworthiness by letting it shape your leadership.