Christianity Church of England & Ministry Sermons & Scripture

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition


H/T to Samantha Martell whose Facebook page I saw this on!

Ok listen I don’t like labels, said it before and I’ll say it again, but if you didn’t know me and you met me or saw me at church you’d say I’m a charismatic. Ok so yes perhaps that is one term you could use to describe me. Let’s get that out of that way so I can’t be accused of hidden bias. Also I’m not having a rant or a sense of humour failure, as actually I’ve been researching liturgy, as part of my church placement recently…

So, I was brought up in a pretty middle of the road Anglican church so I have some experience of more formal liturgy even though I now worship at and work for a Fresh Expression church. And so having done a placement in a more formal church I’ve been thinking about it more. I suspect there may be more posts on the subject but for the meantime here’s some thoughts on repetition…

So, something that comes up from time to time to do with charismatic worship is repetition. So yes modern worship songs are repetitious. Heard it before, yawn yawn. But you know over the years in conversation on liturgy, one thing that people always say (yes always) about the merits of formal liturgy are that the repetition of words and phrases week in and week out, is vital. It’s formational even.

Much of the way formal liturgy is structured is around scripture. Scripture forms the backbone of it from the obvious readings and Psalms, to huge chunks phrased as canticles and prayers. Then many of the regularly repeated prayers are based on passages from the bible too. This is all worked out by teams of people from The Liturgical Commission, who put it all together and write the prayers and words that are said each week.

Much thought and prayer I am sure goes into these words. I am not denying that. Thousands of people say those words each week, and encounter God through them. Thousands of people pray liturgical words each day even, let alone each week. There are some truly wonderful prayers and passages of liturgy in our worship books. Even I as a raving charismatic can appreciate them, words like these from Compline:

Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That you, with steadfast love, would keep
Your watch around us while we sleep.

From evil dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Tread underfoot our deadly foe
That we no sinful thought may know.

O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son;
And Holy Spirit, by whose breath
Our souls are raised to life from death.

or, from Morning Prayer:

As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.

But repetition. A number of people have said to me in conversation, including two Bishops, that the repetition of words and phrases is so important for Christians, that these words become part of us, as we remember them, they become embedded in us, they stay with us and sustain us. At times of great need one might recall a prayer from church, or at a moment when a friend suddenly needs help, what can we say but recite a well known prayer that has stuck in our minds from years of saying it.

So then why is it then that the common gripe about modern worship songs is that they are repetitive? I personally find that it is often music I turn to in times of prayer or need, the words of a song come to my mind, I sing, even if it is just one line. Are these words, often repeated any less of a prayer? Any less formational because they are repeated in song? In fact these days there are some modern songs based on liturgy, ‘I Believe (The Creed)’ by Hillsong is based on the Apostles Creed, Matt Redman’s ‘Benediction’ is based on a liturgical blessing too and there are of course others.

I’ve spent the course of my latest essay discussing how charismatic worship can fulfil the role of liturgy and do you know what it can and does. Not in the same way of course but repetition is certainly a part of it. You can’t have it both ways, either repetition of words helps to form us or it doesn’t, but you can’t claim it does in one form and not another… and if nothing else I would refer you to Revelation 4:8.





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  • Reply
    February 1, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Good point – I used to love the morning worship at New Wine because I never heard that kind of song in my church, and over the week I’d pick up the tunes and words to keep me going for the rest of the year! Two things were notably different from a lot of the charismatic-style worship I’ve attended in churches, though – the songs were based on scripture (Matt Redman is very good for that) and there were no long, rambling, homily-length introductions to songs from the musicians – the music was allowed to speak for itself, and was selected so one song ran into another most of the time.

    I do think repetition is good and helpful – when I started attending church in the ASB era, the service was the same word for word almost every week, and I found it helpful for that liturgy to sink into my bones, almost – just as the Lord’s Prayer did through repetition every day at school.

    • Reply
      February 1, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Hi Pam.
      Yes good point, that not all worship leaders are as sensitive as others, just as some Vicars/service leaders are too! and same goes for hymns/songs – some good ones, others not so much. There’s always variation, I am blessed to be in a church where the worship leaders do not want to be centre stage, are humble and really seek the Holy spirit in both preparing and leading the musical worship. It’s been a real lesson for me and something I will carry with me, but also does mean a stark difference when going to some other churches.

      Lord’s Prayer a great example but I wonder now how many kids *are* learning it at school…

      • Reply
        February 1, 2016 at 1:31 pm

        I don’t think they are learning it in school unless it’s a church school nowadays – that ship has sailed! We said it every morning in assembly so it was picked up by osmosis, I came from a non-church background and I didn’t know what everyone was gabbling for the first few days as I started school late.

        Maybe with the current trend for mindfullness some other helpful texts may become widely learnt, but I doubt they’d be overtly religious in nature.

  • Reply
    February 1, 2016 at 8:49 am

    I did my church placement last year in a Charismatic/Evangelical parish near my home. I have to say that while the worship wasn’t to my normal taste, I took the observers view of neutrality, but despite myself, found myself being drawn into the worship, particularly the charismatic bits.

    So, while I’m from a Catholic tradition, I could and did find God active in this particular worshiping community, and as I’m writing my placement assignment at the moment, the bulk of it will be about the liturgy, but also about the leadership, which I am asking questions off.

    I did find some intercessory prayer overlong and a bit wandering, while I’m more used to the Common Worship framework, but no complaints about the content, just that the length caused me to lose concentration – almost a sermon in the ground covered.

    The good thing was making exentensive notes and having long and profound conversations with some of the leaders and the people. This is now material for my reflections and I can assure you that I won’t be hyper critical of the parish, but very supportive – because, who am I to criticise how God chooses to work in and through people in a place and context, different to my own.

    • Reply
      February 1, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head Ernie – we can learn so much from each other’s spirituality. I’ve said it before, but again: I think I’ve learned almost as much on my course from my fellow students as from the teaching. Often we pigeonhole ourselves or are suspicious of those who worship differently to us, when actually we all worship the same God and we can learn such diversity and richness from each other. I really hope I will continue to explore this in my ministry, although the opportunities may be less obvious.

  • Reply
    Philip J Nott
    February 2, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Problem is that the same amount of thought and prayer has not always gone into Charismatic worship songs… I to love to sing but am finding much of Vineyard/Hillsong out put is theologically thin or tricky…
    This matters cos as my Guru +Graham Cray points out, nobody sings your sermon in the shower!

  • Reply
    February 2, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    I agree that repetition is important, but I would say that there is a difference between the repetition of high worship liturgy week after week, and the repetition of worship songs during each song. The prayers are said once in each service, repeated only at another service. When the repetition is immediate, not just in the service but in the song itself, I think the disconnect for me is the context.

    I love Taize chants as well as my quite high Sunday morning sung Eucharist – I often, like you, in times of prayer or need turn to lyrics – but in that context the chant is actually the point of the exercise; a worship song is trying to be more than that, a song with more lyrics, and my experience of singing them at services is of being uncomfortable with a jarring mix of styles.

    Singing is a huge part of my relationship with worship, and chanting comes from a different place, mentally, spiritually, and even physically, which doesn’t match the place singing a lyrical, multi-verse song comes from.

    So my point is that the repetition in liturgy and the repetition in worship songs is not comparable, so comparing them doesn’t add support to the repetition of worship songs – it’s a different type of repetition, and so for a lot of people, it’s not a positive worship experience. And therefore they aren’t being hypocritical in their negative opinion.

    Hope I’ve expressed my reasoning in a way that makes sense, and that I’ve understood your argument.

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