I like to describe Stacey Gleddiesmith as a worship theologian. With a strong academic background in the theology of worship, she shares some excellent insights on worship at her blog, Thinking Worship. Recently, Stacey talked to Worship Links about the lack of theological training in worship ministry, the future of church worship, and how many different keys is too many for one song.
WL: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us. It’s truly appreciated! The first question is an easy one. Tell us a little bit about yourself in five sentences.
SG: I live with my Irish husband in Alberta, Canada where we pastor a small church plant. It’s rural and small town, which has been a big adjustment from the ministry both of us had in Vancouver. We don’t have any kids, but we do have a big hairy dog that wags not only his tail but his whole back-end whenever we come home. In my spare time I involve myself with way too many boards (denominational district board, local library board, local pottery guild board), read a lot, watch TV (gasp!), and play nerd-reputation-level games like Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, and Ticket to Ride. I’ve had some amazing educational opportunities, especially at Regent College (in Vancouver, Canada), that have also given me the opportunity to develop amazing relationships, my marriage among them (we met while both pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Regent College). (Creative bracket use = extended sentence allowance.) 😉
How did you get started in the ministry, and what lead you to pursue studying the theology of worship?
I started piano at the age of four, and first started singing with my family (in the car, during family devotions, in the garden…). I wrote my first song at 13 and led my first band when I attended Trinity Western University. After I had my psychology degree in hand, got my first church music director position, worked for a time in group homes with disabled adults, and taught English in Japan, I started to realize that my “hobby” of leading the church in corporate worship might in fact be a teaching task that God was calling me toward. Someone pointed out to me that my anger/frustration when the leading of worship was approached “thoughtlessly” (i.e. just throw a few songs together) might indicate a problem God had (to use the Christianese) “laid on my heart”—so I started looking around for a program in which I could take the time to learn more about how God relates to us, and how we relate to God, in worship. I finally settled on an MDiv at Regent College. Regent does not have a specific worship track, but that gave me the opportunity to focus my assignments in such a way that I could explore the theology of worship through biblical theology, systematic theology, languages, church history, spiritual theology, Christianity and the arts, etc.—in the end, I think this made my learning experience much richer. I am now more passionate than ever about theology as the undergirding for rich, nourishing, sustaining worship in the church.
Theologically, what do you think are some of the most critical issues facing worship in the church today? And if you could provide the solutions as well… 🙂
I think the single-most crucial issue facing worship in the church today is the lack of theological undergirding in this area. We don’t expect those who lead us in worship to have any theological training. We don’t educate pastors in the theology of worship. We don’t apply theology to what is identified by theologians as the chief task of the church: worship. Instead, we narrow our definition of worship to “the music part of a church service” and all our decisions on what happens during even that short space identified as “worship” become based on personal preference and musical style rather than biblical theology. No wonder we get into so much trouble! I wrote a short rant on this topic recently that got quite a lot of attention (positive and negative) if you want to read more. The solution? We need to start taking worship more seriously. Churches need to start looking for worship leaders with theological training and depth—they need to be willing to spend money to send worship leaders for theological education. And we need more blogs and websites like this one (and, I hope, mine)—virtual living rooms where we can come together and share thoughts and ideas, train and re-train each other. We need prayer, and study, and more prayer, and conversation, and more prayer, and more study, and more prayer—because worship is the heart of our lives as children of God: every action, every thought, every relationship.
Desert Island Worship Mix: You’re trapped on a desert island, and for reasons too ridiculous to explain, you can only have one CD with five worship songs on it. What are they?
Only five? Dang. In no particular order:
- “The Same Love”—this song is on repeat in my head right now.
- “I Will Lift Your Name”—because I’m trapped on a desert island, so some good solid lament is in order. You might not know this song, but you should! You can find it on Laurell Hubick’s album, “Into Your Love.”
- “O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus”—because it’s always good to be reminded.
- “10,000 Reasons”—it might get switched out at some point, because there’s one line that bothers me every time I sing it, but right now it makes my heart sing.
- “Be Thou My Vision”—because I never get sick of it.
If you could give one piece of advice to up and coming worship leaders, what would it be? Conversely, what’s some advice you wish you’d received earlier on?
Going along with my previous mini-rant, “Get thee to a seminary!” But on a more specific and practical note, I wish I’d cottoned on sooner to the idea that leading worship involves listening in two directions: stretching yourself to listen with heart and ears for both the Spirit and the congregation. The tendency is to drift toward one at the expense of the other. If we listen only for the Spirit we will worship in our own little private world and gathered worship will not be communally formative. If we listen only for the congregation we forget who we worship and gathered worship will not be spiritually formative.
What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?
I expect it will look much the same as it does today: a varied spectrum of tradition and innovation. I hope, however, that we will have moved toward a deeper theology of worship. (Are you sensing a theme?) But I wonder if there will also be a shift to “smaller” and more “intimate” services. Partially because I think North American society—with its ready access to any and every type of entertainment, and with its propensity to turn to screens before faces—is craving intimacy. I suspect we are slowly but surely moving away from a society in which a “mega church” model works, and we will need to learn to do without our wall of guitars, our full kit, and our 2–3 back-up singers.
Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?
I’m loving what Page CXVI is doing with hymns. Beautiful, beautiful work. Check them out. Also check out what Ordinary Time has been up to lately. Both bands are exceptional when it comes to liturgical music (if you’re into that kind of thing). Paul Baloche is by no means new, but I’m loving his new stuff as well.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done during worship (that you’re willing to share)?
Oh my. Where do I start. How about the time my mentor insisted I lead without my instrument (as a learning experience). We started our closing song, “In Christ Alone,” with only bass… which wasn’t coming through my monitor… so I started in, bravely, singing in a completely different key. We had to stop the song. Start it again. I still couldn’t hear, so I turned and encouraged the pianist to start playing, mouthing “PLAY” in her direction. She thought I was mouthing “A” and that SHE had gotten the key wrong. She pulled off an amazing on-the-spot transposition, and we proceeded in THREE different keys. We had to stop the song AGAIN. Thankfully the preacher had preached 2 Corinthians 5:17 “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” and had emphasized the sharp break in the Greek “In Christ—New Creation!” So I kind of shouted that at the congregation, counted the whole band in, and we managed to finally get through it and slink out the back door.
Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?
You can join the conversation at thinkingworship.com and contact me through the form on my “workshops” page. Or you can follow me on twitter: Stacey Gleddiesmith @thinkingworship. You’re welcome in my living room any day. My virtual living room, that is. My real living room is full of dog hair.