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‘Spoken Worship’ by Gerard Kelly

Spoken Worship 001

Serendipity is a wonderful thing – a chain of events can lead to real insight. In this case, I saw a remark by Simon Sutcliffe on twitter, asked him to blog about it, which Rachel Parkinson commented on in an interesting way, so I asked her to blog as well; she referred to this book and made it sound interesting, I got a copy and I am captivated and given new nourishment for the journey. It was published in 2007, so you probably already have your own copies but if not I urge you to buy it. You can read a great deal of the book here and at £5.20 for the paperback  (£4.49 Kindle) it will not break the bank. The one review says it is aimed at Evangelicals but I am no Evangelical and I find it inspiring. Thank-you Rachel, for the signpost.


Spoken worship is about the power of the spoken word to illumine human experience in the place where it matters most: connection to our creator. For centuries Christian worshippers from formal hymn-singing traditionalists to chandelier-swinging charismatics have set words to music to enhance the worship experience. In gatherings large and small, in great halls and home groups, in the shower before breakfast and in the car on the way to work, we sing our praises to God. But in doing so, have we forgotten the power of words spoken.

…I have discovered that the spoken word has a power of a different order of magnitude from the power of a word set to music. I have found that there is a special additional something, a deepening of the impact, when words are spoken into the holy space that is worship…I believe there is vast potential for God’s people to rediscover the power of the spoken word as a vital element in worship… in essence, spoken worship is poetry written for the context of Christian worship. It is the writing whose ultimate goal is not so much literary as devotional, writing aimed unashamedly at provoking and prodding the human heart to wonder before its maker. Like many other forms of poetry, it is writing that has a life on the page but whose real life emerges only in performance: writing designed to be clothed in the human voice…

This is the calling, I believe, of the worship poet: to love words, and in words to carry love. Whatever else worship is, it is a language of the human heart. It speaks of deep longings, of love deeply felt, of ultimate concerns…It is poetry of the soul, reaching out to the soul’s greatest lover.

Performance Note on Pages 18-19

Worship is by definition a shared experience: it is the response of a community to God its creator. Even when she worships alone, the worshipper stands in radical solidarity with the family of God through space and time. She is, as Wordsworth noted, ‘never less alone than when alone’. Worship is not a private, obscure, barely intelligible transaction between a God lost in the clouds and a seeker lost in confusion; it is an expression born in belonging, a shared articulation of the human touching the divine. Spoken worship, then, cannot afford to be written in a private code: it does not dare to be obscure. It must, rather, touch the depth of the meaning of worship in such a way that those who hear it, or read it, or themselves speak it out, are drawn into the experience. It may be a secret garden into which the traveller has never before strayed, but it must be a garden whose blooms, once found, are recognised as such…

This does not mean that spoken worship must be bland – that it must speak in the language of a menu at McDonald’s. To be accessible and intelligible is not, by definition, to be shallow, and unless spoken worship is in some way deep – unless it goes somewhere that those engaging in it would not otherwise go – it has nothing to offer. It must live in the tension between obscurity and banality, between indecipherable depth and unpalatable shallowness…Its goal is resonance, that beautiful moment of connection when a worshipper can say, ‘I feel this too, I just didn’t know how to say it’.

…It follows, then, that the gift most essential to the creation of spoken worship is the gift of empathy, and time and energy invested in this gift will be richly rewarded when it comes to both the composition and the delivery of spoken worship. Without this gift, the most finely crafted piece will have no power; with it even a few stuttered and stumbling words can play their part. Before even putting pen to paper or stepping up to a mike, an indispensable principle must be embraced: learn to listen, and listen to learn. This is the craft of the worship poet. Spoken worship is a mirror held up to those who seek God. As well as polishing the words and their delivery, there is  much to be said for polishing the mirror.”


Gerard Kelly

Senior Pastor, Crossroads International Church, Amsterdam



1 comment on this post:

Gareth Hill said...

I’ve known Gerard for many years and had great conversations about faith and the church. As a poet, Bible teacher and encourager his passion is to see the Church connect with the communities around us. He uses his own writing, an understanding of art and experience as the head of a missional community in France to inspire. To categorise the book as ‘for evangelicals’ is to create entirely the wrong idea. This is a book of poems for the hearts of people and rooted in faith.

06 July 2013 12:49

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