Livin on a Prayer: How Bon Jovi Created Modern Worship

madewithOver(9)Atmospheric Intro
Lightly Instrumented First Verse
BIG Sing Along Chorus
Second (and 3rd) verses get more anthmatic each time.
Key Change to Make Final Chorus Even Bigger

You could call this a template for the modern worship song. Pull out a live version of “How Great Is Our God” or “Mighty To Save” and you will easily find it. But the worship writers in Brentwood, Tennessee didn’t figure this out first. It wasn’t planned out at a design meeting for the Passion conferences. Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin didn’t dream it up during the early stages of One Day.

My friends….this template comes from New Jersey and was perfected (and somewhat invented) by Jon Bon Jovi. That’s right, 1980’s hair metal drives modern worship. I first thought about this a few years ago and brought it up to a few people. We couldn’t find an earlier of example to describe what now is considered normal in worship songwriting.

Bon Jovi created Modern Worship



If you add the template above with another HUGE 1980’s influence, you can easily describe most worship that you find at big conferences and many churches. Here is my equation.

Bon Jovi (Livin On A Prayer) + U2 (Where the streets have no name)= Your Grace is Enough.

Culture drives how worship is delivered. Our bodies are tuned to accept and acknowledge certain types of music as appropriate to draw a response. “Pop” worship works just like pop music. It provides a vehicle that is accessible to a large amount of people. While I don’t prefer this type of worship, I can worship through it. As much as I claimed to despise Bon Jovi in the early 90’s (I was more of a Soundgarden guy), you will catch me rolling down the window to a few songs now. It appeals to the senses.

The context of pop worship allows for it to be consumed by a cumulative mass of people. We can get into a discussion of if this is actually good, but we have to acknowledge the cultural appeal. You can theoretically enjoy Worship Music as a genre if you are not a Christian. Aesthetics matters in worship design, because the musical vehicle needs to make sense for who the worship is designed for. Consumption strategy is both a blessing and a curse.

These songs provide a place for human involvement. U2 writes songs people’s spirits want to sing. It isn’t an overindulgent rock star singing about women or substances, but a body of people acting out hope together. These songs were meant to get people singing.

When worship is designed for small specific groups of people or is used as an identifier by a specific culture of Christians we see different forms of expression. Music matters because music defines a particular group of peoples response to what God means to them. Our definitions of what constitutes proper music for worship probably needs to get bigger.

Pop worship might aggravate us, but we have to recognize anything driving people towards Jesus is a good thing, even if it doesn’t resonate with us.

Just for fun…

Magic Fairy Dust and Contemporary Worship

Fairly often I am approached by people looking at either starting or taking a serious look at the contemporary services at their church. I usually travel in Methodist/Wesleyan circles, so this can tend to be a really unique situation. The mainline tradition isn’t know for innovative worship practices. Many of these churches are responding to growth/decline trends and see other churches in their town growing and think a contemporary worship service will heal all their problems.

I have bad news.

As much as church planters, conferences or denominational leaders say it…

There isn’t any magic fairy dust in contemporary worship.

Yes, it can be a major element of growth and new ministry. You can also create a situation which will only serve as a drain of resources and be seen as a fumble by many of the people you are trying to minister too.

Blindly jumping into the lake of modern worship music won’t instantly bring new people to your church. Ministry shouldn’t happen as a reaction to a downward trend. New ministry happens when we listen to God’s call and respond in faithfulness.

There are three key groups of people you need to identify when building a vision for any type of worship service.

Worshiping congregation-
These are the folks in your chairs right now. With them comes denominational tradition, individual church characteristics and values. Inside of this group you have the doers and the consumers. Do you normally follow a liturgy or just go with the Spirit? What will totally blow your worshiping congregations frame work and what is just stretching them? Background matters in your design phase.

Desired Ministry-
Who do you want to reach out too? Just saying “the lost” or some other version isn’t good enough. Look at your existing leadership. Do they have a passion or call for a certain people group. It might be an age. It might be a description of “families who live on x side of town” or a people group spread out across a portion of your city. Determining this group will be extremely helpful when you strategize about what this service will sound and feel like.

Local Context-
What does your community look like? If you want to start a biker service but you don’t have a single motorcycle dealer or shop…you might want to rethink things. What best describes the community around your church or neighborhood? What do they value or spend time and money doing? What needs can only be fulfilled by the redemptive qualities of the kingdom?


Being able to identify these three groups of people will go far helping you understand what type of service you really need to start to minister in your area.

The beauty of knowing these three groups helps in identifying when plans or ideas are actually appropriate (context is the most important word in worship design). You can realize when something might not be sustainable before it even gets going. The design of your worship will be appropriate to all three groups.

The small area where all three groups intersect is your sweet spot. This is where you will find the greatest depth of transformation, worship and discipleship. Your aim in any service should be to make this center really strong and healthy.

It will look different in different contexts. All worship communities are both individual AND communal expressions of the worship of Jesus Christ. Some are primarily evangelistic (check out The Skull Church for a great modern idea of this). Others might be a deeply embedded new community (Munger Place is a wonderful example). Your idea and understanding of this center will be really varied..

When desired ministry and context overlap, you have evangelism. When ministry and worship collide, you are engaged in mission (Matt Redman’s song Mission’s Flame is a great example). In the joining of worship and context, discipleship is developed for unique circumstances.

Usually when people ask me “just a quick question about our worship” I tell them this is and should be a much bigger discussion. I hope this provides some clarity around what intentional worship design looks like..because it matters. It isn’t just a hail mary attempt of figuring out what type of music you want. All decisions need to be made with the three major groups in mind. Spell these out with your team. The center of this will be your strong point. The three overlaps will provide the best expression of evangelism, mission and discipleship.

Worship Design matters. It forms how we talk about God. It’s how we want those we are worshiping with to be formed around God. Our worship is the story of God rising out of the redemption which has happened in our lives. Folks will respond in natural ways. Let’s create natural environments utilizing the knowledge we have about our vision using our known congregation, desired ministry and local contexts to form the best idea of how to lead others in a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

Does this fit your definition of worship?

Over the last year or so I have been following Hillsong Young & Free on Instagram. It seemed like a really neat look at the youth ministry of the giant churches in Austrailia that has influenced much of modern worship. In some ways Hillsong has defined the sound and genre of what many people consider to be modern worship.

I have a working definition of contemporary worship I like to use.

Contemporary worship is the (specific) expression of devotion to Jesus Christ by a particular people in a particular place. You can read more about this on my post on culture and context. Every different group of Christians will have an idea of worship besting fitting how they see God moving among them and the value set of the kingdom they hold highest.

So what is Young and Free’s definition of worship?

Judging from the ministry’s name and the two released songs, I would imagine this particular expression looks at the freedom of grace and the abiding/indwelling power of the spirit. What is interesting about it is what this music looks and sounds like. I have to admit, I find it extremely catchy. Funny thing is, I don’t see a huge amount of congregational participation mirroring what even I am used to in contemporary worship.

I don’t judge this either way. What I do find interesting is some sort of evolution from a church generally described as groundbreaking.


Beginning Prayer: Sweet Hour of Prayer

7499110992_500ba00480I am a sucker for country music. I am also a sucker for simple revival hymns. When you combine the two you get one of my favorite hymns, Sweet Hour of Prayer.

I heard this song for the first time in seminary. It was played fancy style, with the pipe organ and the singers making sure they enunciated all the words right. I thought it would sound better a little “Hanked up”. Later on I found it was a standard part of any respectable honky tonk singers gospel repertoire. Awesome

The perfect hymn for me.

But it is a perfect song for many other reasons.

It is the perfect way to learn about prayer.

Take a moment to look at these lyrics

  1. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer! That calls me from a world of care,And bids me at my Father’s throne make all my wants and wishes known.In seasons of distress and grief,My soul has often found relief, And oft escaped the tempter’s snare,By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

  2. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer! The joys I feel, the bliss I share,Of those whose anxious spirits burn with strong desires for thy return!With such I hasten to the place. Where God my Savior shows His face,And gladly take my station there,And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

  3. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer! Thy wings shall my petition bear to Him whose truth and faithfulness engage the waiting soul to bless.And since He bids me seek His face, believe His Word and trust His grace,I’ll cast on Him my every care,And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

  4. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!May I thy consolation share,Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height, I view my home and take my flight.This robe of flesh I’ll drop, and rise to seize the everlasting prize, And shout, while passing through the air,“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”

This simple hymn teaches us about so many emotions from prayer. It talks about how people chasing after God should draw to Him no matter what. The lyrics put us in the life of a person that loves prayer deeply.

It also names the idea of an hour of prayer. Whether or not the author meant this to be literal (and I think we could all stand to spend an hour in prayer), it focuses on having an intentional, blocked off time for prayer. It is a time during the day we can’t live without. It is part of a life of discipline. The hour of prayer shows the progression of the discipline. Carving out time for prayer at first is hard…but over time it becomes a treasured moment during the day.

Learning about worship from Iron Maiden

Part of our cable package in Monroe is a great channel playing all live music. Music was a GIGANTIC part of my formative years. I really enjoy catching about 30min or so of this channel at night. You never know who is going to be on. Between concerts tonight, I caught this clip of Iron Maiden performing their classic “Run to the Hills” in Colombia.

At the least you can say I was transfixed. It wasn’t the fact that they pulled it off perfect (Bruce Dickinson still has pipes), but the crowd amazed me. Oddly, we can learn about worship from this video.

3 Worship Lessons Iron Maiden Teaches Us.

1. Worship should be filled with awe.
I imagine any headbanger worth his Advil would be pretty excited to see Iron Maiden. You can pretty much trace most of heavy metal to these guys and a few others. You are in the presence of someone truly great. If you are into sports, imagine what it is like when you happen to be in the same stadium with your hero.

Worship should be an event filled with awe. It is a meeting of the one true God. Inside it, the things of heaven are lifted up and the church is caught in a dramatic interchange with their Father, the creator and redeemer of this world. Someone big is in the room.

2. Worship should be filled with anticipation.
The beginning of this video is amazing. The crowd  chomps at its bits. The military is going through some serious checkpoints because they know what these people are capable of! The anticipation can cause an otherworldly experience, breaking any sense of ration or what might be safely appropriate.

In worship, the church rehearses the eternal actions of heaven. We anticipate what is promised. When the church acts like the church, it’s capable of anything…things that might be considered dangerous to those who want to maintain a comfortable status quo away from the power of the Holy Spirit.

3. Worship should be a shared activity.
The best part of this video is when the band gets to the first chorus. Songs like this are best sung with huge crowds, and you can tell these folks are enjoying participating. They now have a sense of a shared activity…they are part of something together, in participation that makes their anticipation worthwhile. They are part of the event that seems infinitely powerful to them at the moment.

Worship is not an isolated event. It transforms a group of people on a journey with Jesus into a powerful mass. No matter what idea of “lifestyle of worship” might make sense to us now, the people of God gathered together are a powerful bunch! Shared voice declares light defeating darkness and a Messiah who defeats death. It tells salvations story in the narration of those experiencing it.

hmm…Run To The Hills as an alternative translation of Psalm 121?

The Memory of the Church and my old Suitcase.


This is a suitcase that belonged to my grandfather.  In it are books that sat on the bookshelf in his den for decades.  They aren’t particularly important books, but they have sentimental value.  While it has been almost five years since he passed and we packed up and sold the family house, inside this suitcase are the smells of the home that I loved so much.  When I open it I am flooded with memories. I only let myself do it once or twice a year…because I want to trap the past inside.

Memory Matters

Last night I thought of the suitcase after seeing a picture of my Grandfather. I reminded myself that it was time to open it up again (I don’t think I have since moving to Monroe).  So I sat it in the middle of the floor and I cracked the old latches.  I held the books up to my nose and I pretty much put my head in the suitcase and took in the various odors that make up so many childhood memories.  Then I shut it, and it will stay that way for months.

Memory is important to us as humans.  It catches us up in so many things.  In worship, we are exercising Christian memory.  Just as I occasionally open up this suitcase to remind myself of my family, worship opens up the story of salvation to the congregation.  But what separates Christian memory from my suitcase sessions is that in the church we have an active memory.  Our memory is participation, insisting upon a present and future as well as a past.  In the mysteries of the divine we have an interactive relationship with our God and what he has done for us.

This is why worship isn’t passive or just something that is about us.  Individualism doesn’t solely reign in worship.  Our individual stories are taken together as we come before Christ as his bride, as the body and congregation.  This is an active life that we have with God, and by his gracious physical gifts to us we participate in this love with him. That is why the sacraments and means of grace are important.

Worship re-stories us into the reality that the kingdom of God is real, amongst us but also projecting us towards the future where God will dwell with us. It breaks us free from the world and creates a heart fully in love with God.  The scriptures become part of who we are, not just a handy information book.  This is rememberizing….

As much as I love this suitcase, it won’t cause new memories to happen.  But the worship of the church is participating with the old as well as causing the new.  Simply reminding ourselves of things doesn’t give proper service to who our God is. ….