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What The Swedes Taught Me About Worship

What The Swedes Taught Me About Worship

By Chris Olson on June 26, 2012

Many of us worship leaders deal with the issue of song preference. Whether it is our own preferences, or hearing about the preferences of those in our congregation, this issue pops up fairly consistently, regardless of the denomination, church size, or demographic. I am sure there have been times when you have introduced a new song, with the only response being blank stares directed at either you or the lyrics screen. Sometimes, it seems as though the atmosphere (and attitude) of worship comes to a screeching halt if the song is unfamiliar. Is our ability to worship really that tied to knowing the words of a song?

My genetic makeup is at least 25% Swedish. I most identify with this portion of my ancestry simply due to the way I was raised and the relatives most often around me. My great grandmother’s family came to the US directly from Sweden, and my grandmother is full blood Swedish. As a semi-related, but not entirely relevant note, I love Swedish food. Now sure, I grew up in the States, so I haven’t had it all. But what I have eaten, prepared by my grandmother and great grandmother, has been awesome. Truly awesome. Ok, back to the story . . .

Much of my grandmother’s family is back in Sweden; therefore, I have family in Sweden. A few of those relatives were here in the states last week, and this past Sunday my family and I were blessed to go to my grandma’s house for lunch and meet these relatives. These were my 3rd cousins (a concept completely foreign to the Swedes – “We don’t count cousins in Sweden,” I was told.), along with their son and his fiancé. I learned that all of them were Christians, and the mother, Ana Marie, who is confined to a wheelchair, was at one point an evangelist in Sweden for three years. Hearing this made my heart super glad, as it’s great to know I have distant family that knows the Lord.

They were told that I am a worship pastor and that my wife also sings. They requested that we sing for them after lunch. I have to tell you, getting up in front of the church body to lead worship is one thing, but playing (performing) for family – whether familiar or not – is a different story. We were both nervous, but I busted out the guitar and we launched into How He Loves. They did not know this song, it seems, but they did recognize Nothing But the Blood and Open the Eyes of My Heart, and a few of them sang along. What started as a one song “performance” turned into a little worship time in my grandparents’ living room. It was wonderful, and moving.

During this time, my eyes (when not closed in worship) were constantly drawn to Ana Marie. Not only was she in a wheelchair, but she also spoke and understood the least English of the group. Yet, even though there was an obvious language barrier, there she sat – hands raised, a beautiful smile on her face, eyes closed and head looking upward. At one point, in between a couple songs, she just started praying over everyone. The Spirit was so active and real in that place. She didn’t know the songs – heck, she didn’t even know the language – but she knew that worship was taking place. It wasn’t about the words she sang or didn’t sing, nor whether or not she liked or knew the words to the song. It was about glorifying God. Nothing else. This she recognized, and she dove in. It was truly, truly beautiful.

It was both convicting and encouraging to me. As a worship pastor, I can get frustrated when I see those blank stares. But, I do the same sometimes when I’m out in the congregation. We all do. We’re human, and especially as musicians and worship leaders, it can be even worse for us! But if a woman from another country, who doesn’t know the language, can enter into deep, genuine worship in the midst of songs and words she does not know, then surely we can too. This is the goal we should strive for in our church communities...that it becomes less about singing the correct lyrics or singing only the songs we like, and becomes more about worshipping God.

If your heart, as the worship leader, is pointed upward, and the hearts of those in your congregations are truly tuned towards worshipping our Lord, then the songs and words won’t matter. If it’s a new song, blank stares will turn into upward praise. Don’t take my word for it, take it from the Swedes – after all, Ana Marie taught me this lesson.

-Chris Olson

Chris is a worship leader and a member of the All About Worship Team

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Chris Olson

Chris Olson

Chris has been involved in worship ministry in some way for over 20 years, ranging from worship team guitarist/bassist/drummer to staff worship pastor. Chris presently serves as one of the worship leaders at Grace Church in Overland Park, KS, and is also a songwriter with a passion to write songs for the local church.  Chris married WAY up when his wife Rachel said “I do,” and they have two awesomely awesome kids, Aedan and Caitlin.