Godfrey Birtill at ‘Levites’

Godfreybirtill On Monday night Godfrey Birtill was in Colchester leading worship and teaching as part of a weekly training evening called “Levites” run throughout June by Kingsland Church.

Godfrey has a distinctive worship style that, it would be fair to say, seems to divide opinion. At the very least he is unique, passionate and prophetic. Prior to hearing him in person, I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Theologically he stands firmly with the Celtic saints in his approach to the word, the land, the spirit and the challenging road of following Christ, writing his own songs in his own style, as well as refreshing great hymns, once forgotten, with new tunes.

After leading an energetic time of worship, which included 10 or 12 minutes of peace, simply waiting in God’s presence, Godfrey taught for a while on worship. Here, in not particularly elegant form, are my recollections of some of his key points.

  • You are the worship team. It’s not about the band. You can’t go home and say “that was a terrible time of worship” – you’re part of it.We’re fed a diet of worship by an industry that is concerned to remain safe in the pursuit of sales.

Here are some styles of worship that seem to be missing from the worship life of our churches.

  • The dread of God – Sometimes we need reminding of the fear of God. Dread – meaning to create awe. (When he produced his album ‘dread God’ executives from the music industry told him they couldn’t release it because of the title – it wasn’t safe enough.)
  • War songs – there is a spiritual battle. You don’t have to be a Christian very long to realise we’re in a battle.
  • Lament – it may not be a season for that now – need a season of Joy to produce a different sound in a nation that’s suffering from financial insecurity and worry. But sometimes we need songs of lament to bring before God.
  • Prophetic songs – songs that speak to the land. Scripture speaks about the land. Is 40:9 “Say to the city, this is your God.” Jesus wept over the city. Sometimes our worship is too nice. The prophetic can be a little off the wall and we need to make room for that, without going to extremes.

There’s a caution about  overdoing it on any of these, but they all need to be in the worship toolkit.

  • The songs aren’t in a resource pack, they’re in you. Indigenous songs – where are the songs that reflect your locality and issues? Godfrey appealed to young song writers – a lot of songs put out by the industry are like Coke – it’s the same everywhere. “I like Coke, but there’s too much fast food and fizzy pop – pop music – in worship today. The Lord wants to release the new wine.” Don’t write another Tim Hughes song. Don’t write something that’s the same as what we’ve already got. Wine comes from an area – there’s a uniqueness about it.
  • Recapture the mystical in worship. It’s not the occult. Don’t reject things because of an old mindset. Godfrey spoke glowingly of the depth of worship among Catholic groups he’s been working with.
  • There have been many critics of revival – but you’ve never heard of them. But you’ve heard of Wesley and other leaders of revival. Some people appoint themselves as spiritual policemen – we need to make sure we’re not part of it.
  • It’s not about being professional – “The church should be more amateur than professional” Henri Nouwen. Amateurs have passion. Amateur doesn’t mean substandard – it means, a lover (from the French, amour). Pursue amateurism, keep that fire, that passion. Leave room for the Holy Spirit – it’s part of the adventure.

I gained a huge respect for Godfrey. He really is a unique voice in a crowded and often clone like worship culture. If you get a chance to hear him, take it.

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