March 22, 2006

7 things I learnt from Bono about worship leading

1. Connect uniquely. Time and again on the Vertigo DVD, Bono speaks about Chicago and his memories of Chicago. It is also his birthday, another uniquely contextual layer. A wise worship leader does not start in heaven and continue to the 7th heaven. Rather they search for the unique connections that make that context, that day, that date, that time, uniquely unrepeatable.

2. Engage through familiarity. The use of familiar songs brings back layers of memory. A wise worship leader includes songs that resonnate with previous experiences and previous encounters.

3. Use repetitition to call forth prayer. Bono dedicates Running to stand still as a prayer. He concludes Running to stand still by sliding into a repetitive "Hallelujah." It's so easy to sing. The simple repetition enables the audience to sing with the band. Bono has turned a concert into a participation in prayer, through the simple use of repetition.

4. Secure a 5th (visual) band member. U2 concerts are no longer a 4 band show. They are a 5 band show, with Willie Williams providing visuals that add multiple layers to the experience. Not many worship leaders have U2's dosh. But a wise worship leader will look to add not just singers or musicians, but a "visual" person to their team, charged with enhancing visual environments.

5. Create hope by drawing the best from the past. As Bono tells the audience of the Vertigo CD, We as a band are looking to the future. We're taking the best of the past and moving forward with hope. A wise worship leader searches the past for the fragments that resonnate with a hopeful future.

6. Plan participation. Faced with 40,000 fans, Bono can draw one boy from the audience to sing to, one woman from the audience to dance with. He can use repetition to call forth prayer and he can hold the mic to encourage "congregational singing." A wise worship leader intentionally looks for ways to turn the many into one.

7. Invoke passionate practices. Bono invites the audience to haul out their cell phones. He kills the house lights and thousands of phones dance blue. He invites them to do something, to text the Make Poverty History campaign. A wise worship leader looks for ways to turn singing into action and turn entertainment into justice.

Posted by steve at March 22, 2006 10:59 AM

Mate. What an excellent post, as was the previous one about your passionate practices and music. There is much to reflect on.

Posted by: Paul Fromont at March 22, 2006 12:46 PM

Something doesn't 'gel' with me over these concepts Steve and the aim of worship (as I understand worship). This is picking up an entertainment medium and translating it across to worship just like what Hillsong does here in Oz. What is the dofference between these observances and Hillsong? I'll start with that question but there are more and deeper one's behind it.

Posted by: Andrew at March 22, 2006 03:36 PM


two thoughts -- if worship is the work of the people, i was struck by ways that U2 allow people to participate. so often people say that alternative forms of worship don't work in large gatherings. i know it is highly planning but i am struck by how u2 allow participation ie the work of the people.

second thought -- i've never been to hillsong nor seen a DVD of their worship so I can't compare with your analogy. there is a degree of prophetic challenge in the Vertigo CD that moves well beyond "entertainment." if worship is Isaiah 1:13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.

Isaiah 1: 17 learn to do right!
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

then that happens in Vertigo.

does that help or are you still uneasy? love to hear your "deeper" thoughts?

Posted by: steve at March 22, 2006 03:46 PM

i like john drane's definition of worship as being
"all we are responding to all God is"

if i had been at the concert on friday night (she said in a raw tone) i imagine it would have been an amazing worship experience..

i have a great quote from a friend who watched vertigo sunday morning, will try to get her to post...

Posted by: lynne at March 22, 2006 04:53 PM

...this is what Lynne is looking for... We watched the U2 Vertigo DVD on Sunday morning in a worshipful, wistful way... no need to go to church, really. Bono would make a great preacher.
Roll on November.

Posted by: Jan at March 22, 2006 05:04 PM

I looked at Bullet the blue sky yesterday with my contemporary preaching class. I looked at the multiple samples he uses to recontextualise an 1980s song and we all agreed that Bono is a better preacher in one 4 minute song than we will probably ever be in our whole lives.

Posted by: steve at March 22, 2006 05:10 PM

Well firstly let me say that I am a U2 fan (have been for 20 years or so) so my comments are not about U2 or vertigo. Further, I am not saying that one cannot take useful tips from such a multisensory experience and apply them to corporate worship. Lastly, I have 6 week old twins and am sleep deprived and anything from my brain at the moment is potentially the staggered thoughts of a bone tired father! Hence my comment is conveyed as a 'gut' feeling. But here are my rambling thoughts...

The potential direction of these tips, when applied in a consumerist, homogeneous, individualist, celebrity oriented and dysfunctionally immage driven culture can go in all sorts of directions (good and bad). And they could be pretty much also applied at Hillsong or Planetshakers (to pick two excessive examples) where worship often becomes little more then a psyco-erotic experience experienced in a large crowd but rarely allowing the individual into anything but the 'image of community experience'. The real thing doesn't happen. For me worship should be something far more expressive of a community's response to God then the alienated experience of a concert. Hence comments like Jan's, 'no need to go to church' because she has had her individualist experience... therefore other people who we journey with become not necessary, when they should be as a proper hermeneutic of worship.

Also when one borrows from the 'pop-star' metaphor one is unknowinly also inviting a dangerous economic motivation that accompanies the concept that is a long way from Christian worship. Pretty soon DVD's of the 'experience' will be available for you to enjoy in the comfort of your living room... no need for community again.

So, yes there is lots of good here but there can be also major risks when confused with Christian worship in our already dysfunctional culture that does all it can to devalue concepts like community and the humanity of people... something that modern church worship mimics and doesn't address (that's why all the people winning idol are worship leaders- they have been practicing for years).

So, yes, it is not all bad... just that there is a'check' in my spirit when I read the comments... that says 'danger Will Robinson'. Perhaps it is not what you would do with the tips but what the tips could become in the hands of others? Anyway, there is my two cents worth for now. Perhaps there will be some questions out of this that I can elaborate on.

Posted by: Andrew at March 22, 2006 06:41 PM

I find myself agreeing with almost every comment...

Steve, I love this post. I'm a huge u2 fan...always loved the way they helped people connect with God through their music and concerts.

But I get a bit frustrated when, in the conversation of "worship", we always stand on music. Why does it seem that we make music the foundation of worship? (I know we don't mean to, but that's the perception I seem to get over and over again from almost every angle I look.)

But whatever we pigeon-hole worship to be, I love #7. Invoke. Amen.

Posted by: jim.k at March 23, 2006 03:28 AM

Maybe I'm missing something that the others are catching in the original post but I see Steve's words not unlike the idea of "praying the psalms" or praying "the sinner's prayer" or "the Lord's prayer" could surely pray the psalms in a literal sense but if you take the concept and personalize it, if you take the lessons and adapt them, you get something even more powerful. When I take Steve's thoughts and personalize and expand them, I see something that goes far beyond "corporate singing", "consumerist worship" or "industrialized praise" and certainly far beyond Bono - I mean for pete's sake, Bono's cool and all but seriously. Anyway, like I said, maybe I'm missing something *shrug* but I like how you think Steve.

Posted by: Makeesha at March 23, 2006 06:37 AM

Some brief comments
- (andrew) - wonderful news about the birth of your twins
- (andrew)- what does it mean to affirm that God so loves our "consumerist, homogeneous, individualist, celebrity oriented and dysfunctionally immage driven culture" and that the spirit can be redemptively active in a concert. so could we then learn something about worship leading?
- (andrew) church for Jan might not be Sunday morning. it could be Sunday evening and she might got to church Sunday evening nourished by listening on the Sunday morning
- (andrew) in postcard 7 of my book, i talk about different forms of community; peg and ethical, borrowing from bauman. the experience of community at a concert can be real yet different from other experiences of community.
- (jim) most of these 7 things i list are a reflection on how Bono moves beyond worship beyond music; i discuss how Bono engages memory, prayer, social justice and the eyes. i'm not sure it's fair to bounce of my post into a rant about worship=music. (a rant i totally agree with by the way)

Posted by: steve at March 23, 2006 07:34 AM

Linking you on the Get Up Off Your Knees blog.

U2's post-9/11 October Elevation concert in Providence RI was the second greatest liturgy I've ever been to (the first was an Easter Vigil in the early 90s). For me the work of the people thing is key; Bono knows the difference between performing and what we in the liturgical church call "presiding," i.e. fostering corporate participation. (He can perform too, of course, but you can tell what he really wants to do is preside. Or prophesy.) Also, did you catch the quote from him after he spoke at our National Prayer Breakfast over here in the US?-- "I believe being a worship leader is the highest of all art forms, to worship and call people into the presence of God."

One thing that is missing here for me, altho it's not attributable to Bono specifically but to their whole team, is the way U2 shows are sequenced as a process - emotional, or spiritual if you want to call it that. It is always *very* important which songs follow which songs, and how the process leads the audience to be much more ready for a passionate practice, e.g.

Going back to Bono specifically, I'd add a final lesson: learn how to let the Holy Spirit revise your plans on the fly.

Posted by: Beth at March 23, 2006 03:17 PM

You just described the curriculum at at Hillsong worship leaders' training session Beth (minus the concern for poverty bit! he he!).

Posted by: Andrew at March 23, 2006 06:37 PM

Steve, in answer to your questions...

1. Of course God loves this world (regardless of its dysfunction). But surely worship should be something that helps form us towards the likeness of Christ and doesn't hold us in our alienated positions?

2. My comment for Jan is not in regards to whatever 'time' a worship service occurs but the need for it to come out of the life of a congregation and not just be a privitised experience.

So, in conclusion, I love U2 and don't disagree that there can be some good ideas to glean from them which can be translated into worship but at the same time I am concerned about the borrowing of the 'pop' image for Christian worship. It has an entirely different agenda (eg. dehumanised, saxualised, economic, alienated, consumerist) to the freedom that Christian worship should be bringing as we encounter the risen Christ. And I repeat that while you might use such tips responsibly, many won't.

Posted by: Andrew at March 23, 2006 06:51 PM

Andrew.... Well, since I'm an Anglican priest and I learned my liturgical curriculum from about the 2nd century, I'm glad to hear Hillsong has caught up with patristics! ;-)

Posted by: Beth at March 24, 2006 12:18 AM

Also, Andrew, I should have read your other comment before replying (and being an American I doubt I have any idea what resonance the word "Hillsong" has for you folks, btw). While I certainly agree that your list of adjectives is representative of much pop-cultural entertainment and media, and that uncritical absorption of those values is dangerous, I would be interested in hearing suggested specific examples of which songs/ mini-theatre-pieces/ visuals/ participatory rituals in a U2 concert foster a dehumanized, s*xualized [comment form won't take this word without an asterisk!], economic, alienated, and consumerist agenda. If we were to consider material from across various eras, that list almost reads to me as a catalog of the cultural idols U2 attack artistically during their shows (you'd need to add "militaristic," I guess).

Posted by: Beth at March 24, 2006 12:42 AM


totally agree...sorry for the music/worship rant that kind of sprung up. And I'll say what I said earlier...#7 - Invoke...beautiful. None of what I've said is meant to be critical, totally like where you're taking this (you're talking about U2, of course I'm going to love it!)



Posted by: jim.k at March 24, 2006 01:44 AM

i haven't yet had a chance to read through this discussion--it looks interesting upon first skim--but i would like to say that the Slane Castle is, for me, a more 'worshipful' experience than the Chicago Vertigo one is.

having said that, thanks for your thoughts on this, Steve. very good.

grace and peace.

Posted by: Nathan at March 24, 2006 04:53 AM

I find it perplexing how often people get upset by any reference to worship in a "non sacred" context. if we're not careful, we can find ourselves in a very gnostic mindset that says that anything that's not "spirit" is evil or at best, neutral.

Posted by: Makeesha at March 24, 2006 05:57 AM

Andrew, it would help I think if you unpacked "Hillsong" a bit. As I said earlier, I've never been to Hillsong.Beth also says she's at a loss in terms of the reference.

Nathan, I have also pondered Slane vs Chicago. Slane is more peaceful. Yet for me, the Chicago montage around Bullet thru to Streets is an outstanding mix of prayer and prophetic challenge. The way Bono can both affirm the audience eg America has home of Martin Luther King, yet challenge eg what about civil rights for Africa, is so much more subtle, so much more complex, so much richer than Slane. So Chicago gets my vote esp on the basis of those initial verses I commented from in Isaiah 1.

Posted by: steve at March 24, 2006 07:11 AM

Makeesha, I am not discounting the 'non-sacred' from being accessible for worship. Hardly... that may lead to gnosticism (although I'm not quite sure how) but it does lead to a modernist dualism that lacks any holism.

Steve (and others) let me unpack the Hillsong thing a bit, but this is a thread on a blog and there isn't much space for a decent description! Hillsong (and I'm using it as an example because they are the biggest influencing force in church life in Australia (and from my experience quite an influence across the Tasman) but contrary to others I don't think they are bad or evil... just a reflection of aspirational surburbanites who vote for John Howard).

It is all to do with pop music and the agendas behind it. Sometime in the 1980's/1990's folk music drifted out of charasmatic church life (think James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkle and Cat Stevens) and that explains much of the church music style as the dominant motif and was replaced by pop music. Now while many of us mightn't be charasmatics that is where our dominant church music influence comes from.

Folk music was about participation, when everyone had something to bring (a song, a poem, a thought, a prayer, a prophecy, or just to bang the tamborine or wave a flag, etc). It was communitarian and inclusive. Pop music is all about performance and economics. It is about moving units ($) and celebrity and s*xuality. Further is is based on division and coolness- "i'm in, you're out" and immage. The unfashionable don't belong.

Hillsong is an excellent example of when a church copies the cultures' music and just puts 'God' lyrics to the tune. Except in the case of Hillsong the lyrics are almost exclusively about 'God and me' and miss the community aspect. But nevertheless that's just the words.

Consequently, when you look at a modern congregation like Hillsong you see a sea of individuals all exclusively and seperately worshipping their God and mimicing whatever the leader up front does (or looks like). Yes, there is a lot of devotion (but the same could be said of a footy crowd), and it binds rather then frees. One is not accepted for who one is... one is accepted for how they represent their life is moving 'up', their image, their 'positive speak' and there general conformity. That's he myth of pop music... all these individuals being so individualistic and yet strangely clonelike.

Again, for the sake of space this is way too generalistic, but I think honest in my attempt and just soooooo far away from any biblical and traditional Christian notions of worship that I find that teach the believers theology, the biblical narrative, and connect God and mission out of their community, ultimately round the table of the bread and the wine.

Does that start to answer your questions?

Posted by: Andrew at March 24, 2006 11:11 AM

Hi - good comments Steve - you've generated a good discussion! I am an avid U2 fan and have had some worship experiences at a U2 concert.

However........ I think Bono is very well aware of his role on stage and judging from previous comments he has made - I think he views his time up there as his personal worship time (a lot of those songs are prayers in one form or another) but not as a worship leader. I think he desires to take an audience to a higher place spiritually and emotionally but he seems to imply that worship is even higher. I was aware of the quote Beth Maynard brought up from the prayer Breakfast. I think he says this with absolute humbleness - Bono is awesome this way - as in the calling to lead worship is on a much higher plane than what U2 offers to an audience.

I have reservations about worship merged with entertainment. I really gel with Andrews comments. A lot of times in church I feel as though I'm passive, being entertained.

I think we need new treatesis nailed to a Wittenburg door.

Posted by: Griffin at March 25, 2006 05:18 AM

I'm finding this a great conversation. It seems to me we have now teased out three possible ways worship might happen;
a) the individual concert goer worshippers (my initial take)
b) how could this be named worship if worship is the corporate act of the people, with teaching, communal and missional aims (Andrew)
c) Bono as "worshipping"; and the way he invites others into his worship (Griffin).

Posted by: steve at March 25, 2006 07:56 AM

Well, my argument would be that what U2 are going for in their shows is b): a corporate work of the people with teaching, communal and missional aims.

I don't contest that a) and c) may indeed be spiritually edifying in some ways, but IMHO they are probably too individualistic to be called "worship" in the full sense of the word, i.e. "leitourgia," the work of the people. (This of course comes in part from my bias as someone with very little experience of "entertainment" type contexts that appropriate the word "worship," which Andrew is describing).

While it's always a delight to watch Bono himself worshipping onstage, and I agree that some of his statements make clear that a concert is a time of worship for him, let's not leave aside the many other quotes describing how he (and the rest of the band - U2 is far from just Bono's enterprise) views the corporate and participatory nature of the overall event. Just read them talking about "Streets" -- I use that all the time in U2 workshops. Or Larry Mullen, though I can't remember the number offhand - "[60%? 80%?] of a U2 show is the audience."

So I would tend to read the c) quote I posted above as more of an effort to describe b), as well: Bono didn't mention inviting others into an atomistic "my worship," but calling a group "into the presence of God," which is exactly the role of the classical presider.

Posted by: Beth at March 26, 2006 02:09 AM

Andrew - nice description of the move from participatory worship leading to presentational worship leading. Last summer I visited a number of churches for a curriculum on worship my wife and I are writing and that's exactly what we saw many times - leaders worshipping up front and the congregation watching and joining on an individual, rather than corporate, basis.

Posted by: Bob Keeley at March 26, 2006 02:48 AM

I studied worship for my PhD. I realised very quickly that observation only told me so much. I could so easily make assumptions (often based on my existing prejudices) unless I actually talked with people. In the end I did interviews,focus groups, surveys, to actually try to get what was really happening with people and worship.

What you did sounds a fascinating project and I'm interested to know what tools you used to help you "trip inside someone's head" - to quote from a contemporary prophet/worship leader?

Posted by: steve at March 26, 2006 08:02 AM

really appreciate what you are adding to this conversation. Let me be cynical. All worship involves a complex dance between individual and community. This Sunday you will choose songs and words on behalf of people. Some in the congregation will fantasise over you. People will participate in multiple levels. Some will come to hear you preach ie "celebrity." And in that mix of reality you will hope to subvert that and reorientate people around the Jesus story. Just like U2.

Posted by: steve at March 26, 2006 08:06 AM

with all due respect, your concepts seem to me a bit scary and manipulative. especially your points on repetition. read some materials on cults and cult-like organizations. a strong part of their MO is steering the people with repetitive songs, chants and prayers. as well as the use of visual stimulation within the worship context.

dude, and your constant comment on "a wise worship leader would do this..." is a bit presumptious.

in comparison, i would never believe that type of comment would come from bono. being humble before God is essential.

Posted by: Sophia at March 26, 2006 11:27 AM

What a great discussion! I just arrived via the link on U2Sermons (thanks to Beth). Everyone’s great comments have spawned a few thoughts.

First, the first U2 concert I went to was during the Joshua Tree tour at the Los Angeles Coliseum. (Fun anecdote: that was November 18, 1987, one of only three shows where U2 opened for U2 disguised as the family-based country music group, The Dalton Brothers; Adam wore a dress!) I sat at the very top of the coliseum stunned as 90,000 people sang, "You broke the bonds / And you loosed the chains / Carried the cross of my shame / Oh my shame, you know I believe it." I had never heard that many people sing together before. I was sucked in to the vortex that U2 had so carefully crafted. It was a transforming moment. I worshiped....

I took my wife to her first U2 concert a year ago in San Jose, California. As we were planning for the concert I was trying to tell her that this would be much more than a show, it would be unlike any concert she had ever been to – everyone would be singing. In those wonderful moments where the band lights up the audience as if they were the actors, the singers, the worship leaders, I watched my wife as she watched everybody else. With the same amazement I had nearly twenty years earlier she said, "Everyone is singing!" She said it again and again. And then came one of the best worship moments of my life: All Because of You, Yahweh, and 40. Beth is right, the order is always intentional. That has taught me much about being a worship leader. I worshiped....

Second, in a year-old interview with CNN Bono speaks of his music: "They’re all to me, songs of praise to God..., even the angry ones." Bono has spoken of his "religious instinct." It’s what propels him to transform the arena into a cathedral, to sing notes only attainable in the presence of an audience, and conversely, to turn the mic and the spotlight over to the people who have come to see him. His focus is on participation with the audience, thus the ramp, the small venues (in North America) and the emphasis on lighting and visuals.

Third, a point that leads from the second: Bono is more Hebrew in his understanding of worship than most of us, and until we comprehend the worship of the ancient Israelites we may have trouble understanding the music and imagery of U2. Bono has stated on many occasions that he favors the Psalms, the hymnal of the Hebrews. What we forget is that the largest category of Psalms is not praise, thanksgiving, or confession, it is lament. Bono knows this. He purposefully and skillfully weaves Love and Peace, Sunday, Bullet and Running in the lament tradition of the Hebrews. No "happy-clappy" here. The lesson for me: as a "contemporary" worship leader I must use lament (could that get me fired?). The challenge: how to recontextualize, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept" (Psalm 137:1) and other songs of lament for the people that gather with us weekly but live in a tumultuous world of vertigo.

U2 has shown us that people need expressions of lament.

Posted by: Tim at March 26, 2006 05:38 PM


I agree that that could happen but if someone comes to our church and 'fantasises' over me they really do need help! To see is to believe.

But I guess the responsibility rests with where leaders take people and if we do lead them towards freedom or keep them in their captivity.

Posted by: Andrew at March 26, 2006 07:18 PM

Sophia, appreciate your duely respectful drive by. In this post, by repetition I'm talking about the fact that Bono sang Hallelujah about 10 times in a row, in a 2 hr 20 minute concert. Do you see that as being cultlike repetition?

and Bono as humble? when you said that, the image that sprung to my head was of Bono in the song "original of the species' on the Vertigo DVD. When he sings the line "some people got way to much confidence baby" he points to himself. I like the humility of such confidence :)


Posted by: steve at March 26, 2006 09:42 PM
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