How Do We Become More Honest In Worship?

“Did you hear about the latest Christian music scandal?” a youth intern asked me this Sunday as we were waiting in the lounge for the second service message to be over.

Oh crud, what’s it this time?

I was expecting to hear the usual about someone cheating on the spouse or something similar.

No. A worship band used the F-bomb in a song.

You’ve probably caught wind of it about by now. Kings Kaleidoscope’s new album, Beyond Control, contains a song called “A Prayer” which uses the F-word a couple of times.

“A Prayer” is a vulnerable cry to God from frontman Chad Gardner, who very honestly shares his struggles with anxiety.

Here’s an article that gives you more of the details, if you haven’t seen them already.

Here are the lyrics to “A Prayer.” This page also includes an interview with Gardner where he talks about it.

I imagine this is going to fan the flame on the debate about whether followers of Jesus should cuss.

Let’s be clear, I don’t want to debate that here. You can find hundreds of other places on the internet to do that.

But here, let’s talk honesty in worship.

Looking For Ways To Cuss

A few months back, Fuller Studio released a video of a conversation between Eugene Peterson (most widely known as the writer of The Message Bible) and Bono (most widely known as, well, Bono). They were talking about the Psalms.

The video is only about 20 minutes, and worth a watch even if it took 10x that amount of our time.

Most of the conversation centers around Christian art becoming more honest. And right around the 16:12 mark, the interviewer (David Taylor, professor of theology and culture) asks what to do about the sense of wanting to do violence in our hearts when we experience violence.

Eugene Peterson’s response is this:

“We need to find a way to cuss without cussing, and the imprecatory psalms surely do that.”

(Imprecatory psalms are those that invoke judgment, calamity or curses upon one’s enemies or those perceived as enemies of God.)

Based on that interview, would Eugene Peterson agree with Gardner’s use of the F-word? Maybe not. But I think he would applaud his attempt at honesty.

Regardless, your church and my church are (probably) not going to be using “A Prayer” (even in its sanitized “clean” version) in the context of corporate worship, unless it’s used to illustrate a sermon point.

When we choose songs for the congregation to sing together, there needs to be somewhat of a universality to our songs. And therein lies the problem of honesty in worship:

Many of the “honest” songs are written from personal and individual experiences that don’t translate for everyone in the congregation. And so it’s just easier to gravitate towards the usual suspects of the somewhat homogenized CCLI Top 100.

I don’t think we need to start dropping the F-bomb in church, but I do think our worship gatherings need an infusion of honesty in worship. In fact, I think our people are hungry for it.

A couple of years ago, I was going through a dark season, and during that time I sat at the piano and did something I haven’t done in awhile. I wrote a song. But it wasn’t anything like what I had tried to write back when I was making writing trips to Nashville.

It had the language of Psalm 42:9, “Why have you forgotten me?” and other psalms that cry out to God in despair.

As I started to emerge from that time, I talked with my senior pastor, and we felt it was fitting to share that song with our church. It wasn’t a happy sing-along. But a few people did start singing with it. And afterward, several people told me how much it meant to them.


It expressed what they were feeling. They weren’t in a “O Happy Day” place. They needed the language of…

“Do you hear me, God?”

“Do you see where I’m at?”

“Do you even care?”

So when you read the title of this blog, you might have been expecting me to have a subtitle of “7 tips to make worship more honest” or something like that. But today’s post is not going to give you any tips and tools.

In fact, I’m asking you for the tips and tools. Here are a series of questions I’d like you to weigh in on in the comment sections so we can have a conversation about them. And I encourage you to have some offline conversations about them as well.

How do we foster honest gathered worship, embracing both praise and lament, as well as rejoicing and righteous anger?

And how do we embrace those different voices of worship, knowing not everyone is in a place of mourning or lament, or on the flip side, able to celebrate?

What songs have you experienced that foster honesty and “real life” in worship?

What other worship expressions besides corporate singing have you experienced that help people be honest about the darker side of life?

Take two or three minutes and respond to one or more of those questions in the comment section below. Even if you’re not a “comment on blog posts” kind of person. I’d love to have a conversation about this.

In fact, from what I can see of the North American church culture, we NEED to have a conversation on this.

Jon Nicol