Worship As A Scientist: Why Worship Is A Right & Left Brain Phenomenon

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”
-Quote by Albert Einstein

Worship is ART and SCIENCE. It is free form yet precise. Artistry but still mathematics. Worship is a beautiful thing really. You have to worship as a scientist.

Music lights up every part of the brain. When we listen to music certain parts of the brain light up first, then the next section of the brain, then the next and so on. Some of these parts are in the same region that love and compassion are processed while others are in the same sections as mathematics and reasoning skills. It must make sense then that God created music to be received inside our brains in a systematic and all-encompassing way.

As you learn about music theory you learn that music isn’t as complicated as it sounds. God created music with order. Most of our ears know when a piece of music sounds good or bad (some people are exceptions of course, seriously, dubstep…what?). Outside of unusual cases, in music 1+1=2. In the entire universe there are only 12 notes. Of those 12, only 7 make up a major scale (with the 8th note in the scale being the fundamental note lifted an octave higher). Those 7 notes make up 7 chords that will work with each other successively to walk up the music scale. Only 4 to 5 of those are common to pop music. You may hear some alternative chords from time to time, but they are just that: alternative. So 7 notes and 4-5 chords adds up to what? Answer: a billion dollar music industry. It also ends up that most music from past centuries used these same pop music principles that we employ today.

So, music is pretty mathematical. Many are wired to be able to enjoy it. As said before, most people can tell what sounds good and what doesn’t. As musicians we can get carried away trying to be certain we sound artsy. Non-musicians don’t have the skill to define artistic nuance. Rather, they have the ability to engage with what is comfortable and what is more commonplace from their region of the world. As worship leaders, we need to choose music and write music that includes most people when we are making our selections. Songs that have predictable chord patterns or progressions that repeat are often easier for a group to internalize quicker than ones that are complicated or unusual. When scripture says “sing a new song to the Lord”, I don’t think it means a confusing song.

When you begin to think about worship as a scientist you can begin to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. You are more keenly aware of who is worshiping with you and what their preferences are. Yes, you are leading them, but you are doing so as a shepherd, not a militant drill sergeant. Knowing that most of our brains internalize rhythm patterns, chord structures and melodies in similar fashions reminds us to choose material that will speak to the greater whole.

If you’re constantly introducing great music that no one is engaging with then you are misinterpreting the fundamental principle that your congregation has a pulse. They have a sense of what allows them to freely worship Jesus and what takes tremendous effort on their part. You’ve got to work to remove barriers and get them to the feet of Jesus. You can do this. As you introduce songs do your best to teach them to your congregation. Don’t just present them, teach them. Make sure that they’ve had a run at the chorus before you get to the first one in the song. Any of the major hooks in the song should be amplified in your arrangements. If a song still flops, let it go. It may not have been meant for your congregation at this time or at all. Choose music that has great appeal.

Mixing art and mathematics is our jobs as worship leaders. We are ineffective until we find the perfect balance at our places of worship. Leading people into the presence of God is wonderful, but it is a responsibility.

How do you choose songs and themes in music? Are you careful to think about your congregation and their preferences or are you being a bit bullish in your attitude? I’d love to hear how you’ve been careful in your abilities as a scientist. Comment below. Join in the community.

-Micah Brooks