On Saturday, I attended the Wonder Worship Conference along with seven members of our worship ministry. It was encouraging to see that the conference was sold out even though it was an all-day event on a long weekend when many people would rather be away at the cottage. With main sessions interspersed with more specialized workshops, teaching addressed both foundational topics like the theology of worship as well as more technical areas of musicianship and song writing. For me, it was an opportunity to reflect on what God is doing in this area of the church.
This week, I’d like to look at some of the lessons people should learn from the contemporary worship movement. Next week, I’ll address some of the lessons I feel people should learn from what I’ll call the traditional worship stream. My hope is that as people on both sides of this discussion are able to listen to each other in light of Scripture, our preferences will give way to greater unity in how we approach this topic. So, let’s start with what you should learn from the contemporary worship movement even if you don’t like guitars and drums.
1. Worship is personal.
Many people wrongly assume that contemporary worship music is mostly about the guitars. It’s not. I’m convinced that it’s mostly about a vertical orientation in worship music. What I mean is that the lyrics have shifted from singing about God to singing to God. With the psalms as their guide, contemporary Christian song writers are seeking to write lyrics that are more personal and relational than ever before. And those lyrics are helping a new generation of worshippers to connect with God in more personal ways. How personal is your practice of corporate worship?
2. Worship leads to wonder.
Good examples from both traditional and contemporary worship music focus on the character and works of God. But while traditional worship music often sought to teach people about God, contemporary worship music seeks to lead people in expressing wonder and devotion to God. There’s less teaching and more engagement now. Contemporary worship music leads people to seek God as their Mighty Fortress rather than just teaching believers that God is a Mighty Fortress. Do you allow God to use the words of corporate worship to help you express your praise and awe of the great God that we serve?
3. Worship is prayerful.
Because contemporary worship has become so personal, the line between worship and prayer becomes blurred. The reason you’ll see people closing their eyes or lifting their hands is that they’re seeking to express prayer to God. People I talk to say that the darker lighting and even the louder music helps them to focus on God and worry less about what the people around them are thinking. When was the last time that corporate worship moved you to prayer?
4. Worship style shouldn’t be foreign.
Contemporary worship music is about more than guitars and drums, but the instruments aren’t completely irrelevant either. The contemporary worship movement recognizes that the Bible hasn’t prescribed a list of acceptable instruments or musical rhythms because flexibility is crucial to bringing the Christian faith to new cultures and peoples. Contemporary worship music follows Paul’s example in seeking to “become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22) by looking for forms and expressions of music that are both conducive to congregational singing as well as familiar to the culture we’ve been called to reach. Are you committed to submitting your musical preferences to those of the culture you’re a part of in order to not set up unnecessary barriers to the gospel?
Next week, I’ll consider some of the lessons from the other side of this discussion, but for now I’d ask you to consider whether you’ve heard the lessons of the contemporary worship music movement. Is your worship personal? Does it lead to wonder? Is it prayerful? And is it about your preferences or those of your community? May God strengthen all of our worship as we gather to praise Him and hear from Him this Sunday.
In awe of Him,