Last week, I gave an update on the Wonder Worship Conference and some of the lessons we should take away from the contemporary worship movement. But the learning doesn’t just go one way. There were many lessons I learned that might be more associated with our heritage in traditional worship. What became clear to me was that we need to listen to one another and be shaped by God’s Word as we seek to grow in expressions of corporate worship. Let me share what I learned.
1. Worship isn’t just an individual experience.
I made the point last week that one of the biggest shifts in contemporary music isn’t the guitars or drums but rather the shift from a horizontal to a vertical orientation in worship. People want to express worship to God not just sing to each other about God. The psalms are filled with individual expressions of worship directly to God. But that’s not the whole story. Ephesians 5:19 speaks of “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” even while talking about “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” And many psalms are from worshipper to worshipper singing about God rather than to Him. Look at Psalm 136 for instance. Individually and personally expressing worship to God is good and vital, but what we’re doing when we gather for corporate worship is different than that. We’re personally expressing worship to God but we’re also conscious of one another. We’re joining our voices together in a chorus that expresses our unity. If the room is so dark that we can’t see one another, it detracts from that horizontal aspect of worship. If the music is so loud that we can’t hear one another, we miss something of the corporate dimension of our praise. Our heritage in traditional worship reminds us that worship isn’t just an individual experience.
2. Worship music is for the entire congregation to express their praise.
Contemporary worship music has spread across the church today through concerts, albums and videos. While we should be grateful that God is raising up such gifted Christian artists, it’s important to remember that what takes place in corporate worship is fundamentally different than a concert, an album or a video. Worship music is for the entire congregation to express their praise. If the music can only be sung by a few elite musicians, then it falls short of what it should be. The strength of traditional hymns is in their singability. While changing musical styles introduce rhythms and patterns that we all need to work at learning, the greatest compliment that could be given to a new song is that it was heartily sung by the congregation. Our songs still need to give voice to the praise of the whole family of God.
3. Even deeply personal worship still needs to be God-centred.
There’s no question that modern worship music has become more personal. And that emphasis can be seen clearly in the Psalms. David’s prayers invite the worshipper into the heart of someone who longs to deeply connect with God in all of life. But even deeply personal worship still needs to be God-centred. At the conference, a couple of the sessions reminded us that worship is fundamentally a response to God’s self-revelation. Worship should include me but it’s not all about me. It’s about me responding to what God has revealed. As Sunder Krishnan said, ‘It’s not a worship song just because you say Hallelujah a bunch of times.’ Some contemporary worship music misses that. Our traditional worship heritage reminds us that worship should be filled with the character of God, the works of God and the thoughts of God. Rich expressions of who God is and what He’s done naturally lead us to express our praise and wonder to Him. When they’re missing, all we’re left with is the music.
I’m grateful for what God is doing in the church today, but I believe that as generations of the family of God listen to and learn from one another and the Scriptures, we’ll grow into an even greater unity in our praise of the God who alone is worthy of our worship.
In awe of Him,