I first experienced what has become known as “contemporary worship” in the early nineties. It was so very different. I loved it. The whole premise of seeking God with abandon and using immediate and personal language was powerful for me. Worship was vulnerable and spontaneous. Without fully being aware of it, the Lord was unraveling years of religious performance and transforming my heart in radical ways.
My career eventually led me to LifeWay Worship. LifeWay is a publisher that produces music more for the Baptist churches I grew up in than the charismatic congregation I am now a part of. I spoke with worship pastors from all over the country as part of my job. I quickly learned that church music had drastically changed in those churches of my childhood. As a matter of fact, worship had changed in protestant churches of almost every denominational stripe. It seemed that they all wanted on the contemporary train.
Yet some people hated it. “How could anyone not like contemporary worship?” I remember thinking. Then I experienced what they were referring to. I quickly discovered that their context for a “contemporary worship service” was not the same as mine. “Oh,” I thought. “No wonder they hate this. I do too.”
Some complained that the songs lacked depth, (“we’re missing the great theology of hymns”) that the songs were too repetitive, (“these are ‘7/11’ songs; you know, take the same 7 words and sing them 11 times”) and the rhythms too difficult to follow. Others lamented the loss of the hymnal (“a whole generation will grow up in church and never be exposed to written music”).
These criticisms have merit and should be considered. However, I believe they often mask the real problem. When a worship service (i.e. the prepared plan) fails to connect and engage the congregation, the issue is not likely to be song choice or music style, but poor worship leadership. This leadership comes from either the worship leader (the guy on the stage) or the pastor (his boss) or both.
To be clear, as worshipers, we choose to worship. Regardless. However, as leaders we should do everything we can to make the experience clear and easy to engage. I have not always done this well and am still learning. I do not have all of the answers, but my experience has allowed me to make some observations. I plan on sharing these in subsequent posts. But first, I’d like to hear from you.
- Drawing from your own experiences, what makes the most effective worship leading? I’m not necessarily talking about which songs are used. In fact, your answer may not have anything to do with music.
- Drawing from your own experiences, what are barriers to your engagement in a worship service?
*P.S. Be kind. We’re all on a journey and are still learning. Please do not name names unless you are commending them. I have the right to remove any comment that I find disrespectful.
*P.S.S. I’ve since added more posts on this topic. Click here to see other related posts.