Part 1: Corporate Worship Matters - Trends and How to Evaluate Them

Friday, 10 October 2014 21:09
MalcolmCoxWhen the church gathers to worship, great things happen. I know. It happened to me. Almost exactly 30 years ago I walked into a Sunday service of the Central London Church of Christ (as it was then). I'll be honest, the quality of the song leading was woeful (wrong starting notes, singing off-key, vague direction etc.). And, although I knew some of the hymns, they were all sung to the "wrong" tunes. Added to that was the absurd absence of instruments! Here I was, a classically trained musician, a conductor of choirs with a degree in music, a singer, pianist and french horn player, sitting in a less-than-impressive musical environment. My reaction?

I was awe-struck.

Why? Because everyone sang with all their heart. The style, the sound and the setting did not suit me, but the Spirit was present – and I noticed. There was no doubt in my mind that I was in the midst of true believers. I experienced effective worship. Robert Webber wrote, "Worship is never to be arts-driven, but arts-enhanced." In my case it was effective even though it was arts-deficient!

It is our responsibility, as worship leaders, to examine the effectiveness of our corporate worship. In the first of a series I offer here some thoughts on the specifics of assessing trends in worship.

Find the Trends

Trends in worship shift from time to time. Perhaps they change and morph more quickly than ever. Are we aware of the trends?

For example, David Murrow says, "If you're serious about reaching men, move it outside." Some church groups use liturgy, newly written creeds, scents, dance and art in their meetings. One Seattle congregation I heard of has no preacher, but someone coordinating events and offering a "lesson" through their blog. Some services are all singing, and some contain no music at all. Are we aware of worship variations in our area and culture?

Three suggestions for surfacing trends, which affect our congregations and ourselves: Survey the congregation for Christian media exposure. Which Christian books, radio, TV and web sites are they absorbing? Which Christian music artists are on their iTunes playlists? Where is the emphasis and where are the gaps?

Visit local worship experiences outside our fellowship of congregations. I took our worship team to a Hillsong service and did a de-brief afterwards on what we thought was useful or not. Have you ever been to a Pentecostal service, a Catholic mass, or a Methodist meeting? In what way are different worship experiences refreshing your own?

Look up the Christian worship charts. What styles are at the top? Who are the best sellers? Trends influence us whether we know it or not. Find out which ones are predominant in your area.

Test the Trends

Many worship practices are neutral. They are neither good nor bad in themselves, only more or less helpful. If we know our local trends, how do we assess if they are good or bad? Whether they should be opposed or embraced? Are they already influencing your congregation? As we examine any trend we will apply three filters and ask three questions:
  • Doctrine filter. "Does it offend any Biblical principle or command?"
  • Distraction filter. "Does it distract people from God?"
  • Direction filter. "Does it direct people to God?"
In my own part of the world I have observed a number of trends in churches around me, some of which have been introduced to our congregations in whole or part. A few would include: having no "main" song leader, simply a group of singers and a band; "shushing" a congregation before starting singing; emphasising one style over against others – i.e. all hymns / all gospel songs / all chorus songs. Are these practices good or bad? It's going to depend. It will depend on whether they pass the three filters above, and whether they will help people connect with God's presence.

What do we do when "it depends"? I'd suggest we pray and talk to the worship team and the church leadership team and come to a consensus. It's unlikely that any particular trend is going to lead people astray spiritually, but it might be appropriate not to adopt something just because it is "trendy" if it might distract worshippers from their focus on God. I'm not offering a definitive position on any particular trend, but proposing that worship trends must be assessed in our local context.


Teach on the Trends

The final step is to teach the congregation. Why should we speak to the congregation about which "trends" we consider to be acceptable? Because otherwise members may be inclined to practice whatever worship trend suits them without considering the filters above. They may also cast negative spiritual judgment on others who act differently. Not only that, but they could become resentful if their preferences are not included in worship. It may be that they are not included for good reason, but a lack of explanation can be harmful.

Confusion is not conducive to God-honouring worship (1 Corinthians 14.26-33 – more on that in a forthcoming article). Uncertainty is a form of confusion. A member who sits in a service wondering why we have instruments (or no instruments), or why we have someone centre-stage leading worship (or not) is a member who is finding it hard to set their heart and mind on Christ.

Let's be worship leaders who are aware of trends, but not with the goal of being trendy! Instead, our aim is to know the trends, apply appropriate filters and teach clearly so that members and visitors alike have their best chance to hear the Spirit's voice.

Shared from the "What's New" section of Life Changing

Read 3887 times Last modified on Monday, 13 October 2014 09:15