While worship needs to be rooted in scripture, it should also embrace local culture, discern social changes and incorporate what is necessary to foster worship.
Take contemporary worship for example: What started out in the Jesus movement surged into the charismatic movement and transformed worship in hundreds of churches. Music (especially of the pop/rock genre) and songwriting have played significant roles over the past 30 years to evolve into what we call contemporary worship.
However, the ride has not been without blemishes. Some churches tried to change worship practices too quickly, resulting in a generation of worshippers feeling unwelcome in their churches, which led to unfortunate ‘worship wars.’ Contemporary worship has also been criticised for the (over)emphasis on music, being entertainment oriented and choosing style over substance.
While these may be true in many cases, it also cannot be denied that it is now more than ever that worshippers and church leadership are seriously (re)thinking worship practices with due importance. This can only lead to further refinement and better quality worship—and I am excited to be on this journey!
On the other hand, Liturgy is not without its faults too: It does get inflexibly ritualistic at times, doesn’t offer space for spontaneity, can become low on participation and provides little room for emotion and feeling.
I believe leaving emotion completely out of our worship through straight-jacketed liturgies is as bad as music-oriented worship services constantly trying to hit the emotional buttons of worshippers.
We are after all, emotional beings – our God has created us so! Somehow, I see worship without emotion as lifeless activity – just going through the motions.
So where do we go from here? What’s the Future?
I believe worship leaders should focus on enhancing reverence and substance in worship, above musical skill and style. Here’s what I’d love to see:
- Worship that is God-pleasing, not self-pleasing
- Worship leaders that teach people how to worship
- Worship leaders providing people with what they need, not necessarily what they want
- Worship not cutting itself off completely from the early Church practices described in the New Testament and in the writings of the early church fathers
- Worship ceasing to be a one-trick pony and better embracing creativity
I admire the balance in worship maintained in many Catholic parishes in India after the arrival of the Charismatic movement. The official worship has remained consistently Eucharistic (liturgical), while adopting contemporary worship practices in gatherings outside the liturgy (prayer meetings, minstry meetings, retreats etc.).
This model was not exactly planned, it somehow turned out so and has worked brilliantly well. Contemporary musical styles have made their way into the liturgy, bringing in greater participation and emotion, while the continued focus on the Word and Eucharist has prevented disruption in unity.
In short, contemporary music provides the style, while the Eucharist and Word remain the substance. A win-win for everyone.
I think the late Robert E. Webber got it right when he wrote, “The climax of worship is the Eucharist, for the symbols of bread and wine are the material objects that in a mysterious manner are connected with the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ, through whom [one] worships the Father. For this reason the early church had a high view of the symbols of bread and wine and their place in Christian worship.”
As our worship continues to evolve, to stay relevant, I believe the future lies in looking into the past and firmly (re)embracing the core elements of Christian worship:
- The gathering
- The preaching of the Word
- The Eucharistic meal
I also feel that music and song will play a role in getting us there.
Your turn to share: What do you like about liturgy? How do you visualize worship 10 years from now? How can we increase reverence and substance in worship?