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Worship Leader Magazine...Almost


A couple months ago I was asked by the managing editor of Worship Leader Magazine to answer several interview questions for a special segment in their September edition. Says Worship Leader:

The issue we’re working on is themed on the influence that the Millennials (people who have always had the Internet, general birth years of 1975-2000) are going to have on our practices in worship services. This is to get at the heart of who the Millennials are and what they care about.

I just received an email informing me that they ran out of room and will not be able to use my answers. And "as much as it was a space issue, the tone of your answers was more educated than what we were looking for. It's a great 'problem' to have because your answers were fantastic and well written, it's just that we were going for a little more raw feel." So, since you won't be able to read the interview in Worship Leader, here it is.

Name: Ryan Flanigan
Age: 27
Church, city and state: Trinity Community Church, Libertyville, IL
Favorite book (other than the Bible): The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
Favorite movie: The Princess Bride
Favorite TV show: Lost
Favorite video game: Tetris

1. What pushes you away from church? In addition to my own sin that keeps me from loving the church, I am immediately turned off by consumerism, performance/entertainment, cultural accommodation, anxiety relief programs, sacrificing quality for quantity, topical preaching, shallow songs, and narcissistic worship. In a phrase, I don’t like when people are “being churched.”

2. What draws you into church? I am particularly drawn to expository preaching, narrative flow, gospel-doctrine plus gospel-action, holistic worship participation (heart, soul, mind, and strength participation in every part of the service), order, cultural engagement, Trinitarian worship (entering by the Spirit into Christ’s communion with the Father), fellowship/friends, and lots of babies. In other words, I like when people are “being the church.”

3. What is the reason you go to church? I go to church to devote myself “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Every week at church I am reminded of the gospel of truth, which I so easily forget; that I am a sinner saved by grace, and that I am not my own. At church I have the honor of worshiping the Triune God together with His people, and I am encouraged and equipped to share Christ with the world, both in word and deed.

4. In what way do you feel the way you express your spirituality is different from the way your parents do? In what way is it the same? According to Robert Webber, “Spirituality is a passionate embrace of God’s vision. It is understanding your place within the context of God’s story.” Generally speaking, my parents’ generation has been bombarded with traditionalism and/or seeker-sensitivity, less Bible and more self-help, and hence a diminished view of God. Their spirituality in effect reduces God to a mere object of their affection, to which they might commit a portion of their life. They are more concerned with following the methods of extraordinary church leaders than the vision of God. In contrast, I express my spirituality by learning my role in the drama of God and acting it out. God is the subject of my affection, and I am the object of His. Like my parents’ generation I often live as if I am the subject, trying to find a place for God in my own story. This always leads me away from the cross and toward self-exaltation. (My mom and dad do not fit the generalization.)

5. When you are dealing with big life issues, where do you turn? Spiritual answer: the Bible, prayer, and pastoral counsel. Truthful answer: my intellect, my wife, my friends, and then, after letting me flesh it out for a while, God brings me back to the spiritual disciplines.

6. What would an ideal church service look like to you? See my answer to Question 2. Additionally, I prefer a four-part worship structure (Gathering, Word, Table, Dismissal), where each part facilitates full church participation. Every time we gather the whole gospel must be presented through fellowship, communion, the arts, and especially the sermon. Musical worship should primarily aid the church in better understanding and responding to the Word of God.

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Americanism 7: Worship Rock Stars


Prior to a pastors meeting one day I walked into the office of a fellow pastor at my church. He was setting with his back to me strumming a guitar and trying to tune it. I offered to help and he turned around…

To my surprise I saw a low-end Epiphone made more "valuable" with the signatures of the artist who played a Celebrate Freedom Concert, put on by the nations largest CCM radio stations. It seems the guitar was auctioned to raise money for charity, and somehow it ended up being given to our church.

I got a few strange looks when I said “Wow what a perfect example of the sinful state of the Church today! That we ask for the signatures of our worship leaders as if they are rock stars!” I laughed it off and pretended I was kidding…but I wasn’t.

It is kind of sad though, we make so many worship leaders “stars” and we are okay with them acting like “stars”. We find ourselves making worship leaders famous rather than seeing the fame in the God they are (supposed) to point us to. We want to be able to say that we are connected to them, know them, have met them, and we like having that proof in photo or in signature.

The truth is, we are known and loved by the sovereign God of the universe, but sometimes we forget that it’s enough. I myself once made an idol of a worship leader I looked up to. When I met him and had dinner with him, I was let down, he was not such a nice guy. He was not worthy of my idolotry, and he definitely never endured the wrath of God on my behalf!

The guitar hangs proudly on my office wall. It comes in handy sometimes to figure out a chord or two while writing charts. But other than that, it's really just a cheap guitar.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 7 of 7)


Reclaiming the Gospel

Currently, doctrinal truth is being restored to the Contemporary Praise and Worship Movement. Songwriters such as Matt Redman and Stuart Townend are capturing the best of musical cultural engagement and gospel truth. Songs such as “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us,” jam-packed with the gospel message, yet with contemporary melodies, are crossing denominational and traditional barriers. Speaking directly to the observation I made earlier, about many contemporary worshipers believing they have something good of themselves to offer God, Matt Redman writes:

We have nothing to give
That did not first come from Your hand
We have nothing to offer You
That You did not provide
Every good perfect gift comes from
Your kind and gracious heart
And all we do is give back to You
What always has been Yours
We are breathing the breath
That You gave us to breath
To worship You
And we’re singing these songs
With the very same breath
To worship You (16)

On the same album, Redman confronts the ignorance of Unitarian worshipers with these teaching words:

This is a gifted response
Father, we cannot come
To You by our own merit
We will come
In the name of Your Son
As He glorifies You
And In the power of Your Spirit (17)

I would submit that the music of Contemporary Praise and Worship itself is not the message, but the right music can and does better support the message with cultural relevance. Recently, with the influence of Emerging thinkers and the questions that are arising with that conversation, there seems to be a deeper appreciation for traditional and even ancient forms of worship. Churches like Redeemer Presbyterian and Holy Trinity, Brompton, are finding ways to blend Contemporary Praise and Worship with their rich liturgical traditions.

Conclusion

Contemporary Praise and Worship is only about forty years old. Before worship choruses, there were hymns. Every hymn was written within and influenced by a cultural setting, wherever and whenever it might have been. It is unfair for staunch traditionalists out of mere distaste to decry the advent of newer styles of worship music in the church. Their own stylistic preferences have cultural limitations. They do have a right, however, to bemoan the unhealthy effects of Contemporary Praise and Worship. Longing for an emotional experience of God rather than longing for the glory of God is definitely unhealthy and leads to all kinds of problems. Performance-based musical worship is no different than a concert. I would actually esteem it to be more potentially detrimental to the souls of its participants, for it is done in the name of Jesus, whereas a pop concert is done for entertainment purposes primarily. In all, Contemporary Praise and Worship, which began as a culturally engaged, biblical expression of worship, eventually turned into a capitalistic venture, but is being redeemed for the glory of God.

As a worship leader who was brought up in a traditional/contemporary church, I know full well the struggle to fight a reactionary attitude against traditionalism. I saw a thick dividing line between the conservative elderly and the cutting-edge younger crowd. At first I delved into Contemporary Praise and Worship with all of my might. I even attended Christ for the Nations Institute in order to grow closer, I thought, to Jesus. While I was there, however, my eyes were opened to the experiential fantasies of “the presence of God.” I wasn’t drawing near to God; I was creating my own imaginary god out of my emotional experiences. Since then I have quietly come to know the God of the Bible. I have not given up on Contemporary Praise and Worship, though. Yes, I have wrestled long and hard with the pros and cons. And yes, there seems to be more cons. But I have found that Contemporary Praise and Worship can assist in bringing glory to God and joy to His people.



(16) Redman, Matt. “Breathing the Breath.” CCLI#: 4328876. © 2004 Thankyou Music. Used with permission.

(17) Redman, Matt. “Gifted Response.” CCLI#: 4301570. © 2004 Thankyou Music. Used with permission.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 6 of 7)


Fatally Flawed or Redeemable?

Contemporary Praise and Worship has generally produced feel-good Christians who find God to be very predictable. They come to church expecting to receive from God the blessings of His presence. If they don’t get what they want, they begin to criticize the presentation or style, and will eventually move on to bigger and better things. Basically, they come to approach worship in the same way they approach everything else in life, whether it’s shopping, going to the movies, or spending time with family and friends. They come to consume.

The Contemporary Church has become much too dependent on good music. Although it is not their primary goal, musical excellence and performance shine far brighter than the glory of God and the gospel message. The way it works in this church is the better the music, the bigger the church; the bigger the church, the lesser the gospel content, because the gospel is not what keeps people.(15) The show keeps people. The gospel is the very thing that repels consumers, because the gospel is inherently anti-consumeristic. Instead, the gospel crushes our selfish desires and frees us to give and serve rather than consume.

There is nothing wrong with good worship music, but the moment it begins being used as a manipulative tool to captivate and keep an audience its message is lost. After all, as soon as a product loses its flavor the consumer will go back to market. And who is to say that the product of Contemporary Praise and Worship truly is the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God? Comparing the experience this movement sells with the emotional stimulants of popular culture, one does not see much of a difference between the two. In fact, the influence pop culture has recently had on Contemporary Praise and Worship makes the two nearly indistinguishable. Apart from the present of the church being wrapped in Jesus paper, they both offer consumers the same gift, an emotional experience of self-pleasure.

There is a big difference, however, between cultural accommodation and cultural engagement. Culturally accommodated Praise and Worship is self-seeking and experience-based. It is an end in itself. The medium is the message. Out of the imagination the worshiper creates relative meaning based on the level of emotional intensity. The church selfishly gains, like any other corporation with a good product. The Word of God is quickly left behind, as fresh new revelations pave the way for future cultural interaction. Culturally informed Praise and Worship, on the other hand, is merely stylistically relevant. It is a tool meant to lead people into a true expression of worship, which is just as valid an expression as the hymns of old, but with stylistic relevance to a new generation of worshipers. There is obviously much cleaning up to be done, but like me, a filthy sinner in need of redemption, Contemporary Praise and Worship can be, is being, and will be redeemed. (next post)



(15) Here I do not speak of those large churches that have grown through the faithful preaching of the gospel with the aid of popular music. Rather I am speaking of those mega churches that have exploded by means of clever marketing and presentation styles, especially and primarily via popular music and entertainment. These churches sacrifice sound doctrine for what is more culturally accommodating. The main difference is the music and worship of Church A is a means to exalting the truth of the Word, while the music and worship of Church B is a means to church growth.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 5 of 7)


Contemporary Praise and Worship Today (Continued)

To remark further on the content of many Contemporary Praise and Worship songs, the doctrine of the Trinity is virtually absent. There is only one song in CCLI’s top twenty-five that mentions the three persons of the Trinity in the lyrics. Out of the top 100 songs, the Trinity is alluded to less than five times. This largely has to do with the emphasis on experiencing Jesus’ love and friendship exclusively in worship. Fifteen of the twenty-five on the list speak of love or intimacy. Christ’s role within the Trinity is reduced to His role as our “buddy” or “lover”, and the roles of the Father and Spirit have long fallen by the wayside. With Jesus as the ultimate object of affection, the worshipper tends to believe God can be accessed directly as long as worship is offered from the heart. According to James Torrance this is a Unitarian understanding of worship, like the worship of Judaism and Islam, where there is no mediator. Trinitarian worship means by the Spirit entering into the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.(11) It is communal by nature and requires the participation of the entire body of Christ. Even when we are expressing our most deeply personal longings to God, like the Psalmists, we are doing so by the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. Concerning communal worship, it is worth noting only eight of CCLI’s top twenty-five songs are partially in first-person plural (we/us/our). Contemporary Praise and Worship has become so individualized, like everything else in our culture, that we often completely miss the corporate expression that the church so desperately needs in order to hold one another up.

Also absent in most Contemporary Praise and Worship is gospel content; namely the reality of sin and our need for salvation. Referring again to the CCLI chart, only five songs make reference to the cross, and only four speak of sin. The absence of these themes signifies a deeper problem within the Contemporary Praise and Worship Movement, and that is “powerful, emotional encounters with God are never meant to be used as a retreat from reality.”(12) The reality is, no matter how climactic our experience of God in worship, we cannot live in that world of heightened emotion. We will always come down, and sin will always come knocking at our doors. Contemporary Praise and Worship takes the reality of sin too lightly. The gospel is not complete without the acknowledgment of sin.

One last note concerning Contemporary Praise and Worship is, when Unitarianism and narcissism shape a worshiper’s mind, worship is viewed as something good within us that we have tapped into and presented before God. It is subconsciously engraved in the minds of contemporary worshipers that we have something good to offer God. Songs like “You’re Worthy of My Praise” speak of giving God my worship and my praise(13), as if I have brought a pleasing offering to God for Him to receive. Joe Horness says, “It must be our passion, and our calling, to lay upon the altar the very best offering that we can bring to God each week.”(14)

In summary, experiencing the presence of God is central to Contemporary Praise and Worship, as it was in the Jesus Movement and throughout the last four decades. There is a goal to have an emotional encounter, especially in feeling the warmth of God’s embrace. Worship is viewed as relational interaction with God, so Contemporary Worship seeks to connect with God. For Contemporary Praise and Worship, acceptable worship is conditional upon the heart of the worshiper being fully surrendered and right with God. We’ve looked at how Contemporary Praise and Worship has come to be. We’ve briefly glanced at what it is. Now let’s see how it has affected individual worshipers and the Christian sub-culture for better or for worse. (next post)



(11) From: Torrance, James. Worship Community and the Triune God of Grace. Inter Varsity: Downers Grove. 1996.

(12) Peacock, 54.

(13) Ruis, David. “You’re Worthy of My Praise.” CCLI#: 487976. © 1991 Maranatha Praise. Used with permission.

(14) Horness, 115.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 4 of 7)


Contemporary Praise and Worship Today

Joe Horness, worship leader of Willow Creek, defines Contemporary Praise and Worship in this way:

Contemporary worship endeavors to use modern instrumentation (e.g., guitars, drums, synthesizers, percussion, horns), contemporary musical styles (e.g., rock, jazz, hip hop, rap, gospel), and freshly written or arranged songs (both new choruses and fresh treatments of traditional hymns), in the language of this generation to lead people into authentic expressions of worship and a genuine experience of the presence of God.(6)

Contemporary Praise and Worship fits best within a non-liturgical, congregational worship setting. At the beginning of this type of service there is about twenty to twenty-five minutes of song singing, usually a couple up-tempo songs followed by a few slower ones. This time of singing songs together has come to be known as praise and worship, or simply worship.

Horness says as a worship leader his “primary purpose is to lead God’s people to meet God,”(7) but in practice, the goal of the worship leader often seems to be to elicit some form of outward expression from the people. Expression is equated with meeting God; if worshippers are not outwardly expressing their worship they are not meeting God. To the onlooker, the worship service appears reminiscent of a concert being performed before an admiring audience, with their hands raised, singing the same words to the familiar, popular songs flawlessly performed by the excellent musicians. Since there is no liturgy, there is no need for the songs to be inter-related thematically, or for any of them to pertain to the preached word to follow. In fact, there is really no need for the words to have very much meaning at all. As long as the people have had an emotional touch from God, they have “worshiped” Him to their satisfaction. The lyrics have little if anything to do with the experience.

Since the sung words have such little significance, naturally, the lyrical content of most Contemporary Praise and Worship songs lacks doctrinal depth. “Love” seems to be the hottest topic. There has been a gradual shift from singing of “God’s love” in general, to singing of “God’s love for us,” to “our love for God,” to “God’s love for me,” and it has become ever more popular to sing of “my love for You, God,” with God as the object of my affection. I have actually participated in a contemporary worship service in which the leader encouraged everyone to draw an imaginary box around themselves, so as not to be ashamed or distracted by anyone around, and to make love to Jesus. These lyrics to one of the wider known Contemporary Praise and Worship songs attest to this shift toward narcissism:

Draw me close to you
Never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear you say that I’m your friend
You are my desire
No one else will do
‘Cause nothing else can take your place
to feel the warmth of your embrace
Help me find a way
Bring me back to you
You’re all I want
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know you are near(8)

Narcissistic worship says that the origin of worship is within the self. God is the object “out there” who wants and maybe even needs my worship. “I worship you,” “I enthrone you,” “I magnify you,” “I exalt you,” and, I should add, “I free you,” for according to Horness, “If we learn to worship from hearts that are fully engaged, God will be glorified and set free to move in us and among us”(9) (my emphasis).

“Draw Me Close to You,” a beautiful song in its proper context, is on CCLI’s list of the top twenty-five Contemporary Praise and Worship songs of all times. Out of these twenty-five songs, nineteen of them use the first-person singular (I/me/my) with God as the direct object (You), while only eight of them partially use the third-person singular (he/him/his) with God as the subject.(10) Not only has this lent to narcissistic worship, but it has largely diminished the element of narrative in expressions of worship. God’s great story is not told. Worshipers do not try to find their place in God’s story. Instead, they tell God their own stories and try to fit Him into their own lives.

(This section will be continued in Part 5.) (next post)



(6) Horness, 102.

(7) Horness, 113.

(8) Carpenter, Kelly. “Draw Me Close to You.” CCLI#: 1459484. © 1994 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing. Used with permission.

(9) Horness, 104.

(10) Click here to view table of CCLI top 25 song topics and persons.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 3 of 7)


Corporate Influence and The Culture of Narcissism

Willow Creek was one of the first churches that attempted to make church more accessible and enjoyable to non-Christians. In the early stages of forming such a service, however, they were repeatedly falling short in the area of musical worship. After visiting a charismatic church in 1982, Pastor Bill Hybels found the missing link. “For the first time in his life, Bill had experienced the kind of worship that [his church] had been dreaming about—worship that was rich and heartfelt, where the presence of God was deep and real, and where hearts were changed as a result of being there.”(3) They immediately began implementing this style of worship into their seeker service, but they took it one step further. Not only did they embrace this cultural product with a Christian twist, like the Pentecostal Church and Charismatic Movement had, but they accommodated to the culture itself by setting up lights and loud speakers in order to give the people what they wanted. The production was a big hit, and coupled with Willow Creek’s impeccable business marketing strategies the church began to grow like no other. And although it was not the original goal of Willow Creek to explode in numbers—they simply wanted their friends to come to Jesus—they soon became a megachurch and a much-coveted standard among other evangelical churches.

Out of Willow Creek flowed the Contemporary Church Movement, and when it caught on, Contemporary Praise and Worship began turning less Biblical and more cultural. It had become shaped by consumerism. It became a show, just another place to be entertained. William Romanowski, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College, describes the process:

There is a connection historically between Contemporary Christian Music and the Megachurch Movement. By bringing contemporary music into the worship service, it also brought all the cultural baggage that comes along with it. So Contemporary Christian Music, even though it might have grown out of purposes like evangelism and worship, gets used in an entertainment setting. Conversely, it brings that entertainment setting into the church. A lot of critics ask, has worship become entertainment? It professionalizes worship in a certain sense.(4)

This shift made it very difficult for worshipers to look beyond the stage to the One Whom it was all about. It didn’t seem to bother the worshipers, though. They were getting what they wanted, an emotional experience in the presence of God. Christians were bumping up against narcissism in their worship. It was only fitting, though, seeing that the culture of consumerism had already gripped their lives outside the church.

In the 80’s, the topic of self-esteem and other therapeutic catch phrases began surfacing in American culture. Self Magazine was even established, symbolic of the direction of our culture’s heart. The Contemporary Church found tremendous success in emphasizing anxiety relief programs. Everything seemed to shift focus inward to the self. Worship was no different. In his book, The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch identifies several characteristics of a pathological narcissist. Everyone in our age subconsciously operates in some of the less extreme, common narcissistic traits in their everyday lives. One such trait is “dependence on the vicarious warmth provided by others combined with fear of dependence.” Another is “a sense of inner emptiness.”(5) These two descriptors might be the most accurate motivating factors that sustained contemporary worshipers. They came to need the warmth of God’s presence, but feared committing their entire lives to Him. They could never feel satisfied in His presence, because as much as they received from Him experientially, it was never enough. More talk of narcissistic worship, as it currently pertains to Contemporary Praise and Worship, will be discussed in the next section.

The insatiable appetite for emotional encounters with God is closely related in principle to the Christian music industry’s capitalistic excesses. As Contemporary Praise and Worship spread across denominations and into the 90’s, its public popularity was increasing dramatically. By the middle of the decade, worship leaders such as Darlene Zschech, Darrell Evans, and Matt Redman brought a new wave of freshness to the scene, especially among charismatic churches again. Passion Ministries heightened the demand by emblazing hundreds of thousands of young people and college students with powerful new songs by Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, David Crowder, and others. Many of the popular CCM artists, such as Michael W. Smith, Petra, and Third Day, began putting out albums full of Contemporary Praise and Worship songs instead of their usual concert-oriented songs. The industry clearly felt which direction the market was moving, and they cashed in. Not only were the production companies and distributors making big money, the development of Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) made a way for individual songwriters to profit. This brings us to today. What does Contemporary Praise and Worship look like now? (next post)



(3) Horness, Joe. “Contemporary Music-Driven Worship.” Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views. Ed. Engle, Paul E. & Paul A. Barsden. Zondervan: Grand Rapids. 2004. 108.

(4) Romanowski, William. Religion & Ethics News Weekly. PBS Interview. April 30, 2004. Episode no. 735. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week735/interview1.html.

(5) Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. W.W. Norton: New York. 1978. 33.

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Americanism 6: TV Gospel


Flipping through the channels on Sunday afternoon, I stopped for a moment when I saw a familiar face. Years ago, before I knew the true gospel, I believed a different one. The person I saw on television was one of its proponents, and I used to follow his teachings. Here is an example of the kinds of things he taught:

Never confess anything negative over yourself, such as,"I'm not feeling well," because if you do speak such words, you will become ill. Instead, recite these words over and over: "I don't identify with sickness, I identify with Christ. I don't identify with poverty, I identify with Christ. I don't identify with sin, I identify with Christ." Et cetera.

I am convinced that the christ I used to worship is not the Christ of the Bible. The reason is because when I believed in the false gospel, I never acknowledged my sin. The joy of salvation was not finding refuge in the blood of Christ thus escaping the wrath of God. Rather, the joy of salvation was moving on from not having blessings to receiving lots of blessings; from being sick to being healthy; from poverty to riches.

On this TV program, the following caption read across the bottom of the screen:

Help spread the gospel of Christ around
the world...Sow your financial seed now.
1-866-611-4388
http://inspirationtoday.com/

I listened as my former teacher told a story of how there was a time in his life when he didn't have any money, but the Lord told him to plant a faith seed anyway. He continued, "You see, I realized that in order to receive from God, I needed to plant a seed. Now [as he points to the camera] are you just gonna sit there, or [as he points to himself, inadvertently I hope] are you gonna obey the Lord?"

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 2 of 7)


Cultural and Charismatic Influence

The 1960’s in America hosted a revolution like no generation had seen before. With the rise of feminism and free sex there began a major breakdown of the family and morality. That which traditional parents had esteemed as the ideal standard of living, their youth reacted against with great vigor. The lost young were driven by an urge from deep within to find peace and love and to experience it in the most authentic and fantastic ways imaginable. Bob Dylan and other singer/songwriters of the day led the way with their provocative and perhaps prophetic songs of politics, war, and the ever-inspirational topic of love. At the tail end of this era a pastor with a heart for the pot-smoking hippies on the beaches of Southern California opened the doors of his church to welcome those who were searching for a true spirituality. From Chuck Smith’s little church a move of the Holy Spirit swept across the region as thousands of wanderers flocked toward the Good Shepherd. The migration became known as the Jesus Movement.(1)

These new believers didn’t simply throw aside their disillusionments and pick up where their parents would have had them in the first place. They continued meeting with Jesus on the same level He first met them, with their acoustic guitars in their hands, strumming love songs, hoping for a truly divine experience. The object of their affection, however, was no longer the product of some rare and exotic moment, but Jesus the Son of God. Naturally, the old hymns were a less than fitting means of expressing their feelings to their newfound peace, not to mention the fact that they didn’t know any of them. They needed something more tangible, more interactive. They wanted something more familiar to which they could relate, musically and emotionally, so they began writing choruses of their own, only theirs were in the first-person singular instead of the third-person. They used the Bible as their source for lyrics. “Create in me a clean heart,” they sang with David.

It is no surprise the Jesus Movement was largely a charismatic one. Whenever experience is sought with such fervent expectation, emotions can reach beyond limits. As the actions of worshippers, such as prophesying and speaking in tongues, began stretching the boundaries of the Bible, experienced-based lyrics gradually replaced Scripture-based ones. “The focus shifted from knowing God through His Word to knowing God through experience. This in turn shifted the focus from thinking to feeling.”(2) Indeed, as other charismatic movements tapped into this new chorus-driven style of worship music, more and more new compositions were without Biblical grounding or theological depth. Worship was turning into a time for individual worshippers to receive from the “presence of God” more so than a time for God to receive collective praise from his people.

Pentecostalism was largely responsible for the spread and popularizing of this new kind of musical worship and experience. The Association of Vineyard Churches was one of the better known organizations stemming from the grassroots genuineness of the Jesus Movement. The worship music of the Vineyard was stylistically in line with the music from outside the church. The themes of their choruses focused mainly on love, intimacy, and simply dwelling in the presence of God. Another Pentecostal organization, Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, TX, began pumping out choruses in the 70’s that influenced churches around the world and are still sung today. “As the Deer” and “More Precious Than Silver” are a couple of the better known ones. In addition to Vineyard Music and CFN Music, a number of record production companies began springing up and spreading the good news of this new kind of worship music. Among them were Hosanna Integrity and Maranatha Praise. Chorus-driven worship was mainly experienced within the confines of the Charismatic Movement and Pentecostalism until the 80’s, when the Megachurch Movement and Contemporary Church entered the scene. (next post)


(1) Much of the historical content in this paper is drawn from the lectures and notes of three Robert Webber courses I took at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary: NBTS 301 Theology of Worship and Spirituality, NBTS 302 History of Worship and Spirituality, and NBTS 303 Current Practices in Worship and Spirituality.

(2) Peacock, Charlie. At the Cross Roads: An Insider’s Look at the Past Present, and Future of Contemporary Christian Music. Broadman & Holman: Nashville. 1999. 44.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 1 of 7)


Have you ever taken the time to interpret a cultural text? Most of the time I simply drift along in the cultural currents of our day. But every once in a while I stop and analyze why I live the way I live; why I do the things I do, say the things I say, eat the things I eat, etc.

Last year, I took a course in seminary called Cultural Hermeneutics. Our final assignment was to choose a narrow cultural phenomenon and interpret it; specifically, assess the world behind the text (where did it come from?), the world of the text (what is it?), and the world in front of the text (where is it going?). We could choose anything (approved by Dr. Vanhoozer, of course). My classmates chose topics ranging from grocery shopping to Apple computers. I chose to write on the modern cultural phenomenon of Contemporary Praise and Worship.

This series of blog entries will consist of several long posts (my term paper was about twenty pages long), but since most of us participate in this type of worship activity (CP&W) on a regular basis, it might be worth taking some time and think about just what it is we do and why we do it. So, here are my thoughts. I will be very eager to hear yours. Feel free to disagree.

Introduction

Over the past ten years the intrinsic value of my vocational skills has spontaneously increased to the point of affording me the prestigious market label, “hot commodity.” There are few essential positions in my line of work more important, apparently, than what I can fill. I humbly base this assertion on the nature and number of job offers presented to me of late. No, I’m not a genius stock analyst, or anything of the financially like. I’m not a real estate guru, able to predict the specific location of the next commercial boom. Nor am I a rising star in the world of popular entertainment. What I am is hope, an assumed promise that when I come aboard, company growth will quickly follow, consumers will be filled with pleasure, and life as a struggling corporate entity will come to an end. Yes, I am a worship leader, and the demand is high for good worship music in the Contemporary Church.

There is a standard of musical professionalism that small struggling churches seek to attain and that thriving megachurches must maintain. This standard drives many pastors and church leaders into thinking it is necessary to have good music in order to grow as a church. Unfortunately, this is true to a certain degree, for we as churchgoers in America have bought into many selfish cultural lies that have turned our desires, even spiritual desires, away from God and toward ourselves. If the church wants to win the competition for our time, they must supply what we want. We want to be entertained, and there is no better way to draw a church crowd than to have a band of perfectly gelled musicians performing the most popular Contemporary Christian Music of the day. Within this genre, though, there is a category of music, which in its short history has become CCM’s most widely listened to and recorded style. The amount of revenue this new style has brought to the industry is incalculable. It seems like everyone is investing in it, both recording artists and consumers. The Contemporary Church cannot survive without it. This new category of music is Contemporary Praise and Worship, and it has changed the definition of worship among evangelicals. (next post)

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Prayer-Turned-Song


A couple days ago I wrote up a blog titled "Four-Part Worship Service," but when I went to publish it an error occurred, and I lost it all. I had put quite a bit of time into the post, so naturally I was a bit frustrated. Maybe it wasn't time for me to share it, so I'll try again in the future. For now, the gist of it was:

Our church uses the historical four-part structure of worship in our services (Gathering/Word/Table/Dismissal). Then I listed a couple reasons why we do so: 1) The burden of transitional flow rests on the order of service itself and not on any man, and 2) Full church participation is encouraged and better facilitated.

We aim for the church to "be the church" instead of "being churched." We are entertained everywhere else in our culture. Church is not another place to be entertained. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to function as the body of Christ; meaning, we are called to actively participate in our worship services. The four-part structure enables us to do this. The Contemporary Church model (Praise & Worship/Announcements/Sermon), for the most part, does not give the people such an opportunity to participate.

Now, on a lighter note, a couple weeks ago I read Romans 1-2 and prayed this prayer-turned-song on my way to the bus stop in the morning:

Show Your kindness to me
Bring me to repentance
Give Your righteousness to me
Take me faith to faith

To believe in Your work
See the law's fulfillment
Christ the Final Sacrifice
Pardoning my sin

O Lord I need Your mercy
Today more now than ever

For I am one more day a sinner
But I am one more day forgiven

I have found myself praying this prayer daily. I also put a upbeat melody to these words and we sang it on Sunday morning.

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