Meaningful Worship

April 11th, 2011

I was sharing with my friend Adam Hamilton not long ago that contemporary worship has become boring for me. Those of us influenced by the Jesus' movement of the 60’s and 70’s pioneered early models of contemporary liturgies, which began in the informal gatherings of believers meeting together on college campuses, apartments and coffee houses, along with the influences of Christian rock and Jesus music festivals. The fresh new forms of relevant music, participatory sharing and free flowing spontaneous prayer created a welcoming space for our friends who had no connection to the ancient forms of traditional worship and for those of us who were just plain bored by tired repetitive traditional liturgies that had no connection to daily life.

As many of us began to find our way back into the traditional church, we brought our guitars and new contemporary styles with us. I participated in some powerful guitar masses in Cincinnati in the early 1970’s. Contemporary worship forms were bringing Christians together from many different traditions. The Catholic and Protestant Charismatic renewals brought Catholics and Protestants together in conferences and worship experiences with the promising hope of a new horizon for Christian unity. The movement peaked in the 70’s and began to decline, somewhat due to emotional and theological excesses, in the 80’s. The contemporary movement became more distinctly evangelical protestant, connected to the church growth-seeker model in the 80’s. Drama, media, and other artistic forms were also introduced during the next decade. Mainline churches began to experiment with the addition of contemporary worship services while maintaining traditional worship options.

So what are my issues with contemporary worship, which is a form that I have advocated and helped pioneer?

  • So much of contemporary worship has become a tired and predicable ritual. The same old-same old that begins with three songs, a drama, film clip, announcements and message, week after week after week after…
  • Much of the music is just plain trite. Nothing like the words written by some of the early pioneers of the Jesus’ movement (check out Larry Norman).
  • In our attempt to be relevant have we focused more on methodology than theology?
  • I had an opportunity to worship with the good people at Custer Road UMC in Plano, Texas recently. Affirming our faith together through the Apostles Creed and the communion liturgy was meaningful. Much of what we have done in contemporary worship has lost all connection to the creeds and ancient traditions of the past.

I am not advocating for a return to traditional worship, which doesn’t work for many of us in the church nor is it relevant for those on the outside. What is a third way beyond traditional and contemporary that is ancient and future? Jim Belcher in his book, Deep Church, says: “Deep worship is rooted in two thousand years of the church and the historic flow of worship. The order of the service, the liturgy, should be both old and new. The goal is to take the best of the tradition and breathe new life into it for the 21st century.” He goes on to state that relevant worship “combines the best of the free church--moving extemporaneous prayers, longer sermons and room for the Spirit--with the ancient church’s commitment to set prayers and a liturgy of Word and Table.” I would love to hear what ancient-future means of worship you are discovering that is making worship more meaningful.

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