Summary: This is a call to move from traditional worship focusing on the Builder Generation to Multi-ethnic worship. Can also be used to explain the differences in worshop preferences between generations and moving to contemporary worship
Sing a New Song
I am a PK, a preacher’s kid and grew up in a traditional Methodist church with hymns, the organ, anthems, a handbell choir and Calls to Worship. In 1990, I attended a conference in Houston on cutting edge ministry. The first night opened with worship. I walked in and the worship began with a band. I was blown away. We worshiped that night and sang music I had never heard before. We worshiped the next morning and then again in the evening and the same the following day. I had never seen anything like that before in worship.
When I was growing up, United Methodist Churches were like McDonald’s. It didn’t matter what part of the country you were in, we had the same menu in worship and even ministries. That’s no longer the case today. In fact, as you attend other churches, you begin to discover that there are dramatic differences in worship styles, even within the same denomination. Why is that and what is the purpose of worship? The Hebrew and Greek terms for worship in the Bible "emphasize the act of prostration, the doing of obedience." Warren Wiersbe writes, "Worship is the believer’s response of all that he is--mind, emotions, will, and body--to all that God is and says and does.” That’s what the Psalmist says today, worship first and foremost is about God. Worship is pure adoration of God by one’s entire being. In worship we acknowledge God’s kingship in our lives and His right to rule over us. Worship is for God’s benefit. He has the center stage. And yet Jimmy Cutter writes, “Many Christians misunderstand the purpose of congregational worship. Many times our congregational worship has become an experience in which (we are) the focus. Worship has deteriorated into an "I didn’t get anything out of that sermon" experience. (We have) become the object of own worship. (We are) there to be entertained and spiritually massaged. It hardly occurs to some that worship is primarily a matter of God receiving something from us: our praise, adoration, and confession of dependence on Him as our Sovereign.” Worship is not about us or our needs, it’s about God and giving him the praise and worship he deserves.
The second purpose of worship is to connect people with God. But that raises the question, “Which people?” In our society, we have been taught and conditioned to focus on ourselves: our needs, our wants and our desires. But are we Gretna UMC’s primary customer? Paul Borden in his book, “Direct Hit: Aiming Real Leaders at the Mission Field” writes, “Congregations have two types of customers. Primary customers are the ones who are not yet part of the congregation because they do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Secondary customers are the disciples who are already involved in the congregation…When that order is reversed, or if a congregation loses sight of its primary customers, (the church begins to die.) The movement from a inward focus to an outward focus with rare exception demands a major shift.” Most people encounter a church for the first time in a worship service. That means worship has an evangelistic purpose to it as we seek to expose people to Jesus and connect them with their Creator and Redeemer. Worship is a primary means of evangelism and so the question becomes, What is the best style of worship to evangelize the people we are trying to reach?
When you study history, you realize that forms and expressions of worship have always been changing to reach the culture in which the church is ministering. Culture has influenced worship practices and styles. In fact, so much of what we do in worship today stems from a specific point in time and what was happening in culture then. The problem is that what helped people connect to God in one point in time may not today. And yet our worship styles become ingrained us. It’s fascinating how our own personal choices and preferences dictate what we feel is appropriate worship or not. This seems to have always been the case. Here are two letters written from individuals complaining about the song selection and music in worship.
One letter said:
"I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new hymn - if you can call it that - sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this - in God’s house! - don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need." This letter was written in 1863 and the song they were concerned about was "Just As I Am".