Today’s Contemporary Worship is the New Traditional Worship?

Today’s contemporary worship is the new traditional worship? Well, let’s look a little further. As far as I know, a good traditional church worship has these elements: excellent musicianship, well-arranged music, well-trained choir, musically astute, vocally-competent and spiritually sensitive worship leader. In the same way, a good contemporary worship also features all of the above elements. The main and obvious difference is the musical genre – the songs we sing at traditional services are hymns written a couple of hundred years ago and the songs we sing at contemporary services could be composed as recently as a few months ago. And don’t forget this, many of the hymns the church two hundred years ago sang were set to the music of their day – many hymn-writers composed tunes that sounded the same as secular pop music at that time! While the musical styles in both traditional and contemporary worship are rather different, both types of worship have the same basic elements as mentioned above. Also, both traditional and contemporary worship are usually so well choreographed and executed that there is little room for changes such as not singing a song that the worship leader had planned to sing or adding a song that wasn’t planned and prepared for. That is why today’s contemporary worship is not so far different from traditional worship. But you might ask, why would a worship leader want to make changes during the worship service? To answer this question, I have to introduce into this discussion something that I will refer to here as Charismatic worship (though I personally prefer the term Spirit-led worship) – because this form of worship emerged during the Charismatic renewal in the 70s. The Charismatics breathed fresh air into the church and contributed significantly to church worship. (Of course extreme versions of the Charismatic movement have given us much headache too.) They created more space in worship, space for us to express our devotion to the Lord more personally. For instance, choruses were introduced – they have far fewer words and the words are more conversational which help us to enter into deeper reflection and express our love for God in a deeper way. Words such as “I love You Lord, and I lift my voice to worship You, oh my soul rejoice. Take joy my King in what You hear, let it be a sweet sweet sound in Your ear.” Charismatic worship does not keep you busy with many words and you will never be busy singing like a non-stop Stars on 45 record, instead there are moments of silent meditation and quiet waiting upon God. Charismatic worship emphasises relationship with God, thus it is not just about singing a bunch of nice songs. There is a time for singing to the Lord and a time for listening to what the Lord has to say – that’s conversation and relationship. There will also be times when the Lord leads the worship leader to change songs, whether to add or take away songs. This is why I call it Spirit-led worship. Then, there is the prophetic element too. Basically, the Lord may prompt the worship leader to focus on a specific theme, something that he or she may or may not have anticipated, and that could be a prophetic word for the church or even for just a segment of the congregation. The main thing is that Charismatic worship makes room for God to act and intervene where necessary, something that cannot be rehearsed or manufactured, but something that the worship team and church leadership can and should make room for. While God is an orderly God, He is also a creative and spontaneous God. (By the way, a good Charismatic worship may be noisy but not messy, spontaneous but not disorderly). The Lord is well capable of surprising us and He can be quite unpredictable. Just look at the way He led Paul in his missionary journey in Acts chapter 16, how Jesus protected the woman caught in adultery and forgave her, how Jesus walked into the room seemingly through the wall after His resurrection, etc. My hope and prayer is that church worship, whether traditional or contemporary, should make room for divine “interruptions”. It must never become mechanical, predictable and lifeless. When the Spirit of God comes and when He surprises us, there is always an amazing sense of new life.

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