Entries tagged with “Worship”.


A little over a week ago we were talking about how more and more young Evangelicals prefer to participate in liturgical forms of worship. Now Barna has come out with a new study that tells us what kinds of buildings Millennials prefer to worship in. And there seems to be a definite lean towards more reverent concepts of sacred space than some might expect.

“Many churches today are explicitly constructed not to look and feel too much like a religious place,” Barna notes, “a stark contrast to the ancient cathedrals and churches of old—the very design of which was intended to help people experience the divine. How does this design shift impact worshipers?”

Let’s summarize some of their findings briefly. Most people rejected large auditorium style sanctuaries in favour of smaller sanctuaries. The vast majority prefer altars with large Christian symbols (like a cross or crucifix) as opposed to plain altar pieces. Most prefer stained-glass windows (of varying elaborate natures) to plain-glass.

In the end, the majority described their “ideal” church with these words:

Community (as opposed to Privacy)
Classic (as opposed to Trendy)
Casual (as opposed to Dignified)
Sanctuary (as opposed to Auditorium)
Quiet (as opposed to Loud)
Modern (as opposed to Traditional)

While ‘Sanctuary,’ ‘classic’ and ‘quiet’ are more often associated with traditional church buildings, less than half of survey respondents preferred the word ‘traditional’ over ‘modern,’” Barna explains, noting a bit of a “cognitive dissonance” here among young adults interviewed in the survey. “Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.”

Barna’s Clint Jenkins notes that “it’s tempting to oversimplify the relationship between Millennials and sacred space,” as if they were looking only for that which is new and chic. But in reality, “most Millennials don’t look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.”

Deeper meaning. That’s what we talked about in our previous post on Evangelicals gone liturgical. “Grandeur hooked me,” Kelsey May explains, “but it wasn’t what made me stay…. The aesthetic of traditional churches appeals to me, but the substance behind it anchors me.”

Let’s make sure we offer that substance in every aspect of our church-life. Be it in liturgy or church architecture, the point is not to provide aesthetic experiences that are beautiful merely for their own sake: they are to draw us into a deeper and richer relationship with the Christ who calls us together.

See Barna’s summary of their sacred space study here.


HT to Gene Veith for bringing this study to my attention.

Last weekend, I ended up spending Holy Saturday evening at the Orthodox cathedral in town. My own church doesn’t hold services that day, so I took a friend’s advice to sit in on the Orthodox service. I wanted to reflect upon Christ in the tomb and celebrate his resurrection, and I wanted to do both in the company of other Christians. And while the service allowed opportunity for these things, it also served as a reminder of something else: namely, how traditional liturgy can act as a type of universal language for Christians, offering a glimpse of worship as we will one day experience it in heaven.

I’m sure some of you reading this will be surprised at that assertion, particularly if you come from a more contemporary-driven worship background. For many people, liturgical worship has become synonymous with dead worship. Repeating the same prayers, chanting the same chants week in and week out? Surely it just becomes mere words, said without meaning – a matter of habit as opposed to spontaneous faith.

That may be the case for some (regrettably, no doubt, for too many Christians attending liturgical services). But that a thing can be used inappropriately doesn’t mean that the thing itself is bad. Approached rightly, liturgy offers exactly what I said before: a glimpse of heavenly worship. When we pray the “tired old prayers” so often disparaged by today’s Christians, we in effect proclaim our unity with the Church through the ages. We pray the same prayers Christians a thousand years ago prayed. In fact, we pray the prayer Christ himself prayed. And we confess the same creedal faith the Church has confessed for nearly two millenia. Likewise, we reflect each week that the worship we render here on earth is joined with that offered in heaven. “With angels, archangels and all the company of heaven,” the preface to the Sanctus begins, “we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!'”

The liturgy fosters a sense of timelessness, of worship as something not bound to any particular century or culture. It reaches back to antiquity; it points us forward to the unending depths of eternity. We recognize ourselves as part of that unbroken chain, recognize the unity of the Church past, present, and future.

The Orthodox Holy Saturday service reminded me of that truth in a new way. It reached back as we listened to numerous readings from the Old and New Testaments. We declared the Christian faith according to the Nicene Creed, as it was prepared in the 4th century A.D. Likewise, the sermon was a reading from John Chrysostom’s writings, also from the 4th century. We used liturgical structures developed by the ancient church and used by many Christians over the following centuries. We sang, as so many before us have sung, the Paschal Troparion, “Christ is risen from the dead / Trampling death by death! / And upon those in the tombs / Bestowing life.”

Likewise we proclaimed to one another the glorious message of Easter: “Christ is risen!” / “Truly he is risen!” In fact, it was that Paschal greeting which made me reflect anew upon the universality of liturgy. And the reason for that was because we didn’t just say “Christ is risen!” in English. We said it in numerous languages. Saturday’s service was the most culturally diverse I’ve ever attended. The priest had a crisp, east-European accent, and he greeted the various people groups in the church in their heart languages. “Christ is risen!” he cried to the English, and we shouted back “Truly he is risen!” He proclaimed the same thing in Greek, and the Greeks responded in joy. He shouted it in Amharic, and the Ethiopians echoed in praise. He called the same in Russian, in Ukrainian, in German, and in a number of other Eastern European languages (and perhaps one Asian) that I could not identify, and every time the people declared the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Though from very different cultural backgrounds, we were all united in that moment. Though speaking different languages, we all prayed and praised God with one voice. And the words of Revelation played through my mind: “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (7:9-10).

Every nation. Every language. One voice. “He is risen! Truly He is risen! Kristos tenestwal! Wahrlich ist er erstanden! Christos anesti!”

“Χριστός ανέστη!”

I’m not particularly shy in expressing my admiration for the new hymnody/rewriters movement. Put simply, these worship musicians are reacting against the frequently shallow (and even occasionally unbiblical) theology of much of today’s contemporary worship. To that end, they advocate a return to the Church’s rich treasury of hymns, pushing also for the writing of new hymns. But (and here’s where they differ from what might be considered the normal “traditional” side in worship debates) they just as strongly advocate for the importance of new musical settings (guitars and all) for older hymns. In other words, they argue for the importance of using theologically robust and Christ centered lyrics. But they also want those lyrics to be made accessible to a contemporary audience through a musical “language” they can actually understand. [For a more in depth analysis of the new hymnody/rewriters movement, see my post “Worship Wars: Bridging the Divide”.

Earlier this summer, the rewriter Matthew Smith wrote a guest post for Challies.com entitled “Confessions of a Failed Worshiper”. There, he recounts the events that led to his abandoning of typical contemporary worship music for new hymnody. He recalls that, when leading contemporary worship, he would always feel that he had failed to please God.

After leading the music, I would sit down and hear a message, whose point was often that I needed to try harder. Try harder to be a “good witness” at school. Try harder to avoid temptation. Try harder to obey God.

Somehow, the idea of trying harder carried over to worship. My repertoire consisted of praise and worship songs… mainly ones that talked about how much I wanted to worship God. I thought that if I tried harder, was sincere enough, and really meant it enough, that I would enter into a state of capital-w Worship. The world around me would fade away, I would lose my inhibitions, and I would achieve a spiritual state of being lost in worship.

But this state of spiritual ecstasy never arrived. And, in my mind, there was only one person to blame–me. I was a failed worshiper.

The good news of the Gospel of Christ finally broke in upon him when, while attending college, he was part of a campus group whose preaching was Christ-centered and whose worship songs consisted of hymns set to contemporary music.

Over the following weeks, as I stood and sung these hymns and sat and heard the Word preached, I found myself intrigued, fascinated, and even offended. For the first time I heard clearly that life was not about me and how hard I tried. Every way that I had tried and failed to please God, Jesus tried and succeeded. And he didn’t do it in order to put me in His debt, or just be a good example for me to follow, or show me how easy life would be if I came up with the right strategy. He did it while I was dead in my sins. Everything that needed to be done was already accomplished at the cross, and the empty tomb meant true, lasting freedom for me.

The lyrics I was singing were not about my desires and how much I wanted to worship God, they were about Jesus and His desires, and they gave specific and beautiful reasons why He was worthy of worship.

The article is well worth a read. I commend it (and the idea of new hymnody/rewriting) for your prayerful consideration. You can visit Matthew Smith’s website here.

A friend of mine linked this on Facebook earlier today. Basically, it’s one man’s rant about worship music. Among the things he criticizes are simplistic, repetitive, I-focused lyrics. But visit the site. The songs he’s “criticizing” might not be what you’d expect.

Link:  “Rant about Worship Songs”

One subject that is particularly dear to my heart is worship theology. As a bit of an amateur song/hymnwriter myself, I tend to pay particular attention to the “worship wars” which have divided large parts of Christendom, especially in my own Lutheran heritage.

One of the most frequent – and, frankly, often justified – criticisms of contemporary worship music (even when used in a liturgical framework) is that so many of the songs are theological weak or even plain wrong. In a discussion of the interpretation of Colossians 3:16, the author of Lutheran Hymn Revival (who, by the by, is a rather excellent poet) expressed his frustration that so many of the new songs the church now sings “do not have God’s Word dwelling richly in it so that we might teach and admonish each other.” I agreed with his sentiments, but continued, “I see this not so much a failing of a particular literary or musical style; it is rather the failure of the church to raise up theologically astute songwriters.” As the discussion moved to another post (Worship Wars: Bridging the Divide), he echoed my sentiments, wondering why Lutherans were failing to take up the challenge of composing new theologically strong music:

I know that every now and then we get a Presbyterian or Baptist who writes “Lord, ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee,” or “My Hope is Built on Nothing Else,” or “In Christ Alone,” but what does it say of us today that we cannot put together music and hymnody that is better than all that? What has happened to us and what is our problem? Doesn’t this show a spiritual dearth among us?

I had no easy answers at the time. I still do not. But I have more hope that Lutherans are beginning to take up the challenge. Recently the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod held its first ever Lutheran Songwriter’s Conference. Michael A. Schmid has an excellent reflection on the event in this month’s issue of WorshipConcord Journal. In his words, “the intent was to gather Lutheran songwriters, to encourage and equip them in their craft, to engage in substantive discussion about theology as it pertains to worship songwriting, and then to challenge them to apply their art to blessing the church with Lutheran worship songs.” Let us pray that this truly represents the first steps in a serious commitment to “commissioning and creatin… worship songs with authentic confessional theology.”

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16)

I was reading an article at the Lutheran Hymn Revival website entitled “Optism: A Plea to Lutheran Pastors” by Mark Amberg Preus that discusses the importance of doctrinal strength in the music of the Church. [UPDATE: As of Oct. 18, the aforementioned post seems to have been taken down from the Lutheran Hymn Revival Site.] There’s some good things to think about there, but I had a few comments and concerns. Alas, Lutheran Hymn Revival only allows comments from Google and Blogger accounts – neither of which I currently have. What follows is the comment I intended to leave on the site.

I just stumbled across your site and I thank you for your voice in the blogosphere. I’ve had a chance to glance at your hymns and am quite excited to find strong theological content blended with similarly strong literary style – a delicate balance frequently missed in the current era.

While I sympathize with much of what you say, I must admit I’m always curious as to how people interpret Colossians 3:16. Most intriguing to me is your interpretation of “songs” as a particular type of “doctrinal hymn” – a suggestion that I have never come across in my own studies.

Kretzmann’s classic Popular Commentary (published by CPH back in 1921-1924) suggests that the three genres correspond as follows: “This can be done also by the use of psalms, the incomparable poetry of Holy Writ, hymns which are intended chiefly for use in church services, and spiritual songs, such as are more popular in form and content, but also tell of the wonderful blessings of God for our salvation.”

Now I’m not suggesting Kretzmann is necessarily right. In truth, I am doubtful that Paul actually intended to distinguish three particular “genres” of worship music at all. The fact is that the words for “psalm” “hymn,” and “song” utilized here are used in Greek to refer any number of musical/poetic genres. ‘Psalmos’ merely means something like ‘a tune played on a stringed instrument’ or ‘a strain or burst of music’ (Liddell and Scott). The word is derived from ‘psallo’ Grk. for ‘to pluck/twang’ (as on a harp). ‘Hymnos’ means a ‘festive song’ typically sung ‘in honour of gods or heroes.’ And ‘hode’ (transliterated ‘ode’ in English) is used to refer to all kinds of music: songs, lays, strains, etc. In the plural (as it appears Colossians) it can even simply mean ‘lyric poetry’ (something accompanied with music, but not necessarily sung per se).

Taken together the phrase “psalms, hymns and songs” would merely imply “all kinds of music”. The addition of the word “spiritual”, as you point out, restricts the meaning to “spiritual” or “religious” meaning. So we might read “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” to mean simply “all kinds of spiritual music”. This would make sense in the larger literary context of the verse as it then balances “all wisdom.” Thus, the verse could well be understood to mean something like the following:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing all types of spiritual music, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

In any event, I agree that whatever music we sing must be doctrinally pure. The imperative to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” is balanced with “teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom”… and all of this in the context of letting “the Word of Christ dwell in [us] richly.” Luther in his sermon on Colossians 3:12-17 reminds us that this means that we should be grateful (v. 15) for “preachers” who “handle the Word” and deliver it us. This Gospel Word delivered to us must forever indwell all we teach and all we sing.

In a follow up to the previous post, I want to draw your attention to an interview with Bryan Chapell at Christianity Today‘s website. Chapell, President of Covenant Theological Seminary (in St. Louis, Missouri), the seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America, has recently released his newest book Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape our Practice. In “Transcending the Worship Wars” , Chapell discusses the importance of getting past musical preference in the debate over worship and digging into the real theological issues – primarily, “letting the Gospel shape” our understanding of what worship is and how it should be done. And he identifies ‘rewriters’ (see last post) as evidence of a growing “new balance and maturity in the church” in its theological approach to worship.