Reflection #42 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 42 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #42: Happily, there seems to be a spate of contemporary worship songs of late that tell “The Big Story,” the gospel message, in song.

My very first class at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies was team-taught by Wheaton College’s Dr. Andy Hill and Dr. Lester Ruth (right), who now is download (1)research professor at Duke Divinity School.  Lester asked us to pay attention in the next few worship services we attended to how long it took before what he called “The Big Story” was articulated in the service in some manner.  The Big Story is the four-chapter story of the gospel, beginning with Creation and moving through The Fall, Redemption, and Restoration (or Consummation).  Recognizing how infrequently I had heard that message in worship of late–in the aftermath of seeker sensitivity and other church-growth strategies–I was determined to tell The Big Story much more regularly in worship.  I endeavored to do so when I served as a weekend-warrior worship leader, and I do so now in my role as the director of the Judson University Choir; we end each concert of worship we facilitate by singing through the four chapters of The Big Story.  

In contemporary worship music (cwm) circles, the Gettys have been doing this for a while, of course, and God bless them for their efforts as the most-popular proponents of contemporary hymnody.  But it’s been good to see so many other writers incorporating The Big Story’s essence.  To wit . . .

Were I to pick nits, I’d ask for Chapter 1, “Creation,” to be included a bit more regularly, and I’d put forth the notion that I-IV-vi-V/vi-IV-I-V power ballads are not the only musical style that can support “The Big Story,” but the fact that more and more cwm songwriters are moving beyond self-referential lyrics into more “cosmic-story” language (or, at least, combining the two) bodes very well for the future!  Here’s hoping it continues.

The Lord be with you, songwriters, as you bring to bear the full weight of The Big Story as often you can!

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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