Should Contemporary Worship Music Be Beautiful? … Part III

Here are final thoughts concerning the title question, which I’ve tried to answer via anwolterstorff_nicholas_188x244 article I wrote for Worship Leader magazine back in 2018.  In case you missed the first or second installments, I’ve thus far made the following suggestions for promoting beauty in worship: 1) Cultivate beauty intentionally (i.e., it takes work and effort and won’t come to any of us naturally, given our current culture’s bent toward efficiency over aesthetics); and 2) Give equal time to transcendence (roughly, the notion of God being so much higher than His creation) and immanence (roughly, the notion that God is with us and knows us better than we know ourselves).  And now the final suggestion and concluding remarks, with input from Pastor Ian Simkins, global worship curator Ron Man, and author Nicholas Wolterstorff (pictured):

Find “Beauty in the Common”

The final suggestion for promoting beauty in worship is at once simple and difficult.  Anyone can do it; it’s that easy.  Most of us don’t; it’s that countercultural.  “We are often drawn and even conditioned to desire the dramatic and magnificent moments in life,” says Chicagoland pastor Ian Simkins, founder of the Beauty in the Common online community, “but that is to miss the power and presence of God in the common, ordinary spaces of our lives. . . . Beauty in the Common seeks to find those experiences, regardless of context, background, or story.  Beginning from a place of commonality allows us to better see the beauty in one another and the ways God is moving in and through those around us.”

For the purposes of corporate worship, Simkins echoes the assertion that beauty promotes evangelism.  “Life has a way of beating wonder out of us, but when the Psalmist invites us to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ [Psalm 34:8], that involves more than just a weekly experience; it is, instead, a way of awakening awe deep within our hearts,” something which has the power to fill what Pascal called the “infinite abyss” in the soul of the unbeliever.  For those who approach Christianity with suspicion, beauty can serve as a gracious bypass to cognitive resistance.  “Rather than trying to convince,” Simkins concludes, “beauty seeks to invite.”

One such invitation could involve congregational testimonies.  Ron Man, in his blog Worship Notes, recommends we make room for and utilize different types of stories in our worship sets: “someone sharing why a favorite song or hymn is meaningful to that person, followed by the congregation singing it, . . . work stories . . . how God motivates and uses [parishioners] in their workday jobs, [or testimonies of] elderly faith heroes talking about their long walks with the Lord.”  Many churches already do this periodically, and with easy-access video technology, we have no shortage of options for promoting the beauty of our common experiences in corporate worship.  (Need a place to start?  Consider Simkins’ website: beautyinthecommon.com.)

Worth the Effort

“Beauty is most emphatically not the necessary and sufficient condition of aesthetic excellence,” offers Nicholas Wolterstorff in the classic Art in Action.  Hence, the pursuit of beauty in our worship need not involve stained glass or pipe organs (though it can), nor does it mandate multiple-thousand-dollar lighting rigs or sophisticated sound systems (though it can).  This is good news for the Church Universal, for all of us can pursue beauty on our own terms, as it relates to our particular circumstances, regardless of the sizes of our budgets or congregations.

Doing so is worth the effort.  Emerson wrote, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”  May the Lord be with us as we endeavor to lead those we serve in fostering beauty in worship.

What follows in the weeks to come, Lord willing, is a look at how one specific aspect of contemporary worship, the creative efforts that provide the people’s song in our corporate gatherings, can be made more beautiful.  Until then, the Lord be with you!

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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