Happy New Year! I hope 2021 has started well for you. May God grant us grace to survive and thrive amidst whatever comes our way over the next 12 months. Doctoral dissertations in sociology will be written in the years ahead concerning our collective understanding of thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have no doubt.
I am also quite certain doctoral dissertations in ecclesiology will be written in due time regarding the contemporary Church’s corporate response to the coronavirus, deep dives unearthing salient cause-and-effect relationships between any number of physical realities and spiritual applications in congregational worship. A cynic would jump in here to say, “Duh! Contemporary worship in the past 25 years has traversed one long syncretic slippery slope that ends up with complete abdication to Hollywood values. The pandemic has only exacerbated what was an inevitable transformation from content-rich to style-rich worship in our contemporary churches.” (One writer who tends to land in this arena with regularity is Jonathan Aigner, and although I don’t usually agree with him wholeheartedly, he certainly provokes thought, for which I’m grateful.)
If there’s anything I had reinforced in 2020 it’s that all-or-nothing approaches don’t tend to be helpful (for most non-emergency matters) in the midst of a prolonged disruption to the status quo. A writer who is a bit more nuanced in his concerns for current worship trends is longtime worship trainer Dan Wilt, who has designated this year as a year of worship renewal for himself and those who would join him. If you can spare the time, I’m sure this Saturday’s webinar—The Worship Disruption: A New Paradigm of Worship Whose Time Has Come–will be worth the hour’s sacrifice. I have used Wilt’s material off and on in my worship classes at Judson University and have friends who have interacted with him quite a bit more than I who greatly applaud his efforts, hence the confident recommendation.
I think an overarching summary of the feelings of some who study worship trends can be summed up in the words of Paul, from my try-to-be-daily devotional reading this past Sunday, which encompassed 1 Corinthians 2. In vv. 3-5, Paul says (as rendered by the NLT),
I came to you in weakness–timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so that you would not trust in human wisdom but in the power of God.
As I contemplate the preaching under which I’ve virtually sat over the past several months, rare was the delivery that featured any timidity or trembling. Yes, of course, Paul’s speaking metaphorically, and, yes, God deserves our best, which includes effort spent in preparation. But isn’t Paul addressing something deeper here, something that, if applied more often, could help stem the tide of the leadership failures we’ve seen in recent years, that which has prompted so many concern-for-celebrity-culture editorials, this one here being representative of many?
My study-bible notes on the passage above say this:
Human weakness is no barrier to God’s work (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The real power is not in charismatic preaching, finesse of presentation, or logical persuasiveness (cp. 2 Cor. 10:10), but in the message itself, centered on Christ and his death for our sins, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, who convicts the human heart.
In that spirit, I conclude with a prayer for corporate worship in the contemporary church as we embark upon this new year, acknowledging the “strength for today” that has brought us to this place through frequently dismal circumstances and the “bright hope for tomorrow” in which we rest as best we can on any given day–sometimes confidently, occasionally anxiously, often gratefully, always with God as the source of whatever strength we can muster at the moment:
Sovereign God, Subject and Object of our worship, grant us, in the words of the great hymn, “wisdom [and] grant us courage,” especially where congregational worship is concerned, that our sacrifices of praise might to greater and greater extents form us spiritually “for the facing of this hour,” “for the living of these days,” “lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,” and “that we fail not man nor Thee,” through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
P.S. I hope to finish up the “songwriting tips from the experts” series in the weeks ahead, culminating in a look at some current and recent songwriters writing for the Church whose work any aspiring Christian songwriter would do well to emulate.
The Lord be with you!