I don’t use that term lightly, either. When he is not competing on a sports team, he is watching it. When he is not watching it, he is working on his fantasy league. When he is not working on his fantasy league, he is hitting the gym. The guy is nearly six feet tall and looks like he has been cut from granite. Needless to say, this is all a far cry from his bookworm brother, the writer/theologian currently sitting behind the keyboard punching these words out.
Our hobbies differ. As a result, so do our relationships. We still both experience deep, vibrant relationships with the people we care about, but we connect with them in different ways. I think it is much the same within the family of God.
We see this most clearly within worship. There are certain forms of worship that we gravitate towards most easily. These forms connect with our personalities and the way that we see the world. They provide the most ready avenues to both glorify our Lord and enter into His presence.
At the same time, remaining locked within one particular style can also cause our worship to stagnate. It is easy to slip into the routine and simply go through the motions when “the motions” become second nature to us. Sometimes, we need to be willing to break out of our comfort zone and connect with God from a fresh perspective.
So here are three styles of worship and the new approach they offer.
1. Contemporary Worship
In much of our modern churches, this is becoming increasingly common as the dominant worship style. It is easy to see why. Contemporary worship music reconnects with many of the styles offered to us by the Christian mystics and reorients our style towards free expression, emphasizing the pursuit of God’s presence.
There is often much lyrical beauty and depth to these songs, although their primary purpose is to create a worshipful atmosphere and then get out of the way. To this end, we often see a great deal of repetition, akin to the rhythmic chanting of the mystics. We reiterate a key concept and are afforded the freedom to break away from the lyrics themselves and enter into spontaneous prayer. Contemporary worship is ultimately about expression: we are focused on communicating to God our love for Him.
If we find ourselves unable to get out of our own head, contemporary worship can often be a freeing path.
2. Liturgical Worship
While contemporary worship helps to draw us out, liturgical worship helps to draw us in. In fact, there has been growing discussion of late regarding an increasing movement towards liturgical worship among millennials. Why? Liturgy draws us into the story. It is more than music, more than words. It engages activity, symbolism, and tradition. It captures the history of the people of God and invites worshippers to enter into that history in tangible ways.
In other words, liturgy allows us to relive the saga of God’s redemption in worship. The church calendar reminds us of God’s ongoing work. The liturgical colors remind us how God continues to engage His people. The candles remind us of His presence and the call to be light to the world. The sacraments constitute means of grace through which we encounter God’s redemption in tangible ways. The ritual draws us into an ongoing history of God’s people, reminding us that we are part of a family so much grander than ourselves.
When we find ourselves feeling detached or disconnected, liturgical worship restores us into the grand saga of God’s work.
3. Traditional Worship
As contemporary worship is about personal expression and liturgical worship is about reliving the Divine story, traditional worship is about introspection.
When we sing the hymns, we are not just tapping into a different style of music. The lyrics are designed to produce reflection. This style of worship flows largely out of the Enlightenment era, where pondering the implication of things rose to an elevated premium. As a result, the hymns are often surrounded with references to Biblical passages and the depth of theology embedded amidst the lyrics are profound. They invite us to reflect, both upon the attributes of God and the reality of ourselves.
This is how the hymns free us: they capture us with their poetry, and move us to depths of worshipful reflection that allow us to both cling to the goodness of God and release the darker parts of our own struggles.
All three styles of worship are important, and they connect with us in different ways. The challenge often comes when we attempt to force one style into the box of another. When we strive to make the hymns about expression, we become frustrated. When we seek to make contemporary worship about introspection, the repetition becomes a barrier. When we look to make liturgy about anything other than God’s enduring story, then we relegate it to mere ritual.
But when we engage them on their own level, allowing them to become the avenues of worship that they were intended to be, we will find new pathways suddenly open to us in our life of worship.