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"Bridging the gap between faith and culture"

By Paul Cannon, Dave Lefurgey, Rolanda Ward, Lisa Zambarano

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Introducing Contemporary Praise Worship in a Local Church Setting

By Dave Lefurgey

More on Contemporary Praise Worship at Jonesville UMC

Introduction of contemporary praise worship at Jonesville UMC has already begun with the occasional use of praise songs in select services. The goal is to increase contemporary praise worship in the worship services and to develop a group of musicians to serve as a worship team. The musicians needed are a guitarist, drummer, bassist, and keyboard player. (Other instrumentalists can be used, but his is the basic configuration of a contemporary praise-worship instrumental team.) In addition, five or six singers are needed to lead the congregation in singing. The praise-worship team is a major element in the plan, and recruiting for these personnel from within the church is presently underway.

There are three worship services each week at Jonesville UMC. There is a Friday evening service at 6:30 p.m., and there are two services on Sunday morning: 8:30 and 10:30.

The Friday evening service is called a praise-worship service. It attracts a small group of people who enjoy praise worship. The plan is to seek to attract a larger group of people to this service. This will be done by increasing the advertising to the church membership and to the community. This will begin in August as we prepare for "New Beginnings Sunday," the second Sunday in September. That is the Sunday when the fall and winter programs and ministries of the church begin.

The 8:30 Sunday morning service is the traditional worship service. Contemporary praise worship will not be introduced in this service. It will remain the traditional service.

The 10 o'clock Sunday morning service is the service largest in attendance. It is to this service that the younger "Baby Boomers" and the older "Generation-Xers" attend. This is the service to which we want to introduce more contemporary praise worship. However, this will not be a total praise-worship service. This will be a blended service. The hope is that some of those who favor the traditional service will begin to attend the 8 o'clock service. This is precarious, attempting a blended service, but with care and sensitivity, it can be done. With announcements and advertising in our services, bulletins, and newsletters throughout the summer, the changes can be introduced on "New Beginnings Sunday" in September.

Selection of music is an important element in the plan. The style of music and the lyrics of the songs selected are vital to the success of contemporary praise worship.

The style of the worship music plays a fundamental role in encouraging people to worship and is an important element in bridging the gap between the church and culture. It is evident that "unless worshipers find some measure of enjoyment in a certain church music language, they will probably not be edified by either the music or the words" (Di Sabatino 1999, 21). There is a vast array of contemporary praise-worship music, from "head banging" rock to the more mellow praise-worship-style music. In attempting to bridge the gap to the younger "Baby Boomers" and older "Generation-X" types, a middle-of-the-road contemporary style praise-worship music has been selected, music such as that found in the Praise Worship series published by Hosanna! Music. This style of music has generally been found to be engaging, involving, and expressive for the younger "Baby Boomers" and older "Generation-X" worshippers without being too alienating for other groups less accepting of the contemporary style of music. It is style of music that most effectively helps bridge the gap between church and culture.

Criteria for selecting lyrics with the appropriate message is also vital. Without such criteria, any words and any theological message could be passed off as being acceptable. This could negate the legitimization sought through the ritual of contemporary praise worship, and it could be disruptive and destructive to the building of community. These criteria are essential from the perspective of social construction theory because the worship ritual must be a legitimation of the religious society and its system of beliefs. Religion itself is a plausibility structure and is precarious in its own reality; it must, therefore, seek to maintain itself by guarding its myths and theology. The lyrics of the songs must express the theology, values, and beliefs of the specific religious society. They must define what the group accepts as important guidelines for life and living. They present and interpret the gospel (the religious system's reality) to the worshippers. They tell about the foundation upon which the religious society is built. Careful consideration must be given to the lyrics of the songs sung in the ritual of contemporary praise worship if the worship ritual is to be a successful element in the legitimation process.

The following four criteria are the pillars upon which the bridge between church and culture is built. They will be the guide for selecting lyrics. The lyrics must:

  • Be Christ centered,
  • Compel one to service,
  • Encourage community, and
  • Integrate faith and life.

Not every song's lyrics will specifically meet every criterion, but the lyrics of the overall selection of songs must support the four-criteria evaluation. These criteria will help to assure that the values, beliefs, and theology of the church are neither diluted nor secularized and that a full-orbed presentation of the faith is made.

The question may be asked: How do these criteria work any better for bridging the gap between the Christian church and culture when applied to contemporary praise worship than when applied to the more traditional hymns of worship. The point is that these criteria do not work any better with contemporary praise-worship songs than with the more traditional hymns. They should be applied to the traditional hymns as well. However, since many of the contemporary praise-worship songs are new and do not have an established and long history of proclaiming the verities of the faith tradition as the traditional hymns do, it is extremely important that a "yardstick" of evaluation be applied to them to ensure that these new songs uphold the traditional beliefs of the specific religious society or church. Since it is the style of music that is used to attract the "Boomer" and "Generation-X" types who do not often have an established understanding of the faith, it is important that these new praise songs have lyrics that provide a clear and truthful representation of the faith tradition. That is why these evaluative criteria are so important and why they should be used in the selection of contemporary praise-worship song.

The following three contemporary praise-worship songs are selected to demonstrate the use of the evaluation criteria and as a sample of praise songs to be used. Again, not every song's lyrics will specifically meet every criterion, but the lyrics of the overall selection of songs must support the four-criteria evaluation.

Lord, I Lift Your Name on High

Lord, I lift Your name on high,
Lord, I love to sing Your praises.
I'm so glad You're in my life,
I'm so glad You came to save us.

You came from heaven to earth to show the way,
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay;
From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky;
Lord, I lift Your name on high.

Words and Music by Rick Founds; 1990 Maranatha! Music (George Baldwin 1993, p. 199).

"Lord, I Lift Your Name on High" was written by Rick Founds in 1989. It is number one in popularity as a contemporary praise-worship song around the world. In its few short lines it presents the core message of the Christian faith: salvation through Jesus Christ.

Those singing it in the worship setting are involved in a ritual that connects the singers together—sociologically and spiritually—in the shared experience of singing the central message of the Christian faith and of spiritually worshipping the transcendent being through whom they believe they have salvation. Besides singing, bodily involvement in this song can include having one's hands raised, eyes closed, and swaying gently to the music of the song. A powerful song. A powerful ritual.

This song clearly meets the criteria of being Christ centered, encouraging community, and of integrating life and faith. In a personal and spiritual manner, it may, indeed, also compel one to service.

What a Mighty God We Serve

What a mighty God we serve,
What a mighty God we serve;
Angels bow before Him,
Heaven and earth adore Him,
What a mighty God we serve.

Author Unknown; 1986 Integrity's Hosanna! Music (Hamlin & Brooks 1987, p. 93).

This song recognizes the omnipotence of God as it has all of creation, heaven and earth, in adoration of God, and even angels bowing in honor and recognition of God. In addition, the worshippers acknowledge their service to this God of creation. The song does not specifically call one to service in society, but it makes a direct reference to serving God, which, of course, is something that should be lived out in one's behavior and actions in the society and world in which one lives. The song meets the criteria of being Christ centered in that it worships the triune God. It integrates faith and life in that it encourages community and service as the worshippers sing the song together saying that they serve this mighty God.

Singing the song in worship calls for bodily movement as part of the worship ritual. When singing the song, the people can clap their hands to the rhythm of the music. This can be done throughout the song, but additional bodily movements can also be added with the cessation of clapping on certain lines of the lyrics. When they sing the line: "Angels bow before Him," the people raise their hands above their heads and bow forward from the waist, simulating and expressing the act of obeisance to God. Then, the people stand up straight waving their hands above their heads as they sing: "Heaven and earth adore Him,/What a mighty God we serve." The variety of bodily movements in this song increases the involvement of the worshipper in the worship experience. Subsequently, the effects of legitimation can be evidenced in the increased sense of stability and harmony experienced by the group of worshippers, and, perhaps, this can be carried to the larger society as a whole. It can also heighten worshipper's the sense of relationship with God.

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord

Blessed be the name of the Lord,
He is worthy to be praised and adored;
So we lift up holy hands in one accord,
singing, "Blessed be the name, blessed be the name,
blessed be the name of the Lord.

Words and Music by Don Moen; 1986 Integrity's Hosanna! Music (Hamlin & Brooks 1987, p. 8).

This is a simple song of praise stating that God is worthy to be praised. It is Christ centered in that it praises the triune God. It fosters community by being sung and by the bodily movement of the people's raising their hands throughout the song or specifically when they sing: "So we lift up holy hands in one accord." The slow tempo and gently rhythm of the song encourages a gentle swaying of the body. By singing it together, faith and life are intuitively integrated. Call to service can only be assumed by the fact that one is worshipping God.

Careful selection of songs for their musical style and theological message, will help to make the implementation of contemporary praise worship a success at Jonesville UMC.

Return to the Praise Music Subproject

Main Page for this Project | Bibliography | Index of Class Projects