Does Worship Have Styles?

I had no idea that a fight over what style of “worship” used in the Church during its Sunday Service is such a big deal. Growing up in a Christian para-church fellowship has exposed me to many different styles of worship and I thought it was normal. Not until I went for my postgraduate study in Church Music and found out how different preferences in music style (and liturgy) in the church service could divide the church body. Only then I realized, “hmm…, it’s either I was too naïve or being ignorant (sigh).”

I knew there are liturgical and contemporary worship services, but I didn’t know how it could lead to some serious disagreement among the congregation. I find not a few of my fellow friends who serve in the church has had some serious talks in their ministries dealing with different “preferences” in their congregation about what style of worship the church should have. Some have succeeded to combine contemporary and traditional services, some settled separating the two into different services, some are still struggling with it.

I saw some people try to make some “theories” on what it means to have contemporary or traditional worship based on heart and logical expression. Some people say how liturgical service is only based on knowledge or mind, and contemporary is based on human’s emotion. I was like, “Huh? Really? So, are you saying that those choosing the liturgical order lack feelings and the ones who prefer contemporary do not use their mind?” These people seem to forget that Jesus told His disciples to love the Lord with all their heart and mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:29-30). It means we do not offer our worship to God with our mind only, or emotion only, or deeds only, but with everything in us.

Alright, let’s talk about it. I’m going to start from the weaknesses of both “styles” in the service order. It is a reality that many churches that have liturgical service orders do not explain what symbolizes what in their liturgy, and it makes the service rather boring for the congregation that loves excitement, mainly the youth. They have no idea what is going on in the service except for some weird movement and boring responsive words, not to mention boring hymns that many organists play at a very slow tempo. For contemporary service? The upbeat music sounds modern and exciting, the worship leader leads with enthusiasm, yet many songs are about God and me and all words that would make the congregation pour out their emotions and energy as the band plays their instruments with closing eyes. That’s great! But where is the word of God be recited to build the faith? Are they enjoying the songs themselves or as one body come together to the Lord? If everything is about us pouring our heart out during the worship time then when are we going to listen to the Lord? During sermon? Good. I saw many in the congregation of contemporary services are scrolling on their phone or falling asleep after such a high jump and loud cry during the singing part. They seem tired after pouring their emotion out, huh?

That being so, what is best between the two? What should the church do if there are separations among members choosing what kind of worship they want?

My proposed answer is: that’s a wrong question. Worship service is our service to the Lord, and it should not be done according to our preferences, but the Lord’s.

Allow me to explain my answer. The fundamental thing the church of the Lord should not fail to teach is that “Liturgy” means “public service.” It means we offer our service together, as a congregation, to the Lord. We worship the Lord with our lives as personal worship and a living sacrifice from Sunday to Saturday, and we offer Him the first day of the week as an offering to God. We, Christians, do not come and worship the Lord to get something from Him, but to offer our service together as a church to Him for He is the King of our lives that worthy of our praises and offerings. Remember that being a Christian means to acknowledge Christ as our Lord (who rules; King) and Savior (who saves).

Taking from that point of what liturgy truly is, we could see in the Old Testament how the Lord required the Israelites to offer Him several kinds of burnt and grain offerings. We do not have to do that anymore because Christ has substituted all the burnt offerings perfectly, but we must not forget the essence of worship and offering. It is that the offerings we offer to God should not be offered according to what we want but within God’s requirements. There were bulls and goats, and for those who were lacking, could offer birds (Lev 1-5). The Lord put the standard of what kind of offerings the people should offer, yet He let people give according to what they were capable of.

This is the point of my answer: Worship is worth-ship, we worship the Lord because He is worthy, and the style of worship should not be from us yet the Lord wills to receive our worship according to what’s the best we could give in His preference.
Worship is not only about pouring out our souls but how we offer our service to the Lord as a whole. Not only giving Him our tears, but also our brain to grasp on His words, and our lives not only during worship sessions but in the whole service (and every day). Not only doing the same boring ritual, but to understand its significance with the Scripture and see God’s revelation on every detail of the liturgical element, in that being so, we could put our heart and soul in it. Worship is not about our style or preference, but about how we see God’s revelation through the Bible and offer Him our service.

God lets His people know what are His styles of preference. And within His preference, we are to offer Him the best of our ability, be it music, songs, dances, buildings, attires, languages, all as offerings and thanksgiving to the King.

So, does worship have styles? It does, but not that style based on our preference, but the Lord’s. May God’s name be glorified!

“Writing a song is not easy, huh?” (2)

Not only talking about translated hymns that have so many versions and languages (with more than one version in one language), Christian contemporary songs also have their turn to get “unmatched” or “decreased” meaning on their lyrics. Allow me to take one example from Don Moen’s Lord, I Offer You My Life. The chorus part in the song tells about giving everything in our lives to the Lord, for His glory. It talks about our offering and praise, which are part of our whole existence, to be offered as a living sacrifice to God. This chorus part talks the practical worship according to Rome 12:12. But this “practical worship” according to that particular verse is nowhere to be found in the Indonesian version. The translation goes like this (with roughly English transcription):

Kupersembahkan hidupku kepada-Mu, Tuhan (Lord, I offer my life to You)
Untuk kemuliaan-Mu (for Your glory)
Kuberikan hidup ini s’bagai persembahan (I give this life as an offering)
Yang berkenan pada-Mu (that pleases You)

The translation is not totally wrong, it just decreases the meaning. The use of words is not expanded well enough (rather shallow), and thus it could not give the instant impact for the worshipper that brings them to the truth of God’s word. For a super small circle, I ended up having my own translation for this song; with closer meaning and still pleasant to be heard (and sung).

Writing a song indeed needs honesty from the writer, but let’s not forget about the richness of words we could use. In Christian songs, it should be considered also that Scriptural reference is necessary to achieve its purpose to edify the congregation besides its initial goal to exalt the King. Personal experience from the author is good to be the main reason to write a song, but it should not end there. A Christian song with the writing process using personal experience only without a process of meditation in the word of God should be refrained as a congregational song that exalts the Lord, edify the church, and encourage the other believers. For this reason, writing a song is rather easy, but writing a good Christian song to be sung congregationally might be not that easy.

“Writing a song is not easy, huh?” (1)

I started to introduce songwriting material to our Liturgy-Team some time ago. I began the learning by simple analysis on Moses’ Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 to give them the idea that worship song is not only about expressing our feelings, but also to speak about God’s words and works, and to invite others also to see who God is. Writing worship songs does not only require the work of musical abilities, but also the works of our mind to know who God is, and our bodily expressions (and works) to experience God’s words.

We parted the song of Exodus 15 into three parts: Moses’ part, Israel’s part, and Miriam’s part. We saw how the lyrics shape the whole song completely to worship the Lord and to teach, edify the congregation. The lyrics are composed by the calling to the people of Israel to worship the Lord, the true story of God’s works that are explained in detail, and what was happening among the nations around them in response to God’s works. We learned how to worship the Lord not only with our feelings, but also with our minds; not only because we are invited to do, but also because we know and see God’s greatness with all our senses. I then asked the team members to put into practice what they have had just gotten from the text; to share their stories about how the Lord has shown Himself through the situations that seem impossible for them to get out from, together with choosing the proper and poetic words that make up good lyrics to build one good worship song.

One of our team members then came with her new understanding, “Writing a song is not easy, huh?”

“Writing just any song is easy but writing a worship song that talks about God and teaches the congregation is indeed not that easy,” I answered.

Some worship songs keep repeating the same lines about how good and great God is but not exactly telling us what are the good and great things that He does. I am not saying that it is bad, but when we overuse a phrase without true teaching and practical examples, we might take that phrase for granted and then it could lose its meaning.

I would say that Exodus 15 gives us a great example to say in words what are the good and great things the Lord has done. The lyrics in Exodus 15 has really touched the ground; it touches the heart of the people of Israel, it touches their mind, it brings truth to all generation who listen to it – and therefore, teaches them.

While talking about Moses’ Song of the Sea, as I reminded the team, we must remember that what we have in our Bibles (plural, suggesting different translations) are already translated in so many languages that it has lost its original rhyme and meter and might be making no sense to be sung. Here comes the chance for us to write our version of lyrics that would make sense for us and could engage the congregation without losing the meaning of the song. And as the team was taking into their hearts and minds the Biblical example of worship song lyrics, I gave them some examples about the danger translated songs could make. Some of it decrease the deep meaning of the original song, some even change it…

Communal Worship When Singing is Prohibited

The new health measurement during this pandemic has limited churches to hold their services and activities, including singing during the worship service. The good thing is, it is still possible to have a communal setting of worship without opening our mouth in singing, yet still worshipping God.

Attached bellow is one idea of special service during this “new normal” period. It is a “silent service” that corporate sermon and worship together to picture God’s revelation and congregational response. The hymn lyrics are for the congregation to reflect on it while instrumental music is being played, either by the worship team, or spotify. I have attached the spotify link as the alternative on each hymn.

Christian Worship and Pandemic

Christian Worship During Pandemic

We are created to be in the fellowship

God created man in His image, in His likeness He created them as man and woman. But what does it mean to be in the image of God? I do not think it is about physical things, I would rather refer it to the revelation of God in Genesis 1:26 when He had a dialogue within Himself, revealing His plan to create man. There is a fellowship within Him, He who is one (Deu 6:4). Therefore, I believe that one of the characters of God He put in man is to have fellowship with one another and with Him who created them.

God is holy, and in Him, there is no sin. But man’s choice to not obey God’s command made him sin, and thus the fellowship with the Almighty has broken. The sons of man are born in their father’s image and likeness (Gen 5:3). Until Jesus came, and those who receive His salvation will be renewed in the likeness of God (Eph 4:24); it is in the eternal relationship with Him.

Without the salvation we receive from Christ, the renewal of the image of God in us would not be done. It is Christ in us, the believers, that makes us one, once again, like Christ in the Father, and the Father in Christ (Jn 17:22-23). Like what Jesus stated that when two or three gathers in His name, He is among them. The image of God in us is restored not by our works, but by the grace of Christ that unites us.

Worship and obedience

If the image of God in us is restored by Christ within the unity with the other believers, at the first glance it seems impossible with the current pandemic situation when the government restricts us to gather and sing together. But thank be to God that the Bible does not mention that the fellowship within the believers should be done only in the physical gathering, and worship Him is not only about singing together. There are more than just physical meetings and singing; we are to worship the Lord with our heart and mind and soul and strength, to offer our whole lives as a living sacrifice. It is the true worship.

With the whole world struggling with economic situations amid the pandemic, countries are doing their best to keep their heads up. Nobody likes restriction, and many people ignorantly neglect to follow the rules set by local authorities to keep a safe measure. But Christians should follow Christ, it is to submit ourselves to the authorities, for there is no authority except from God (Rom 13:1). I am not saying that we should stay quiet to the corrupted government that practices injustice. But to subject to the authorities who try their best to keep their people safe, obeying them is not only an act of obedience, but also an act of love; to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love others as ourselves.

Obedience is not an easy task to do, yet there is always a way out if we walk in it. For Christ will not leave us alone in our obedience; all things work together for good for those who love Him. We may not know the way out of this crisis yet, but the Lord will bring us through if we walk with Him. Walking with the Lord means walking in obedience and trust that He is working in us and through us. Obedience is an act of our worship; it requires our heart and mind and soul and strength to be rooted in the word of God.

The church

By remembering that Christ works all things for good for those who love Him, gathering restrictions and safe measurement may be a good thing for the church to have a quiet time with the Lord. We are often busy with all church activities, worship team practices, choir rehearsals, mid-week fellowships, that we sometimes forget what those things are for. Church activities should achieve some goals, worship teams should practice hitting the right beats and chords, the choir should sing well in pitch and memorize the song if possible, mid-week fellowships should be filled with activities for the whole members to enjoy, all these businesses exhaust us and we might not have time to reflect on what we have been doing. Now is the time for it.

Here are some ideas I would like to propose when communal singing is not possible:

  1. Listen and reflect

If the physical gathering is allowed with some restriction, the singing part could be replaced reflectively. The music accompaniment can be played when the lyrics are projected or handed out in the bulletin. No singers needed, instead, ask the congregation to sing inside their hearts. This could be an opportunity to make a “special liturgy” to make clear the congregation’s “silent singing” as the communal response. I have written the service sample here.

  1. Walk our songs

This pandemic is the perfect time to reactivate the church’s cell. It is the earliest church: when all the family members come together and pray; it is when two or three gather in Jesus’ name that He is among them, it is the church. It is the closest circle to practice Ephesians 5:19-21,

“…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

To whom should we address in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs? It is to our fellow believers; it is to our own family.

“What psalm does speak to you this week? How would you put it in practice in the following week?”

“What song reflects your relationship with the Lord this week? Would you like it to share with us so we can sing it together?”

  1. Sing a new song

Singing restriction may sound awful in the beginning, but what if it’s God’s way to quiet our mind so that we could grow, both in faith and in skill. Choir members may not have any homework during this time, this makes it a great time to learn or even master some new hymns or Christian contemporary songs. Repeat it until it sticks in your head and you are ready to sing it just anytime. If you are not a choir member, it is a great time for you too to listen and take your time to learn some new hymns or songs that nourish your faith in God.

Be it an old hymn with a new understanding or a completely new Christian contemporary song we have never heard, sing a new song! Take our time to study the word of God and the songs we have been singing. We could see how the songs implement the word of God and if it does not, we should know not to sing it anymore. The word of God comes first, and by it should our songs to Him being lifted.

Who can separate us from the love of God?

There is nothing that could stop the authentic Christians to worship the Lord, because God never stops His love and care upon us. The government restrictions could not stop it, and our obedience to the authorities would not refrain us from worship. Our fear may weaken us, but nothing can change the image and likeness of God in our lives as long as we walk in obedience to Him. Like what Paul wrote to the Romans, so shall it be in our hearts:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

May God’s name be glorified!