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IN THE CANDID CORNER: Changes in worship (I)

Matthew Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER: Changes in worship (I)

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“ … clear the stage and make some space for the one who deserves it.” Jimmy Needham

WHAT DISTINGUISHES one Christian denomination from another? Why are some congregations experiencing rapid growth while others struggle to maintain membership? How popular is the practice of church “hopping” among Christians and prospective Christians? Why are the altars of some churches literally catching cobweb while others force expansion? These are some of the questions on the lips of church leaders, lay pastors and more observant members of the pews in churches across Barbados and further afield.

Between the extremes of the more solemn and sedate forms of worship such I experienced at St Jude’s Anglican back then and the more moderate Nazarene in which I grew up, was the more exuberant Pentecostal expression of worship in what used to be called the “jump up” churches. In such settings, the tambourine and the cymbal were the main instruments which competed with the clapping of hand, the stomping of feet and the intermittent shouts of “hallelujah” or “glory” or “thank you, Jesus” or “choral” amens.

 As children we heard almost mysterious “rumours” of people “getting in the power” and “speaking in tongues”. On reflection, it seemed as though the traditional denominations had the large congregations while the “halls” and the “jump-up” churches had “the spirit”. Most denominations had their own hymnal, chief of which was the Ancient and Modern hymn book, the same book from the headmaster at school raised hymns for morning assembly

Noel B. Woodbridge, in a paper entitled Evaluating the Changing Face of Worship in the Emerging Church in terms of the Eclectic Model: Revival or Return to Ancient Traditions” alludes to two approaches to church and worship. One says “I go to church” or what he calls the consumer church which is seen as a dispenser of religious goods and services. Here people come to be fed, to have their needs met through quality programmes and to have the professionals teach their children about God.

On the other hand, there is the missional church which says “I am the church”. This means a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement and teaching from the Word that supplements what they are feeding themselves through the week. He identifies the major players in the emerging church as the post-modern generations, the next/young generations, the Generation X or the baby busters who follow follow the baby boomers. He cites McKnight (2007) who characterises worship in the emerging generations as where people who want to experience the truth through feeling and emotion rather than mere reason. They want to experience God’s presence through worship. They want to take part as active participants, not passive spectators. They respect relationships and are image-centred. For them, when it comes to faith this is defined as how a person lives and not just what he or she believes. Sweet (2000) uses the acronym EPIC which emphasises worship as experiential, participatory, image-based and communal. So you “enter into worship”.  It is not something to be observed involving digital technology that gives the capacity to project images, show artwork and use film and video.

Looking back on it now, there has definitely been a paradigm shift in worship. Traditional churches are losing membership or are confined to elderly folk whose mindset and expression of their faith is dated. The emerging apostolic Pentecostal churches have revolutionised worship beyond recognition with the addition of dance, significant amplification, live bands including saxophone, trumpet and modern drum sets that give worship a vibrancy which is best understood by what is often referred to as “the next generation of world changers”.

The concept of the hymnal has been dropped and replaced by multimedia projection of modern “YouTube” music. No longer do people travel with heavy bibles to church as the scriptures are projected on screens for corporate reading. While critics describe the emerging churches as “prosperity churches” due to the shift in their theology, it is in these worship spaces that new expression is being given to the Christian experience.

In the final analysis, whether small or large, whether emerging or traditional, whether sedate or vibrant, central to any Christian experience must be the presence of the Holy Spirit, who must be the core from which all evangelical and worship expression and strategy exude. “You can sing all you want to … still get it wrong … for worship is more than a song.”

 Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education and a social commentator.