In the event you spend any period of time in church buildings which have a notable proportion of individuals beneath the age of 40, you’ll hear the style of music referred to as “fashionable worship.” The chords are easy, the melodies are exceedingly singable, the emotions are honest, and the lyrics are temporary.
Like all genres, fashionable worship has particular person examples of actual high quality, and this week I used to be within the automotive singing together with one—Elevation’s 2018 song “Worthy”—that has many deserves. I’d gladly lead a congregation in it myself, if solely to sing this theologically exemplary couplet:
“It was my cross you bore / So I may stay within the freedom you died for.”
However as I sang together with the recording, I couldn’t assist feeling, not for the primary time, that it was incomplete and only a bit skinny by itself.
This isn’t one thing I really feel a few associated style I’ve spent a number of time finding out and, as a worship musician, main: the choruses of Black Gospel that emerge out of the custom referred to as the Negro religious.
These songs, too, are inclined to have very quick texts. However as a result of they’re anchored within the incomparable religious depth of the Black church and since they fairly often pack a substantial amount of musical subtlety right into a seemingly easy musical package deal, they’ll maintain a substantial amount of repetition and solely enhance of their expressive and formative energy. The best spirituals—like “I Need Jesus to Stroll with Me”—can and will likely be sung for a lifetime and past.
Not a lot with fashionable worship. There’s something bite-sized about these items, which we sing so enthusiastically for a 12 months or three however then lose curiosity in. And but I do love singing them, even when after seven repetitions of the bridge—not an exaggeration within the case of “Worthy”—it looks like we’ve been chewing for fairly a very long time on fairly a small piece of Surprise Bread.
What to do with these emotionally pure, musically easy, quick items?
Nicely, what I’ve been doing for years as a worship musician is not utilizing them alone. I virtually at all times pair a contemporary worship tune with an extended textual content, alternating between congregational singing of a tune with congregational studying (whereas persevering with an instrumental mattress beneath). Matt Maher’s “Lord, I Want You” with a studying of Psalm 121. Bethel Music’s “Our Father” with all the textual content of Hebrews 11. United Pursuit’s “Not in a Hurry” with the opening responses and confession of sin within the E book of Widespread Prayer’s service of morning prayer.
On this format, the emotional simplicity of the tune resonates in superb methods with complicated and difficult texts, particularly the biblical psalms—which have been, in fact, initially songs themselves. Again and again I’ve discovered this mixture is way, way more highly effective an expression of worship than both textual content or tune by itself.
Singing alongside in my automotive this week, I spotted that we’ve had a reputation for these worship songs all alongside, although the phrase is unfamiliar exterior excessive liturgical traditions.
They’re antiphons—which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a brief sentence sung or recited earlier than or after a psalm or canticle” (the canticles being largely different biblical situations of poetic and sung prayer, just like the Track of Simeon in Luke 2). The aim of an antiphon is to offer the congregation a strategy to body their very own response to the biblical prayer. Identical to fashionable worship music, antiphons usually draw their vocabulary roughly straight from phrases of Scripture.
Antiphons should not full prayers—they’re temporary invites to replicate extra deeply on the content material of full prayers. They aren’t hymns, both, which generally take singers on an prolonged journey by means of some facet of Christian expertise or perception. They’re fairly actually choruses, the gathered response of the individuals to an extended and extra concerned textual content.
That is what we’re participating once we sing most fashionable worship music—stunning, easy antiphons.
The one downside is that in lots of church buildings and worship settings, we’re solely singing antiphons. We aren’t studying, chanting, or singing the psalms themselves. We aren’t attending to lengthy passages of biblical textual content. Nor, in lots of settings, are we pairing the choruses with hymns, which might require but additionally reward reflection and a spotlight.
All we’re singing are quick texts and very simple tunes—too quick and too easy to actually categorical or type a full lifetime of Christian prayer.
This realization that fashionable worship is sort of all antiphons, on a regular basis, has been extremely useful to me. It explains why I really like many songs within the fashionable worship style: They’re the antiphons of my Christian life and—because of the music distribution mechanisms of common tradition—thousands and thousands of others’ lives as effectively. I don’t need to cease singing them.
Nevertheless it additionally explains why, after a up to date worship service composed of 4 to 5 antiphons plus an extended sermon, I really feel like one thing important has been missed and one thing necessary isn’t being cultivated or fashioned in us.
It additionally factors to a deficiency in lots of liturgical church buildings, like my very own Anglican and Methodist traditions, which have maintained congregational studying of the psalms however don’t benefit from music’s energy to deepen the response to that textual content.
In my very own worship management, I’ve gravitated (with out realizing it) to an answer that was within the Christian custom all alongside: placing these choruses of their correct place, surrounding and undergirding the congregation’s consideration to the deep texts (and possibly additionally tunes) of the Christian story. Once we sing these choruses earlier than and after and within the midst of the studying of comparatively complicated texts, they’re extremely useful pathways to real Christian worship.
So let’s hold singing these songs. However let’s sing them because the antiphons they are surely.
Andy Crouch is associate for theology and tradition at Praxis.