Trends and challenges in worship
Redhead looks at the evangelical Church and The Salvation Army
by Gwenyth Redhead, Colonel –
The last appointments that my husband Robert and I held were unique. As The General’s Representatives for the Development of Worship and Evangelism through Music and Other Creative Arts we had the opportunity to see at first hand trends and challenges in worship on every continent of the world, which we then compared with observations gained from the many books and articles we read on the subject.
Although it was not possible for us to visit every territory and command, we were able to have a bird’s eye view of worship in 32 countries—enough to discern current trends and challenges with some degree of accuracy. During our visits we met in seminars, workshops and focus groups with those in the front line of ministry; we then met the leadership of the territories and commands to compare their observations with the perspective of those at the grass roots and with our own observations.
What follows is a summary of our findings. The summary represents a continuum, with some parts of the world at one end, and others at the other, and yet others at different places in between.
Before looking at trends in The Salvation Army, I would like to draw attention to the fact that we do not exist in a vacuum but as a part of the evangelical Church and that some trends identified can be seen throughout the evangelical Church.
The emerging church
Evangelicalism is changing worldwide as we move further into the 21st century. The most recent trend is described in a relatively new phrase, “The Younger Evangelicals.” This refers to people committed to relating the gospel to our postmodern world. It is a trend of which the Army worldwide needs to be aware. While the battle between “traditional” and “contemporary” styles of worship still wages in some parts of the evangelical world, other parts have moved on.
Two major characteristics of the emerging Church, as represented by the younger evangelicals, and which impinge on Salvation Army worship practice, are the recognition of the fact that the evangelical branch of the Church belongs to the Church universal dating back to the early Church fathers, and the rediscovery of the value of some of the earliest practices of the Church.
An increased awareness of the value of symbolism as an aid to worship
Older generations grew up in a world that communicated mainly through words. The emerging generation has grown up with an awareness of multiple forms of communication.
According to author Dr. Robert Webber, today’s young people are a visual, symbol-making generation attracted to the power and mystery of many languages that go deeper then the cognitive, verbal and print forms of communication. They want to “picture” words, visualize concepts, and symbolize commitments.
Across the denominations, younger Christians are interested in worship that is genuinely from the heart. They are moving away from “entertainment” forms of worship to more reflective forms.
Songwriters writing for local congregations
A recent wave of the moving of the Holy Spirit, linked with the advent of what are commonly known as “worship teams”—drums, keyboards, vocalists on microphones—has been the advent of singer/songwriters who fulfill the role of prophet for their own worshipping communities.
Open-sided music and other creative arts groups
Many previously formal sections, as well as more-recently begun groups, are providing opportunities for participation by non-uniformed soldiers or, in some cases, non-soldiers, and in yet other cases by pre-Christians.
The groups are intentionally engaging in participation-evangelism. While some traditional groups have made the change through sheer desperation as a means to keep alive, this approach has brought many people into faith and many to soldiership and uniform wearing.
Challenges in The Salvation Army worldwide
Awareness of the need for renewal in worship
Although there is now a lessening of denominational boundaries, Salvation Army culture has been so strong and distinctive in the past, especially in its approach to meetings, that we have tended to immortalize those earlier methods. The result has been a focus on self-preservation rather than heart-worship.
As I have traveled the world, over and over again in a variety of settings the focus has been on whether or not worship is “Army” or “not Army,” though what that means varies from culture to culture rather than whether it is worship that pleases God and relates to those who gather.
Lack of freedom in corporate worship
Sadly, in far too many places there is lack of mutual respect for the fact that diversity is God’s idea, and that he has created each of us differently and longs that we respond to his revelation of himself in ways we find most meaningful, be they quiet reflection or exuberant praise.
Corporate worship is about individual members of congregations being able to participate fully.
In many places there is a generational gap between older music leaders (such as bandmasters) and younger members of such groups as worship or drama teams. These are areas where the implementation of a corps worship committee, representative of all ages, could assist in creating the concept of “both/and” rather than “either/or.”
Change is a present reality. To be relevant, The Salvation Army must change. In terms of worship, those who are the main influencers—territorially, divisionally and in corps—need to be willing to see this happen.
The most natural communication with God takes place in one’s mother tongue. With increasingly multicultural societies growing up in many parts of the world comes the challenge of seeking to provide opportunities for different ethnic groups within congregations to worship in their mother tongue at some point in worship.
In some territories, worship and music continue to be seen as synonyms. This misunderstanding, coupled with the lack of understanding at territorial leadership level of the meaning of “creative arts,” hampered the implementation of lessons learned by delegates to the Army’s MOSAIC (International Music and Other Creative Ministries Forum held in Ontario, Canada June 2004)) forum on their return to their home territories.
Cessation of distinctive holiness and salvation focus for meetings
In many territories, most corps now hold only one meeting on a Sunday. This results in leaders trying to fulfill the aims of both holiness and salvation meetings in one gathering. Many express frustration because they fulfill neither satisfactorily.
Challenge of the multi-sensory postmodern world
In the Western world, desire is being expressed in Salvation Army congregations for the use of communion symbols. In the developing world, Salvation Army congregations are expressing a desire to use the symbolism represented by baptism. These desires need to be faced.
Challenge of how to develop potentially good musicians and other creative artists
Some territories, mainly Western, are recognizing the collapse of the traditional music sections, particularly for young people, has created a dearth of trained musicians. Some corps already have no pianists, and in one territory we were asked to present a paper on “How to worship God without music” as an alternative for a congregation struggling with singing without any live accompaniment.
So, Quo Vadis? Where do we go from here?
It is not appropriate here to offer quick-fix solutions, instead let me draw attention to the fact that if we live by Kingdom values the trends and challenges can provide new opportunities to be open to what the Spirit of God wants to do in our midst.
May we each prayerfully ask the question, “Quo Vadis?” and know the joy of worshipping God afresh in ways that bring him pleasure.
(Note: The article above was excerpted from “Quo Vadis?” which appeared in The Officer, March/April 2006—reprinted with permission.)