TODAY’S VERSE TO PONDER: Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:19 (NIV)
On Sunday evening, the church where I attend, Cedar Creek Church On The Ridge in Batesburg, South Carolina, hosted its fall “New Life” baptism. Though celebrating one of the most sacred rituals in Christianity, the affair was anything but somber and formal.
The celebration began with a potluck dinner. Church members blanketed several long folding tables with numerous casseroles, fried and barbecued chicken, green beans and other vegetables, and of course, desserts of various shapes and flavors. A couple of members even brought a cooler of their signature home-churned ice cream.
After dinner, the worship team took to the stage and began a program of music that included both solemn, reflective melodies strummed on a single acoustic guitar and raucous praise-and-worship anthems from the full praise band. At each selection, the congregants in attendance rose to their feet, raised their hands high into the air, and sang out. The pastor even commented that the gathered celebrants sounded much like an old church choir.
The evening was capped by the baptism of three church members and still more singing and prayer.
Corporate worship has been part of the Christian church experience for centuries, and it has taken on many different forms, depending on the setting, faith traditions and cultural norms of each respective congregation.
My upbringing was in a small, very traditional United Methodist Church. In my youth, the only definition of “worship” that I knew involved standing up in place at our family’s chosen pew, taking the old Cokesbury hymnals into hand and singing along while the pianist and organist played and the choir – dressed in their long, flowing robes – raised their voices in equally flowing choral-style worship.
It was only after I had drifted and wandered in my faith walk for a while that I finally returned to the church, but this time to a setting where screaming guitars, dazzling finger-work on the keyboards, and thumping drums were integral pieces of the worship experience. While nostalgia for the old-time church choir still holds a place in my heart and memories, I find that now I much prefer a more contemporary style of praise-and-worship music during my normal weekly Sunday worship and at special events.
But that’s just me. My belief about worship is, to each his or her own. As Christ followers, each of us should seek out and embrace the worship experience that most completely satisfies our individual soul’s longing. In the end, it may or may not include music. That’s up to you.
Collective worship is vital to growing in a strong relationship with God, and while individual study and prayer are essential disciplines, all Christ followers should be part of a church family somewhere. However, just as God made each of us unique (though in His own image), we all must search our souls and determine where we are most comfortable in shared worship and where the Holy Spirit most fully speaks to us during the worship experience.
Personally, I love contemporary Christian music; the local praise-and-worship station is one of the most frequently punched presets on my car radio. However, this time of year especially, I make it a point to attend at least one traditional worship service.
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is attending the late Christmas Eve service at a large United Methodist Church nearby. Its huge choir singing cherished carols, the pipe organ playing an old Christmas hymn, and of course, the solemn reading of the Nativity story from the Gospels as midnight approaches all transport me back in time to the innocence of my youth.
Still, God loves a joyful worshiper, and so each of us should seek out this week the brand of worship that most completely inspires joy. It might be an old church choir, or it might be a wailing guitar-fueled Christian rock band. It might be one or two voices singing a simple melody a capella, or it might be a 100-voice chorale invoking a complex Handel oratorio accompanied by a full orchestra.
Whatever and wherever it might be, one thing is certain: even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, God still loves to hear you sing along in praise of Him.