I listened to a sermon a few months back and the pastor, Bible believing and Bible preaching, commented on dying denominations’ inability to maintain membership because of their inability to incorporate modern worship into their services. A church must be relevant to the culture. Generally when I hear this type of argument I find points I agree with and many I don’t. My reaction to this sermon was typical; I’ve heard it before.
There is something raw and emotional about contemporary worship. The elevated heartbeats crescendo with the percussion. The guitar harmonizes with the trailing congregational voices. It’s effective worship. It’s gratifying and immediate. People feel something leaving a contemporary worship service.
However, I have never been more moved lyrically than by traditional hymns. Where contemporary worship songs are full of feeling, hymns are full of conviction and weight, the kind of weight that warrants action rather than complacency. The hymn writers often reflect on tragedies and struggles, but their choruses champion themes of joy and forgiveness.
It was less than a week ago, while I was walking through Hobby Lobby, that I began thinking about this topic. An instrumental version of the song “In the Garden” (He Walks with Me) began to play over the speakers. Being raised on traditional hymns, I immediately recognized the tune. I continued to move through the aisles when I spotted a man in tailored dress clothes, probably in his thirties, whistling along to the hymn. I was amused. Based on my stereotypes, it was not something I expected to see, rather hear.
As I moved closer to the checkout lines I passed a woman, if I had to guess, in her sixties shopping with a friend. Dressed in light linens and sporting cropped silver hair, she seemed free spirited. As I passed, the woman began to hum, quite loudly, along with the song. The friend followed suit. Again, I was amused.
I returned home and I began to think about what I had observed. I think most people would have chalked up the whistling and humming to good moods and beautiful weather. I think that would be a disservice.
It is in moments like those I spent in Hobby Lobby, that make me believe there is no place for arguments about contemporary versus traditional worship. Is it necessary for a church to label its worship in one way or the other? As much as I appreciate contemporary services, I attend a church that worships in such a way, I find comfort in what traditional worship offers: no lights, no power points, no amplifiers, no videos, no distractions. At times, simplicity is relevant.