Overview of 70 years of church worship – So where to from here?

26 Jan

I was born in the ’50s.  My father and father-in-law were pastors… so over my years, I’m happy to say that I’ve participated in almost every spiritual movement.  I’ve been in almost all the styles of church services, from high church, liturgical and evangelical to charismatic, pentecostal and fringe.   I’ve observed staid and stoic worship and experienced the wild and bazaar.  At this point in life, I’m pretty much OK with all of it IF people’s hearts are truly engaged with God as they’re worshiping… which is the main point, after all.

There has been an undeniable evolution of worship content and worship experience during my lifetime.  So I’ve used my perspective to create a little graphic to help explain what I’ve observed over the last 65+ years.

Disclaimer: Obviously, there were many exceptions to this… and this is a perspective derived largely from our Western paradigm.

Click on pic for full resolution

Before the 60s we either sang theology intense wordy hymns… or we sang dreamy folksy Gospel songs about going to Heaven someday in the sweet bye and bye.  Our song lyrics magnified the great ‘gulf’ of separation between us and God, but we at least had a genuine longing for Heaven.  Then in the 60s we began to get ‘nearer’ to God in our lyrics and it felt like we had more access to Him.  Some of the strong proponents of this came through the influence of the FGBMFI, Jesus People and Charismatic Renewal movements.  Those were some awesome times of spiritual awakening.  In our awareness of ‘proximity’ to God, it’s almost like we sang ourselves closer to Him.  Of course, in the big picture, it was God who was drawing us up to Himself… but at least we were following.

This progression continued through the Scripture in Song songs in the 70s and the spontaneous ‘spiritual songs’ in the 80s.  We felt so close to God that we changed many of our lyrics from 3rd person to 1st person perspective… e.g. from “He is good” to “You are good.”  This continued through several movements until somewhere around 2000 it seems like we plateaued in our progress into His Presence.  Holy Spirit’s moving in average church meetings became more sparse.  For whatever reasons – maybe insecurity had something to do with it – we began trading into surfacy temporal things.  When we lost the poignancy of Presence in our worship, trendy things may have been an easy antidote or solace for the loss.

A few of the temporal trends and styles we traded into…

Multimedia, lasers, smoke, animated screens
Professional hired musicians
Exact copy the big-name versions / like on the CD
Many of our songs are the same as a YouTube experience
Same rote song format, arrangements/sounds…
Band driven experience yields a concert atmosphere
which creates spectators in the audience
which leads to boredom for everyone
Leaders are pressed to try the trendy ‘next thing’
gotta stay current, you know
Hip hop, ethnic, rap, etc

Note:  I am NOT saying that any of these by themselves is wrong!!  They each can serve a helpful function.  But as a steady diet… and if the net result of employing these ‘trades’, ends up sacrificing His Presence, then… well, you get the idea.

We thank God for some notable torch-bearers in the last 20 years; Hillsong, Bethel Music and IHOP-KC, to name a few.  Then in the last few years, we saw God shine His light on some new Presence seekers; like Housefires, Worship Mob, Upper Room and United Pursuit, etc.  Hungry hearts who wanted Encounter, had a place to go.

Then in 2020, Covid and politics created a huge upset… but God decided to use it as a reset.  Externally, everything went berserk, but God is so masterful that He can trump evil and make it work for good.  We were admonished to do church online… something we were always told would never suffice for ‘real’ church, before.  So the Church got shaken.  But many people found a new reality in personal worship on the very organic level.  Those people began ‘digging new wells’ and thriving through this unstable time.  Sadly, there are some casualties, too.  We must remember that God promised that everything that could be shaken would be shaken (Hag 2:7, Heb 12:27)… and boy, did it get shaken!

Many ‘social’ churches with a shallow worship experience will have serious struggles to survive.  O, there will always be some churches whose worship will thrive, because much of Jesus’ bride is still in those churches.  And He still loves them very dearly, no matter where they are in their growth continuum!

In order to establish a contrast, I’ll quote a popular song heard on a popular Christian Music radio program.  The lyrics are: “I’m begging you please on bended knee to help me.”  Did you notice any distance between the singer and God?  I know it sounds humble, respectable and religiously acceptable… and to be fair, that is the usual starting sentiment for all prodigals.  But as we grow, those lyrics should never come out of the lips of maturing saints, because our understanding of our Father’s magnanimous love for us drives out all fear.  No need to beg for His attention… EVER!  When fear is dispelled, we begin to believe Him when He tells us of our elevated status with Him… that we’re “seated with Him in Heavenly places” (Eph 2:6).  There’s no need to live afar off… we’re “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).  How could we ever have a bad hair day with this kind of reality?!

Shallow worship leaders and shallow worship times will always keep us at a distance from God… which makes us feel the need to beg for everything that is already ours.

So if we’re going to get back into the overall upward trend of the last 60+ years, I think we’ll find that God is inviting us to recommit to Presence Worship and follow His Presence ‘above the line’ into the Heavenlies.  This time, not just in theology or dreamy lyrics, but in experiential reality.  We’re being invited into partnership with God.  No more plaintiff songs/prayers.  No more beggar songs… no more ‘woe is me’ songs.  The Grace of God has worked a wonderfully transformational work in the way we think of and perceive ourselves… and God.  A large door has been opened to discover our true identity and inheritance.

So, no more songs that make us live back in yesterday!  We’re exchanging yesterday’s mindsets that we were just poor humans singing pitiful songs begging a God who was far away, for a morsel or two… we’re trading those songs for songs with lyrics proclaiming confidence in our Father’s love, our Heavenly citizenship (Phil 3:20), our new creation identity (II Cor 5:17), and our co-rulership with Christ (Rms 5:17).

Our worship is beginning to see powerful lyrics that declare Heavenly realities as ours… now!   We won’t have to wait to go to Heaven to experience Heavenly realities.  We’ll sing of our inheritance realized, rather than somewhere afar off in the future.  We will learn how to declare the truth of our status with God rather than begging Him for a breakthrough.  Instead of distance from God, we’ll confidently proclaim our oneness with God (Eph 2:13) and the benefits of it (Ps 103:2).

Wise church fathers have appealed to the prophetic songwriters, “Do you desire for God’s people to live in powerful new revelatory realities five years from now… then give them songs with lyrics that declare that revelation, now.”

So may our new songs be revelatory and equipping… like a Heavenly treasure map.  May our songs be heralds of a new era in God… ‘above the line.’  We call forth songwriters who are like the “Sons of Issachar who knew the times and the seasons and were able to tell Israel what to do” (II Chron 12:32).

Let the new revelatory, new creation, heavenly realities songs come forth!!  Can you feel it?  It’s happening!  We’re moving on up to our High Places. 

–MLH

13 Responses to “Overview of 70 years of church worship – So where to from here?”

  1. Karen Brownlee January 26, 2021 at 11:42 PM #

    Great observations, wisdom ❤

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    • Mark Hendrickson January 27, 2021 at 3:49 PM #

      Well, You’re a worshiper also. YOu’ve been on this journey too. Lots of installments along the way, but what’s really cool is that people like you and me have been able to help ‘stoke the fires’ as we go along. Yay God!!!

  2. SCOTT PHIPPS January 27, 2021 at 1:58 AM #

    Nice word my friend! Presence where He is, a status we have. Sounds like an understanding of the true Gospel…

    • Mark Hendrickson January 27, 2021 at 3:47 PM #

      Big picture, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Jn 17:24

      He just wants to be with us. It’s taking us a while, but we’re making progress.

  3. benkonkel January 27, 2021 at 8:52 AM #

    Well said! I have witnessed this progression also and can attest to it, although not from the perspective of a worship leader. When I got saved in the early 80’s, it was in a large AG church in Orlando. The worship leader was Tom Russell. He could have easily made a living as a big band leader in NY. He had full orchestras (horns and all), he expected excellence and discipline in musicians, but most importantly, he was a worshiper. I remember that the worship songs and format would remain the same for usually about 2-3 months, then he would gradually change up things until, within a short time, there was a subtle change in the “feel” of the worship. I noticed that usually a month or more after these “change ups”, the teachings from the pulpit would also change focus to a different theme, or course. One Sunday night (and only once that I remember) they let Tom teach. I never forgot what he said. In essence, God would lead the congregation into a new time, with a new focus (for them), through worship. God would communicate His heart to the people, and prepare them for the season He was taking them into next, through the worship He was leading them into. I came to see that there was a long term plan by God to grow and mature the congregation in different aspects of their faith by first changing up the worship, and then, after we were “flowing” in the “new sounds”, the pastor/teachers would follow on with the next theme/focus that God had for us. I don’t know whether the leaders planned it this way, or whether they just both flowed well with the Spirit. But I know that, as I matured and understood what was happening, it was beautiful, and I have never seen that demonstrated to that level anywhere else I have been. Ben ps: I told Debbie this morning that I’d come “sit with you today for a spell” as you waited out her surgery. So, keep the door open! 🙂

    • Mark Hendrickson January 27, 2021 at 9:11 PM #

      Ben,
      Great story you cite in Orlando
      And that is how it’s supposed to operate. The prophetic heralders put forth what is on God’s mind and different artforms present it… Then the preachers build on it… and it finally gets integrated into the body of Christ.

  4. Laura Jacobson January 27, 2021 at 1:27 PM #

    Thank you, Mark. Blessings…from somewhere between up there and up a bit. LauraJ

    Laura Bouffiou Jacobson Lauron7@gmail.com 608-225-0734

    “Today’s setback is tomorrow’s setup. Today’s mess is tomorrow’s message.” Ed Silvoso

    • Mark Hendrickson January 27, 2021 at 3:45 PM #

      Like the big equipment movers sign says, we’re “in transit”. But at least we’re moving in the right direction. You keep brightening the corner of the world where you are and I’ll do the same. We’re making a difference!! Love, M&D

  5. Paul Niessen January 30, 2021 at 1:34 PM #

    Our church has had prophecies for the past 20+ years of a Kingdom sound that will be birthed and developed as our personal relationships are developed with the HS. For the past 5 years we have, through the work of the HS, written both songs from worship retreats and birthed from the Song of the Lord in corporate worship services. Our church was originally seeded from the worship revival in 1948 in North Battleford, Saskatchewan so we are taking seriously how God is moving through worship music and the consistent evolving it is under going towards a Kingdom sound that has God’s signature all over it.

    • Mark Hendrickson January 31, 2021 at 2:09 PM #

      Wow, Paul. You and your group have a rich recent history with prophetic calling forth those things which are not… yet! And your roots come out of the ‘latter rain’ movement which was powerful and impacting for decades. May those seeds of DNA continue to fulfill their life-giving mission to fill the whole earth with His glory!!! And may you be granted grace and access to the Heavenly regions… which is our inheritance. It always has been, but now we’re entering an age of wholesale grace for the experiential reality of living, moving and having our being IN Him IN the Heavenlies. Amen!!!

      • Paul Niessen January 31, 2021 at 3:27 PM #

        Yes thanks for your response and care for the Christian community to grow in worship which means all we offer back to God that agrees with His word.

  6. verlymusic February 6, 2021 at 1:21 AM #

    Hey Mark, I think you’re on to something here.

    I thought I’d share a cool testimony last time my wife and I got to do a ministry trip to Myanmar. The first time we went in Oct of 2018 I got to speak for a bit at a meeting our team was leading and I released Joy and the room went nuts. Holy Spirt threw a “tickle party” and everyone was invited. Ha! The leaders got a little nervous/offended and asked us not to do it again. However Holy Spirt had a little heart to heart talk with the leaders and they repented in front of the whole leadership team and said Holy Spirit is welcome to move however He wants. It was a great and fruitful trip.

    We returned to the same church the following year in October 2019. I was asked to lead an evening of worship. I put a few well-known songs together, practiced with the band and told the team I wanted to sing prophetically over people and just flow as much as possible; i.e. focus on presence worship. I began worship as normal and something hit the room. Everyone began encountering God in their own way, some in tears, some dancing, some rolling on the floor laughing, people even experienced physical healing. The room went nuts in the glory for about two hours. I honestly thought “Wow, these guys really know how to worship and get in the glory.” At the end, I chatted with the band and they said, “We’ve never seen anything like that before!” I said, “Me neither!”

    Anyway, this testimony is an encouragement and confirmation to your vision of presence worship. I feel like I got a small glimpse of it. I know there’s more!

    Keep on pioneering!
    David

    • Mark Hendrickson February 6, 2021 at 2:24 PM #

      David Thanks for this great God-story. You are a ‘carrier’ of His Presence. Everywhere you go, it just seems to happen around you! Those times will never ever be forgotten by all who were present when ‘it’ happened. Everyone knows it was Heaven who invaded the ho-hum normal and caused our hearts to leap within us. This is what we were made for!!
      Even though there may be some surprise and discomfort in the uncharacteristic way that His Presence presents itself, we all love His Presence. It’s an amazing gift to be able to recognize His Presence and want Him. But when God finds this kind of person, He handpicks them to proceed on into ‘higher learning’… to be able to carry and give His Presence away. You, my friend, are one of those favored ones.

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