Recently we asked several of our Reformed Worship readers about their understanding of the Praise and . Worship style and its effect on congregational worship. We wanted to know what questions and concerns they had about the movement. Then we turned to Henry Wildeboer, a pastor involved with this style of worship. We invited him to answer these questions from his experiences in churches in Calgary and Oshawa.
During the oil-boom days of the 1970s, Calgary, Alberta, grew by leaps and bounds, attracting young professionals and workers from all over Canada, including many from Reformed congregations. Henry Wildeboer, pastor in a Christian Reformed Church in Calgary during those years, wanted to reach those young workers and keep them connected to a local church. One method that Wildeboer found helpful in this task was altering the style of music and worship that the congregation was used to. Wildeboer was able to achieve his goal, establishing an active ministry among young adults.
For many, the changes in that Calgary congregation's worship style were exciting, rewarding, meaningful—designed to keep many young adults challenged in their faith and active in the church. Things were happening1. But those same changes were difficult for others in the congregation who were more comfortable with the quieter way things had been.
In 1984, Wildeboer moved to Oshawa, Ontario, taking with him a different conception of ministry. In order for the church to address an increasingly secular culture, he believed, a renewal of worship was crucial. So Henry and his wife fan, a pianist, continued to explore with others in their congregation the potential that the Praise and Worship style offers for a renewal of worship.
Q. You're known as one of the leaders in worship renewal in the Christian Reformed Church. How did you become involved in the Praise and Worship (P&W) movement, and how has it affected you as a worship leader?
A. I have been growing into the movement for a number of years. I love good music and many of the traditional hymns—"Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," "O Sacred Head," and "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" have always been favorites of mine. But early in my ministry (the latter 60s) I noticed that many others were not as moved by these hymns as I was. Many of the younger generation, especially, did not relate to our respected hymnody. As a result, we were losing these young people— some for a while, others permanently. They wrote us off as "irrelevant" and "out of date" and never came back.
As I listened to these young people, I discovered they were not cold to the Lord or disinterested in worship. They just didn't relate to our forms or our organ-piano sounds. I also learned that they did relate to other sounds—to strings, brass, drums, and a synthesizer.
So we began to involve these young people in our service planning. They helped us pick hymns and decide which instruments to use. Our horizons began to expand, and our appreciation for other types of music broadened. We learned that God can be worshiped in many ways other than the one basic approach we were used to.
Sometime later the charismatic movement came along with a profusion of new hymns and spiritual songs, many of which we explored. We found most of them lacking in substance, but we also discovered some jewels. As we opened up to more diversity, we noticed positive responses among many younger and older people. That gave us incentive to continue to explore.
Through all our changes and growth, we have always maintained a strong emphasis upon the preaching of the Word. We must not lose that! Some feared that worship changes would result in watering down the Word. That certainly has not happened here.
Q. How has the P&W style affected you personally!
A. My views have expanded. I've learned to appreciate the overall span in music that praises God and inspires people.
I have a deep desire to reach today's younger people who are struggling with immense pressures and temptations as they face cultural powers and principalities. I sense that a diet of traditional, classical church hymns is not reaching many of them during the vital stage from ages fifteen to twenty-five. We can't afford to lose our young people during the years when most of them make the major decisions of their lives.
Furthermore, using only one style of church music and praise becomes boring for many of the rest of us as well. I, too, have been nurtured by the greater scope of church music.
Q. What do you understand by "Praise and Worship," and how did Zion Church (Oshawa, Ontario) develop this style of worship?
A. I don't think we all understand the same thing when we talk about P&W. This style of worship involves much more than singing a few choruses at the beginning of a service. For us, P&W means taking time to lead the congregation in focusing upon God and God's love for the world and its people. It's a time of seeking through music, singing, readings, and prayers to lead them in praise, thanksgiving, and surrender to God. Our worship leaders desire that all of us see God's majesty and covenantal faithfulness and be awed with admiration for our King. Even though we sin, we can return to God's grace again and again and experience full forgiveness. That calls for unrestrained celebration.
For Zion Church, the development has been gradual. We started by using an overhead and screen for about ten to twenty minutes of singing praise at the beginning of some of our evening services. We soon noted an increased interest, enthusiasm, and attendance in services that announced a time of praise. From that beginning we expanded into using some of our musically gifted, spiritually sensitive members to plan and lead some of these praise times. I saw other leaders do things differently than I did. Some did things I didn't like, and I was certain that they "would not work." But many of these things did work and introduced the congregation to some different ways of worship.
Soon other members of the congregation volunteered to lead. Some of them introduced other musical instruments (brass, strings) into our worship and praise. Our young people raised funds, bought a drum set, and placed it on the platform. It's been there ever since.
We now have about six regular worship leaders (more are volunteering all the time). Each makes a unique contribution, reflecting his/her own journey, preferences, and personality. They pray and work closely with each other so that they maintain a common perspective.
These worship leaders invite small groups of people to join them for each evening service. These members join the leader on the platform to lead the congregation in praise through singing, sharing, and prayer.
There is wide variety in the groups who join the worship leader in front. Sometimes two to four families are chosen. At other times it's a cluster of people who love to sing, a group of ten to twelve young people, or the members of two to three cell groups. Even our council members have led a time of praise; it is a powerful testimony to the congregation, especially to youth, to see their leaders happily singing praise to God!
Zion Church has no official choir. The congregation fills that role. Our singing—at times with a variety of instruments, often interspersed with acappella—is simply heavenly! It inspires worshipers to become more open to God's Word and more willing to share their needs and joys.
We now have a time of praise at the beginning of every evening service. This is possible as more leaders and members become involved. We are in the process of developing a praise time for some of our morning services as well. Many members have asked for that.
Please note that this did not all happen overnight. We have been working with these changes for years. Growth is gradual; it takes time and requires patience. Though I am involved with planning many of the services, there are regular times when I do little more than what I do best— that is, preach the message and conclude the service.
Often at the end of the p.m. service we invite those who have needs for prayer to come forward after the dox-ology. A number of elders and members will then come up to pray with them. Surprisingly, many of our longtime members are ready for and open to a more specific prayer ministry.
Q. Many people from our tradition are uncomfortable with the emotion generated in P&W services. They believe that people are being manipulated into emotional response—that the congregation is moved by P&W worship for the same reason they cry at weddings or get choked up by a beautiful sunset. Being touched emotionally in such situations, these critics point out, is not the same as being touched by the Spirit. Advocates, on the other hand,argue that any worship that makes them feel so blessed must be acceptable to God.
What role do you think emotion plays in worship? How important is it?
A. Jesus had no fear of emotions and did not avoid them. He asked tough questions that stirred up hatred and violence in some, joy and adoration in others. Vigorous praise may release a spirit of joy and celebration or a desire for quiet meditation. Both expressions of emotions are valid. Whole persons respond to God with head and heart.
Looking back, I note that many of the significant decisions in my life were made in emotional settings. I was "moved" in a particular service to decide "Yes, I must take steps to profess my faith." I was "moved" by the needs of the world and church to sense "God's call" (more than a mere intellectual decision) and to decide to enter the ministry. Deciding to marry my wife, Jan, was an excellent intellectual decision, but be assured, emotions played a large part.. . and they still do!
Our relationship to God is like a marriage. He's the groom; we're the bride. The relationship itself and the celebration of that relationship is more than rational and intellectual. It is also emotional. Since worship celebrates God's relationship with us, emotions are natural. Allowing space for the Spirit to speak or to touch God's people is not the same as manipulating emotions. A tightly controlled service that avoids the emotional may well manipulate God out of the service.
People do make commitments in emotional settings. The decisions themselves, rather than the climate in which they were made, need to be evaluated. I have seen CRC members "converted" or "baptized by the Holy Spirit" in charged emotional (pente-costal!) settings. That in itself is not as great a concern as what they do with the experience. Who's going to teach them? Where are they going to go for spiritual direction and correction? They need confirmation, education, and challenge.
Q. Another concern revolves around the emphasis on the individual in the P&W tradition. Doesn't such worship run the risk of emphasizing our personal experience at the expense of focusing on the communal worship of God's covenant people?
A. We fear individualism and the overemphasis on the personal rather than the communal. However, that should not steer us completely away from the personal, individual aspects of our relationship to God. I agree with the late David Watson: "A Christianity that doesn't start with the individual doesn't start. A Christianity that stops with the individual, stops!" Individual hearts need to make personal commitments to Jesus Christ before they can be fully involved in corporate worship and communal ministry.
I find that generally the emphasis in P&W is not on the individual. The sharing of needs for prayer puts us in touch with the greater community. Our musicians repeatedly say that their participation in communal music and praise is richer than anything they can do on their own. In contrast, traditional worship often isolates individuals. Even the seating arrangements frequently preclude interaction.
Q. Our Reformed tradition has an honorable history of preaching, singing psalms and hymns, and presenting our thanksgiving and petition in prayer. Such simple, uncluttered worship has served our churches well. Why do we now need to begin borrowing from pentecostals and charismatics, from fundamentalists and evangelicals? Doesn't the P&W tradition encourage allowing Maranatha! Music to set the tone for our worship rather than our own psalms and hymns in a denominationally approved hymnal?
A. Our tradition is excellent and maintains the aspects of preaching, singing psalms and hymns, thanksgiving, and petition. But must that worship content be limited to a certain pattern or format?
Many pentecostals and charismatics use too many spiritual songs—many of which are simple and sometimes rather superficial. Some of their music is excellent, but they need more of our solid hymns. In contrast, most of our congregations desperately hunger for some of their simplicity and devotion. In short, we need the order of the Reformed and Presbyterian accompanied with the ardor of the pentecostals and charismatics. Most of our worship is too traditional; most of theirs is too contemporary. We need to learn from each other.
So why not use some hymns from the Psalter Hymnal combined with some simple choruses and newer hymns? That's what we do, and our congregation loves it and is blessed. We maintain solid ties with the church of the past, but we are also sensitive to what the Spirit is doing in the church today.
Updated language is a recognized necessity. Many of the newer hymns speak eternal truths in an "uncoded language" that has become a powerful evangelizing tool. We are searching for honest ways to reach today's secularized neighbors. Music plays a big part!
Q. Church history has often seen a close relationship between theology and worship, and an adage in church music is that most heresies have been sung into rather than preached into the church. How would you respond to the concern that P&W choruses endanger the purity of our theology? Can P&W be Reformed?
A. Many of these choruses are Scripture verses (often from the Psalms) set to music. As much Scripture is memorized and "digested" through music as through preaching.
I agree that heresies can be sung into the church very easily with hymns and choruses. We need to be discerning. I have been blessed with a "feel" for music and a love for biblical theology. Besides that, my wife, along with a number of others here, are good musicians with a sensitivity for what builds up and what doesn't. I believe most of our congregations have members just waiting to give leadership and use their talents and training in this area. They need to be discovered, asked, and encouraged.
"Can P&W be Reformed?" Of course! Genuine Reformed worship always includes praise and worship.
Q. Because P&W choruses are all fairly recent, in singing them we don't really join our voices with the full "holy catholic church," saints from other times and places. Isn't it true that historic hymnody is more nourishing in content—textual-ly, doctrinally, and musically— than P&W choruses?
A. We should not presume that P&W's music consists of "choruses" alone. The past twenty-five to thirty years have been referred to as a "second reformation" in terms of Christian music. We have witnessed an explosion of new music, much of which will not last. But that also happened with the music of the first Reformation. Gems have been distilled down to us.
I note that the new Psalter Hymnal adopted newer material, much of which earlier was classified as "P&W" music (note 197,198,234,370,517,569, and 588).
Q. Some people are concerned about the use of overheads in congregational singing. Overheads, they say, prevent people from spending time with a text, from reflecting on and learning from its content. They also discourage the use of tunes that are not familiar or cannot be easily learned by rote. Doesn't the use of overheads often steer a congregation away from some of the more substantive and challenging hymns?
A For us it is not either overheads or hymnals. We use both (and with permission!). The advantages of using a good overhead are (1) heads are up, and singing is clearer; (2) a song leader can direct more clearly, especially one with tricky rhythms; and (3) hands are free so that they can be raised or clap along, both of which are biblical forms of praise. Unless members have hymnbooks at home and use them, I am not sure that using overheads diminishes learning or "discourages the use of tunes that are not familiar."
Q. A common complaint we've heard is that P&W tapes are too slick, too overdone—with professional sound tracks and big orchestras fancying up the simplest little Scripture chorus. And many congregations are playing these tapes in church. Isn't our plain praise, with the instruments we have in our congregations, a more fitting way to praise God?
A. We do not use tapes in our congregation for "sing-alongs," and I don't know of any church that does. Occasionally, someone with special music uses a back-up tape, which I do not particularly enjoy. But again, I need to allow for diversity, as long as it is not unscriptural or a hindrance to the church.
Q. Other congregations who have considered trying P&W are concerned about what will become of their expensive organ and their highly trained organist if they begin singing these simple choruses. Do organs go out the window when a congregation lets P&W in the door?
A Expensive organs and highly trained organists are beautiful assets as long as they alone do not control the music program. In some churches inflexible, classically oriented organists are harsh in their judgments on anything that doesn't have their kind of sound to it, and readily call it "bad music." But the truth is that traditional music sounds "foreign" to many today. God is much bigger than one individual or one denomination's personal preferences, tastes, or traditions.
Both folk and classical music are expressions from the same Spirit of God. Each needs to regard the other with mutual respect. Snobbery and disdain must be avoided. The Bible speaks about brass, drums, and stringed instruments at least as clearly (clearer, I think!) as it does about organs and pianos. Why oppose the use of a set of drums when appropriately played with some of the hymns or newer songs?
Q. Some traditional congregations are worried about the "entertainment" factor in P&W worship. Often P&W is touted as the thing that will attract people because it is more lively and folks "really get into it"— in other words, "it's a really good show." Where do we draw the line between worshiping God and entertaining the troops?
A. This is an invalid either/ or that I hear often. May it not be fun and enjoyable to praise and worship the Lord? Does it have to be routine (and boring) to be good for us? I think it is a sin to bore God and God's people with worship that follows the same routine and in which members respond like trained penguins who know exactly when to stand, sit, read lines, or sing responses. It is a travesty to treat members who are uniquely creative, deeply devoted, and totally loyal with services that stifle with sameness, lameness, and tameness.
Q. And what about those who join the worship services but who aren't able to "really get into it"? Doesn't P&W run the risk of excluding, for example, the older members who are unable or unwilling to change their traditional patterns of worship? How do you include all of the members of the congregation in P&W worship?
A. We have members who do not like our style of worship… but very few! Our older retirees usually love it and are thrilled to be part of a worship experience in which families and youth are happily engaged in praise, worship, and the sharing of their lives. Our older members love a relevant, contemporary testimony of God's liberating grace. "That's real" is a common comment I get from members and visitors. Furthermore, almost all of our a.m. services follow a fairly traditional format, so that form of worship has not been lost. To move completely towards the informal (almost casual) type of worship, using only the newer songs, would result in a big loss. We make certain that we balance the new with the old.
Those who want only traditional worship in the church simply cannot have it solely their way. To insist on purely traditional worship is unreasonable. If we yield to their threats to leave by reversing all change, we are guilty of doing theology by emotional blackmail. I have learned painfully that older members who leave because of changes in worship inevitably join another congregation. Younger members who drop out because of boredom often leave the church completely. That reason alone makes me opt for the youth and search for good changes in worship.
Q. In many churches P&W occurs only in the first ten or fifteen minutes of the service. Doesn't that restrict praise to only one part of the service? How is P&W different from a song service tacked on to the beginning of traditional worship?
A. It is radically different. P&W is not merely the "singing of a few hymns." It may start with a time of congregational praise early in the service, but it is not limited to that time. Sometimes P&W takes the form of a medley just before or after the message. At other times our singing flows into a time of sharing joys, testimonies of God's grace, and answers to prayer. Or, it may lead to the sharing of needs and a time of prayer—sometimes led by the pastor, many times led by a layperson. We view such "share times" as "praise and worship"— opportunities to lead the people into God's presence, awareness, and reality.
Q. One of the apostle Paul's main themes about worship is that it be done "in a fitting and orderly way" (1 Cor. 14:40). P&W sometimes seems to lack order, moving along by emotion rather than in accordance with a plan. How do you think Paul would have reacted to a P&W service?
A. He would have joined right in! I don't agree that one of Paul's main themes was that worship should be done "in a fitting and orderly way." That text is almost always used to forbid something that is different from the usual. Paul said, "Let all things be cloned!) in a fitting and orderly way." We have built a whole structure of cautions based on the last phrase while totally ignoring the first part.
We also tend to ignore Paul's audience. He was speaking to a congregation that took part in tongue-speaking, prophecies—two or three at the same time, sometimes—and people who would freely break out into singing. Services became noisy and a bit rowdy at times in that Spirit-filled, Spirit-gifted church. So Paul said, "Come on, Corinthians, let all these things be done, but wait your turn. Don't let things get out of hand!"
A time of P&W is carefully planned; however, room is left for the Spirit to lead us into something related but perhaps not entirely planned or foreseen. So many worship services are so tightly run and controlled by one person, the minister. It's all so neat, so tight, so orderly, and sometimes… so dry.
At Zion Church, we plan "structured spontaneity" into our services. That may seem to be a contradiction in terms, but it isn't. We have a planned time when we open the service for specific congregational sharing, hymn suggestions, and so on. I believe Paul would encourage all congregations to try P&W services.
Q. Is P&W a worship fad which is popular now but may become unfashionable in a few years?
A. No, I don't think so. God's people were created to praise God, and it is our task to lead them into deeper, stronger, more intense praise. They long for it! I feel like we are in the time of Moses and we pastors, like Pharaoh, need to heed the cry, "Let my people go!" Our fears of losing control, our reluctance as pastors to "hang loose" and release more of the ministry, including worship, to the laity, is holding back the entire body of Christ. As I speak in various places, people from traditional churches will sneak up, look around to see if anyone is listening, and then confide,"Every once in a while I go to__church for a lift and a boost."
Is it a passing fad? We seek to serve the needs of our congregation now, without trying to second-guess where God may lead us in the future. We want to be relevant to each age. I have been involved with a more open, P&W style of worship for twenty years. It contributes deeply to my own spiritual growth. I long for dynamic praise, honest sharing, Spirit-filled preaching, fervent prayers, and hilarious generosity. As the sharing of love and intimacy between husband and wife refreshes and renews the commitment and enriches the relationship, so dynamic P&W renews my love (the bride's) for God (the groom) and refreshes all of my life.
I pray that P&W may spread throughout the entire church and become a dynamic part of our worship. Many are searching for sound Bible preaching in a setting of honest praise and sharing that has integrity.
ADVICE FOR CONGREGATIONS WHO PLAN TO INTRODUCE P&W
- The council and pastor must lead the congregation in making some decisions about worship. If you agree your congregation needs greater openness and growth in this area, prepare to guide your congregation through the change.
- The pastor and worship committee can begin by reading about P&W and by visiting some congregations that have adopted this style of worship. You'll likely discover both good and not-so-good examples.
- Look around the congregation and make a list of people (men and women, younger and older) who show sensitivity to P&W, or who have a deep interest in music and/or worship. Every congregation has some members with these gifts, but they need to be discovered. Inform the congregation that you are looking to grow in this area and that council wants help. Once the congregation realizes that pastor and council are serious about this change, volunteers will appear to aid in and enrich worship.
- Start! Begin by planning some of the special services and perhaps one evening service a month. There is no better way to learn than from one's own experience. Evaluate, ask for comments from members of the congregation, learn, make changes, and do it again.
- Begin with a song leader—not necessarily a trained musician, but someone who can carry a beat, who obviously loves the Lord, and who can inspire others to join him or her in singing praise to God.
- When criticism comes—and it will!—don't become a quitter. Change never comes easily or without arousing some fears. The council should vocally support the pastor and worship committee in their continued efforts. You will make some mistakes, but that is no reason to give up and retreat to the zone of the safe and the familiar.
- Pray, pray, pray for God to lead and bless!