Beyond The Seamless Worship Set

 

Beyond The Seamless Worship Set

 

In the early eighties, the seamless worship set became widely embraced as the preferred ritual in congregational worship. It was innovated over the previous two decades to facilitate a new emphasis on intimacy in the communal worship experience.

Songwriters were starting to write less songs “about” Jesus, and about what could happen when people engaged with Jesus, and more songs that addressed Jesus directly.

Metaphorically speaking, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” was replaced by “I Love You Lord.”

Less of the formal back and forth of the liturgical traditions that had been in place for centuries. Less of the fiery back and forth of Pentecostal culture, where the song leader, on the spur of the moment, might ask the congregation to shout out special requests, or ask someone to give a spontaneous testimony, or rally the troops with lengthy emotional exhortations toward passionate participation.

Less dialog and more monolog.

In the early days of this new liturgical format, which was affectionately titled “a time of worship”, worship leaders often made up the song list on the fly. It was innovated in the world of Charismatic Christianity, and the adrenaline rush of leaning into the Holy Spirit was crucial.

However, these seasons of freshness and new adventures do not last forever, and we have landed up, today, with the “pre-planned” worship set, which involves fewer and fewer components. Not to mention that the subject matter of our songs has narrowed greatly in the process. Not to mention that the “song list” is often the only ingredient.

Might it be time to re-evaluate the seamless worship set? Might it be time, again, to explore new rituals? In the age of the “crowd sourcing”, is it not appropriate to be exploring creative ways to make our get togethers more conversational, and, hence, participatory.

Common Hymnal’s first ever recording, a series of singles out every two weeks beginning April 26th, has a hidden agenda: to start feeding the Christian community with song-ideas for the “post seamless worship set” era.

It is easier said than done, and we recognize that we have a long way to go, but we have endeavored to curate a list of songs that broaden the subject matter and trigger a fresher approach.

For example, “Rose Petals” is a lament about the tragic and unnecessary loss of life that is happening all too frequently in our society. Pretty much every Sunday, somewhere in the world, there are congregations that go through tragic loss as a result of a devastating event in their nearby neighborhoods. In the age of the seamless worship set, there is very little reason to look for a way to respond appropriately in the gathering. In many ways, we are trapped by the ritual, and we do not even think to broaden the expression.

If we were engaged in dialog more than monolog, we would be seeking out creativity that would help tenderize our hearts and join the dots between the complexities and sadnesses of our world and the exalted, yet empathetic, Christ.

A song like “Rose Petals” hints at ways we can broaden our musical lexicon, ultimately feeding the worship experience.

Might it be time to re-evaluate the seamless worship set?

Malcolm du Plessis

 

 

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