Speaking the Language

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It has been said that "worship is the language of heaven". Not sure who first said that but I have heard that phrase many times over the years. We live in a culture that is becoming not just bilingual, but multilingual. On a recent missions trip to Romania I was amazed by the fact that most people in Europe speak several languages. My missionary friends tell me that is the reality of most of the world today, with the exception of America. The vast majority of Americans only speak one language - English. In fact, in many corners of our country there is a fierce battle to keep our educational system "English only". Is that such a good idea? In my opinion it is a big mistake. The reality is that America is slowly becoming more and more irrelevant to the rest of the world. Could it be because we are refusing to adapt to other cultures and learn their languages which would help us be better global communicators? I'll let you decide that one.

I see a huge parallel in modern day worship in America. I was listening to a young preacher in a high school chapel yesterday speaking to students about my generation (I am a boomer) passing the baton to their generation. His take on the subject focused on admonishing them to reach out and take the baton from us and he asked them, "Who will stand up and take the baton?". This was met with about 150 blank stares and dead silence. I think that young preacher interpreted this to mean that they were just apathetic, uninterested and downright uncooperative. He asked the question several more times, gradually increasing the volume, but to no avail. I really felt for him. But I also felt for those young people. I am convinced that I was witnessing a classic case of a language barrier. Let me venture to try to interpret what they were trying to say - "Why should we embrace your generation's worship when you are unwilling to embrace ours?" I think that is a very profound question.

It was almost 40 years ago that I was that age and worship was changing fast. The late 60's and early 70's saw the birth of the "Worship Chorus". We had never heard anything like that before and it was wonderful. Those songs let us go beyond just singing what we believed (hymns) to telling God how much we loved Him. We could express our feelings! The generation in charge of doing things back then told us that worship like that was improper, too emotional, too wordy (which I have yet to understand that one because you can't get much more wordy than a good ole' Weslyan Hymn), irrelevant. Sound familiar? I find myself struggling to connect with some of the latest worship songs and styles just like the rest of the generation in charge of doing things today but we better be careful not to make the same mistakes my parents made.

I close with this thought. Why must each generation insist on only speaking one language? I think the Church in America needs to become "mulitlingual" in its worship. I have decided to become a student once again and learn my son's worship language. I want to learn how to worship in abandon - a no holds barred, extravagant love kind of worship to God. That's their language and God speaks that kind of language. Maybe if we learn their language they will in turn embrace our language which will help them stay Biblically solid. We need to break out of our "worship speak" and understand that the language of Heaven is beyond our own. I see the day when the youth don't just do their worship thing on Wednesday night and we adults do ours on Sunday morning, but we come together with one voice, embracing each other's language, and as a result enjoying a much richer, meaningful corporate worship experience! We just might see my generation actually enjoying a David Crowder worship song while at the same time my son's generation actually loving a good old fashioned hymn.

"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord." Psalm 40:3


sjebersole said...

Good thoughts David. One thought on America's languages... I think that most of these other countries have a primary language, but yes, they encourage the instruction and reasonable usage of several others. That would be a good addition to our educational system--learning 2 or 3 other languages.
And, it is a good analogy. Pass on any tips on learning younger generations' worship language. I get the music of the younger generation... David Crowder is actually one of my faves... but I'm sometimes not understanding what's going on on the inside of the younger ones. Is it angst? Is there peace? Joy?

New Songs Of Praise said...

I think a good place to start with learning and understanding the younger generation's worship is to get to know them on a deeper level. I think the Church hasn't done a good job of including the younger generation in on the topic of our worship. This is a problem that has existed for generations. I have seen it with my own eyes that if we (the old folks) will take even the smallest of steps toward embracing their language it is amazing how they will in turn fully embrace ours. As the "adults" I believe it is our responsibility to make that happen.

Anonymous said...

Pastor David,

Thank you for your thoughts about a "worship language barrier". When I lead worship at youth in Pueblo I was all for the new upcoming, hillsong style music. But now that I am leading worship for all different ages I have come to appreciate older music (including hymns!). I believe the church needs a balance. I love the thoughts you shared about young people and adults coming together in worship. Both sides have something wonderful to offer. I believe a team that does not have that dynamic will not be as effective. I also believe it is important for the younger generation to be nurtured and brought along so that they can express the faith of their fathers in a "worship language" that's relevant and genuine. I am speaking from experience because that is what I you've done for me. Thank you. I pray that God would continue to birth in your heart new revelation of Him.

Your friend,


New Songs Of Praise said...

Thank you Ben for your awesome words. I couldn't have said it better. You have taught me a lot too my friend!


Tommy Leonard said...


It is a sad time for some in the church who fail to see beyond the hymns. As you have shared, there is a “language barrier” that some fail to address or even acknowledge. As a Worship Pastor, the guy on the platform with the very large target on his chest, I have heard from both sides that there is an underappreciated value by the other camp for either the hymns, or contemporary music.

I can see the value in all music that exalts and/or glorifies our Lord, but in the ongoing battle between traditional and contemporary, the word “relevant” seems to keep popping up on the radar. As the seniors debate the lyrical depth of the songs by Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, and David Crowder (a favorite of mine), should there not be a greater concern regarding the relevance of the music to the generation that is permanently leaving the church?

The recent statistics indicate that almost 80% of those who reach the age of 29 are leaving the church and not returning and almost 70% of those who are 18 are leaving. As a Worship Pastor and father of three teens, the lyrical depth of the songs we use to worship our Savior seems insignificant when you realize that the “future of the church” is sneaking out the back door and not returning. Although some of the traditionalists are leaving more contemporary churches to find a better fit for the worship style they desire, most are not leaving “The Church.” The reality is that if these numbers are even close, in 50 years, Christianity will be only a statistical footnote. Is the music battle worth the cost?

As more churches close every year, is it not time for us to learn the “worship language,” of the generation that has the numbers to keep the doors of our churches open, and to take the gospel message to our hardened streets? It is amazing to attend a David Crowder concert and hear the youth of today singing the hymns of yesterday in the “relevant,” contemporary style of worship that they embrace. What would happen if each would attempt to learn the “worship language” of a different generation; maybe we would see a gathering of worshippers so immense that the world would have to take notice.


New Songs Of Praise said...

I couldn't agree with you more Tommy. That is exactly my point. The irony in all this is that both generations are saying exactly the same thing just in different dialects (styles). The danger is that if we as the church don't learn how to communicate our message in a way that the world can understand it, then we won't be able to reach them. Isn't this what Jesus did when He walked the earth?

SJ Ebersole said...

Saw a quote today, "The church that can’t worship must be entertained. Men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide entertainment. AWTozer"

What do you think?

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