Overcoming the Generational Language Barrier in Worship

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

parent megaphone
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 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 not long ago speaking to students about my generation (I am a Boomer) passing the worship baton to their generation (they were Millienials). 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 rebellious. 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 those teens were trying to say by their silence - "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 then as it is now. 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 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 , and irrelevant. Sound familiar? I find myself struggling to connect with some of the latest worship songs and styles of today 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' generation made.

I close with this thought. Why must each generation insist that everyone speak their language? I think the Church in America needs to become not only multi-generational but multilingual in its worship. I have decided to become a student once again and learn the worship language of my son's generation. 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 too. Inf fact, he invented it. 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 and never unilingual. 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! The book of Revelation tells us that is how worship in Heaven will be so we might as well get used to it now. Who knows, we just might see my generation actually enjoying a Bethel Live 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

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