New series: Worship Restored!

By Andy O'Connell

Photo by DAVID NIETO on Unsplash

This blog accompanies the short teaching series in March 2023 about worship, entitled "face to face with God"

Over the last few decades (mostly in my life as an adult Christian) there has been a radical and exciting transformation in church worship. 

The 1960s and '70s saw a move of the Holy Spirit renewing individuals, that led to a renewal of the forms of gathered worship. Expressed as it would have been in the language of the time: "the dry wineskins of formal religion were insufficient to accommodate the new life of the Spirit!" Worship moved from being a formalised ritual, led by others, to an informal and spontaneous overflow of all our Christian lives. We worshipped whenever we met - in church meetings ('services'), housegroups, leadership meetings - in fact whenever we met and for whatever reason, however mundane!

Since the turn of the millennium, the pendulum has swung back somewhat, and there has been an enthusiastic rediscovery of the rich legacy of liturgical and historical forms of worship, as part of the mix. And the increasing influence of vibrant global south Christianity, imported through the internet as well as immigration, has enriched the UK church, not least in styles of music and worship. 

My own story is that I was brought up in a conservative Baptist church. Worship was formal. Hand waving was frowned upon, as was any sign of emotion. There was widespread suspicion of the new charismatic movement. Then on coming to Oxford in 1985, I discovered the power/joy/intimacy of corporate sung worship first in St Aldates (challenging my non-conformist convictions - "an Anglican church of all places!") and then in a formative, small and very spontaneous Oxford Community Church.

The Pentecostal Renewal in the early 1900s spawned the charismatic renewal in the '60s, which led to new forms of worship and (in the '70s) 'new churches', which in turn filtered back into mainline denominational churches. Contemporary and charismatic worship is now normal in almost every kind of church. (This democratising and revitalising movement reminds us of an earlier Spirit-led Reformation in worship, when, in the 1600s, congregational singing in your own language displaced choir performances in Latin.)

One of the key worship leaders in this new church movement, Dave Fellingham (Worship Restored, 1987), notes: 

"The initial move of God in the '60s led many to look beyond the personal implications of baptism in the Spirit and renewed worship, to reconsider the kind of church that was really on God's heart. An individual renewal lead to a restoration of church!"

This is the reformation of worship we're now living in the good of!

And it leads us to ask certain questions:

  • As "we don't go to the house of God; we are the house of God", what then is the importance of buildings, their décor and atmosphere?
  • How is it that "God comes to encounter us" when we meet him?
  • As "we don’t come to passively observe a service, but gather to participate in a Spirit-led meeting", what then is the place of leadership? Are worship leaders called to be facilitators or performers?
  • As we know that worship is more than just singing songs on a Sunday, what is the place of singing songs on a Sunday?
  • What place should communion take?
  • What styles or approaches to sung worship are important?
  • Is worship warfare, as some would see it?
  • What is the place of spiritual gifts and participation in worship?

In our short series on worship we aim to explore these questions and more. Do join us!