Sunday Morning, Freshers’ Week, 2012: I was in the Durham Students’ Union visiting King’s Church Durham, delighted to be singing the latest contemporary worship songs which I knew very well, e.g. Matt Redman and Tim Hughes, Hillsong and Bethel.
Then suddenly: “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder”—wait…were we singing a hymn? I’d only ever been to churches which either sang only contemporary songs or only hymns. What’s going on?!
Fast-forward five years to find myself leading worship at Kings.
Previously disorientated me has adapted significantly since. My setlist can now comfortably include Joachim Neander’s 17th-century Praise to the Lord, the Almighty alongside Hillsong’s 21st-century Forever Reign (both brilliant songs!)
I still have a personal preference for contemporary songs. Current musical aesthetic trends combined with accessible lyrics produce uplifting, soul-stirring anthems. Repetitions can lead to deeper meditation and revelation (think United Pursuit’s songs that emerge from spontaneous, prophetic sessions).
But I’ve learnt the importance of hymns. Whether it’s tapping into theologically rich lyrics that unabashedly proclaim the gospel, or joining together with generations and generations of Christians throughout the centuries, it’s a tradition that mustn’t be neglected.
Leading worship at this year’s freshers’ Sunday was a joyous privilege.
We’re a thoroughly boisterous, singing church (one fresher said it reminded him of Soul Survivor, a Christian summer festival). Think steady strumming of the acoustic guitar, locking in with tight drum and bass grooves, complemented by the atmospheric wails of the electric and the delicate riffs of the keys.
And we enjoy worshipping together regardless of what songs we sing. Hands will be raised high in the sky whilst belting St Francis of Assisi’s All Creatures of Our God and King (just as enthusiastic as Mr Bean in our Alleluias). I’ve even thrown in a cheeky key change for Isaac Watts’s When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (admittedly amid a few chuckles, but all in all, sung with exuberance).
There’s no one sole way to worship God. If we truly love Him, shall we not also look for even more ways to worship Him? There’s so much we can learn from each other, regardless of our backgrounds and our preferred styles of worship.
Yes, let’s sing hymns that contain tried-and-tested truths (i.e. how the Holy Spirit has been working).
Yes, let’s sing contemporary songs that prove relevant to our present lives (i.e. how the Holy Spirit is working now).
As we sincerely seek to praise His name, may our worship experiences be ever more powerful and reveal greater glimpses of God’s goodness.