The Great Worship Awakening is a helpful addition to the conversation about worship. Church leaders attempting to bring about healthy change in worship would do well to work through this book as a group and utilize the available study guide.
In making that determination, congregations will have to wrestle with questions of identity and theology. Who are we called to be? What is the purpose of worship, anyway? Whether revitalizing traditional services or adding different types of worship services, church leaders recognize that things are indeed different now, and the options available hold as much potential for conflict as they do for transformation.
In this context, Robb Redman, pastor of Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in Helotes, Texas, and a former vice president at Maranatha! Music, offers The Great Worship Awakening. As Redman describes it, “This book is about change in worship.” It is designed to help pastors and other church leaders sort out the changes and thus enable established churches to respond in appropriate ways.
To that end, the author surveys major movements and trends driving changes in worship. He then offers some theological guideposts and practical advice for navigating the changes and helping a church respond to the Spirit’s direction in worship.
The book is divided into three major sections. The first describes in detail the trends affecting worship—everything from seeker services to the liturgical renewal movement. In detailing these trends, Redman is careful to draw clear distinctions between different types of services and the styles of music employed.
As a former insider, he is in his element as he takes the reader on a guided tour of the Christian music industry. The chief contribution Redman makes here is helping church leaders understand what’s really meant by such terms as “seeker sensitive” and “praise and worship music.”
The second major section details “the contours of the worship awakening.” Here Redman describes how ethnic, generational and cultural factors have affected worship. As with so many writers on congregational life today, Redman feels it necessary to include a thorough discussion of postmodernism.
Those already well-read in such trends (particularly postmodernism) are likely to scan the chapter titles and think, “Ugh! Not again!” Although these subjects have been the topics of countless books, articles and conversations, Redman’s treatment of postmodernism and generational differences is as good a sketch as one can find anywhere.
Redman concludes with a section on the theology of worship and some practical advice on leading a church through the process of reinvigorating congregational worship. Even though this is the shortest section of the book, it promises to be the most helpful. Redman’s discussion of the theological aspects of worship renewal is succinct and insightful.
Tradition and innovation are not mutually exclusive terms. In that vein, he consistently underscores the truth that worship is about God, while at the same time insisting that renewal requires that the church utilize all its gifts in worship.
The concluding chapter discusses the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to worship innovation. Here, Redman demonstrates he knows church life. He is well aware of how different strategies can play out in the life of any congregation. For anyone contemplating starting a new service or making significant changes in worship, this section alone is worth the price of the book.
There are several shortcomings worth noting. In titling his book The Great Worship Awakening, Redman assumes we all agree that a worship awakening is taking place without making the case for it. As he notes, “Something significant is happening with worship.” In my judgment, however, his argument needs bolstering at just this point.
Some churches are thriving quite apart from the issues raised in this book. They may indeed be blissfully unaware of any need to be innovative in worship. While he acknowledges the potential conflict any discussion about worship might generate, the hard truth is not everyone sees or experiences such change as an “awakening.” Those who are casualties of the “worship wars” would in all likelihood see the changes Redman describes very differently.
Redman asserts that his book is aimed at helping established churches navigate changes in worship. As noted above, the concluding section of the book provides that kind of help. Still, I couldn’t help but note that most of the churches he cited as examples are megachurches. The book would have been greatly improved by appealing to changes successfully managed by smaller, traditional and more mainline churches. There are still churches in which every generation is represented. How do you renew worship and still keep your congregation together?
One last observation. In making his argument, Redman frequently plows some of the same ground over and over. Obviously, this practice is necessary to provide some context for the topic under discussion.
Nevertheless, I came away from the book with the impression that some of the material could have been edited without undercutting Redman’s effort.
On the whole, however, The Great Worship Awakening is a helpful addition to the conversation about worship. Church leaders attempting to bring about healthy change in worship would do well to work through this book as a group and utilize the available study guide. If anything, such work will force a congregation to be clear about its identity and about what it means to worship God.
Bill Ireland is pastor of Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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