Diversity in Worship

We all know the classic “frozen chosen” joke that gets casually thrown around  when Presbyterians criticize their style of worship or when they are being criticized by other denominations. This phrase is usually referred to as the manner in which congregations worship during church services. (Disclaimer: when I use the word worship in this context I will be speaking strictly of singing praise songs.)

I attended two churches during my formative and high school years. One was a predominately white middle class/upper class PCA church where mostly hymns and some contemporary songs were sung and the instruments that were used were predominantly piano, acoustic guitar, bass and electric drums. The other church I attended on Sundays was a Spanish bilingual church that consisted of Mexican immigrants. The worship there was mostly Spanish contemporary songs with the use of acoustic guitar, keyboard (at times) and occasionally a cajon or djembe.

At times I felt restricted in the consistent form of worship when fellowshipping at the white church; it truly was a reflection of the popular “frozen chosen” categorization.  During my summers spent in Mexico, I would go to my cousin’s church that would be labeled as charismatic, and I remember the first time I went and my reaction to the worship.

Many people began to jump up and down, lift their hands, clap, and even dance around. At first I felt uncomfortable, but then I began to feel the freedom to be able to lift my hands and not worry what the person next to me or behind me was thinking and how that could possibly reflect my relationship with God.

Upon entering college, I was faced with the decision of where I would call “home” in the context of my church.  I decided to attend New City East Lake because it reminded me a lot of my Spanish-speaking church back home. In these three years, I have experienced joy, grief, praise, adoration, and much more in the worship on Sunday mornings. The music at East Lake varies from mostly gospel songs to Spanish songs to hymns. We have been encouraged as a congregation to enter into the act of worship as who we are, and during the different seasons our worship changes.

Every Friday in chapel at Covenant College, New City Fellowship would lead the student body in two worship songs. These two songs were usually gospel songs that were common at New City. During my time at Covenant I have consistently attended New City East Lake, and for many of the fellow Covenant students, these songs were familiar and known by us.

I have noticed, however, the discomfort felt during chapel for many of Covenant’s students as New City led in worship.  It frustrated me to see friends not wanting to sing or just awkwardly looking around instead of trying to learn the song. I have learned so much from my African brothers and sisters about lamenting through worship, just as I have from my Latino brothers and sisters in their songs of joy and praise.  

Therefore my question is, what is our role in diversifying our worship? We should be learning from brothers and sisters and their style of praise, living in the tension and awkwardness in being pushed out of our comfort zones.  

Should we just avoid New City coming and leading us in worship and instead just sing hymns we are most familiar with? Now, I am not in any way disregarding the importance and significance of hymns and more traditional forms of worship. What I am trying to do is what we can learn from other forms of worship that are different from ours. Can we enter into worship with them and fully praise Jesus in it?

I know that I do not agree completely with Pentecostal doctrine, but I also know that I was able to experience freedom in worship at my cousin’s church. In the same way, I worshipped through the beautiful and rich words of hymns sung at the PCA church I attended growing up.

There is significance and beauty in worshiping in different ways. We begin to see God in such a wonderful and new way. Those moments of discomfort and awkwardness are diminished in light of the glory of God and the diverse body of Christ that we are. We must begin not to merely ask the questions but enter into worship with our brothers and sisters, not just in other countries but right next to us here in this community.