[Jubilee columns] Unfolding Praise: 5. Contemporary Praise and Worship Music in Modern Christianity

I. Introduction

Contemporary praise and worship music has become an integral part of modern Christian worship, bridging the gap between tradition and innovation. This column aims to explore the characteristics of contemporary praise and worship music, such as the popular songs by Elevation Worship, Brooke Ligertwood, and Minister GUC, among others, discuss the impact of modern music styles on Christian worship, and examine the challenges that arise from this fusion of diverse influences. This column also draws on the insights and research of various scholars who have studied the history, theology, and sociology of contemporary praise and worship music.

II. Background and Evolution of Contemporary Praise and Worship Music

Christian worship has a long and rich history that spans across centuries and cultures. From the early church to the present day, Christians have expressed their faith and devotion to God through various forms of music, such as chants, hymns, psalms, spirituals, and gospel songs. These musical traditions reflect the theological doctrines, liturgical practices, and cultural contexts of different Christian communities.

However, since the mid-20th century, Christian worship has undergone a significant transformation with the emergence and development of contemporary praise and worship music. This genre of music is influenced by multiple musical styles, such as pop, rock, folk, jazz, blues, soul, R&B, hip hop, and reggae. It also incorporates elements from various cultural backgrounds, such as African American, Latino, Asian, and indigenous traditions. Contemporary praise and worship music is facilitated by advances in technology, such as electric guitars, keyboards, drums, microphones, amplifiers, speakers, recording devices, and digital platforms. These technological innovations enable contemporary musicians to create diverse sounds and effects that enhance the musical expression and quality of worship.

Furthermore, contemporary praise and worship music is influenced by the effects of globalization, which have broadened the reach and accessibility of various forms of worship music. Globalization has enabled the cross-cultural exchange and transmission of musical styles and resources among different Christian communities around the world. It has also fostered the emergence of transnational networks and movements that promote contemporary praise and worship music as a universal language of worship. Some examples of these networks and movements include Hillsong Church, Passion Conferences, Integrity Music, Vineyard Music, Maranatha! Music, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, and Worship Central.

According to Lester Ruth and Lim Swee Hong, authors of A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship: Understanding the Ideas That Reshaped the Protestant Church, contemporary praise and worship music came about through theological reflection on the Bible, not merely as the result of cultural impulses. They argue that contemporary praise and worship music is rooted in the biblical concepts of praise, worship, and renewal, as well as the historical movements of revivalism, charismatic renewal, and evangelicalism. They also trace the key ideas, events, and people that shaped the development and diversity of contemporary praise and worship music over the past five decades.

III. Characteristics of Modern Praise and Worship Music

The defining features of contemporary praise and worship music include a blend of musical styles and powerful lyric themes that express adoration, gratitude, and surrender to God. Contemporary praise and worship music draws from various musical genres that appeal to different tastes and preferences of worshippers. For instance, some songs are influenced by pop music that features catchy melodies, simple chords, repetitive choruses, and upbeat rhythms. Some examples are The Blessing by Kari Jobe & Cody Carnes or Confidence by Sanctus Real. Other songs are influenced by rock music that features electric guitars, drums, bass lines, distortion effects, and energetic vocals. Some examples are Mighty to Save by Hillsong Worship or Lion And The Lamb by Leeland. Still other songs are influenced by gospel music that features soulful vocals, harmonies, call-and-response patterns, and syncopated rhythms. Some examples are Way Maker by Sinach or Break Every Chain by Tasha Cobbs Leonard.

Along with the musical diversity, contemporary praise and worship music also emphasizes the lyrical content that conveys the message and meaning of worship. The lyrics of contemporary praise and worship songs often focus on themes such as praising God’s attributes, thanking God for his blessings, declaring God’s promises, confessing sins, asking for forgiveness, seeking God’s guidance, surrendering to God’s will, and expressing love for God. The lyrics also use various metaphors, imagery, and symbolism to describe God’s character and actions, such as light, fire, water, bread, wine, shepherd, king, father, friend, savior, healer, deliverer, and more. The lyrics aim to create an emotional connection between the worshippers and God, as well as inspire them to live out their faith in their daily lives.

Monique M. Ingalls, author of Singing the Congregation: How Contemporary Worship Music Forms Evangelical Community, identifies five distinct types of “congregations” that worship together in song: local congregations, concerts, conferences, praise marches, and worship on screen. She argues that contemporary praise and worship music is a contingent social practice that both shapes and reflects the religious collectivities that create, circulate, perform, and critique it. She also emphasizes the span of denominational, regional, and ethnic expressions of contemporary worship, taking into account the liturgical dynamics involved in its emergence and the dynamics that led to its growth.

IV. Impact of Contemporary Music Styles on Christian Worship

The integration of contemporary music styles into Christian worship has enhanced audience engagement and participation, fostering a more immersive and interactive worship experience. Contemporary praise and worship music invites worshippers to express their faith and emotions through music in various ways, such as singing along with the lyrics, clapping their hands, raising their arms, dancing their feet, or kneeling down in reverence. Contemporary praise and worship music also encourages worshippers to use their own words and creativity to communicate with God, such as improvising their own melodies, harmonies, or lyrics, or composing their own songs.

Moreover, the roles of worship leaders and musicians have evolved with the advent of contemporary music styles. Worship leaders and musicians are no longer merely performers or accompanists of worship songs, but rather facilitators and guides of worship experiences. They are responsible for selecting and arranging the songs that suit the theme, mood, and purpose of the worship service. They are also responsible for leading and directing the congregation in singing, praying, and responding to God’s presence. They use various techniques and skills to create a dynamic and engaging worship atmosphere, such as modulating the volume, tempo, and pitch of the music, using verbal cues, gestures, or expressions to signal transitions or changes in the music, or sharing testimonies, scriptures, or insights to enhance the meaning and relevance of the songs.

Furthermore, contemporary music styles have been adopted by various denominations and cultural contexts, enriching the universal language of worship. Contemporary praise and worship music transcends the boundaries of tradition, doctrine, and geography, creating a common ground for Christians from different backgrounds and perspectives to worship together. Contemporary praise and worship music also reflects the diversity and creativity of God’s people, who use their musical gifts and talents to glorify God and edify one another. Contemporary praise and worship music celebrates the richness and variety of worship expressions across cultures, languages, and generations.

V. Challenges and Concerns Surrounding Contemporary Praise and Worship Music

The blending of tradition and innovation in contemporary praise and worship music raises concerns about preserving the core values of Christianity. Theological debates emerge over the interpretation and scrutiny of song lyrics, as well as potential commercialization of worship music. Striking a balance between tradition and innovation remains crucial for cultivating a meaningful worship environment.

One of the main challenges that contemporary praise and worship music faces is ensuring the theological integrity and accuracy of song lyrics. Some critics argue that contemporary praise and worship songs are too shallow, vague, or repetitive, lacking in biblical depth, doctrinal clarity, or historical continuity. They contend that contemporary praise and worship songs fail to address the full spectrum of Christian beliefs, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, the second coming, or the judgment. They also claim that contemporary praise and worship songs emphasize personal feelings, experiences, or desires over God’s revelation, sovereignty, or holiness. They suggest that contemporary praise and worship songs should be more faithful to Scripture, tradition, and creed, as well as more balanced in expressing both the joy and sorrow, the grace and truth, or the love and justice of God.

Another challenge that contemporary praise and worship music faces is avoiding the commercialization and commodification of worship music. Some critics argue that contemporary praise and worship music is influenced by market forces, consumer demands, or industry standards, compromising its spiritual quality, authenticity, or integrity. They contend that contemporary praise and worship music is driven by profit motives, popularity trends, or performance pressures, rather than by God’s glory, people’s edification, or ministry’s mission. They also claim that contemporary praise and worship music creates a culture of celebrity, entertainment, or spectacle in worship, rather than a culture of humility, reverence, or service. They suggest that contemporary praise and worship music should be more mindful of its purpose, values, and ethics, as well as more respectful of its audience, context, and tradition.

VI. Conclusion

Contemporary praise and worship music plays a vital role in modern Christianity, fostering creativity, diversity, and unity among worshippers. By embracing the rich tapestry of contemporary worship styles, Christians can continue to grow in their faith, deepen their relationship with God, and celebrate the universality of worship across cultural boundaries. However, contemporary praise and worship music also faces some challenges and concerns that require careful consideration and evaluation. Therefore, Christians should be discerning and responsible in their use of contemporary praise and worship music, ensuring that it aligns with God’s word, honors God’s name, and serves God’s people.

Artist Spotlight: Lauren Daigle – A Distinctive Voice in Contemporary Christian Music

I. Introduction

Lauren Daigle is an acclaimed singer-songwriter known for her exceptional vocal talent and distinctive music style within the contemporary Christian music scene. This Artist Spotlight takes a look at Daigle’s life, career, and the impact her music has on the Christian community.

II. Background and Early Life

Born in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1991, Lauren Daigle was raised in a devout Christian family. From a young age, she discovered a passion for singing, eventually finding her calling in Christian music as her faith grew stronger.

III. Musical Career

Daigle’s debut album, “How Can It Be,” was released in 2015, marking her entry into the professional music scene. Some notable albums and songs in her discography include:

  • “How Can It Be” (2015) – featuring “First” and “Trust In You”
  • “Behold” (2016) – a Christmas album featuring “Light Of The World”
  • “Look Up Child” (2018) – featuring “You Say” and “Rescue”
  • “Lauren Daigle” (2023) – featuring “Thank God I Do” and “World of Color”

Through her career, Daigle has earned numerous awards and nominations, including several Dove Awards and two GRAMMY Awards.

IV. Impact on Christian Music and Community

Daigle’s music has left a lasting impression on Christian worship and contemporary Christian music, providing emotionally stirring and powerful songs suitable for personal reflection and group worship. Through her music, she seeks to create a shared experience between herself and her audience in their collective faith journey.

Daigle’s music has also reached a wide audience, both within and outside the Christian community, breaking records and crossing genres. Her song “You Say” became the first song to simultaneously top five Billboard charts. She has also performed on various mainstream platforms, such as The Ellen Show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Live With Kelly And Mark.

Daigle has also used her platform to support various causes, such as music education and social justice. She has partnered with organizations such as The Price Fund, which provides scholarships and mentorship for aspiring musicians; Compassion International, which sponsors children living in poverty; and Prison Fellowship, which ministers to inmates and their families.

V. Interviews and Perspectives

In past interviews, Daigle has been open about her personal life and faith, discussing her motivation to create music that brings people closer to their faith and speaks to the hearts of the listeners. With plans to continue making music that resonates with people across the globe, she remains an innovative and influential figure in the Christian music scene.

VI. Recommended Listening

For newcomers to Lauren Daigle’s music, the following songs and albums are a great starting point:

  • Top Songs: “Trust In You,” “You Say,” “Rescue”
  • Albums: “How Can It Be” (2015), “Behold” (2016), “Look Up Child” (2018), “Lauren Daigle” (2023)
  • Collaborations: “Back To God” (with Reba McEntire), “Who You Are To Me” (with Chris Tomlin), “Joy Invincible” (with Switchfoot), “Almost Human” (featured in the movie Blade Runner 2049)
  • Live Performances: [Live With Kelly And Mark], [The Bluebird Cafe], [The Ryman Auditorium]

VII. Conclusion

Throughout her career, Lauren Daigle has established herself as an influential figure in Christian music, using her extraordinary voice and unique songwriting to spread hope and love. We encourage readers to explore her impressive discography and experience her powerful music firsthand.