Within the past year, I have been having more and more conversations with pastors who are coming to me for recommendations of worship leaders who understand both modern and traditional worship. At the same time, more are also coming to me asking, “How can we, as a more typical evangelical church, engage liturgy and hymns?” People, if you’re not paying attention to this shift, you’re behind the curve.
I often cannot help with the former question. My response is, “Come back to me in 5-10 years, and the new generation of 5-10 worship leaders I’m currently mentoring will be ready.” As for the latter question, I have tons of ideas. And one of them is perfect for Christmas.
Since the late 1800s, there has been a ready-made template that can probably fit well into any worship tradition…even charismatic/Pentecostal! It’s called “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” or, “Lessons & Carols.” It’s a simple service structure of alternating Scripture readings (lessons) and carols (either congregational songs or choral anthems). Wikipedia actually does a good job of describing and laying out the format (including the traditional Scripture readings you use). Search “Nine Lessons & Carols.” For our purposes, however, here’s why the service is awesome for modern worship:
- It’s a powerful service for a postmodern context: The beauty of the service is that it walks through nine choice passages of Scripture that provide Scripture’s metanarrative–the story of Christ, the scarlet thread–which proclaims Messiah.
- Almost every church will already have the resources built-in to accomplish putting this service together: Because it’s simple, with alternating Scripture readings and song, almost any church is equipped to do it. All you need are music leaders and Scripture readers.
- It’s malleable in structure to fit almost any church’s worship setting: There’s no sacred tie to there being nine Scripture readings. In fact, there’s no sacred tie to the Scripture readings being what they have traditionally been. This can allow a lot of room for creativity with still properly being a “Service of Lessons & Carols.”
- It’s malleable in style to fit almost any church’s worship setting: It was started in the Anglican tradition, with choirs and traditional instruments, like the organ. But there’s nothing keeping one from doing a modern version with modern songs and modern instrumentation. The “Lessons & Carols” structure remains.
- It infuses a LOT of Scripture into a service. In modern evangelicalism, Scripture reading has been short-changed or totally neglected. As my colleague, Don Sweeting, has pointed out, this is an amazing irony, given that evangelicalism was born out of a Reformation which sought to bring the Scriptures back to centrality in faith and practice.
Our church typically does two Lessons & Carols services, one at the beginning of Advent, and one on Christmas Eve. Advent takes a more unique flavor. This year we’re attempting to engage readings which juxtapose Christ’s first advent with His second, in order to remind our people that Advent is meant not only to point Christians back to Christ’s birth, but forward to His coming at the eschaton. So, for that service, we’ve jettisoned the traditional readings and picked our own. For Christmas Eve, we’ll be a bit more traditional with it.
Finally, I want to offer some modern worship songs that have an Advent flavor (they’re too few and far between, which is why I stacked my album with three Advent/Christmas hymns):
“Light of the World” – Matt Redman
“Here I Am to Worship” – Tim Hughes
“Hosanna” – Brooke Fraser (powerful second advent themes)
“God with Us” – MercyMe
“Glory in the Highest” – Chris Tomlin
“Jesus Messiah” – Chris Tomlin
Other great material (hymns movement albums/songs):
Love Shall Be Our Token, by High Street Hymns
Silent Night, by Red Mountain Church
Advent Songs, by Sojourn Community Church
“Hark the Glad Sound,” “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” and “There is Room” from our album The Glad Sound.
Have a blessed Advent and Christmas season!