As the years go by, I become more grateful for the journey and leadership of modern worship leader and pastor, Glenn Packiam. God has planted him in the non-denominational, Pentecostal tradition and has given him a voice, along with a gift for writing both songs and prose. He’s an Integrity recording artist with some great albums out there. In fact, I think his latest album, The Mystery of Faith, is his best yet and is a testament to his most recent reflections on the blind spots that often befall modern worship. (Check out my review of his album here.)
I’ve reflected many times on this blog how I see modern worship moving in a positive direction, with their increasing embrace of biblical depth, theological reflection, historical awareness, and liturgical appreciation. You see it in the songwriting of most of the major heavy-hitting modern worship recording artists (Tomlin, Redman, Passion, Hillsong, etc.).
Upon reading Glenn Packiam’s recent post and then his paper, “The Futurology of Congregational Music,” that he will present in a few days at Ripon College in Oxford, I’m even more encouraged that inroads are being made toward the non-denominational movement being more rooted in the broad, beautiful, and biblical tradition of historic Christian worship.
In his essay, Packiam writes:
Musical styles arguably function much like a language. Just as Bible translators like Wycliffe and Tyndale gave their lives for churches to be able to read Scripture in the vernacular, the move to “translate” worship into the language of a culture is right and good… But is translation all that has occurred? Did the modern worship movement simply trade pipe organs for electric guitars? Or has the very shape of corporate worship been changed and new forms been adopted? There is an implicit claim within the modern worship movement and the church growth movement with whom it is closely associated: forms and practices are neutral and therefore interchangeable.*
Packiam goes on to critique this implicit claim, largely through the lens and leadership of James K. A. Smith, who has received a lot of press on this blog, encouraging his readers that the form of worship is not neutral and has a shaping power. In the wake of the considerable impact of Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom (2009) and Imagining the Kingdom (2013), what Packiam is saying is not new. But what is new and intriguing (and encouraging) is that Packiam is saying it as a non-denominational worship leader TO non-denominational worship leaders. Packiam is challenging the unchecked hyper-pragmatism that we evangelicals are all too guilty of and non-denominational churches are particularly susceptible to.
“Win the lost at any cost” sounds like the right thing. It sounds biblical. After all, didn’t Jesus give it all on the cross? Didn’t He leave the ninety-nine to go after the one? Indeed, He did. But it is a HUGE leap to say that method, form, and practice are 100% up for grabs, so long as the “content” is there. What Packiam is saying, and certainly what Smith has been saying, is that there is very real and formative content in the methods, forms, and practices of worship that we need to be paying attention to.
So what is Packiam’s solution? Ironically, for a non-denominational, free-church leader, it’s a return to the historic Christian liturgical structure fused into a modern worship service. Fascinating. Packiam’s essay is $0.99, available on Amazon in Kindle format here. It’s well worth the read. If you know worship leaders in the non-denominational sphere, I’d encourage you to pass this little gem along.