Worship: From formality to freedom

by Les Moir

Over the past 50 years, it has been amazing to see God restore worship to the British Church.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, worship in Church was very formal. Selected hymns were definitely seen as a warm‐up for the preacher’s sermon. Although those old songs could still move the hardest of heart, Christian music had not changed for generations.

However, a cultural explosion was happening beyond the church’s four walls. Countless people were wonderfully filled with the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17) and with this freedom came a fresh creativity, confirming that whenever there is a move of God there is new music.

New songs and expressions of worship sprung into being. These new melodies mainly originated from the House Church movement. The songs came from an overflow of hearts that were full of love for God and who He is.

Several new events catalysed a cultural shift in the Church. These gatherings included Spring Harvest, which gave a platform for gifted worship leaders who were led by the Holy Spirit to write new songs for a new generation.

One of these was Graham Kendrick, a contemporary songwriter whose biggest influences were the Beatles and the Baptist Hymnbook. Graham wrote modern hymns around the themes set for every annual Spring Harvest gathering, writing such notable tracks as ‘Servant King’ and ‘Meekness and Majesty’. These songs would become classics. As time went by, Graham grew in confidence in his calling to write contemporary Christian music. His songs tapped into what God was saying and emphasising at that moment – especially to the flourishing UK Church.

Another of the worship leaders was Ishmael, whose Praise Parties encouraged even more freedom with scripture verse songs full of joy and non-religious fun.

Spring Harvest would be the place where many people first raised their hands, sang out spontaneous love songs to God and danced in worship. Graham would lead speeding traditional Jewish songs, and before the worshippers knew, they were dancing and moving to the music! A whole generation was expressing itself differently with guitars, drums and dance.

These were pioneering days from the first year’s Spring Harvest gathering of 2,700 people. The end of the eighties saw around 80,000 gathered and the Church coming together as one. What was seen and heard there became a model for many local congregations across the British Church.

The next generation of worship leaders were also inspired. As worship leader Martin Smith remembers:

“I was twelve when I walked into the big top at Spring Harvest for the very first time. I can still remember the feeling of electricity passing through my body as I heard this music from the stage and hearing 5,000 people singing their hearts out. ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ was the anthem the saints were singing and that was the moment the church in Britain went from feeling small to thinking big”.

As the UK Church became more multicultural, so has the worship. In his book Building Bridges, Church leader Philip Mohabir offered a prophetic challenge:

“Like the mustard seed in the parable, the Black Churches have grown into a significant force of Evangelical Christians with a spontaneity, vibrancy and dynamism that the white constituency needs. Imagine what power for good we could be in the hand of God, if both communities could combine their resources and provide a prophetic witness to a nation that is in desperate need”.

In a display of solidarity and unity, Graham Kendrick’s band was joined by Noel Robinson and Steve and Velveta Thompson from the black majority Church, as well as Portuguese trumpet player Raul D’Oliveira.

Sons and daughters of the Windrush Generation made sure their voices were heard. Noel, Steve and Velveta became worship leaders themselves and alongside Mark Beswick and Geraldine Latty, would lead at many events.

Currently, the fastest growing Church in the UK is the African Church, and this is reflected in our worship. Anthems from Africa, such as Sinach’s ‘Way Maker’, are now sung by the global church. Our worship has been enriched by these songs of faith, intercession and joy.

Our events are again providing a platform for the many different streams that compose the UK church, reflecting a creative congregation where people of different cultures might minister together. Kees Kraayenoord and the Mozaiek worship team are also bringing the unique flavour of the Dutch Church to our worship. Britain is being blessed by what God is doing in the Nations, where bridges and relationships are being built.

This brings pleasure to the heart of God and as He said He would, God commands a blessing on our unity. The UK Blessing recording and video were a beautiful example of this.

We cry out ‘Let your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’ and so with our worship, may we see, in our lifetime, every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping together in unity on earth, as it is in heaven.

Amen!

Les Moir is the Executive Manager for the Word & Worship Trust, and former A&R Ambassador for Integrity Music. As an author, mentor, A&R manager, record producer and bass player on many albums, he has aimed to encourage and help develop many worship leaders, musicians and songwriters, including Matt Redman, Martin Smith, Tim Hughes, Graham Kendrick & Noel and Tricia Richards.

Les is married to Judith and we are based in Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. We have a son and daughter, James and Isabel.

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