Times change, says John Buckeridge, but the heart of worship should stay the same

For our 22nd wedding anniversary, I decided to take the ancient video of our big day to a local store, which transferred it into DVD format. Since our VCR had died long ago, neither Alice nor I had watched our wedding video for many years. Our sons joined us on the sofa and laughed at the massive power-dressing shoulder pads on the women’s outfits, the big hairdos, people’s cameras (which they described in shocked tones as ‘the size of house bricks’) and my John Lennon style specs. They also cringed at the sight of their parents at the front of the church swaying, foot tapping and dancing during the worship.

At that time Alice led a worship band made up of musicians from several local churches so we had lots of excellent musicians who led the congregation in contemporary worship songs. Watching a much younger me with the woman I love worshipping God together on our wedding day brought back so many happy memories. It also reminded me how blessed I am to live through a time when modern musical instruments and lyrics have been married together to help believers like me draw close to God. I am truly grateful to Matt Redman, Graham Kendrick, Tim Hughes and a legion of other talented, spirit-filled worship leaders who have helped me, and millions of others, to worship God.

In this month’s cover story Ruth Dickinson describes how the British worship scene is changing. As more UK churches employ salaried worship leaders and with significant financial rewards for the individuals who compose the most popular worship songs in the US and UK and for their record labels, worship is becoming more and more ‘professionalised’. No bad thing if that means standards of excellence are being pushed upwards, but when worship becomes an ‘industry’ there are huge risks.

Christian conferences are often promoted on the basis of who is leading the worship, but I’ll never forget one particular conference I attended some years ago where a relatively unknown worship leader shocked me. The band came on stage and the worship leader played an opening chord on his guitar – we were set to go when something extraordinary happened. Holding a hand up to stop the band he addressed us all. “We are meeting together to worship God so don’t look to me, look to God.”

Then to our astonishment he used his guitar like an axe, swinging it down onto the hard floor. For almost three minutes he smashed his guitar into bits – wood and wire flying around – while the conference delegates looked on in stunned silence. Maybe it was a stunt, and maybe it was over the top, but his message was spot on – above all else, worship is not about style, or leader, or songs or lyrics, it is about coming before the creator of the universe and praising him.