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I have heard the arguments for and against an extended time of worship at the start of a church service. My question, though, is more historical. Where did this approach to sung worship originate; as opposed to songs or hymns interspersed throughout the service?

For example, every charistmatic/pentecostal church I've been to, in more than one country, has the same basic structure (half an hour or so of sung worship, then the sermon, then maybe another song or two at the end). There must be a common root for that somewhere. Did some worship leaders get together once and discuss it? Or did some megachurch do it, and then it was copied from there? Or did churches start to copy rock concerts and then it became the norm? Or something else?

Where did this specific idea of having a "worship set" at the start of the service come from?

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  • Does this answer your question? Where did the layout of protestant worship come from?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Jan 29 at 1:19
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    Hi Luke, Yeah, I read that. It makes some interesting general claims - i.e. that it will be based in the culture of the time and the history of the denomination, which is true - I guess what I'm looking for is a more specific understanding of where this structure came from. The answer in the question linked is fine as far as it goes, but too general for what I'm looking for. I'll update the question to try and be more specific Commented Jan 29 at 10:21
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    I don't think Luke's question is a duplicate of this - similar in some respects, but this question deserves a considered response. I am particularly interested in this becaue the half-hour music and songs in some evangelical churches is given more importance than prayer and preaching of the Word. It's as if they have to get everyone "in the mood" for worship. I come to church to hear the Word of God preached without apology or excuse. The modern trend lacks revernece. I look forward to reading some answers to the historical background to this shift in how services are now being conducted.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jan 29 at 11:09
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    One idea to make this question even more distinct from @LukeHill's question is to make it more explicit in both questions that this Q is about worship set only while LukeHill's question is on the breaking away from various Protestant liturgies. At essence of the difference is one is liturgical (Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, Anglican, etc.) and the "praise and worship set" is definitely not liturgical. Commented Jan 31 at 15:24

2 Answers 2

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The history for Christian religion starts in the Old Testament with the sung Psalms used in temple worship. There were professional musicians and singers, with them leading the throngs up to the temple. Some Psalms called for responses from the worshipers. They sang harmonies, they were full of joy (apart from the solemn, more penitential Psalms). Problems arose with the destruction of various temples. Synagogue singing took over - Psalms sung unaccompanied. Vocal harmonies remained. And that was the way things were when Jesus was born, with the Christian religion arising a bit later.

The first Christians were Jewish and their singing followed the pattern of unaccompanied Psalm singing. Jesus and the apostles are spoken of singing a psalm on particular occasions. Same with post-resurrection Christianity. The New Testament speaks of such Psalm singing when they gathered. No mention of musical instruments, though.

Before you give up here thinking, "This is not what I'm seeking to know about", the biblical examples of worship are fundamental if we are to know what worship is, and why there is sung praise included in that worship. The very way modern terminology speaks of 'worship sets' shows something wrong with their attitude to worship, I would suggest. Sung praise - no matter where in the overall service - is but one part of worship, which includes prayers, and being instructed from the word of God - the Bible. It includes offerings we make to the Lord's work on Earth. It includes hospitality and respect to all others in the congregation. We come together to worship, and even before we put a foot inside the gathering, we should have prepared our hearts for worship; we should know how to be reverentially quiet and in personal prayer before the service of worship officially starts. There is no place for bedlam in the gathering of believers.

Unaccompanied Psalm singing has been going on all over the world for centuries and continues, to this day. You will find that those so engaged never think of 'a worship set' but intersperse the whole of the worship time as they think fit with sung praise. Some modern groups add more modern hymns and praise songs to their Psalms. Some remain acappella while others use various musical instruments. It is for each congregation to decide such matters. Some groups love loud music with clapping and boisterous rhythms - that's up to them to decide upon. Worshippers who find that offensive to their ear-drums, or other sensibilities, would go elsewhere for worship.

Whenever this notion of 'worship sets' arose (at any time during a service of worship), it will not go back to first century Christians. There is every likelihood that it arose with modern pentecostal movements. Christians today would benefit from being honest with themselves about the way in which modern, popular music has taken over their daily lives, as the whole world is being bombarded with irreligious music. The very lyrics of some modern worship songs are full of worldly terminology and thinking. If that's what people in churches want, no doubt that is what they will get. But beware any thinking that tries to put music in one category of 'worship' while those other aspects of worship are rarely ever called 'worship'. Congregational worship should flow seamlessly from prayer, to praise, to instruction, without overlooking the fact that believers are told that God's house is a house of prayer for all nations, Isaiah 56:7, Mathew 21:13 while Jesus threw out those abusing his Father's house.

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    I think you hit the nail on the head. I was a principal member of a Lutheran praise team for many years until recently. We would use modern praise songs as well as traditional hymns in our services. In my opinion, modern praise songs oftentimes lack the humility, honesty, and congregationality (if that is a word) of traditional hymns. But few traditional hymns are very fun to play or sing because they are largely from another time when music was appreciated differently. Some praise songs are great, but others seem like repackaged pop music failures, intended to commercialize worship. Commented Feb 2 at 21:14
  • Thank you both for your comments and views on modern worship, however " There is every likelihood that it arose with modern pentecostal movements" is really the only line that comes close to answering the question I asked. Commented Feb 5 at 9:25
  • @simonalexander2005 True. So far, the only other answer with all its links and research is clearly streets ahead of mine, as to actually answering your question! Smiles.
    – Anne
    Commented Feb 5 at 13:44
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This article identifies the start of modern “praise and worship” sets to the Jesus People movement of the 1960s and '70s [1] [2].

Around this time hymn singing accompanied by organs and piano music began to be replaced by loud guitars, drums and tambourines, and repetitive “praise choruses”. Traditional hymns that reflect biblical theology and reverential worship of God (think Charles Wesley) seem to have been overtaken by pop-culture “happy-clappy” tunes and banal lyrics. That sentence is my personal opinion based on observation, by the way, and is not reflected in the article in the link above. Because the article is copyright protected I can only paraphrase parts of it.

The article points out that people sometimes conflate the rise of "praise music" with the rise of "Jesus Rock" and its later avatar, "Contemporary Christian Music" (CCM), which is misleading. Something called "Jesus Rock" was geared towards evangelism, apologetics, and entertainment. "Praise" music, on the other hand, was a mellower brand of music aimed at corporate worship.

Evangelical churches have now replaced hymnbooks with overhead projectors and “music worship teams,” whose function seems to be to get the congregation warmed up ready for the minister speaking for 20 or 30 minutes on a Bible subject. The music worship team play guitars and electronic keyboards (and other instruments) and repeat choruses over and over again (till older people like me have to sit down before they fall down).

Another article asks what theological credentials the leaders of this music industry have, and whether they are spiritually mature. The article concludes that “when worship becomes entertainment, and those that lead us in worship become performers and icons, then the gospel has been done a great disservice.” Copyright 2005: Adam Sparks worked for the Evangelical Alliance in the UK before moving to study for a PhD (Theology of Religions) at Bristol University.

This Christian believes that church worship should be God-centred, biblical, reverential, orderly, consecrated and balanced. In other words, the focus should be on prayer and preaching, with hand-picked hymns that reflect the main themes of the sermon being preached. As another Christian has commented, the "praise and worship set" is definitely not liturgical.


[1] The Jesus movement was an evangelical Christian movement that began on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and primarily spread throughout North America, Europe, Central America, Australia and New Zealand, before it subsided in the late 1980s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_movement

[2] Jesus music, known as gospel beat music in the United Kingdom, is a style of Christian music that originated on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This musical genre developed in parallel to the Jesus movement. It outlasted the movement that spawned it and the Christian music industry began to eclipse it and absorb its musicians around 1975. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_music

Edit: I didn’t become a Christian till 1996 and the U.K. Baptist church I attended sang traditional hymns accompanied by either a rather splendid pipe organ or a grand piano. There were no overhead projectors although the minister did allow younger people to play some modern songs to guitar and other instruments. At that time Maranatha Music was popular and I enjoyed songs like “The Servant King” by Graham Kendrick. I would consider that to be “praise music”. “Jesus Rock” music is unknown to me (it’s an age thing).

Anne may be onto something with regard to modern Pentecostal music although I suspect the rise of “mega-churches” might have signalled wider acceptance of this type of music. It is also worth remembering that “the music industry” exercises a great deal of power over what is broadcast and in lending financial and advertising support to promote “bands” or groups they think will turn a healthy profit. Please excuse my scepticism.

Alas, I am unable to find anything in response to your comment to me.

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  • "Evangelical churches have now replaced hymnbooks with overhead projectors and “music worship teams,” whose function seems to be to get the congregation warmed up ready for the minister speaking for 20 or 30 minutes on a Bible subject. The music worship team play guitars and electronic keyboards (and other instruments) and repeat choruses over and over again (till older people like me have to sit down before they fall down)." - this is the part that I'm trying to understand where it originated in churches -- you could do CCM or Jesus Rock in a one-song-at-a-time fashion too, but they didn't Commented Feb 1 at 9:00
  • @simonalexander2005 - Please see my edit in response to your comment.
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 11 at 10:52

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