Photo by Ryan Daly

Photo by Ryan Daly

By Pastor Steve Murrell


YOKOHAMA, JAPAN—Every year, our International Apostolic Team (IAT), which includes regional leaders from all over the Every Nation world, gathers together to fellowship, pray, and plan for the coming years (and even decades). Every Nation Church Yokohama hosted our 2017 IAT meeting.

One of our conversation topics last week was liturgy and how we can equip our pastors to think critically (and even creatively) about the relationship between worship and discipleship. Working as we do in so many different cultural contexts, we recognized the need to better equip our missionaries and church planters to think through how worship works in general and how it works in their particular context.

One of our starting points was a discussion about the role of different liturgical practices in church history.

When we look back through history, we find that though the core elements of Christian worship have remained consistent (fellowship, singing, preaching, communion, offering), different elements are emphasized at different times.

For example, in medieval Europe, the climax of the liturgy was communion. Services still featured singing, fellowship, preaching, and offering, but the greater emphasis was on the celebration of the Lord’s table. In Reformation Germany, the emphasis shifted back toward the preached word. Again, the other elements of Christian worship were still present, but the shape of Protestant liturgy emphasized the importance of the preaching. Fast forward another 500 years to the Charismatic movement of the 1960s and 70s. Though Charismatic churches valued the preached word and the celebration of communion, their worship services emphasized singing and experiencing God’s presence during longer worship.

Today, if you were to attend churches with roots in these three traditions, you would still notice the different points of emphasis in the worship. Though some people would argue that one worship tradition or style is better than another, it’s more helpful to realize that in every time and place, pastors and leaders have adjusted or emphasized elements of the liturgy in response to three impulses: missiological context, theological tradition, and practical necessity. Let’s look at those reasons.


1. Missiological Context. Medieval catholicism, for all its faults, emphasized certain very visual liturgical practices (like communion) because church leaders were communicating the gospel to highly illiterate European populations—many of whom (at least initially) did not speak the same language as their priests. Hence, the emphasis on communion, a highly visual liturgical practice that powerfully represents the core truths of the gospel to people who can’t read (or maybe can’t even understand the sermon).


2. Theological Tradition. Protestant churches during the Reformation, because of their theological emphasis on Sola Scriptura, felt that the preaching of the Word needed to be the main focus of corporate worship. Though they appreciated the ways that other liturgical practices, like communion, gave worshippers a visual representation of the gospel, they felt that the Word of God had too often been absent from medieval worship practices, resulting in disciples whose knowledge of the gospel was real but underdeveloped.


3. Practical Necessity. During the Charismatic movement, many pastors and leaders (who were part of mainline cessationist denominations) were kicked out of their churches for their insistence on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, out of both practical necessity and a theological conviction about the continued work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, Charismatic churches—and their particular liturgy—were birthed. While valuing the preached word, this tradition places a great emphasis on sung worship, with the expectation that people will encounter the living God in profound and unique ways as we come into His presence with singing.


As you think about liturgy and your own missiological context, remember that worship is not primarily about what we can do for God; it is about what God does in us by the Holy Spirit as we gather in His presence.


This article has also appeared on ministrytoday.com. Read the original blog post at stevemurrell.com



Steve Murrell serves as the president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries. Learn More

Steve Murrell serves as the president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries.

Learn More

As you think about liturgy and your own missiological context, remember that worship is not primarily about what we can do for God; it is about what God does in us by the Holy Spirit as we gather in His presence.
— Pastor Steve Murrell

Song of the Month


"One Hope"

Words & Music by Pierre Smith & Brian O'Neill

© 2017 Wholehearted Music



"As a local church (Every Nation Somerset West), India has always been very near to our hearts. We've been sending teams there since around 2010. And when we launched our second album "Fearless Love,", we decided that we would love to do a campus tour to India. God orchestrated this through our relationship with Love-N-Care Ministries in Vishakhapatnam, that i’s headed up by Psastor Yesupadam and his wife Monica. Before we left for India, we wanted to write a prophetic song to sing over the country, — a declaration that would break down strongholds. The first thing that stood out to us was the fact that India is dominated by a religion that believes that there are millions of gods. So as we trusted God for words to sing over the country and it's students, our hearts were stirred to write a song that declares that there is ONE HOPE, ONE TRUTH, ONE WAY, ONE LIFE. And that all of this is found in Jesus, — the only way to the Father.

It impacted us all when we heard the testimony of one of the students that was in his dorm on the eve of our Campus Worship Night. He had studied world religions and decided that he would be an atheist. While in his room on campus, he heard the music and was drawn by the Spirit out of his room and to the front of the stage where he fell on his knees and accepted Christ as his Lord and Saviour.

These are the things that impact you as a songwriter. When you realise that you are partnering with God in HIS mission. And that we had nothing to do with the heart of that young man, but our obedience to the voice of God and declaring Hhis Ttruth over that campus did a work in the spirit that we couldn't see, but God had in mind all the time."

- Wholehearted Music


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. . . our hearts were stirred to write a song that declares that there is ONE HOPE, ONE TRUTH, ONE WAY, ONE LIFE.
— Wholehearted Music

Decoding "Black Church" Music

By Justin Gray

Repetitive refrains, complicated musical arrangements, and exuberant rhythmic displays of praise are probably a few of the general comments made about music of the African American church experience. Growing up in the “black church” tradition myself, I know these expressions to be commonplace. Actually, you were a bit weird if this wasn’t your musical preference.

Now as part of a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church movement, I’ve often wrestled with reconciling my cultural church upbringing with a more diverse worship experience. In this blog, I hope to shed some light on a few key ingredients found in the music of the “black church” tradition—a tradition rich with musical and cultural significance.   


Call and Response.

Traditionally, singing has been a community activity and typically not for spectacle. For generations, music has served as a sort of oral tradition of God’s works among his people. Therefore, these songs have become staples in the Christian liturgy in order to remember and celebrate God’s divine intervention in the personal and collective narrative of the community. This is especially true in the African American experience as many slaves were English illiterate and generally denied a formal education.


Adapted and Adopted.

In The Heritage of African American Songs: An Interview with James Abbington, Dr. Abbington comments:

"It’s important to note that many hymns that found their way into African American churches were not written by African Americans. Try to convince an African American that Fanny Crosby, who wrote ‘Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior’ or ‘Blessed Assurance’ or ‘Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,’ is not Black. Those hymns were adopted because they related to the experience of African Americans.”

Black congregational music embodies the struggle of living in a fallen world with a sense of hope, diligent perseverance, and eager expectation. These types of songs give assent to the African American experience even if the composers are not African American themselves.


Liberation Theology.

Liberation theology encompasses the biblical emphasis of God’s people being freed from demeaning and oppressive political, social, and economic systems. This theological perspective was central to shaping spirituals and hymns in the African American community. During the Civil Rights movement, these songs catalyzed people to hold to faith while resisting unbiblical ideologies and intense persecution. The messages of these songs harken to ancient Israel’s struggle to escape the tyranny of opposing nations while holding to God’s promise to give them rest from their nomadic sojourning and the reward of covenant faithfulness.

Disclaimer: Though liberation theology has had some positive influences on the relationship between church and culture, it is not without it’s weaknesses. When socio-political activism takes equal footing with the gospel message, the results are counterproductive and even doctrinally disastrous. God’s redemption is for everyone—the poor and the rich, the oppressed and the oppressor, the loathsome and the self-righteous. Man’s primary issue is sin, not social status.


Minor Chords, Extended Chords, and Chromaticism.

Classical pianist and theologian Jeremy Begbie comments regarding minor chords and tension in the use of musical storytelling:

“The ‘waiting’ [unresolved melody] need not be empty or void . . . you are enriched in the ‘waiting’ . . . hope lives in the midst of delay. There is a kind of ‘waiting’ in the midst of delay where we learn something new of incalculable value that can be learned in no other way.”

Music in the African American church tradition has been largely shaped by this idea of delayed gratification. The deep longing for spiritual and social resolution can be felt in the musical motifs of jazz, blues, and black gospel music. These emotions are often expressed in chord progressions which draw in the listener and create deep tension that begs to be resolved.

For more, check out this video from pianist Damien Sneed: https://youtu.be/YHItWFbU7-A



All of the human experience is deeply infused with this idea of rhythm. Whether listening to the human heartbeat, the pattering of rain against the forest leaves, or the melodic cadence of birds chirping—all of creation is filled with rhythmic expression.

African culture, like many others, has tried to capture this rhythmic expression with gestures (vocalizing, clapping, stomping) and crafting of percussive instruments (drums, shakers, plucked sounds). Long before drummers were prevalent in churches, people moved their bodies in dance and made percussive sounds to convey the message and emotion of songs they sang.



The African American story is one rich with both tragedy and triumph—a common plot throughout all human history. Music provides a means for us all to creatively channel our histories in ways that resonate across a broad spectrum of life experience. My life has been forever impacted by the musical influence of the black church tradition. But I’m also reminded that the rhapsody of heaven is a complicated piece only God himself can orchestrate—a chorus of heavenly hosts and the culture-shaped sounds of every nation.



About the Author


Justin is the director of Every Nation Music and has a wealth of experience in the music industry as well as in the local church. His experience includes writing and producing with artists such as Citipointe Live, 3WB (The Winans), Out of Eden, and Mary Mary.

Black congregational music embodies the struggle of living in a fallen world with a sense of hope, diligent perseverance, and eager expectation.
— Justin Gray