Young Pastor: The Controversies, Way Out of 'Worship and Praise Style' in Chinese Church

People worship in a house church.
People worship in a house church.
By Li ShiguangSeptember 30th, 2021

In recent years, the issue of what music style should be adopted for worship and praise has become an outstandingly controversial topic in Chinese churches.

A few days ago, a Christian Times, a Chinese Christian newspaper covering the house church, invited Aaron (pseudonym), a young pastor, to share his views on this topic. As a young pastor who was born in the 1980s in East China, Aaron has been in the field of worship and praise since he started serving in his 20s for more than ten years. He has helped to lead worship and praise of various styles in different areas and engaged in education in praising. More than a year ago, he started ministry in a church in a medium-sized city.

A said that with “tradition” and “modernity” as the dividing standard, there were probably four ways to worship and praise in Chinese churches:

1. The traditional church choir - worship and praise contents conform to traditional hymns (usually in red covers).

2. Xiao Min’s style - mainly the works of the Canaan Hymns Collection, a hymnal created by Min for rural Christians  

3. The style popular among Gen Z. Usually a worshiper sings few lines of lyrics and repetition of the lyrics and the representative band is the Joshua Band, a Taiwanese worship team for young generations.  

4. The “house of prayer” style which has much impromptu. Controversial in churches, the style of “harp and bowl” is greatly favored by the Charismatics.

“At present, the actual situation of worship and praise in Chinese churches is often a mixture of four ways, with old people and young people sitting together to worship.” Aaron said, “But objectively, believers of different ages have different choices and preferences for worship. Some church pastors want to attract young people, so they attract them in a way that is favored by young people. However, such a praise style is probably not approved by old people, and the praise style that old people generally like is too serious or even ‘lifeless’ in the eyes of many young people. That really can’t lift their spirits.”

He continued, “In what way should the church worship? Should it be traditional or impromptu? The big problem in Chinese churches now is that they still don’t know how to grasp this and how to balance it. Old people insist on using a quiet style whereas the young like an electric guitar. So, what should we do? The churches need to give it serious consideration.”

In his opinion, both traditional church choirs and modern bands were needed. Moreover, the churches needed to find music styles that were acceptable to both young people and the elderly, and those who served in the praise team also needed the ability to rearrange worship songs. For instance, songs that were too fast could be played slower so that the elderly could keep up as much as possible. If the rhythm was too slow, it could be played a little faster so that young believers could participate in it. It was necessary to find a rhythm that was acceptable to different groups.

As far as Aaron was concerned, all four ways of worship and praise were acceptable, but as a leader of worship or pastoral ministry, one only needed to pay attention to choosing the appropriate ways of worship and praise for the right people.

“For example, the impromptu singing style of Harp and Bowl can help people to calm down and help them to enter the inner world of worship deeply. However, we can’t say that this is the best because it is not suitable for occasions like Sunday worship and it is not suitable for seekers and new believers. It is because the lyrics are not fully clear, which may cause some misunderstanding for new believers.”

Interested young people could learn to play some musical instruments and gain worship experiences.

He said that he came into contact with many traditional churches with a large number of middle-aged and elderly people, hoping to change the worship and praise style of churches so as to attract and welcome more young people. He was also invited by these churches to do similar training, such as giving worship courses to church members under 35 who were interested in worship and praise. In the course, he found a very characteristic phenomenon: “Their ideas about worship began to change throughout the courses and several members were burdened with worship. But when I left, no one would continue to lead my training.”

Therefore, he suggested that if there was a burden for young people to worship and praise in the church, they should accumulate relevant experiences. For example, one had to learn to play musical instruments like electric guitar and bass. So after accepting his advice, some people in some traditional churches began to prepare and learn guitar or keyboard, which was very good in his opinion.

He also suggested that people should go to some worship and praise occasions to gain personal experiences, which was very important.

“Worship is a wonderful thing. It’s useless to just discuss, listen to lectures, or watch videos. You must attend and experience it in person before you get familiar with the atmosphere of worship you hope to form. After you understand and experience it, you can think about how to lead your church’s worship. Worship must be done collectively.”

Finally, the pastor also reminded us that no matter what the external forms and techniques were, worship actually should be learned and understood.

“All these practices had a premise, that is, what our hearts were. We must worship God in spirit and honesty because the Father wanted us to worship him in this way.”

He also shared a story about worship that touched him. It was an elderly woman who cooked and washed dishes at home every day. She put up a poster in the kitchen that read, “God, I worship you here three times a day.” This was her worship to God.

“This elderly woman worships God in this way. I think her worship was pleasing to God,” he ended.  

- Translated by Charlie Li

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