In 1961, AW Tozer famously stated 'worship is the missing jewel in the evangelical church'. At that time church services were very formal. Britain had a rich heritage of hymns, but they were often thought of merely as a warm up for the sermon.
Today, the jewel of worship has been restored to the UK Church.
Many songs, often written by British worship leaders have literally travelled the world. I've watched with amazement at how God has weaved his tapestry of worship across our church streams. Songs are being written that capture God's heart and resonate with what he is doing and saying in this generation. My friend and mentor John Pac (1946-2013) had the dream that the worship songs of the UK would leave the island. We worked together with that vision in mind.
Tozer wrote about the 'missing jewel' just before a cultural explosion happened. The Beatles, Mary Quant and the Rolling Stones changed the landscape in the 1960s as Britain led the way in terms of creativity. A young songwriter, Graham Kendrick was now being influenced by The Beatles as well as the Baptist hymn book.
It seemed like a new day as we transitioned from church organs to acoustic guitars. A spiritual explosion was taking place as the Holy Spirit came in a fresh way. There was a desire for freedom instead of formality. The house church movement grew as many left more traditional denominations.
In 1967, American evangelist Jean Darnell toured Britain with the Come Together musical. The musical brought churches together in city wide gatherings. This was seen as the beginning of the praise and worship movement.
2017 marks 40 years since Bind us together was written by Bob Gillman from the Romford Fellowship. In the late 70s Romford was at the epicentre of UK worship. Under the fatherly and motherly care of John and Christine Noble, a community of young creatives including Dave Bilbrough were inspired to write new songs and dream new dreams.
The British Bible Week phenomenon soon kicked in with thousands gathering at Keswick, Capel, Filey, Downs, Dales and Kingdom Faith. Spring Harvest started in 1979 and grew to an attendance of 80,000. Shine Jesus Shine became the soundtrack to what God was doing. Spring Harvest encouraged contemporary spirit-filled worship to impact traditional churches.
John Wimber (1934-1997) of Vineyard played a huge part in the renewal of the Anglican Church in the early 1980's. According to Terry Virgo of Newfrontiers, Wimber was second only to Billy Graham in terms of the person who most influenced the British Church.
Soul Survivor's Mike Pilavachi was impacted as well. 'I loved Wimber's teaching and ministry, but it was the worship that completely unhinged me. Simple, passionate love songs to Jesus. That became our new template for worship.'
The Church was growing in confidence and March for Jesus, which began in 1987, saw worship taken to the streets in major cities. From then until the millennium, an estimated 60 million people in 180 nations took part. In Sao Paulo, (Brazil) March for Jesus is now a public holiday and millions gather annually to worship together.
Also around this time, Vineyard worship leader Kevin Prosch came to the UK and gave permission to a new generation to express their worship. Martin Smith, who would go on to front Delirious? Was one of these.
Noel Richards with his wife Tricia (writers of All Heaven Declare) started a gathering for worship leaders. From this community came the move from the streets to the stadiums. 50,000 people gathered in the iconic Wembley Stadium in 1997 to proclaim Jesus as the 'Champion of the World'.
Executives from EMI Christian Music Group came to the event to sign Delirious? and were very impacted by what they saw, and said 'America needs this'.
The British hymn heritage continued when Stuart Townend and Keith Getty collaborated to write the classic hymn In Christ Alone, combining contemporary and Celtic hymn style with rich lyrical content.
RT Kendall, in his book Word and Spirit, observed that 'The greatest hymnody this century has seen has emerged from the charismatic movement.' This was further underlined more recently with Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin's collaboration, 10,000 Reasons, and Here I am to Worship by Tim Hughes.
The strength of the UK worship scene is community. The closeness of relationships, the lack of competition, the willingness to hand on the baton has seen the lineage of these modern-day Levites continue. Darlene Zschech comments, 'I love the worship community in the UK, it feels like family. Shared wisdom and rich heritage.'
In 2017, as the complexion of the UK Church is changing, so will the sound of our songs. Increased diversity will continue to lead each congregation into having its own unique expression, reflecting the multifaceted jewel.
Worship songs are also being heard beyond the borders of the Church. Everlasting God, Our God and 10,000 Reasons have been given ASCAP Awards for being the most played songs on American radio written by any UK songwriter, including the Beatles, and U2!
Could it be that as in the days of the Renaissance the sacred songs will again become the most popular music of its day?
Les Moir has mentored many worship leaders, musicians and songwriters. Les is married to Judith.