A while back I began writing about a significant transition that is taking place in my church which will change how we worship together on the weekends. I’ll be posting about this over the next little while in a series called ‘Progressions’.
Our church’s current transformation comes, of course, out of a history that cannot be ignored. Since the early 90’s, there has been an effort to ‘blend’ styles of music within worship services. What does that mean? For this congregation, it has always been more complicated than simply using a combination of ‘choruses’ and ‘hymns’. People placed a high value on things like choral singing, orchestral instrumentation, and excellent seasonal productions featuring both. The style of music used by these groups was never truly classical, but often what I would call adult contemporary/choral style. Over the years, as the worship movement grew all over the world, we grew toward using a ‘band’ in worship services for the more contemporary congregational songs, while still including organ, piano, choir, and orchestra as well. People who really enjoyed the contemporary style let us know that they loved what was happening; people who didn’t really enjoy it let us know their opinions as well! The trick was to always convey the intent, the heart of worship, while attempting to blend and balance the styles of music.
We didn’t experience full-force ‘worship wars’ during this season, just low rumbles. But as I worked through the various dynamics every week, I began to have questions. Like….
– I believe that God really doesn’t prefer one style of music over another, yet I also can’t get away from the feeling that moving toward contemporary music is forward progress, while staying more traditional feels like moving backwards. So…if that’s true… what are we progressing towards?
– I personally feel closer to God when worshipping through ‘contemporary’ music…. I feel like there is more freedom in worshipping that way. Is that really true, or is it just that I feel that way because of who I am?
– when it comes down to it, there are lots of differences between what we all label ‘contemporary’ and what we label ‘traditional’ …. like the level of formality of a worship environment…. the extent to which the congregation feels comfortable with physical responses in worship…. freedom from time frames and schedules. So if you have a congregation that comes out of the ‘traditional’ mold, and you move toward using new kinds of songs, can you also change those other factors?
– we tell people all the time that it’s not the style of music that matters, but the heart of the worshipers. But I would perish if I had to attend a church for 5 years that was all polka, all the time. So, do my preferences matter?
– along with the above, we love to remind people that ‘worship isn’t about them’. But isn’t it? A little bit? If worship is our response to God, then doesn’t it matter that we occasionally are able to participate in a corporate response that feels ‘native’ to us?
– what if, in the name of progress and reaching younger generations, we create an environment where the older generation among us soon come to church expecting to not ever find tools they can use to worship God? Is there away to hold all that together with integrity?
What I found is that my first attempt at answering some of these usually comes out as de-valuing traditional worship. And to do that, while simultaneously using an argument that ‘all worship is valuable to God’, doesn’t work. So. Help me out…. what do you think about these questions?