Progressions 1: questions

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?

7 thoughts on “Progressions 1: questions

  1. A… good to hear from you again. I think you’re right that the instrumentation is more of a factor that the song selection. Within reason, of course.

  2. I think that preference is a hard topic, but that it can be valid as long as our want is to bring us closer to God & to be able to worship Him more richly & deeply. Your comment about polkas shows this — God made each of us uniquely different, & so we all hear from Him differently than another person might, & we also respond differently to different stimuli, ways of communicating & relating to God, & ultimately, the way we worship Him. For some it’s quietly being still in His Presence as the worship music lingers on; for others, it’s shout-singing at the top of their lungs! Sometimes, like for me, it can be a little of both depending on our moods, life circumstances & such! :)

    As I’m now interim for our church’s “traditional” worship service (we have a contemporary service as well), I’m starting to see the lines between what is traditional & what is contemporary, at least at our church, aren’t so clear.

    Instead, I’m seeing that what deems the services in their particular style, for us, appears to have more to do with the instruments/singers used (such as choir with piano for traditional, & praise team with guitars, drums, etc. for contemporary). As it stands, we do praise choruses in our traditional service that are more contemporary in nature (but closer to ‘adult contemporary’), & we also do hymns in our contemporary service with the praise team & instrumentalists there.

    In fact, this week in our traditional service, we’re doing 3 hymns, 1 older contemporary song, & two fairly new contemporary songs… How odd. I have even heard, from some members in our choir, that the traditional group *wants* to hear more praise choruses, not just ‘all those old hymns.’ Funny though, that we also have experienced these worship wars as well, & still do at times.

    I look forward to catching back up & reading more here!

  3. kim: you know my church has struggled/wrestled/grappled with the same questions…. its exhausting to work with multi-generational congregations. we’ve found the contemporized hymn to be KEY for us. the words/melody are familiar to the older worshipers, but the arrangement/instrumentation works for the younger crowd. Passion’s Hymn CD is a starting point.

  4. I took a class on this very subject last spring and it changed my life. As you probably can guess, I worship better through a contemporary style than through a traditional. Yet, I find a lot of value in certain aspects of the traditional style. Hymns, choral and orchestral pieces, and other aspects of the “traditional” (yes, I’m putting it in quotations now–I feel it’s kind of undefined) style are very important to me.

    The class that I took was called Worship as a Dramatic Act and was taught by Judy Harder, a very dear woman to me. The reason I loved this class so much is that Judy has such an open mind about everything. What she really did was present us with different ways to “do worship” or “do church;” she didn’t tell us which was the correct way. Judy sees value in every style of church, even in styles of other religions. That may sound like a big no-no, but it opened my eyes so wide, Kim. Also, recently Matt Cox, director of i268 presented us with this anaolgy:

    Pepperoni Pizza: ok, so you’re ordering pizza for a big group of people. You don’t get anchovy or special asparagus, or whatever. No, you get something you know will suit everyone. Pepperoni. It’s not a cop-out. It’s what you have to do to feed everyone.

    Of course, I guess I’m not giving you much of an answer here, just kind of relaying some musings on the subject. I have thought about it a lot.

    And there are other questions:

    How do we present announcements while still keeping a worshipful atmosphere and attitude?

    Jesus taught us about community–we should all worship together as a congregation, but what if you absolutely do not have a big enough facility and your congregation doesn’t want to worship together because of disagreeing worship styles?

    Are decorations on-stage distracting?

    Do we even need a stage?

    So many questions. Here’s kind of my conclusion. Well, I don’t think I can call it a conclusion, because I’m still learning. So here’s where I’m at right now: There is value in everything that seeks to glorify God. Perhaps some of a congregation will never see it this way, but worship leaders, pastors, artists–people who create and present in the church MUST see it this way. There’s no perfect way to do it, and we’ll get it wrong sometimes. For the traditional lovers: I think you would be doing them a disservice if you didn’t present some new things. They may not know it, but they need change, they need forward movement. For the contemporary lovers: It’s wonderful and of God’s will to move forward. Yet, they need to know of the values of traditional worship style. Completely abondoning traditional worship would be a tragedy, I believe.

    In short, I think the way our services are composed now is good. It’s good because you get grumbling from both sides. I believe that grumbling means growth, I really do. The traditionalists NEED to hear a new song or two; the contemporaries NEED to be reminded of the strong liturgical proclamations of the hymns.

    So there you have it–some Kayla Vix musings on a subject none of us will ever master. Boy, I can’t wait to worship with you in Heaven.

  5. Ok, so I love all your thought provoking questions.I agree, that worship isn’t about us…BUT, it IS our response to God. And I think I respond to God differently than others. So, is that why I also prefer not to “move backwards.” Or, am I just bull headed and don’t like traditional music so I’m close minded? Ok, I should have guessed, more questions than answers. But these are great things to think about and wrestle with. If our ultimate goal is to give our worship to God and THAT type of worship should be with our whole lives not that other junk we “argue” about on Sunday mornings…

  6. Hey Kim,

    I saw this post and it really does make you think. I don’t have any brilliant answers—shocking, I know—but I have thought a lot about this in the past. We’ve moved several times lately and have had to find a new church each time so we’ve thought a lot about what we look for in a church. The style of worship is at the top of the list.

    But should that be such a high priority? Shouldn’t I be able to make it about God and not about me and my preferences? It’s hard to know. One one hand we each have different likes and dislikes and personal preferences about church styles so we should attend and worship in the way that is most comfortable. But on the other hand there is also a great feeling in releasing any personal preferences and just singing the words to any song and letting the words themselves put you in a place of worship and surrender to God.

    Anyway, like I said, no brilliant answers. But we had a sermon series not long ago on this very subject. I wanted to send you a section from one of the sermons…

    (The sermon covered John 4:19-24)

    “Listen to what Jesus says beginning in verse 21, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

    Jesus is saying here to the Samaritan woman, “If you want to get back on track with your worship stop focusing on the ‘where of worship’ or the ‘how of worship’, and focus on the ‘who of worship.’”

    God’s presence is here. I’m the messiah. I who speak to you am he. Embrace who I am. I’ll meet your every need. I’m living water. Because any person who embraces, focuses, and obeys the true object of worship, which is Jesus, is able to partake of the living water. They line themselves up with the waterfall of God’s grace.

    The Samaritan woman had been distracted, focusing on the wrong stuff. She was missing the waterfall of His grace. But now when the Samaritan woman gets back on track with the “who of worship” she’s blown away.

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