Friday, October 03, 2008

Ask the Moderator: Worship

There are many great questions posed on the original post about a great many things. This month, I have chosen to respond to one that is not directly tech or culture-shift related. Lela posed this question,
I'm the new pastor of a small (60+ in worship) church in western NY, and caught between folks who really want "praise" music and those who say they will leave if we don't have more traditional music. Our amazing music director draws 5 teens to choir (20%), and is not a fan of praise music. I hate "me and my Jesus" music myself, but like a lot of New Song stuff. So, Mr. Modern Moderator, any suggestions? Thanks!
So here it goes . . . without going into all of the issues of the traditional "worship wars" I think this is a GREAT question that touches on a great many areas of the church. First, I would be the last person to argue that there is only one style of worship that will be "the" one for the future or that there is any one type of worship that will reach any particular group. Sure, we can understand greater use of media and technology, but we must resist every urging to see these technical fixes as the best way to go. I know too many "older" folks who enjoy contemporary worship and too many "younger" types that are moved by traditional styles. One size will not fit all, nor will external fixes create a worshipful environment. This goes back to this idea that we have to let go of the idea that church health be achieved by tactical and methodological solutions, when we really need a shift in approach and posture of being church.

As churches struggle to move into the future with faith and integrity, be it worship or any other ministry area, I think there are at least two questions that need to be asked.
  • How do folks currently in the community most authentically worship God?
  • Are they willing to see the legitimacy of the ways that others may also worship God?
I ask these two questions because I think they are vital pieces of information that must be obtained and owned when thinking about change in church. I believe this because we must be able to name and appreciate the ways we each currently connect to God so we can identify those places that we are not willing or able to shift, as well as those things that we are willing to let go of. When we know those things then we can better see that other ways of worshiping God may indeed be valid and faithful. When we know these things we can also more easily acknowledge and own what we do well and what we may simply not be equipped to do. Most importantly, though, is that when we know these things, we will be more authentic to who we are as worshiping communities and our genuine worship of God will shine through to all who come into the space. And I believe a community that gathers and worships true to who they are will grow and attract the extent that God intends.

A great example of this is in my own city. Arguably the two churches that attract the most under 40's in the City of San Francisco are Calvary Presbyterian Church and, the church I serve, Mission Bay Community Church. Calvary is traditionally high church and MBCC is very much not that. But yet, we both know how our folks best connect to God, we do what we do well and above all when you enter the space of each community, it feels genuine and true to who we are. We understand that our particular community may not be for everyone, and that is okay.

Like most of my ramblings, I know this is not anything that folks don't already know, but if you are sensing some disconnect in the day and age of pressure to try the latest and greatest new thing even if you KNOW it does not feel true to you, it probably isn't.

Other thoughts . . .

[image: anakdewa]

Ask the Moderator comes out every 1st Friday of the month. Please feel free to add your voice to the growing list of questions [HERE].


Stushie said...

Our church went through a worship war in 1998 when the choir director refused to recognize that church music didn't have to be all18th century hymns and fugues from Bach on the organ. He resigned.

Our church has grown since then. We now offer a blended music style to God and have paid great attention to the liturgy. You can see some of it at Aaron's Beard...

B-W said...

I find myself reminded of this post from Fuller professor Ryan Bolger (who attended... perhaps still attends, a Presbyterian church in Altadena when I used to be a member there). It addresses a phenomenon in many of our churches that, I think, stems from a failure to think seriously enough about that first question: "How do folks currently in the community most authentically worship God?" (emphasis mine)

The post is a couple of years old now, but still relevant, I think.

Jeremy said...

Lela, if you're reading I've got a question: what about two services? I know you've got low attendance in your one service, but the point of a second would really be for folks in your community who aren't there yet.

Like Bruce said, "how do folks currently in the community most authentically worship God?" New worship formats are best when they don't intrude on existing ones (so you don't alienate current members), and instead reach people who aren't there yet. Everyone gets an opportunity to connect with God in whatever way is easiest.

If you run into a situation like stushie's (be it a music leader or even just a member), you're probably better off without the person! Not to be harsh, but it's practically (and in some cases literally) making an idol out of tactics. Try helping the person change, and if they can't help them find somewhere better suited to their worship needs.

Reyes-Chow said...

B-W // Great post of reference. Really interesting and well thought out. Everyone be sure to read it.

pastorjeff said...


I highly recommend Tom Long's book from the Alban Institute, "Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship"

Jackie said...

Good conversation going on here. I'd like to add that each congregation needs to think about how the children in the church are getting to know themselves through the music, as well as other aspects of church life. Often the lyrics and tunes teach as much as any Bible lessons...