A New Vision for Worship (4.1)


I’m not sure if you remember the series I did last spring on what worship looks like, so to jog your memory a little bit let’s remind us what was discussed.  In short, we talked a lot about the whole issue of having a “blended” service and I made the comment that I wanted us to move away from the term “blended” and more toward the word “unified” in how we described our service.  Here’s the definition I gave last year in regards to what a “unified” service means,

 “I prefer the term ‘Unified’ worship over ‘Blended’ worship because our intention should be to reflect the scriptural teaching of unity in diversity. (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:12-14) The term ‘Blended’ worship does not necessarily mean that it is ‘unified’ worship. The best way to describe ‘unified’ worship is to say it is anchored in the church’s historic worship and seasoned with the fresh winds of the Spirit’s movement in the present using the ‘best of the best’ from the past and the present.” (Scott Wesley Brown)

This summer in my studies I “stumbled” across this verse in Matthew (and I put stumbled in quotation marks because if you believe it happened by chance I would tell you I don’t believe in chance…)

“Then [Jesus] added, ‘Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.’” (NLT)

That verse is Matthew 13:52.  When I read it I had a picture of what music in a church should look like – it should be a unification of the “old” and the “new”, which for music in our terms means the “traditional” and the “contemporary”.

Which is one reason why choir will not sing in every service in the fall.  We’ve decided to try something new in our effort to unify the worship experience at Landmark.  What you’re going to see beginning October are two different musical styles in the worship service.  On the First and Third Sunday of every month we’ll have a traditional service, which will include the choir and orchestra – similar to our current setup but a little more traditional than we are doing.  On the Second and Fourth Sunday you’ll experience a more “contemporary” service with a praise band – those are the weeks the choir will not sing in the service.  For those months with a Fifth Sunday the youth will lead our musical selections.

We’re attempting to balance the two facets of worship: that facet that says worship is vertical and God-centered while also understanding the equally important truth that corporate worship is horizontal and is supposed to allow us to minister to each other.  By offering these two different “styles” in musical options we’re trying to better reflection the diversity that exists within our congregation.  Please pray for discernment and wisdom for your church leadership, and for me as the music director, as we journey down this uncharted path together.

Music Style in Worship (Part IV): Unified Worship (3.23)


Note: for those who have missed any rehearsals in the past month, all devotionals are available on my blog (the address is at bottom of the page).  This particular devotional is part four in a four week series, so if you’ve missed any of the previous ones you may want to go back and read them to better understand the context of what I’m writing, or now that I’m finally wrapping the entire thing up you may want to go back and look at the first three to refresh your memory on how we got to where we’re at.

Week 1: A Matter of Heart

Week 2: A History of Cultures

Week 3: To Blend or Not to Blend?

Over the past several weeks we’ve looked at this issue of musical style in worship and last week I suggested we needed to move away from the term “blended worship” and towards “unified worship”.

I came across the term “Unified” worship about six weeks ago in an article by Scott Wesley Brown.  Below is an excerpt from an article he wrote on the subject of Blended Worship.  Because I think he hits the nail on the head here (and says things much more succinctly and elegantly than I can), I’ll just quote him (for the full article click here):

I prefer the term “Unified” worship over “Blended” worship because our intention should be to reflect the scriptural teaching of unity in diversity. (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:12-14) The term “Blended” worship does not necessarily mean that it is “unified” worship. The best way to describe “unified” worship is to say it is anchored in the church’s historic worship and seasoned with the fresh winds of the Spirit’s movement in the present using the “best of the best” from the past and the present.

The Church today faces “the spirit of individualism” and has succumbed to tailoring worship to meet the expectations of various age groups by fractionalizing the church into what are now called “venues”. No longer called sanctuaries, these “venues” cater to the “experience” one is up for. If you don’t like the “Traditional” try the “Edge” or the “Over the edge”……….whatever works for you! How dare we ask a teenager to sit through a hymn or a senior to listen to a song by Delirious!

I do understand that it is appropriate for children, youth, seniors or those of other cultures to have a meaningful experience within the context of their own group, but what ever happened to “corporate worship”? Indeed worship is both vertical and horizontal; it is about God, yet it is about people in fellowship with one another before God.

But when the focus is on people (mostly ourselves) there will always be battles because we are diverse (and opinionated!). If you think it’s hard trying to please everyone at your church, imagine how difficult I thought it could be leading worship for a church in the Middle East with 500 members from 40 different nationalities and dozens of denominations. Yet somehow it worked…..not perfectly…but it worked because the greater focus was on God. They had their individual meetings throughout the week, but on the Sabbath they were in corporate worship.

Mark Horst wrote, “As soon as we come to worship looking for and expecting an experience, we have violated the most basic principle of (worship). We easily become religious aesthetes capable of judging the entertainment value of a church service while remaining unaware of the reality it can open us to. Unfortunately for us, when our worship becomes self-conscious rather than God-conscious, it points not to God’s reality but (only to) our own.”

Too often we think of worship mostly or solely in terms of how it impacts us rather than how it impacts God. And we are the losers when we do that. If we think of ourselves as the necessary beneficiaries of worship we won’t truly worship. If we think of God as the beneficiary of worship, we will also benefit. One of the major reasons people argue about worship today is that they have the wrong person (themselves) in view. Worship ultimately is not about us; it is about God.

And if it is about God, then it is about pleasing God with a heart attitude clothed in humility.

Now, I’m not sure there is much difference in the way Unified worship “looks” versus the way Blended worship “looks”, particularly in our church, because what is important here is the heart of the worshipper (remember the first devotion back in February that touched on this topic).  What I know is this: as long as we seek to please our own desires in worship and not touch the heart of God then we are committing idolatry by placing ourselves on the throne instead of Jesus.

And once we realize that this issue of musical style in worship is less about style and more about the heart we have made a tremendous step forward in Christian growth and maturity.

Cross posted on I Respond to Jesus

Music Style: A Vision of Unity


Note: for those who have missed any rehearsals in the past month, all devotionals are available on my blog (the address is at bottom of the page).  This particular devotional is part four in a four week series, so if you’ve missed any of the previous ones you may want to go back and read them to better understand the context of what I’m writing, or now that I’m finally wrapping the entire thing up you may want to go back and look at the first three to refresh your memory on how we got to where we’re at.

Week 1: It’s a Matter of the Heart

Week 2: It’s Culturally Bound

Week 3: To Blend or Not to Blend? That is the Question.

Over the past several weeks we’ve looked at this issue of musical style in worship and last week I suggested we needed to move away from the term “blended worship” and towards “unified worship”.

I came across the term “Unified” worship about six weeks ago in an article by Scott Wesley Brown.  Below is an excerpt from an article he wrote on the subject of Blended Worship.  Because I think he hits the nail on the head here (and says things much more succinctly and elegantly than I can), I’ll just quote him (for the full article click here):

I prefer the term “Unified” worship over “Blended” worship because our intention should be to reflect the scriptural teaching of unity in diversity. (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:12-14) The term “Blended” worship does not necessarily mean that it is “unified” worship. The best way to describe “unified” worship is to say it is anchored in the church’s historic worship and seasoned with the fresh winds of the Spirit’s movement in the present using the “best of the best” from the past and the present.

 

The Church today faces “the spirit of individualism” and has succumbed to tailoring worship to meet the expectations of various age groups by fractionalizing the church into what are now called “venues”. No longer called sanctuaries, these “venues” cater to the “experience” one is up for. If you don’t like the “Traditional” try the “Edge” or the “Over the edge”……….whatever works for you! How dare we ask a teenager to sit through a hymn or a senior to listen to a song by Delirious!

I do understand that it is appropriate for children, youth, seniors or those of other cultures to have a meaningful experience within the context of their own group, but what ever happened to “corporate worship”? Indeed worship is both vertical and horizontal; it is about God, yet it is about people in fellowship with one another before God.

But when the focus is on people (mostly ourselves) there will always be battles because we are diverse (and opinionated!). If you think it’s hard trying to please everyone at your church, imagine how difficult I thought it could be leading worship for a church in the Middle East with 500 members from 40 different nationalities and dozens of denominations. Yet somehow it worked…..not perfectly…but it worked because the greater focus was on God. They had their individual meetings throughout the week, but on the Sabbath they were in corporate worship.

Mark Horst wrote, “As soon as we come to worship looking for and expecting an experience, we have violated the most basic principle of (worship). We easily become religious aesthetes capable of judging the entertainment value of a church service while remaining unaware of the reality it can open us to. Unfortunately for us, when our worship becomes self-conscious rather than God-conscious, it points not to God’s reality but (only to) our own.”

Too often we think of worship mostly or solely in terms of how it impacts us rather than how it impacts God. And we are the losers when we do that. If we think of ourselves as the necessary beneficiaries of worship we won’t truly worship. If we think of God as the beneficiary of worship, we will also benefit. One of the major reasons people argue about worship today is that they have the wrong person (themselves) in view. Worship ultimately is not about us; it is about God.

And if it is about God, then it is about pleasing God with a heart attitude clothed in humility.

Now, I’m not sure there is much difference in the way Unified worship “looks” versus the way Blended worship “looks”, particularly in our church, because what is important here is the heart of the worshipper (remember the first devotion back in February that touched on this topic).  What I know is this: as long as we seek to please our own desires in worship and not touch the heart of God then we are committing idolatry by placing ourselves on the throne instead of Jesus.

And once we realize that this issue of musical style in worship is less about style and more about the heart we have made a tremendous step forward in Christian growth and maturity.

Cross posted on Grace Notes

 

Music Style in Worship (Part III: To Blend or Not to Blend?) (3.22)


It’s funny how some things take longer than expected.  Take this devotional, for instance.  In the middle of February I sat down to write a brief devotional on musical style in worship.  Here we a month later and I’m still trying to finish writing a devotional on musical style in worship!  We’ll try and tie this all up in the next two weeks before we take our hiatus from rehearsal until the beginning of April.

Last week week’s devotional ended up being much more history lesson than I had originally intended, but I really felt it was important that you understood some of that.  History is important because it helps give some perspective on where we are right now and also informs us as we move forward into the future.  I ended with this statement: “The problem lies in defining ourselves by our cultural differences and not our unity in the Spirit.  So where does that leave us in 2011 at our church?  That’s something we’ll look at next week.”  Well, next week is here!

When I first came on staff I was given the job of working to “blend” the musical style in the services.  Without repeating the history of what’s happened here over the past decade in terms of music style (since most of it was before my arrival, anyway), let’s just say that there has been some disagreement on how music should look in church.  From my understanding a process was put in place and, at the end of it all, there was some pretty obvious desires on the sides of the coin labeled “traditional” and some on the side labeled “contemporary”.  A decision was then made to work towards a “bled” in style – something that would have a little bit of everything in an effort to make everyone happy.  It would lean neither too far to one side nor the other but attempt to stay somewhat in the middle (if I’m wrong on my history I’m sure someone will let me know this week via email or phone call!).  I don’t know everyone who was involved in those discussions or decisions, and, quite frankly, I’m kinda glad I wasn’t here when the decisions were made because choices like this inevitably leave some people’s feelings hurt – regardless of how sensitive everyone tries to be.

Over the past couple of years I have worked very hard to transition our church’s musical style in worship into what I consider a “blend”.  Sometimes with resistance from people, but more often than not I have been met with openness.  People have generally understand that sometimes music is planned that they may not like, but, for the most part, they take it in stride because on any given Sunday there may be something they like but someone else doesn’t.  It’s one of those give-and-take things that mature adults and believers are able to understand and accept.  But as I’ve gone through this process myself (both as your leader and personally) I’ve come to realize there is one main struggle I have with the “blended” approach.

It’s about us.

That’s the bottom line.  “Blended worship”, as it has been defined in the past decade across multiple churches and multiple denominations, is not about worshipping God at all (at its heart).  It’s about making man happy with a particular musical style.

Ouch.  That hurt to write, so I can only imagine how much it hurt to read.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe the people who made the decision years ago to pursue a blended style made what they honestly believed was the best decision at the time – and I probably would have made the same decision myself (in fact, when I interviewed, I remember saying and believing that!)

In the past several months I’ve given this a lot of thought, prayer, and study.  While I believe the spirit with which “blended” was arrived at was done with the best of intentions, I believe it’s time for a change.  As a church we’ve made some great strides in musical style transformation over the past years.  I believe we are more “blended” now than we were three years ago.  But we have so far to go – not musically speaking, but spiritually, in terms of understanding and accepting style. So next week I’m going to introduce that concept to tie this all together.  But here’s the sneak peak: Instead of “blended” worship let’s try for “unified” worship.

Cross posted on I Respond to Jesus

Music Style: To Blend or Not to Blend, That is the Question


It’s funny how some things take longer than expected.  Take this devotional, for instance.  In the middle of February I sat down to write a brief devotional on musical style in worship.  Here we a month later and I’m still trying to finish writing a devotional on musical style in worship!  We’ll try and tie this all up in the next two weeks before we take our hiatus from rehearsal until the beginning of April.

Last week week’s devotional ended up being much more history lesson than I had originally intended, but I really felt it was important that you understood some of that.  History is important because it helps give some perspective on where we are right now and also informs us as we move forward into the future.  I ended with this statement: “The problem lies in defining ourselves by our cultural differences and not our unity in the Spirit.  So where does that leave us in 2011 at our church?  That’s something we’ll look at next week.”  Well, next week is here!

When I first came on staff I was given the job of working to “blend” the musical style in the services.  Without repeating the history of what’s happened here over the past decade in terms of music style (since most of it was before my arrival, anyway), let’s just say that there has been some disagreement on how music should look in church.  From my understanding a process was put in place and, at the end of it all, there was some pretty obvious desires on the sides of the coin labeled “traditional” and some on the side labeled “contemporary”.  A decision was then made to work towards a “bled” in style – something that would have a little bit of everything in an effort to make everyone happy.  It would lean neither too far to one side nor the other but attempt to stay somewhat in the middle (if I’m wrong on my history I’m sure someone will let me know this week via email or phone call!).  I don’t know everyone who was involved in those discussions or decisions, and, quite frankly, I’m kinda glad I wasn’t here when the decisions were made because choices like this inevitably leave some people’s feelings hurt – regardless of how sensitive everyone tries to be.

Over the past couple of years I have worked very hard to transition our church’s musical style in worship into what I consider a “blend”.  Sometimes with resistance from people, but more often than not I have been met with openness.  People have generally understand that sometimes music is planned that they may not like, but, for the most part, they take it in stride because on any given Sunday there may be something they like but someone else doesn’t.  It’s one of those give-and-take things that mature adults and believers are able to understand and accept.  But as I’ve gone through this process myself (both as your leader and personally) I’ve come to realize there is one main struggle I have with the “blended” approach.

It’s about us.

That’s the bottom line.  “Blended worship”, as it has been defined in the past decade across multiple churches and multiple denominations, is not about worshipping God at all (at its heart).  It’s about making man happy with a particular musical style.

Ouch.  That hurt to write, so I can only imagine how much it hurt to read.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe the people who made the decision years ago to pursue a blended style made what they honestly believed was the best decision at the time – and I probably would have made the same decision myself (in fact, when I interviewed, I remember saying and believing that!)

In the past several months I’ve given this a lot of thought, prayer, and study.  While I believe the spirit with which “blended” was arrived at was done with the best of intentions, I believe it’s time for a change.  As a church we’ve made some great strides in musical style transformation over the past years.  I believe we are more “blended” now than we were three years ago.  But we have so far to go – not musically speaking, but spiritually, in terms of understanding and accepting style. So next week I’m going to introduce that concept to tie this all together.  But here’s the sneak peak: Instead of “blended” worship let’s try for “unified” worship.

Cross Posted in Grace Notes

Music Style in Worship (Part II: A History of Cultures) (3.21)


Last week we began examining musical style in worship.  Here’s a quick review:

  • Music in and of itself is neither good nor evil;
  • Lyrics in and of themselves may or may not be Christian or non-Christian;
  • Ultimately, it is the heart of the musician that determines whether a song is Christian or not.

So what makes musical style so controversial?  There are a host of spiritual issues we could examine here, but today we’re going to focus on the connection between culture and music.  Culture is a very broad term with as many definitions and understandings as we have people reading this, but one thing we will all agree on is that a part of culture is musical style.  Culture is not defined by geography, race, or location, (though each of those is a part of culture) anymore than it is defined by music.

From a global standpoint, we will all admit that music will be different in churches in South Africa, China, Brazil, England, and Greenville, North Carolina.  We would not expect it to be the same across each of those areas and we would not be offended (or should not be offended) by the music found in a church in China when we visit China. We should also recognize that music in a church in Greenville, North Carolina is probably somewhat different than music found in the back hills of West Virginia, the urban churches of New York City, or on the beaches of Honolulu, Hawaii.

And we’re all pretty comfortable with that because it makes sense and is easy to understand in terms of geography.  But when issues arise in our own church it becomes a more personal issue and harder to resolve.  Why is that?

Outside of the obvious answer of sin, pride, and selfishness that we all struggle with this side of Heaven is the basic fact that it is very difficult it identify “American music” culturally.  One of the by-products of America’s economic success is the emergence of different sub-cultures.  We play out in a minor way every Sunday morning in churches across our country the cultural clashes that have risen up for centuries in cities, states, and neighborhoods.  Back in the 19th and 20th Centuries there were issues of language, traditions, and religions that caused problems between people groups.  Our country, because of its diversity, has always struggled with these issues – issues because we identify ourselves as German Americans, African Americans, Americans with an Irish-Catholic heritage, or coming from China town or Small Italy.  Conflicts arose as a result of a clash of cultures.  While it doesn’t make it right, this has been a reality for years in areas outside of music.

But American sub-cultures have continued to increase since WWII.  Economic prosperity has led to more money in our country than at any other point in history, and where there’s money there’s a desire to spend it and obtain it.  As a result we now have multiple sub-cultures under one roof – even where we do not have evidence of “blended families”.  How?  Based on age.  Think about it.  We have entire companies who depend on the money generated by selling to one age group – we have teens, pre-teens, tweens, kids, toddlers, and babies who have their own clothing styles, food, literature, TV shows, games, and, yes, music – in short, their own culture.  Combine that with the fact that since WWII the average life expectancy has continued to rise, so now we have a greater diversity of ages who are present in any one family at any given time.  And we all go to the same church.

How did the church respond?  We developed programs for different people groups (cultures) within our churches.  We have pastors who specialize in youth ministry, others who focus on senior adults, some who are children’s pastors, and others who focus solely on music, drama, or the arts.  I know of one church here in Greenville that has paid staff positions with the following titles: Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children’s Pastor, Music Minister, Children’s Music Minister, and Minister of Youth Music!

Is it any on wonder this is conflict between these age groups?  Each one has been led to think that they deserve to have their needs met because they have someone who specifically can meet them.  And if there isn’t, well, just use our money to create a position that will!

Is any of this diversity wrong?  Absolutely not!  Is it wrong for us to create positions in our churches to reach different people groups?   No.  Even in the NT we learn that Paul’s ministry was to the Gentiles while Peter’s primary ministry was to the Jews.  The issues arising from different cultures in church go back to the Church’s very birth.

The problem lies in defining ourselves by our cultural differences and not our unity in the Spirit.

So where does that leave us in 2011 at our church?  That’s something we’ll look at next week.

Cross posted on I Respond to Jesus