Thursday, May 11, 2006

traditional or contemporary?

Congregations are by nature messy and somewhat chaotic places. That is a part of what makes the work so frustrating, at times, and so interesting.

For example, one evening this week a group of us found ourselves discussing the contemporary/traditional worship issue for the ONE MILLIONTH time...


Here is my short take about that. I have written about it, over the years, in the Mount Tabor UMC and Providence UMC newsletters, and I post some of my own thoughts, if for no other reason than there can be a little plot of ground in cyberspace where those who are interested might come, read, reflect and respond. And I won't have to take fifteen minutes of a committee's time in the future. I will just say, go to my blog...

My perspective is shaped by helping to begin at least two new worship services over the years, one blended and another seeker-oriented. Let me say that I have dear friends who have invested much in different styles of worship. I love and respect them, even as they would not agree with what I post below.

So here goes:

  • How the argument is framed leads to the conclusion. The current debate of traditional and contemporary divides congregations along stylistic lines by intention and generational and theological lines by default. There are some positive benefits--more people are reached, more gifts are employed...and there are some negative implications--unity within a church, for stewardship or missional purposes, becomes very difficult.
  • Traditional worship does not have to be boring, and contempory worship does not have to be trivial. These are stereotypes.
  • Young adults often appreciate traditional worship, and older adults often enjoy contemporary worship. These are also stereotypes.
  • The baby boomer demographic is a cultural match with contempory worship. A briefer service fits with weekends given to sports and Sundays in particular filled with soccer matches.
  • We have not figured out how to motivate those who attend contemporary worship to give financially. At least this has not been my experience or observation.
  • If a congregation decides to put all of its eggs in the traditional worship basket, it needs to do children and youth ministry extremely well, and it needs a very intentional evangelism focus, like Beginnings or Igniting Ministry. At least this is what we are trying to do at Providence.
  • As my District Superintendent and good friend George has reminded me, we need to be more connectional in our evangelism. In most United Methodist districts, especially in urban settings, it may be that every church doesn't need to offer every kind of service.
  • Sometimes the traditional/contemporary worship debate is not about worship at all. It is about power.
  • I agree with Marva Down: worship is not evangelism. Evangelism is evangelism.
  • Mainline churches are not very good at evangelism.
  • An important question for me is figuring out how people in a particular congregation are gifted. In some churches the most gifted musicians are classically trained. In other churches, the most gifted musicians might be jazz or bluegrass or celtic by temperament.
  • During the years I worked with a pretty amazing alternative service, I heard the following two comments with such frequency that I have committed them to memory. The parent would say 1) my child loves this service and 2) where is my child going to learn the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed?
  • The seeker service was never intended to become a destination for Christian worshippers, but a step on the path toward a believers service. Read about the history of Willow Creek for more on this subject.
  • Our discussion of worship style mirrors our cultural tendency to focus on matters of style rather than substance.
  • The Emergent movement may help us beyond the impasse. At least I am praying that this is so.
  • The best simple reading on this subject remains Tom Long's Beyond The Worship Wars, and the best theoretical reading is Marva Dawn's A Royal Waste of Time.
  • Churches do not need to offer programs or services because some church near them is doing it. I have been a proponent, especially in my last two books, The Gifted Pastor and A Way of Life In The World, of the notion that the key to renewal is discover the riches of our own tradition and context, and not to mimic what we perceive to be true somewhere else.

If we happen to be in a meeting together, and you want to talk about worship styles, and even if you want to frame the conversation with terms like "traditional" and "contemporary", be at peace. It will be okay. I will be able to do more listening, now that I have spoken here.

In the meantime, it is almost Friday, and I am looking forward to worshipping God in a couple of days, with his gloriously chaotic and amazingly faithful people at Providence United Methodist Church. If you are in the area, stop by, at either 8:30 or 11:00. If you are thinking 11:00, however, come early. As Yogi Berra said, "nobody comes's too crowded".


Blogger John said...

Mainline churches aren't good at evangelism becase, as a whole, we don't believe in the necessity of conversion or that Hell is real for those who don't. Bad theology is the root of the problem.

3:42 PM  

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