Tag Archives: God

Blended Worship or Balanced Worship (Part 1)

Not long ago, a Florida mega-church abandoned split services (traditional and contemporary) for a more unified, “blended” service. The church, led by their new pastor, Tullian Tchavidjian (grandson of Billy Graham), decided to bring their church under one umbrella, united around the gospel. Tchavidjian said, “Generational appeal in worship is an unintentional admission that the Gospel is powerless to join together what man has separated”(click here for the article). This move triggered quite a bit of buzz in the church community. This move seems to be counter-cultural to much of the prevailing thought in church-growth today. Time will tell how well this works for them, but I applaud their consistency and vision for why they have made such a move. My forthcoming attempt to choose better terminology is by no means a criticism of this church–I simply give this as a high-profile example of a trend that is happening in the local church. While many of our churches have chosen their battles in the “worship wars”, many are still looking for answers to this complex question.

As in most conflict, much of the problem arises out of a misunderstanding of the language and intentions of those with whom we disagree. So, it is highly important that we define our terms and give everyone the benefit of the doubt in that we all want the same thing–a gospel-centered community of faith. Once we can agree on terms and trust the motives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we can begin to find answers as we participate in the free exchange of ideas that are based on biblical principle–not personal attacks and ideology based on personality and preferences.

Let me start with the idea of “blended” worship. First of all, I think I understand what most church leaders are referring to when they use this term, however, unless this is defined, it can still create several issues. First, the term blended worship was first put into the mainstream church lingo by Robert Webber, author, seminary professor, and founder of the Institute for Worship Studies in Jacksonville, Florida. The problem with this term, as it is commonly understood in non-liturgical, free church worship (which would characterize most independent and Southern Baptist churches), is not the way in which Webber defined it. Webber’s definition involved the blending of the ancient, liturgical practices with more contemporary expressions. He was an advocate of using liturgical church structure and infusing contemporary expressions within that structure. It’s not the intention of this post to debate the merit of Webber’s writings at this time (though, it is a worthy discussion for future posts), nor to debate the use of liturgical elements in worship, however, it illustrates the point that this term is greatly misunderstood. What we find is that those of us who often use the term the most, define it vastly different than the one who coined the term and wrote over 40 books that dealt with the idea.

My experience has been that most pastors and church leaders that I talk with define “blended” as a mixture of hymns and choruses. This is fine, and many churches have blended these two expressions somewhat successfully. However, I also believe that many that are attempting to move to a more “blended” format, carry some unrealistic expectations of what this format will do for them.

First, many attempt “blended” worship to try to “make everyone happy”. If you carry this motive for “blended” worship, you will find yourself sorely disappointed. What you will most likely find is that you will really make no one “happy”, but that everyone will be sufficiently dissatisfied with the music choices. The preferences of virtually no one will be satisfied and you will once again have a “fight” on your hands. The extremes of the personal preferences in most of our churches usually lie with the very young and the very old, and these two groups tend to be the most vocal, also assuring that “blended” worship will still fall tragically short because it still fails to address the preferences of these two groups. If we go to a blended format to make everyone “happy”, we are still relying on music to be the unifying factor, which doesn’t find it’s root in the Scripture.

Second, “blended” worship doesn’t typically address the content issues that we find in our songs. “Hymns” and “Choruses” are both broad terms that are equally as misunderstood and poorly defined as “blended”. What is a hymn? Is it what Paul talked about in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, or is it anything that was written prior to 1950? What is a chorus? Is it the refrain of a hymn or gospel song like “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” or is it a contemporary song like “In Christ Alone”, which resembles more of a modern hymn than a “chorus”?  If you think that a “chorus” like “Gone, gone, gone, gone, yes my sins are gone…” is going to strike a nerve with the youth culture of this generation, you are probably going to be disappointed. Or if you think a “hymn” like “Mansion over the Hilltop” (which never mentions any attribute or name of God) is going to bring a Christo-centric unselfishness to your church, you may be disappointed there as well.  I have no problem with either of these songs in the right context, but they help to illustrate the misunderstanding that can often occur when we don’t define our terms.

Third, “blended” worship, as it is commonly defined, fails to address context. The context of a church and the culture it is trying to reach is incredibly unique from church to church and from culture to culture. There is no way that being overly simplistic in saying that we do “blended” worship can adequately define or describe the way that you do church. The corporate worship needs of a new church plant are vastly different than a church that has been in existence for several decades. Each presents unique challenges and opportunities for unity and gospel-centered community.

Lastly, “blended” worship does a poor job of addressing the aesthetics of the music that we present. Does this mean that we do hymns that are “updated” and choruses that are “sanitized”, or does it mean that we do 50%  traditional hymns and 50% contemporary choruses? Should “blended” worship look pretty much the same from church to church? What of the music, then? Does blended mean a mixture of drums and organ or electric guitar and timpani? What if you don’t have an organ or an electric guitar–can you still do “blended” worship? What does this sound like? Can we find this sound anywhere else in culture? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? These are a few of the questions that we need to wrestle with as we look at the concept of “blended” worship.

In the following post I will discuss the idea of “balanced” worship and see if this concept can provide a greater understanding of both the biblical and cultural implications of effective, gospel-centered ministry. What challenges do you see in some of our terminology and how are you addressing this in your church?

By the Mercies of God…

As I look back on the past couple of weeks, I am reminded of the great God that we serve! Pastor Tom’s series on the Prodigal Son has made a huge impact on my life. Every possible response that I can imagine seems to fall so short of the radical grace that God pours into my life every day.

Romans 11 gives such a great picture of God’s grace (on a large scale…especially for us Gentiles!) and Romans 12:1 begins with what our response should be to this radical grace–offering ALL of ourselves in worship (latreia) to Him. There is no other response that is fitting compared to the radical grace of the Father. Even this falls so short, but there’s nothing more that we can offer, and this is all He asks–nothing more, nothing less.

Worship is the constant outpouring of all that we are in response to all that God is and does. As in the story of the Prodigal Son, the Father doesn’t need anything we have (including our worship), yet He desires a relationship with each one of us. That relationship is only found when, much like the prodigal, we come broken and empty handed before Him, with nothing to offer but ourselves, and desiring nothing besides Him. It is at this point that we can sing with reckless abandon, “O Praise the One Who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!”.

As we approach this coming Lord’s day, exhort and encourage one another to good works and let’s join together as one unified, hell-conquering body to lavish extravagant praise on the God who has lavished such extravagant grace on us.

View the message here:
“The Extravagant Grace of the Father” – Tom Messer

Worship: the head or the heart?

We are so good at making God into our own image. If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, just look around–better yet, look within. If you happen to be a person that is in touch with your emotions, then you probably believe that God is a God of mercy, compassion and second chances. If you are a person who naturally thinks very left-brained and you go through life making very rational, logical choices, then you are more apt to believe that God is a God of principle, righteousness, and judgment. These just simply come easier for us, because they’re consistent with our personalities. I’ll admit, these are very sweeping generalizations, but if we look within and look around, by and large, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that it is largely the case.

Leading corporate worship on a weekly basis allows me the opportunity to witness this first-hand. I see people throughout our auditorium responding to God in various ways: some acknowledging the truth and doctrine of a song with a gentle head-nod; some acknowledging with reckless abandon, their brokenness before God with great outward demonstration; and some in vehement protest to the response of others. Most of the time, this is very consistent with our own personalities. I do not necessarily believe this is a bad thing. However, I believe that in the body of Christ, we have a lot to learn from one another, and more importantly, from God Himself.

The truth is that God is all of those things. He is merciful, compassionate, holy, and righteous. Take the apostle Paul, for instance. Before his conversion, Paul (Saul) was a zealot against Christianity. He had people killed and thrown into prison for their beliefs. He was “principled” in his disdain for Christianity. After his conversion, Paul was still a zealot but with a different focus and direction. Take Peter and Barnabas, on the other hand, who were more in touch with their emotions and the thoughts and feelings of those around them. Paul said (Galatians 2) that Peter even led Barnabas astray in his fear of what people thought. Paul, consistent with his personality, withstood them “to the face” concerning their hypocrisy toward the Gentiles (for fear of what the Jews thought).  In this story, Paul, acting consistent with his personality AND the Scripture was right. Peter and Barnabas were living hypocritically. Score: Paul 1 – Barnabas 0.

Now take a look at the other side of the coin. Barnabas and Paul in Acts 15, had a disagreement so sharp concerning the “worthiness” of one of their companions (John Mark) that it caused them to go their separate ways for a time. Barnabas, acting consistent with his personality, saw something in John Mark that Paul did not see (or didn’t want to see). John Mark had abandoned them before and Paul didn’t want anything to do with him. Barnabas, acting in compassion and grace, saw John Mark’s potential and determined to give him a second chance. In time, Paul later recognizes John Mark’s value by his own admition, no thanks to him (2 Tim. 4:11). Score now: Paul 1 – Barnabas 1.

What does this all have to do with worship? We often respond to God’s truth in ways that are consistent with our own personality. This is not necessarily wrong. However, in the Spirit-led life, none of us get “off the hook”. Brokenness does not get off with a “head nod”. Nor does an outward demonstration get off with inconsistent living and poor choices. Throughout Scripture God is always demonstrating the balance of the head and the heart. Take John chapter four–Spirit and truth; Philippians 4–hearts and minds; 2 Tim. 1 – love and a sound mind. The list could go on and on. 2 Timothy chapter 2 summarizes this well–“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Don’t be angry (heart) or unbelieving (mind). Also, don’t be judgmental of the worship of others. When God’s people come together in spirit and truth, without wrath and doubting, something very powerful happens. That is what God desires from his people.

We are all different. God wants to use all of us and created us with a specific purpose and plan. We all have a lot to learn from God by walking daily in His truth and being led by His Spirit. We also have a lot to learn from each other. That is the beauty of the Body of Christ. The fact is, God wants ALL of us–our head and our heart. Let’s remember that we are ALL made in God’s image, but let’s be careful not to make God into our image.

The Path of Michael Jackson

This past week I’ve had the opportunity to read a couple books. One of them is The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley. It serves as a sequel of sorts to his book The Best Question Ever, which deals with our daily decisions and how they influence not only who we are, but influence who we are becoming often more than we ever know in the moment.

The basic premise of the book is that “direction, not intention, determines where you end up”. It sounds really simple, doesn’t it? Not extraordinarily profound. Often, though, it’s the simple truths that confound us. It’s the simple truths that either gives us great leverage or become seeming thorns in our side. A minor turn here or there surely won’t keep me from where I want to go, right? We don’t use that logic when taking a trip. Why do we use that logic in life? There’s probably no better illustration of that than what is in the news right now with the passing of Michael Jackson.

Even a casual observer of his life could see the signs. “No, Michael, don’t go that way…it’s a dead end.” All of the allegations, quirky behaviors, and strained relationships along the way just illustrated how easy it was for everyone except for Michael to see where he was going. Most of the world excused him, though, because he was so incredibly talented. I mean, come on, he united people (“We are the world”…remember?), broke racial barriers, he entertained people, oh, and the voice…wow. He almost single-handedly shaped the popular music of an entire generation and beyond. In all of that, though, the path of his decisions led him right where he ended up. Remember, it is our direction, not our intentions that determine where we go in life. The Scripture tells us that the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?”.  God is the only One that is deserving of our whole heart. Do not trust your heart to something or someone else, or you will be highly disappointed. The next time you are up against a major decision in life, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Does this option violate one of God’s laws?

2. Does this option violate a principle?

3. In light of my past and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?

I’m currently on vacation and am sharing the same beach with people that, fiscally speaking, are both poorer and richer than I. However, the road we chose got us both to the same destination (for whatever reason). The good news (and bad news) is that in God’s economy, it doesn’t matter whether you are Michael Jackson or Average Joe, the path you choose will always lead to the same place. At the end of the day, whoever dies with the most toys…still dies. The real question is, how do you want your story told?

Take a hard look at the man in the mirror… What legacy do you want to leave? Are you currently traveling the path that will get you there?

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

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