Tag Archives: unity

Blended Worship vs. Balanced Worship (Part 2 – Revelation and Response)

In the last post I presented a few challenges with the idea of “blended” worship and addressed why this can often be a misunderstood approach to corporate worship in the church. In this post I want to present some thoughts concerning “balanced” worship and why this might be a better approach for those seeking gospel unity in the church.

Why the fuss over terminology?

Words matter. Last month during the Church Life Conference here on Trinity’s campus, Charles Billingsley gave a great talk to worship leaders regarding how to transition your church’s worship without starting a worship war. In that session, he spoke of the importance of language and that communication is not so much what you say, but what people hear. Sometimes it’s better to use a term that requires defining, than a term which may be misunderstood. So whether you prefer to use “blended” or “balanced”, below is the first of a few “balance points” that constantly challenge me as I approach corporate worship planning.

Revelation and Response

Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see a very clear pattern that emerges in the worship of God’s people. Mainly, God reveals Himself to His people–the people respond to Him in worship. This appears quite simple, but has often been a neglected balance point for me as I have planned and led corporate worship. During the 90’s the majority of new music was focused on “me”, “my”, and “I”.  In defense of this, I sense that songwriters were writing in this vein primarily because those expressions were lacking in so many of our churches. Worship for many churches had become a very dry, cognitive ascent to a set of beliefs or values, but often did not engage the entire person (mind, will, emotion) in worship. So, in reaction to this, songwriters began to write about their emotion and their feelings toward God. What happens often in modern church culture, however, is that we try so hard to stay “current” and fall victim to whatever is “hot”. The CCLI top 100 song list becomes the basis for our worship planning with little thought to content or direction. Don’t get me wrong–I regularly use most of the songs that are on these charts, and I also recognize that these songs are there for a reason–primarily because they, generally, are good songs and God is using them globally in a great way. However, the needs of your church and my church are very unique and we need to keep this in mind as we “put words in the church’s mouth” as Glen Packiam (“Fairest”, “My Savior Lives”, “Your Name”) describes so well (you can subscribe to his blog here).

Here’s the bottom line: does the music your church sings present a balanced view of God’s revelation to us (His attributes, His character, His gospel) as well as providing opportunities for your church to respond to that truth in authenticity?  If we over-emphasize revelation to the exclusion of our authentic, heart-felt response to God, the result can be a dry, crusty, Christianity without heart and genuine emotion. If we over-emphasize our response to God to the exclusion of knowing Him, His revelation (through His Word), and obedience, then we can end up with a psuedo-emotional, “me-centered” Christianity that knows little about the God we are trying to worship. I recognize that the entire weight of this does not rest entirely on the music we choose (that’s why we have preaching/teaching), however, I can also say that I’ve forgotten many more sermons than I have forgotten songs. What we sing can help reinforce the truth that is presented in our services through all the creative means, whether it be teaching, preaching, Scripture reading, or some form of dramatic interpretation or other form of visual art. It is, however, the songs that carry the melodies that can help us to remember these truths at those times when we need them the most.

“Incredible!”

During the last month I had the opportunity to spend some time with a worship leader of a new, vibrant church plant. We were discussing this very idea of revelation and response, as well as how much of what our churches believe is a result of what we sing. After spending some time thinking and reviewing several of his services over the past few months, he noticed a pattern that he shared with me. He said that after reviewing several of the services where the church seemed to be more in tune and engaged with God, he noticed that it was those services where (in hindsight) he had led the church in this “balance point” of revelation and response. Now, this doesn’t mean that God can be confined to some “formula” and that this idea become another legalistic “rule” to follow in worship. However, what it does say, is that a pattern of several millennia of recorded worship and response not be too quickly dismissed simply because it is not “current”.

What is working for you?

At Trinity, we have recognized this and try to present a balanced selection of music that allows for both of these expressions. Often, “revelation” can be found in many of the older hymn texts and “response” can be found in many of the simple choruses that have been popular (though it is also conversely true as well). There are also many new songs that deal well with God’s revelation to us like “In Christ Alone”, “The Power of the Cross”, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”, and many that are great at combining both of these concepts within the same song like “God of the Ages” (Travis Doucette)*, “How Great is Our God” (Chris Tomlin), “Revelation Song” (Jenny Lee Riddle), and a new song written by one of our staff, Joel Carney — “Isaiah 53” (You can get charts and full orchestration for this song by contacting music@tbc.org). There are also several arrangements of hymns that have added choruses that can help with this as well, like “Fairest” (Glenn Packiam), “I Am Yours” (Michael Neal), “To God be the Glory” (Tommy Walker),  “Be Thou My Vision” (Adam Lancaster)*, and one that I have written recently called “What a Savior You Are” (also available from music@tbc.org).

My challenge to all of us would be to go back and review our own worship services and see if we find similar patterns. I do know that God always honors His Word and that he desires for us to respond to Him in worship and obedience (John 4:23).

What music is working well for you in your church?

What songs would you add to those mentioned above?

What expressions, besides music, are you using to demonstrate this balance point?

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at the “balance point” of context and church culture.

* Arrangements to these songs can be found by contacting lori@redtierecords.com. The remaining songs can be found at www.praisecharts.com.

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?

Church Life Recap

On Tuesday of this week we concluded our first Church Life Conference here on the campus of Trinity Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist College. It was a great time of fellowship, worship, and networking with other ministry leaders from across the country. I want to take a few moments and reflect on some of my take-a-ways from the conference.

It was a great honor to have Charles Billingsley with us for our Sunday night “kick-off” along with his pastor, Jonathan Falwell, Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist in Lynchburg, VA. Charles joined with our Celebration Choir and Orchestra and led us into a wonderful time in God’s presence. Charles is a masterful communicator, a phenomenal talent and most of all, an authentic worshipper and follower of Christ.

On Monday, Charles led worship in our morning sessions as well as an afternoon session for worship leaders and other church musicians. He dealt with the idea of “Transitioning Your Worship without Starting a Worship War”.  This is a very relevant topic for most of us who find ourselves in transitionary ministry of some kind. Actually, like Charles said, if you’re alive, whether you like it or not, you’re in transition.

On Tuesday, I led corporate worship along with the Trinity Baptist College worship team, Lifesong. This is a talented group with a heart for worship and they did a fantastic job. If you are interested in having them in your church you can get more information by clicking here. It was also great to have the Nelons leading us in worship and providing special music. The Nelons (pronounced “Nee-lons”) serve as Artists in Residence here at Trinity Baptist College. They are a multi Dove award-winning group that has tremendous talent and a heart for the local church. You can find more about their ministry by clicking here.

We also introduced a couple new songs written by Trinity alumni, Joel Carney and Shannon Foldy, as well as a custom hymn arrangement of “Our Great Savior” entitled “What a Savior You Are”.  It was a privilege to share these with the attendees and many of them purchased music to take these songs to their churches. “Isaiah 53” really connected well and is an incredible description of the sacrifice of Christ as well as an opportunity for us to respond to Him in worship. If you are interested in sheet music and demo tracks of these songs, you can contact music@tbc.org and we will be happy to take care of that for you.

On Tuesday afternoon, Lindsey Terry, author and worship ministry leader for many years, spoke into our lives and gave us a great perspective on worship ministry as seen from over four decades of leadership. I am delighted as I recall his stories of conversations with song writers over the years. I encourage you to check out his website here and check out the many resources that he has available to help educate us and help bring greater depth and understanding to so many of the songs that we sing.

I was thrilled to be able to speak with several old and new friends. It’s amazing that, though we have such variety and diversity in our ministries, we have so many of the same challenges and opportunities before us. I am grateful for the opportunity to exchange ideas and sharpen each other as “iron sharpens iron”.

One of the topics that kept coming up during several conversations was the idea of “balanced vs. blended” as well as how we can have a comprehensive ministry that is biblically sound as well as culturally engaging. I will be discussing this idea in my next post and look forward to continuing this conversation.

I am already looking forward to next year’s conference. We will be continuing the conversation of many facets of church life at www.churchlifeconference.com and keep checking back for updates and video posts of the conference sessions. For those of you in music and worship ministry, we will be continuing the conversation right here as well. I look forward to your comments and continuing our discussion on how we can make our worship ministries as effective and God-honoring as they can be.

Key Thoughts on Corporate Worship

Corporate worship is based first and foremost on our common relationship in Christ. At first glance, this sounds pretty elementary and foundational to Christian doctrine. However, if you’ve ever tried to unify a diverse and multi-generational body in worship lately, you might find that it is easier said than done. Does that negate the truth of our unity in Christ? Not at all. However, the unnecessary conflict (some conflict is both healthy and necessary) exposes the fact that we enter into corporate worship with motives and expectations that aren’t based on our unity in Christ. Also, how we deal with that conflict is a tell-tale sign of where we are in our own relationship with God as well as an indicator of our love for our fellow believer.

So, what are the principles that should guide corporate worship in the church? Are we left to the whims of culture or are we confined solely to the traditions of man as they’ve been handed down to us? Is there middle ground, or is that simply compromise? These are questions that I have asked over the years.

As a leader, I want my actions and decisions to be founded on practical principles that won’t change through the passing of time. Does that mean that I lock myself in a cultural time-bubble, stick my head in the sand and decide right now THIS is the way it should be? I think not. I don’t want to make blanket statements today that I have to retract 20 years from now simply because I succumb to pressure or because I realize that my past decisions were based more on comfort and convenience than on what is biblical, practical, and effective.

Below, I have lined out some key thoughts that help guide me in my decisions for corporate worship. I pray that as we seek the Lord and learn to love people, our churches will once again experience the joy and unity of our common relationship with Christ.

Principle #1: Though Christianity is supracultural in its origin and truth, it is cultural in its application—this includes the arts when used as medium to the gospel message. (Acts 2; Acts 17:26-30; 1 Cor 9:19-22)

Principle #2: Through Christ, the church has experienced the redemption of articles and practices that may have at one time been considered common or undesirable for believers (Acts 10:9-15; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 1 Cor. 10:29-31; Titus 1:15).

Principle #3: God is both transcendent and immanent in His relationship with His people and the nature of this relationship will be evident in a balanced view of this truth as it relates to corporate worship. The fear of God is our foundation for our friendship with Him (Acts 17:24-27; Psalm 25:14).

Principle #4: Recognition should be made that sola Scriptura requires consistent reevaluation of even the most revered human traditions (Matt 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13; Col 2:8; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Principle #5: Clear communication is vital to corporate worship, and communication must be contemporary, at least in the sense of being familiar to the hearers. Anything that varies greatly from common forms and styles will do more to detract from the message rather than contribute to its communication (1 Cor 14:7-9).

Principle #6: Sensitivity to the potential presence of unbelievers in corporate worship gatherings should influence, at least to some degree, the elements of public worship events (1 Cor 14:23-25).

Principle #7: The Great Commission requires us to engage with the culture of people outside the church (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 17; Romans 15:20; 1 Cor 9:19-23).

Principle #8: Maintaining unity among the diversity of the church’s membership requires that we defer to one another in love, being willing to submit one another’s preferences to that which is most edifying to the church body as a whole (John 13:35; 1 Thes 3:12; Gal 5:13; Eph 5:21).

Principle #9: Expressions of art have no inherent power other than what the creators and interpreters of the art willingly give to it (Isaiah 2:8; 2 Tim 1:7; 1 Cor 8:1-13). This has two main implications concerning corporate worship music: (1 Cor 6:12).

  1. There is no music that is unlawful for Christian expression in and of itself. However, not all music may be appropriate for all cultural contexts. (1 Cor 10:23)
  2. There is no particular music and/or artistic expression that is necessary for corporate worship. However, certain expressions/styles will be more appropriate for particular cultural contexts. (Psalm 34:18; John 4:20-24)

Principle #10: God accepts and desires the worship of people from every race, nation, and tribe. (Psalm 66:4; Rev. 14:6-7;  Rev. 5:9-10; John 4). These distinctions are largely cultural and the Scripture does not prohibit the free expression of worship based on cultural grounds only, unless the heart of the one who offers is not authentic (spirit and truth), or the expression is expressly forbidden in Scripture. (Mark 7:7; Gen. 4:4-7).

Let me know your thoughts.

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