Friday, January 18, 2008

Blending worship

Does mixing worship traditions offer a little something for everyone? Or is it the way to make everyone mad about something?

And the worship wars keep raging. Who will win? Does anyone win? Is there a way out?
Worship style, and particularly worship music, is the most divisive issue on the church front today. What if there were a way to make everyone happy -- or almost everyone -- without choosing sides?

Many people think “blended worship” is the way for churches to avoid perpetual conflict over worship. Rather than choosing one style of worship to the exclusion of others, blended worship incorporates elements from a number of styles and traditions. Rather than segmenting a congregation into separate worship services of different styles, blended worship keeps everyone worshiping together.

Author Robert Webber, a longtime advocate of blended worship, says it matches the trend toward “convergence” in worship. As the world shrinks and more people are exposed to different cultures, people are more open to worship practices of other traditions. Traditional churches are incorporating the arts, liturgical churches are becoming more open and participatory, contemporary churches are drawing more from ancient practices.

By blending the best of the ancient traditions with modern innovations, blended worship honors our Christian heritage while allowing for renewal of those traditions, advocates say.

Does blended worship offer a little something for everyone? Or is it the way to make everyone mad about something?

The following dialogue is from two blended advocates -- one a traditionalist who has come to appreciate new worship styles, the other a contemporary musician who has come to respect the historical traditions. They are also father and son. They meet in the middle, both advocating blended worship but for different reasons.

Many worship leaders (and worshipers) will disagree. So we also offer a counterpoint from a worship leader who says blended worship is a recipe for disaster because people come to God differently. If that’s not enough, we will hear from a number of other voices on the subject. And since you will make up your own mind, we will suggest some resources for further study.

1. Blended worship resolves the destructive debate about which worship style is best.

Bob Burroughs: There is no 'best' worship style. Yet each church probably thinks its style is the best.
Blended worship simply means that the worship leader chooses to combine a variety of music styles -- hymns, choruses and gospel songs -- put them in the proverbial “blender,” mix them up and serve them to the people in the worship experience. Many times, this is done without asking for advice or counsel from others in the church fellowship.
In a blended service, the worshipers can sing familiar hymns, gospel songs, and familiar and not-so-familiar choruses, perhaps in a variety of ways, including the use of different accompaniments and tempos.

Is it working? It is in some places.

David Burroughs: I'm not sure the destructive debate about worship will ever go away. But the only debaters seem to be church staff members. The worshipers just know they want things a certain way, and they squirm or complain when things change. But I say change is good. And so is squirming! Don't tell me the Israelites didn't squirm when Jeremiah delivered a harsh message designed to move the people to action.

I've spent the last 15 years of my life involved with summer Christian youth camping. Worship at youth camp is contemporary, without question. It always surprises me when adults from traditional churches write on their evaluation forms how "refreshing" camp worship was for them. The things we try at camp would never fly at most of those houses of worship, but at camp it soars. Is regular Sunday worship too tightly controlled by environment and tradition?

2. Blended Worship builds unity where culture divides.

Bob: Unity is something that is missing these days ... in church, our jobs and often in our generation. The membership in many churches is out of harmony with each other because of finances, staff, worship style or differences in theology. Culture also is a major factor in the unity crisis because the older folks were very comfortable with their hymns and an order of worship that never or rarely changed and it "felt good" to come to worship. Now younger people, including staff, have taken the church to new and sometimes uncomfortable heights for these older folk, and they aren't happy about it.
Blended worship may indeed begin to build unity, if the musicians begin very slowly and they gradually work up to a blended service and not just jump off and do it with little or no preparation.

David: Everyone has heard the forecast: “Churches that don't change are dead or dying.” I've come to understand that too much change can break a fellowship in two, like a tree split by a strong wind. I see blended worship as a way to introduce change slowly and carefully, without causing too much harm.

Blended worship is designed to have elements that are attractive to multiple generations who like different kinds of music. Blended worship helps us say, "I like this song. It makes me feel comfortable." Then later in the service, "Ok, this is not my favorite style, but I can participate here."

I'm not sure unity happens naturally in a blended worship style. I think the worship leader has to work to build unity. How? I suggest mixing the styles. Take a traditional hymn and have a guitar or the praise band accompany it. Slow down the praise chorus and play it with piano and organ to feel the relevance of the words.

Culture does divide. TV commercials seem to point one of two ways -- to the young, hip and fresh faces, or to the older people trying to have a good retirement. If we relegate our Sundays to two services, one for the young and one for older folks, where is the unity? You end up with two separate church families using the same building at different times!

3. Blended worship gives proper place to our worship heritage.
Bob: Worship heritage means a great deal to me! I grew up with the hymnal, helped edit a new hymnal, and made my decision for full-time Christian service based on the hymn "Wherever He Leads, I'll Go." I am very comfortable with hymns.
I also love some of the contemporary choruses and other music being sung in worship today. But to be perfectly honest, I'm still uncomfortable with much of it because I haven't grown up with this as a vital part of my life like younger people have. This type of worship will probably never be my cup of tea. But I can still have a great appreciation for the "worship heritage" that is being developed in the life of my children and grandchildren. I want them to know the grand hymns of our faith that teach solid theology and also to learn the praise choruses that have substance and active verbs that speak words like “go,” “commit,” “obey,” “send” and “abide.” Too many or our praise choruses only have nouns!

David: I learned my theology from the hymnal. Long before I was in seminary with Frank Tupper, Molly Marshall, Glenn Hinson, and Bill Leonard, I was taking theology from B.B. McKinney, Fanny Crosby, Martin Luther and Walker's “Southern Harmony.”

What has caused me, a contemporary worship leader, to head back into the waters of tradition and heritage? The shallowness of the vast majority of praise choruses currently available. My twins will soon start coming to “big church,” and I want to make sure they are nurtured in their faith development and not just made to feel good and happy. I think that is the secret success of the blended style. There will be music that sounds familiar and upbeat and hip to them, but there will also be the great teaching hymns of faith for them to chew on as they grow.

Am I suggesting that no contemporary songs have meat on the theological bone? No. In fact, I hope that more and more of us will begin to write contemporary songs and choruses with text deeper than, "Lord, we praise you." I'll do my part. What about you, Dad?

4. Blended worship makes effective use of all the arts and senses.
Bob: How I wish our churches would indeed make good use of all the arts and especially the senses! I have learned in my ministry of 45-plus years that churches have many Boomers, Busters and Bridgers involved in the fellowship who are willing, able and knowledgeable in the use of the arts and the senses. But the churches are still being controlled by those 55 and up who hold the purse strings and have a major influence on the staff, committees and congregation. Their words ring heavy when they say, "We don’t want to change anything in our worship services!” Therefore, technology, arts and multiple senses in worship are not happening in the vast majority of churches of any denomination.

Blended worship could make use of such features if allowed to do so. And if the leadership would gradually and gently introduce these things into worship, things might change smoother with less irritation and stress on both the seniors and the staff.

David: Good blended worship is not easy. Then again, is any worship easy? But perhaps blended worship takes more work than traditional or contemporary alone. Why? Because one is not focusing on one type of music but two, three or more. We are able to use the praise band and have piano, organ, brass, handbells, orchestra -- the works! -- for our use. We have to have multiple projects happening on multiple levels to make each week's worship a blended and high-quality experience.

Yes, good blended worship makes effective use of many arts and senses. A blended service can have candles and banners, but it also can get away with some things you might not be able to do in a traditional service, such as passing out crayons or giving the congregation a visual symbol they can hold in their hands (a nail or smooth stone).

Further you can show movie clips or present visual art as a part of the service. I think that contemporary has the edge over traditional on using the arts and senses. The great thing about blended worship is that these elements are easier to incorporate into worship than a set of drums.

Good blended worship should involve the audience as participants and not spectators. Using the arts and affecting the senses are a big part of participation. But again, this is not easy. And that is good. Coming from the contemporary background, I am quick to admit that much of contemporary worship is too easy.

5. Blended worship incorporates today's technology into yesterday's liturgy.
Bob: Gradually technology is beginning to work its way into our worship experiences and is changing forever the face of traditional worship. It comes with the times. It has to happen or we will forever be in the pit of yesterday and have no hope of ever getting our people into the contemporary society in which they live daily.

I feel I must speak for those 50 and up. The last stronghold of tradition for many of these people is the morning worship service. The comfortable “old shoe" feeling is what many expect every Sunday, because almost everything else in their world has drastically changed.
The problem surfaces when young pastors and staff members with little life experience come barging into a traditional church and decide that the worship services will now be blended. Soon "praise and worship" music is introduced, and finally full-blown contemporary worship -- without ever asking anyone's opinion, advice or counsel.
In my opinion, that is not the right way to go about making such a major change. These changes should be more gradual. All it takes is sitting down with the key seniors in the church and selling them on the ideas that are to come. The transition would be so much smoother.

David: I don't support flooding our churches with the latest techno-gadgets. I can just see the pastor stepping up to the pulpit, asking the members to pull out their Palm Pilots and beaming the sermon to the congregation, then allowing 15 minutes of silence while we all read his or her sermon! You can blend worship without Powerpoint, a big screen and a video projector. In fact, I don't think today's technology is or should be associated with blended worship. That is more for seeker or contemporary services.

The problem with using lots of technology in a service is that it becomes very tempting to make the worship a performance. When bringing new technology into a service I would ask some basic questions like: Will this aid our worship or hinder it? Can we do just as well without it? What are the benefits of this technology? I do agree that any technology needs to be introduced slowly and deliberately. I also feel that if we begin writing new songs, hymns and choruses, we will need some new ways to introduce these to the congregation. Just try to do it with as few bells and whistles as possible.

6. Blended worship trains us to truly worship.
Bob: Being 63 years of age, and considered by many to be a "semi-traditionalist," I find myself looking forward to the day, if it comes in my lifetime, when we as God's people just worship -- without all the strings attached to terms like “blended,” “traditional” and "contemporary.”

I love worship, but in my opinion, there is a chink in the worship armor. Most of our Sunday morning worshipers don't have a clue how to worship. If they did, our world would be different. Our churches would be different. Our society would be different. Some worship leaders think that handing out crayons, small rocks, nails, bread or wine, or showing videos, using Powerpoint or dimming the lights, will allow people to worship. But it has little to no meaning to most of the people in the service.

When we in professional ministry begin to teach our people how better to worship the true and living God, then worship will take on a new dimension, regardless of what we use to make it more meaningful and personal. We will learn to truly worship when we have been taught what worship is and how we can prepare for and accomplish it every time the opportunity comes.

David: I think I agree with you, Dad! Blended worship does not have the corner on the market for being or training for true worship. True worship can happen in any style of service, at any time, and for a multitude of reasons. I'm not sure one can be trained to worship. As a worship leader, I can try my best to allow or plan or create worshipful moments throughout a service. But for individual or corporate worship to happen - that is up to the group or individual and God. In a traditional worship, it seems to me that worship happens in two places: (a) Worship happens in the routine. We are used to this prayer, this silence, this liturgy and in these familiar, repetitious moments, one can relax and center, and come into God's presence. (b) Worship happens when the routine is upset just a bit -- a surprise moment. In our routine that we are half participating in, suddenly God slips in through a moment that is new to the routine. Blended worship can 'plan' some of these 'spontaneous’ moments. If the people begin to pay closer attention to see where the routine will be interrupted, then that is all the better!

Bob Burroughs, 63, is a nationally known composer, arranger, clinician and conference leader and director of the church music department of the Florida Baptist Convention in Jacksonville. Born in Virginia, Burroughs has taught on the music faculties of Samford University, Mercer University and Palm Beach Atlantic College. He has been married to Esther Burroughs, an internationally known speaker to women's groups. They have two adult children and five “delightful” grandchildren.

David Burroughs of Louisville, Ky., is president of Passport, a Christian summer camping program for teenagers. The 35-year-old worship leader and composer holds degrees in music composition and theology, and is a self-described "student of worship." He and his wife, Colleen, have produced two CDs and two children, twins Walker and Milligan.

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