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New vs. Old Worship

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Every weekend across this great nation, and throughout the world, people gather in various forms and fashions to praise the Almighty God, the Great I Am. In some contexts, voices are the only type of instrument that one can experience; in other contexts, there is a 20-piece band on stage with four or five vocalists.  In any context, including and between these two “extremes,” there exists a tension that some overlook; others handle with astute awareness; and then there may be those who are just downright terrible in maintaining.  The tension exists in every church, in every context to some degree. It is the Old vs. the New. For the specific manifestation here, I will call it the Modern vs. Post-modern thought.

The easiest way to go about setting the stage for the ongoing discussion in this portion of the Church Collective is to give personality to our “schools” of thought. I’ll use the human form of a man only because I am one and understand men a little more than I do ladies.

The Modern thought process could possibly be described as your grandfather, and not in a negative way.  He’s a tough, well seasoned man that has cared for his family through just about everything that life can throw at him. He was probably born soon after World War II (look it up, it’s kind of a big deal) and graduated college sometime in the 60’s or 70’s, maybe even the early 80’s, if ever attending college.  He may even be the Senior Minister. The way this man goes about his business and the way he thinks about his church are very distinct. There is no time or tolerance for “funny business.” “The gospel has stayed the same for thousands of years. So why does the church need to change how it handles the teaching of the Bible and the way it interacts with culture?” This man says. For him, worship is something that brings with it memories of childhood church attendance with family members. His grandmother’s favorite hymn, the VBS program that led him to Jesus, or the “teen” overnighter where he finally connected the Jesus in his head to the Jesus in his heart. Worship by and large is something that is cerebral, it may be emotional for this man, but good look on finding anything emotive about his worship experience. For the most part, he doesn’t understand why the church needs a “concert” and new songs to sing about Jesus. Hymns have been around hundreds of years. He is genuine in his worship and desires the “younger crowd” to find his deep and abiding love for Jesus. There is the tension.

Our Post-modern thought process could be described as that young guy that has a good voice and can play guitar. He may wear skinny jeans and a deep V-neck with a scarf around his neck. He’s probably fresh out of high school or college. He’s definitely not in his 30’s. (We all know that your 30’s are where Worship guys go to die, SMH). He’s young, idealistic, energetic and knows “what worship truly is.” For our post-modern guy, it’s all about the heart of the matter. Who cares if the song is sing-able or familiar to his congregation’s context. It’s powerful and he likes the way it sounds, it also doesn’t hurt that he can do cool things with his Strymon’s during the song. Worship is about an experience to this guy. It’s not uncommon for him to walk off the platform with tears streaming down his face from worship. Worship is deeply personal and intense. He has no fear of showing emotion during his worship experience, in fact, if he didn’t show emotion during worship, he would feel like he was being fake and not leading from an authentic place. He has no desire to put on concert or a show, he is genuine in his presentation of what is happening within him during the worship set. He has a strong desire to show no disrespect for the traditions of the church, he just sees his friends and some of his family walking away from church calling it “archaic.” There is the tension.

So, how do these two guys get along? Both have tension within themselves, and others, for the ongoing church life. And these tensions have led to what have been called the “worship wars.” For at least the short term, though, these tensions aren’t going anywhere. Therein lies the difficulty, and beauty, of a multi-generational church learning to live in the culture we face. And each context is different.  How would one enlighten Modern and post-modern so that both could come together as one team? That’s what this on-going conversation will attempt to convey.

We’ll spend moments inside the Monday morning meeting these two gentlemen have as they discuss the weekend services.

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One Response to “New vs. Old Worship”

  1. I think you paint too poor a picture of the guy born soon after WWII. I am one of those guys. What you paint is the exact same written description of the church leaders when I was a teen in the 60’s and early 70’s. Flower child. Psychedelic music, free love, free speech, free everything. I loved our wild music and radical attitudes. I came to know the Lord as a late teen thru that old stick in the mud church. I still loved our generational music and radical thinking but I loved the Lord and came to love the hymns as they spoke to me in ways that more modern Christian songs did not. I also embraced the newer Christian songs in the way we all do…some I liked, some I didn’t. I’m now in my 60’s. The younger generation of church leadership seems to think I’m that same old guy that was my church leader when I was a teen. I assure you that I am not. I am still that 60’s radical thinker who likes new ideas and new music to reach the lost.

    What has changed is a wave of new “worship experience” taking over our churches. Our bright sanctuary, the one where you could see your friends and neighbors worshiping with you, has been changed into a dark dungeon. Windows covered with blackout shades. New lighting to enhance the stage. Hymns replaced with loud, assaulting, chanting music without melody flashed on big screens. Musicians who pound and scream their music and, yes, walk off stage with tears flowing down their cheeks, later over heard claiming how it was the most meaningful and wonderful worship ever. Sunday school gone for the adults. Children’s ministries now Kid’s zone conducted during adult services. Week night community groups where adults are told to “drill down” into the Sunday sermon and grow together.

    What is wrong is that this new wave of worship activity has taken the joy of worship from those you refer to as born soon after WWII .

    -That musician may have had an ecstatic experience but it was his alone. I came away assaulted, agitated and put in a mood where I could not worship. Most of those post WWII group feeling the same pain. Sometimes the music leader announcing on rare occasion, ” This is an old hymn. Most of you won’t recognize it but try to follow”. I look around the congregation and 60% or more of the attendees are over 55. Gray hair. We all sing it from memory. No need for the large screen TV’s and projection screens.

    -The dark environment is so depressing. This world is so dark and heavy right now that we don’t need more darkness. I need to feel light on my Sundays. I need see my friends and fellow attendees when I worship. It gives me a sense of belonging, purpose and family.

    -Loss of Sunday adult study. I need to be in a study environment where I commune with my fellow adult church family. Sunday school was a place where we could put aside our M-F world and do in-depth studies, share ideas and get to know each other. Sunday was the best time for it because it is a day set aside. Week night community groups is burdened by the events of our work days and the needs of kids often involved in school activities.

    -We are admonished to not express our concerns. Take your concerns to an elder but don’t talk amongst yourselves. Somehow it is a sin to have concerns. Been there, done that. No change because we are “reaching new people”. Yet I see a few newcomers. Few stay.

    -I so dislike this new worship environment, program, experience or whatever it may be called. Supporting something that hurts me spiritually seems wrong.

    -The worst of it is that I can no longer recommend my church. This hurts my ability to witness and mentor, things I have done for 45 yrs as a Christian.

    I have been a leader in my church for 30+ years. Sunday school superintendent, deacon, chairman of the deacon/elder board. Initially I agreed to support this change because there are unreached in our community that we have not been able to reach with how we were doing things. We tried many different programs over the years. So we adopted this change with the admonition that “if it doesn’t work we’ll change it”. The changes were not without significant expense. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in building, lighting, sound systems. It is now 4 yrs into the new program. We have not seen the growth predicted nor reached the intended unreached population. Our over 50 group, those who are the majority of church members, has been effectively marginalized and silenced. Their needs are not being met. Some of them have left our fellowship. Members leaving.

    A friend who has been in the church a little longer than I sadly said, “I’ve lost my church.” Before you say that it isn’t his church, it is Gods take a moment to think about your response. When you think about the church you attend and enjoy, don’t you somewhere inside feel, “This is my church.” It is not a claim to ownership. It is a statement of being. Like, “I’m home.”

    In our effort to reach the unreached in today’s world I believe we have lost sight of the needs of those born soon after WWII. I know that they have put their hearts and souls into their church and fellowship over their lifetime. I know because I have done so and done so along side of others, like me born soon after WWII. We have a heart for the unreached. We are becoming the unreached.

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