Have you ever thought something has gone away and will never return? I have thought that on a number of occasions and been wrong. Vinyl Records were overtaken by first 8-Track tapes, then cassette tapes took over. Cassette tapes gave way to CD’s, and CD’s eventually were supplanted by digital music files. And then…vinyl came back. WHAT?!
Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s the ‘worship wars’ were all the rage. Churches debated endlessly whether it was better to stick with the old hymns, use more modern music, instrumentation and choruses-heavy worship or maybe do a little of both. The debates were often billed as being ‘seeker sensitive’ versus ‘maintenance mode’ worship orientations. The discussions often had more heat associated with them than light. Since I was just starting ministry during this time period I remember having many discussions with other pastors about the best way to proceed.
Last week I found this was one of the ‘old becomes new’ discussions. A very animated discussion took place on a pastor’s forum I am involved in, and it generated a heavy sense of Deja Vu in me.
So, what is the real answer here? Is there one? Well, as a matter of fact, there is an answer. The answer is that it depends on your context. The problem herein is that this is not a nice, clean answer for pastors. We want someone to tell us that if we use a particular worship pattern that our churches will grow, we will reach new people, that the church will be healthy and will fit the Biblical patterns established in Acts. It is akin to the statement often heard when people from various faith traditions get together and they start having ecclesiology debates. The statement invariably comes out, “Our church follows the New Testament form and pattern better than any other church”. To which my comment is, “WHICH New Testament church are you talking about? Acts 2? The Church at Ephesus? The Church in Jerusalem? The Church at Rome? Galatia? Philippi? Corinth?” Each of these churches was unique in some way, and fit the context of their region. In the same way, we need to fit our church and it’s worship to the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves.
In my own circumstances we have a number of people who have been in the church for many years, and who really appreciate the old hymns. We also have a number of younger people who prefer the newer choruses. So, we host a blended worship service. Almost a year ago we tried moving to a much more contemporary format, and frankly it was a disaster. No one, not even the younger people, liked the format. For us the blended format is what works. Some churches in our area find that the contemporary format is more appreciated, and some find that a strictly traditional and even liturgical format is best.
The lesson from this is simple. Don’t get caught up in these kind of debates which attempt to fix one form or format to everyone. There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ church. God has made a wonderfully diverse church which has many appearances, and consequently many differing needs. Pray about it, ask your people, and do an honest evaluation. Then, and only then, decide if a change is needed.
1 Cor 12:27 (NIV)