An interesting read for Lutheran eyes…
An interesting read for Lutheran eyes…
Note from CM: This piece from Michael Spencer is five years old. During that time, I have been worshiping mostly in a Lutheran church where these observations don't apply. I've been a bit out of the loop on what has been happening on Sunday mornings in the non-liturgical evangelical world. So, I'll need you, our readers, to help us all get up to speed. How do iMonk's observations still apply, and what's been happening since he wrote these words?
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Here in Kentucky, where the worship wars/generational church division is everywhere and spreading, many churches are attempting to navigate the rocks of a potential church split by using multiple services.
I've been associated with multiple services since 1984, when I joined the staff of a large church that had both an 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. service. Most of my ministry friends are involved in multiple service options and an increasing number of them are doing a "traditional" service early, and a "contemporary" or "blended" service mid-morning. I'm aware of churches doing contemporary first, or even on another day (or evening,) but the contemporary service is increasingly the "lead" service in the Baptist churches I am aware of that are trying to navigate the various divisions that are tearing many churches apart.
This Sunday I found myself at one of the larger churches in our state, a leading traditional SBC church in a downtown setting. This is a church that did well in the heyday of the SBC up into the 1980′s, but has found the waters more challenging since. A large group of younger members split from the congregation several years ago to start a Purpose Driven church plant. This only delayed the inevitable generational and stylistic stress that a church with large numbers of senior adults and an interest in reaching younger families will feel.
The most recent approach- and one that appears to be working- has been to put the "traditional" service early and to make the 11:00 a.m. service a contemporary service later.
So what do we have here? I attended the "traditional" service (an excellent time of worship where I was warmly welcomed) and here's the scorecard, with "T" for traditional and "C" for contemporary.
Instruments-T Piano and Piper Organ, both played very well.
Liturgy- C (Very informal. No call to worship, no scripture readings, no Doxology, lots of walking around, ministers chatting informally. A reading of the Prayer of St. Francis was the benediction.)
Music- Interestingly, the tunes were traditional, but the lyrics were all new, so this comes off as T/C, I suppose. A solo was in the "T" category, though just barely, while a robed choir did a very contemporary chorus.
Video-C (A dramatic video clip preceded the sermon, but the screen was retracted during the sermon. No projection used at all during the sermon, which appeared to me to be a concession to the concern of some people not to replace the Bible with projection.)
Printed Material- C (A Bible between two tennis shoes was shown on the cover art of the order of service. A "Fill in the blank" sermon guide was given to everyone. Both appeared to be pre-packaged.)
Sermon- C (A prepackaged series. Verse by verse teaching, but anything requiring exposition or theological explanation beyond the basics wasn't there. Good, practical, well-illustrated, but extremely conversational, considerably more than Rick Warren, who probably was the author of the outline.)
Invitation- C (Speaking in terms of traditional SBC invitations, it was almost a non-existent event. Good for them.)
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What's my point? First, it appears to me that the "traditional" service was pretty contemporary. In fact, if the traditionalism I was seeing is typical, then aside from the instruments and the actual music, there was little that could be called traditional other than the fact that the music and instruments weren't offensive to those in the older generations. I believe the contrast with the contemporary service would have been more the absence of certain elements rather than the presence of anything.
Second, "traditional" apparently doesn't mean much in the way of modest liturgical order, scripture lessons, sung responses, less conversational tone, traditional choral music or other components of traditional worship as this type of SBC church would have done it in the past. This was a service that would have seemed very informal 30 years ago.
Third, it appears to me that "contemporary" and "traditional" are not real choices, but options on a line where we've already capitulated to much that is contemporary, and now we're deciding how much the band can encourage dancing in the contemporary service.
As a post-evangelical hoping for real reformation in the SBC, I lament the loss of real choices I can see in these developments. My hosts told me that the traditional service is growing, and I can see why. But I have to wonder if it occurs to anyone that we might not just be wanting something "less contemporary." Perhaps someone is longing for real tradition, more tradition and the actual reverence for God and reality of God that comes with the best fruits of tradition.
The "traditional" service is still waiting to reappear in most churches. It's been obscured by the church growth focus, revivalism and wrong ideas about worship and evangelism as much as by the Purpose Driven movement, the Seeker Sensitive movement and the emerging church. I believe there are many people who are seeing a side to the "contemporary" direction of their worship that reveals its inherent tenuous, shallow, trendy nature. They will show up at the "traditional" option.
Perhaps the real innovation for most churches would be to re-embrace the best of their own tradition and the Christian tradition together.