Where is Our Worship Headed?
When I talk to people that I meet about Northpoint (which I love to do, because I love our church), they almost invariably ask: “What’s your church like?”
It’s a great question. And it gives me a chance to share some of our distinctives—some of the things that make us unique as a body of believers—such as: our commitment to expositional, Christ-centered preaching; our missional versus attractional model of ministry; leadership by a plurality of elders; our faithfulness to Reformational theology.
Of course, there are more. And all of those aforementioned require some explaining. But of all our distinctives, the one that prompts the most follow-up questions, is our commitment to blended worship.
What is “Blended Worship”?
To be sure, definitions and opinions of blended worship run the gamut. Not surprising, I suppose, is the number of folks who balk at blended worship, arguing that adopting this approach is the best way to “frustrate as many people as possible” and “cause everyone to be angry.”
One worship leader (facetiously?) summarizes the effect of blended worship this way: “When the band plays the contemporary song, all the contemporaries get into it and love it while the traditionalists fold their arms or hold their ears. When the traditional song is played, all the traditionalists sing out while the contemporaries yawn and cross their arms in boredom.”
I think there’s some truth to that summary, but I don’t think it has to be that way. Furthermore, I think this conclusion reveals a truncated grasp on what blended worship truly is.
Sadly, the term “blended worship” has come to mean: a style of worship that combines old and new music. The blending is nothing more than the melding of musical styles. Consequently, planning a worship service becomes primarily about programming a certain percentage of old songs (hymns) and new songs (choruses) in order to pacify as many as possible. And pacifying a multi-generational audience is a tall order. This challenge is exacerbated by questions like, “Which to do we build upon, hymns or choruses?”
I think this is the wrong question … and approach. It sounds helpful but it’s a bit like the pervasive 90s question related to church ministry: “Do we want to be a church with small groups or of small groups?” It sounds sophisticated, but it’s actually a bit specious.
I like the definition that Constance Cherry of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship offers; she says blended worship “is the combining of the historical and the contemporary at every level of worship to create maximum opportunities for engaging worshipers with the presence of God.” A friend of mine calls this being rooted and relevant.
If we strive to combine the historical (i.e., ancient Christian practices) and contemporary at every level, then we stop getting hung up on musical style and, instead, endeavor to unite people in Christ-exalting, humble, rooted, reverent, theologically rich worship that engages the heart and mind.
How do we combine historical and contemporary “at every level”?
We do so by telling a single gospel-narrative, accentuating the part of the Grand Story of Redemption (or attribute of the God of Redemption) highlighted in the preached passage, through numerous elements that vary week-to-week, such as:
:: Scripture Reading
:: Various Types of Prayer (responsive, bidding, praise, assurance, renewal, Lord’s Prayer)
:: Story (testimony)
:: Artistic Expression (banners, paintings, poetry, etc.)
:: Creeds or Affirmations
:: The Lord’s Table
:: Mission Emphases
These elements (among others) can be bracketed by fast or slow music, hymns or brand new songs, a large orchestra or only a single instrument, loud or soft music. The music will change as will the elements employed to facilitate Christ-centered and gospel-saturated worship.
As worship pastor Travis Agnew says: “Our worship will be diverse because our people are diverse. Our worship will have biblical approaches and lyrics because we adore the Bible. One week it might be black gospel, bluegrass, or monastic, but it will be whatever we feel like that can best glorify God that day according to what Scripture we are teaching. No formula. No study group. No lobbyists. Jesus, Jesus, and then some more Jesus.”
Music style becomes secondary (or tertiary) and the God that we worship becomes primary.
As we at Northpoint search for a Director of Worship (or Pastor of Worship, should God move in that direction) we are not looking for someone simply to cleverly balance old and new songs, so as to please various age-groups within the congregation, but someone to lead God’s people in a response to God’s presence and provision, a response of such reverence, joy and gratitude that it makes matters of musical preferences seem inappropriate and absurd.