Contemporary Traditional

9 comments Written on February 18th, 2012     
Filed under: Better Together, Music, Style of Worship
Today’s post is written by Jo Anne Taylor, Director of Music and Worship at Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN.

My church took a leap of faith and launched a new worship opportunity this week. Worship is a big deal at Bethlehem Covenant. We take seriously the charge to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps 29:2). The choir sings and the organ resounds, and the congregation responds with gusto. We greet one another with the peace of Christ, we sing hymns loudly, and we respond “Thanks be to God!” when we hear the Word of the Lord.

Many years ago, when the church was growing rapidly, it considered adding a worship service to accommodate its growth, but decided to stay with one service for the sake of unity. Now we are in a new growing season, and adding The Gathering, a more-or-less contemporary approach to worship, has “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) as the next step in our growth. This addition has required a sacrificial commitment of time and energy for some of our members, but God has graciously placed in our midst a core group of talented and dedicated volunteer musicians and leaders who have eagerly taken up the challenge of creating a worship environment that honors God in a new way for our church.

When someone in the Better Together group was asked this week, “Do you think we could attract more young people to our church with better quality, more contemporary music?” I thought of the 80-somethings who worshipped in The Gathering on Sunday. I also considered the young couples who skipped The Gathering because they love our traditional worship. Clearly, age had little to do with these choices.

What attracts young people to church? Sometimes, it is the style of music, but more often, it is the recognition of an authentic desire to be more like Jesus in all we do. When our worship expresses our love for God, for one another, and for the world around us, it doesn’t matter much whether we’re singing Chris Tomlin songs or Nils Frykman songs or hymns by Charles Wesley. It does matter that we participate fully in offering our best selves to worship our God, instead of passively watching a performance by professional musicians whose skill level surpasses our own.

In the Better Together group, we continue to wrestle with the questions of musical style and worship style, and we seek to clarify what the terms contemporary and traditional really mean in the context of authentic, God-glorifying worship. Maybe you have some thoughts on this topic that you’d care to share in the comments section below. Please join the conversation!

As one of our octogenarian church members watched a couple of families gather their small children after worship on Sunday, he leaned over to me and said, “What we need now is some more old people!” I wonder what would attract more old people to our church…

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9 comments “Contemporary Traditional”

This is a great definition of worship:  “authentic desire to be more like Jesus in all we do.”  Thanks for that, because worship is so much more than just singing your heart out (when it’s your favorite song).  That entire paragraph will bless our praise band with a great perspective.  Thanks for that.

YES!!!! Thank you, Jo Ann.

Thanks for the article! I appreciate the recognition that worship preferences do not necessarily correlate with age. We need worship that invites people to encounter the God who calls us to share God’s love, and we can’t expect a “worship experience” to replace our calling.

Gavin, you have hit on one of the points from our Better Together discussion when you refer to a “worship experience.”  Could one distinction between “traditional” and “contemporary” come from the worshiper’s view of the purpose of worship?  Are traditional worshipers more likely to focus on word, while contemporary worshipers focus more on experience?  What do you think marks the difference between these two forms of worship?

I love it!  A few years ago I wrote a little rant (http://www.scribd.com/doc/34352825/Worship-Thoughts) about this very topic… your handling is more gracious and concise.  Thanks. 

I just love that you called it “The Gathering” 😉

Way to call a spade a spade.  The culture we’re living in is less concerned with the taste of the thing and more with the authenticity of what’s happening.  Groups like Mumford & Sons are so popular because they’re not afraid to be transparent with their art; it asks raw and difficult questions with which my generation in particular so strongly identifies.  They are, in a public way, “authentic” (or at least, have created the image that they are so).

To be fair though, I do think that usually, when we use the terms “traditional” and “contemporary” (or “modern”), we’re generally trying to define things in terms of music.  I don’t think we always do this on purpose, since I think most of the worship pastors would define worship as quite a bit more than merely “music” (though music is obviously a form worship CAN take), but I do think we slip into it because of the “pop-culture” definition of worship: worship is the music that happens on sunday and that it’s a product to which we must attract people.  It’s about consumption in that definition, which is why we seem so obsessed with what the style of music is; we’re so well trained to consume goods that we partake of what we like so that the market for what we want stays open (almost as if the pastoral staff is the customer relations division of the Church).

I’ve stopped calling them “worship services” or “this is our time of worship” or anything of the sort because it seems to contribute to that set of assumptions.  Currently I’m using the term “worship gathering” (an unfamiliar term that usually requires definition in the midst of conversation) to denote the fact that this is part of our worship, that we do it communally, that it IS a form of worship, but it’s only PART of the worship life of our community.

I’ll let you know when it sinks in 😉

I would submit, however, that the 2-5 year old crowd was definitely into the hand-clapping and rhythm guitar 🙂

Jo Anne couldn’t agree with you more on your thoughts on the need for authenticity above style and musical taste.  I’d like us to explore some also what are the marks of that authenticity.
As I think you already know from the facebook group but I posted on some of the fruit from our discussion of the definitions for “traditional” and “contemporary” well part 1 is now posted: http://www.priestlygoth.org/home/2012/02/22/in-defense-of-j-k-a-smith-praise-bands-and-critique-pt-1/  In case anyone here is interested in one fruit of our discussions in the Better Together group. 

Thanks, Jo Anne! I was privileged to be a part of this service and hope from the congregation’s standpoint that it seemed as authentic as it did to those involved in leading. With various less-than-satisfactory experiences in the past at other churches, I was very cautious of advocating for a “contemporary” service at our church, but truly appreciate the care with which we approached the process. I think that the Holy Spirit has blessed our efforts. Time will tell whether or not this is something we should continue, but with one service behind us, it seems to have reached several “old-timers” as well as “new-comers” in their desire for authentic worship. I guess I see the terms “traditional” and “contemporary” as simply a way to define musical styles. It becomes very complicated when we go much deeper than that. I think if we focus on that “authentic” word for all of our worship experiences, we can hardly go wrong. I so appreciate your gifts, Jo Anne, as well as those of our pastor!


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