Worship: Exchanging Hip for Intergenerational

Zac HicksConvergence of Old and New in Worship, Worship Style, Worship Theology & Thought4 Comments

Our church has been on an ongoing quest to integrate ministries and capitalize on one of the things many congregations don’t have—an age spread.  We’ve come to the conclusion that ministry to one another and to the world will only be as effective as we move to a ministry/mission model which is: (1) less program-driven and more people-centered; (2) less segregated and more integrated and intergenerational.

In a recent post, Pastor Tullian Tchividjian pointed out that their church opted for two blended services as opposed to a “traditional” and a “contemporary” service.  The reasoning (which I support 100%) was that the Gospel beckons us to both unity and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

Yesterday, we sang the following songs in our worship service:

“How Firm a Foundation” (a new melody to a classic hymn, due out on our next album)
“O Worship the King” (traditional hymn-tune)
“Holy, Holy, Holy” (traditional hymn)
“Holy is the Lord” (Tomlin)
“I Surrender All” (traditional hymn…really got the Baptists going among us)
“From the Inside Out” (Hillsong…just a few years old)

So yesterday was actually weighted more toward the “traditional” than the “contemporary.”  In my worship philosophy, I don’t necessarily believe that one can achieve a perfect balance of old and new in every service (and whenever I’ve tried I’ve ended up pulling my hair out).  More often, I’m seeking a balance of old and new over weeks or even months. 

Seeking balance in worship is not necessarily the hip thing to do.  If you want to be hip, you’ll be more homogeneous in style and song-selection, and you’ll weight your selections toward that which resonates with the younger folk.

It’s certainly a lamentable travesty that our culture has so conditioned us to have preferences for the songs that we sing in worship.  (Our brothers and sisters in Ghana, with whom our church has an ongoing missional connection, know very little of being able to choose what one eats, much less what worship songs one gets to sing on Sunday.) It’s equally sad that preferences are often segregated along generational lines.  We certainly need the Gospel to massage these selfish tendencies out of us.  But in the meantime, when people often connect in worship with only a certain subset of material, I believe we need to choose the road less traveled and plan our worship in ways that connect to the hearts of multiple generations.  This means that we’ll be willing to not have every song be our “heart song.”  Even more than that, this means that we’ll still choose to participate in such songs, because the call of the Gospel and the glory of Christ are far more weighty to us than our own preferences.

Because of these realities, I believe that hip and intergenerational are at odds.  The above set didn’t win any hip awards.  I even received one comment yesterday (friendly, yet still a bit critical) that “worship was old school.”  But if the bottom line isn’t “attracting young people” but expressing physically how the Gospel brings very different types of people together around the cross, then our worship should look quite different from hip.

Personally, I think many churches—including my own—have a long way to go in this.   More grace for the journey, please. 

4 Comments on “Worship: Exchanging Hip for Intergenerational”

  1. Zac –

    I feel I understand where you're coming from. The church I currently lead at is limited to one service. I am always trying to "balance" things out. It certainly is difficult to "please" everyone, and yet I have strived as of late to seek the Spirit on what our congregation needs to sing rather than what we want to sing.

    This leads me to choose songs that fit with were I sense people are at. Sometimes those are new songs. Sometimes those are older "hymns." It also leads me to write songs for our congregation to sing that create a uniquely "Aspen Grove" culture.

    I appreciate to hear that you are seeking a balance as well. Grace to you as you seek to give words and melodies to your congregation.

    Note: I hate my obnoxious overuse of "air quotes"

  2. Hey Zac!

    Keep up the good fight, my brother! I am reminded of Bonhoeffer who said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." We can't just preach this…we must incarnate it in all we say and do as a church and that starts with our worship. As you know, we are wrestling with this issue as well but I believe with all my heart that it is exactly the right kind of fight we should be having for we are battling, literally, for the soul of our faith!

    Couple of things I have learned over ten years of ministry…first, make sure you are surrounded by leaders who are on board. It is an awful and frightening feeling to get so far out in front of God's people that you find yourself all alone. Second, keep the main thing, the main thing and that is the Word of God. The key isn't so much balance as it is about conveying the Word that the Lord has for His people on that particular day. May the Lord bless you as you lead God's people towards the Kingdom!

  3. Zac, I think you are spot-on. I think what you are saying about merging styles of worship is more than a good idea; it's esstential for the body in the local church. However, what Doug Resler said is very wise, and that is don't "get so far out in front of God's people that you find yourself all alone." He was referring to the leaders, but I also would say the same about the congregation. Some of the gray-hair in the congregation at CCPC are there – in part – because their former churches disbanded the traditional sytle of worship in favor of 'rock & roll'. Their biggest fear when you start tinkering with the style of worship is that they are going to end up with what they left. They need to be carefully educated and the transition needs to be gradual and carefully explained.

    I've seen you introduce 'traditional music' with a new sound very effectively in the blended service. But couldn't we do some of the same with the choir in the traditional service? Are there contemporary composers rewriting familiar anthems? You'll never rewrite Handel's Messiah, but is there any limit to the number of ways Psalm 150 can be composed? And start having the choir sing in the blended service more often. Carefully and gradually blend the two services; eventually it won't matter which service one attends.

  4. Zac,
    I so appreciate your balanced approach to the ministry of worship in the church. This issue is often so polarizing to local bodies and I have been through more than my share of squabbles. My experience has taught me two very basic principles which are vital to successful leadership:
    1.Authenticity — We must be real. We must be honest. We must be transparent. NOBODY likes a phony. One of the major problems with trying to be hip in church is, TRYING to be hip in church. Some folks are just hip and some of us just aren't! If I came to church with acid washed jeans and a scroll-screen-printed dress shirt and a gold necklace there would be snickering in the halls. Not because those choices are wrong but because everyone would know, that is NOT who I am. We often make the mistake in thinking that folks are attracted to folks like them. I think it is more true that folks are attracted to folks comfortable in their own skin. People who are real. As a worship leader I must start with what moves ME to worship and then ask folks to join me in worshipping. This principle makes it easy for me to NOT disrespect the worship styles and tastes of other folks when I know it is authentic.
    2. Growth — The first principle does not give me license to be selfish or stagnant. As Christians, we are called to perpetual self-examination, to a lingering sense of questioning one's own motives. Even though I begin with moves me I cannot end there. I must be growing. I must be striving to know more of HIm and what He appreciates. Do we really think heaven's music will be all choral anthems? Of course not. I personally feel that a problem with most "blended" worship is that it is not blended enough. Why are we only blending pop with traditional? Why not blend multiple genres? Yes, I know there are the constraints within our music teams but we could invite others in to worship with us. They could introduce other cultural aspects of American worship. At any rate, let's be committed to not getting stuck to only what is "acceptable."

    My sincere thanks that you engender these two principles so well. May God keep you in His Care.

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