Empty pews Early in my tenure with TBC I perceived a decline in active worship participation in many of our churches. Through that assessment I sense that the Lord put me on a path of prayer, study, and concern that we have a serious need for worship renewal in many of our churches. I do not think it coincidental that our churches have been tagged with the “plateaued or declining” status reportedly attached to more than 80% of TBC churches and the subsequent need for revitalization. One of the Five Objectives in the vision adopted at the Annual Meeting last November addresses revitalization of 500 TBC churches over the next ten years. Given my ministry trajectory it is little wonder that my heart so readily and fiercely resonates with the that objective. While priority is placed on seeing these churches baptize new believers, I am also convinced that renewed worship will be both an aspect of the revitalization process and also an evidence that rejuvenation is taking place as we see the Lord at work. I believe churches will once again sing the sweet, sweet song of salvation, and we will know it.

Last Thursday I got to sit in on one of Wayne Causey’s class discussions at Belmont with his undergraduate students. He shot me a text message inviting me to join, knowing that I had been in doctorate sessions with Constance Cherry at the Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Wayne’s class discussion Thursday centered on readings from Dr Cherry’s book, The Worship Architect. I jumped at the opportunity because I am adapting some of my metaphors in worship renewal discussions to match up with her four structural walls of worship, and plan to use this in efforts toward worship renewal. I wanted to hear the students interact with the material, and I wanted to interact with them. Plus I got to hang out with Wayne a little while on a Thursday. It was very informative and encouraging to hear 18 -21 year olds’ observations of some of what happens in worship. As has been the case every time I have had similar opportunities to address and interact with students at Union, Carson Newman, our seminaries, and other schools, I found plenty to garner hope for a bright future of thoughtful worship leadership.

The particular section toward the end of the book that was being addressed at length in Wayne’s class was the section on style. As we discussed these I felt they deserved to be highlighted for those of us leading churches in worship and praying toward renewal. The premise in Constance’s thinking is her definition of worship style.

Style in worship is the way a certain faih community expresses the content of its worship (liturgy) as a result of a its given context.[1]

She gives Five Myths about Worship Style that merit prayerful review by every Worship Leader. She prefaces these myths by emphasizing that “style alone cannot carry the weight of worship renewal. Style isn’t big enough or important enough or universal enough to do that.”[2]

Myth 1: Style Is Content

Content is the material of worship, the essence of Who it is for and about, and the materials and actions that facilitate our corporate conversation with God in Christ – things such as reading and hearing Scripture, praying, singing, witnessing, affirming the truths of the Christian faith, communing at the Table, presenting offerings, presenting ourselves, silence, and so forth. Style, on the other hand, is not what we do, but the manner in which we express what we do. It may deliver content, but is not content itself. *Renewal in worship is never accomplished by changing the style.

Myth 2: Style is Structure

Structure has to do with ordering the content of worship. It is the shape of the communion with God in Christ. It gives logic and order to our gathered conversation with God. Style, however, is the language and manner with which we converse. *Renewal will never come from restructuring worship or changing the style of the structure used. The historic structure (gathering, Word ,Table ,sending) can be done in a myriad of styles.

Myth 3: Style Has Only to Do with Music

Style is much broader than music style alone, but rather encompasses many aspects of worship. It includes the version of scripture used for readings, and the language of prayers. Style includes atmosphere, architecture, technology, accepted attire, and so forth.

Myth 4: Style Has the Potential to Bring People Together

Nothing related to worship has been quite as divisive as style issues in the last several decades.   Finding the right style will not bring people together in unity and peace. What draws people together is being in community with other Christians – the gift of God’s grace.

Myth 5: Style Impacts Church Growth Positively

This is a myth promoted with millions of dollars through an industry developed in an effort to capitalize on financial opportunities of churches experiencing decline and hungering for a “magic bullet” to grow their church like someone else’s church in someone else’s context. There is no study that shows that the use of a certain worship style will result in church growth. Studies of growing churches worshiping in various styles resulted in demonstrative responses expressed in words like exciting, celebrative, joyful, expectant, warm, spirit of revival, exuberant, spirit of revival. This was the case in formal and informal settings indicating the spirit of the worship is more important than its style or the type of music used. *Church growth will not be accomplished simply by a change of style in music.

For full explanation and rich material on worship planning and structure I highly recommend this book by a wonderful thinker and excellent communicator. Meanwhile, pray for renewal in our worship and in our churches.

[1] Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics 2010) 227.

[2] Ibid., 223

About Paul Clark Jr

Worshiper, student of worship. Graduate of Robert E Webber Institute for Worship Studies (DWS), Director of Worship & Music Ministries for Tennessee Baptist Convention. Musician, Clinician, Conference Leader, Teacher, Author, Worship Music Leader, Husband, Father, Grandfather, fellow traveler.

Posted on March 2, 2015, in Tennessee Music Ministers, Tennessee Pastors, Worship Leaders, Worship Renewal, Youth Choir and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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