Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Missional Perspective on Church Worship

I've been involved in several discussions lately about worship style, and at the same time, I've been reading a book called, The Present Future by Reggie McNeal. In it, he challenges the church to become more intentional about focusing their ministries and energies on those outside the church rather than on the "club members" inside the church. He (along with many others) calls this kind of church a "missional church" - where people are exploring and discovering what it means to be Jesus' sent people as their identity and vocation. Obviously, this mentality and focus has far-reaching implications on all areas of life, like family, work, and church, but what he says about how a missional focus ought to impact a church's worship style is worth noting. Here's what he says...
I am proposing that missiology come into prominence, both as a theological pursuit and as a guiding operational paradigm. Even the issues that have captured the church’s attention should be framed against the backdrop or under the overarching theme of missiology. For instance, the discussion of worship unfortunately often occurs without a missiological perspective. Witness the church worship wars. These are the result of club members discussing their worship style preferences as stockholders and stake holders, not as missionaries.

The usual goal is to find something that club members like. We’ve all heard discussions among church leaders involving questions such as, “Can nonbelievers really worship God?” or “Should our worship be seeker-sensitive or seeker-driven?” as though worship is not a powerful evangelistic tool to express the church’s mission in the world! Nonbelievers are already worshiping, because people are built to worship something. Our challenge is to upgrade their worship to worship of the true God.
This "missional" perspective must be included in the discussion of what music should be played on a Sunday morning during the worship service. The worship music cannot just be targeted toward the likes and preferences of the "club members." We must take into consideration the evangelistic power of the songs we sing.

On any given Sunday, there are scores of people that attend churches all across America who have not placed their faith and trust in Christ. These are not just the random people who stop in one Sunday a year, but these are also people who attend church every week and faithfully serve. As church leaders consider what songs to sing, what prayers to pray, and what sermons to preach, this reality must be taken into consideration.

Some may call this approach "seeker-sensitive" and may react negatively to it. But if we understand that God has called us to live like missionaries 24/7 among our neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends, then making sure that even our Sunday morning worship service has a missional flavor to it is essential.


Mike Potter said...

The following is a comment I received on my Facebook page in response to this blog post:

Our church has 3 different services that go on at the same time and the Pastor is piped into 2 of them. One is major rock, one hymns, and one Christian Contemporary. So I feel this is an interesting way a large church has handle an ever growing church issue. It works for us...thanks for sharing your blog!!

Trace Musser Dillman, Columbus, OH

Natros said...

One consideration about being missional, though, is understanding that many in our culture understand very little about Jesus, the meaning of his death & resurrection, and our relationship to him. As you said, the prayers we pray, the songs we sing, and the sermons we(you?) preach must be considered in light of how they will be understood by those we are trying to reach out to.

With that in mind, my biggest problem with most praise songs, as opposed to more traditional hymnody is that the majority of praise choruses that we sing have little content to teach or instruct us about God's character, His life, death, & resurrection, or our renewed relationship with him. So many songs that we sing, even at Foothills, seem to focus on how "cool" or powerful God is, and how much I/we like/love him (leaving aside the weirdness of singing nearly romantic love songs to Jesus). While these are good sentiments in the proper context, I am increasingly convinced that a non-christian entering our midst on an average Sunday morning would come away knowing little or nothing about the *substance* of what we believe.

In this regard, many older hymns are markedly different from modern songs because of their focus on the character of God. Ideally, we should be teaching people through (and learning from) our worship music just as much as through the preaching and our care for people. I will certainly acknowledge that there are hymns that are fluffy and feel-good, and there are modern songs with substantive lyrics, but as a general rule, those don't seem to be the ones we sing these days.

Please note, though, that this has little or nothing to do with musical style, in my mind. I'd love to hear songs that are theologically sound and don't sound like funeral dirges. I've heard arrangements of hymns that sound more "modern," as well as recent songs that don't resort to archaic language to communicate real lessons about our Faith. Ideally, I think we should be using modern musical styles (and there's a wide variety of genres that can be included in that), coupled with substantive, instructional or meditative lyrics that engage both our minds and our spirits. I can dream, right? :-)

Mike Potter said...

Thanks for chiming in Nathan! I agree that one of the main functions of our singing should be to teach and instruct. I also believe that another main function of our singing should be to respond to the revelation of God's Word in our lives and in our church. So, singing songs that tell God of our love for Him and our confidence in His power is another function of our singing.

I think the goal should be to strike a healthy balance between singing to instruct and singing to respond to the instruction we've already heard. By blending hymns (the more modern the arrangement the better!) and modern choruses of response, hopefully we can strike that balance.

Evonne said...

Why "the more modern the arrangement the better"? I appreciate all kinds of music and often enjoy a "more modern" version of a hymn, but I don't understand the love affair with modernity. I think Nathan has expressed it very well. A great deal of good theological instruction has been lost by forfeiting substance. In some cases losing some of the old hymns and songs has been good because they were not theologically sound and the music was corny-a reflection of whatever relevancy trap the church was in at the time. But we fail our children by not teaching them to love our rich Christian heritage. There is nothing wrong with developing a distinct culture as Christians. I think one of the reasons Christians are so confused about the difference between themselves and the world is because we have worked so hard to be relevant that we are not effective in the world and we do not know what it means not to be of the world. I read recently that the word Christian should be a noun and should not be used as an adjective. I think that is an excellent idea. Maybe then we would focus more on Whose we are and Who we worship. Then all our attempts are feeble relevancy would become extraneous. Then the gifts and talents of each generation of Christians would be uniquely expressed in adoration and worship to the Lord and we wouldn't be so self-consciously audience and performance driven. Worship should be more about God. If we worship Him well we cannot fail to be missional.

Mike Potter said...

Hey. Hey. Hold on! I don't have a love affair with modernity nor am I promoting one. Meatballs, yes. McDonald's, probably. But modernity, no.

All I was saying is that I think that the more modern arrangements of the hymns are more suitable to connecting the message of the hymns with today's culture. I'm thinking - for instance - of my daughters. I want them to learn to love and appreciate the hymns, but the traditional arrangements with the traditional instruments (organ and piano) probably won't do it for them. More modern arrangements - like those on Jadon Lavik's new album, Roots Run Deep, will connect better with many people unfamiliar with the beautiful hymn heritage many of us "older" people have grown up with. Slapping down a Second Chapter of Acts CD full of hymns just won't cut it with my girls.

Relevancy is essential if we're going to connect younger people to the rich heritage of the faith that you and I have grown up with. I'm not talking about relevancy to the exclusion of things like hymns. I'm talking about relevancy in order to communicate things like the hymns in a way that will be received by those who do not associate the hymns with good "faith memories" like Sunday night hymns signs, powerful revivals, and warm, intimate camp fires.

And by the way, I was listening to the radio this morning when a "modern" worship song came on. Its fluff and repetition annoyed me so much that I changed the channel! See!!