Friday, January 8, 2010

Blend My Worship!

A while back I put together a brief comparison of “traditional” and “contemporary” worship styles. Yes, these are generalizations. However, I’ve been in 5 different denominations and so I think this is somewhat fair. I have seen both traditional and contemporary worship done well, and done poorly. We need to be careful, however, not to judge “our side” according to its best proponents and the “other side” according to its worst. All the terminology used below is meant in a positive way, there is nothing pejorative here. Hope it helps.

Tone. The tone of traditional worship is “reverence and awe” and tends to emphasize God’s exalted nature. The tone of contemporary worship is celebration and tends to emphasizes God coming near.

Style. Traditional worship is based on classical instrumentation and hymnody. Contemporary worship is composed of modern or folk forms of music and produces shorter (or at least simpler) songs.

Order. Traditional worship is more regulated and liturgical, reaping benefits of well planned or historic prayers/creeds. Contemporary worship is less regulated, creating space for spontaneity of expression.

Leadership: Traditional worship tends to be ministerial, that is, led by an ordained pastor or elder. Contemporary worship tends to be lay led, that is, led by a home grown leader.

* Traditional worship is concerned for theological clarity and tends to be more intellectual/cerebral. Contemporary worship is more concerned for the experience of God within worship and tends to be more emotional/expressive.
* Traditional worship emphasizes the corporate nature of worship, with a desire for unity in worship. For example, the creeds. This connects believers across the globe and across the centuries. Contemporary worship is more concerned for the individual and internal nature of worship. The worshiper asks, “Did I ‘enter into’ worship?”

Proof Texting: Traditional worship sees in the psalms an example of well-crafted poetry that is theologically sophisticated. Contemporary worship sees in the psalms heartfelt prayer and joyful celebration. Traditional worship crafts New Testament priorities into elements of worship that should take place weekly (such as sacraments, pastoral prayers, confessions), contemporary worship sees in the New Testament examples of spontaneity and Spirit-led expressiveness.

And the winner is: Traditional worship sees its emphasis as godly and biblical. Contemporary worship sees its emphasis as godly and biblical.

There you have it. Your field guide to worship styles!

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