Duo suggests questions to ask when choosing worship styles
___By Marv Knox
___BIRMINGHAM, Ala.--"Worship wars"--the pitched battles over music that are dividing hundreds of churches--can be avoided by focusing on a series of questions, according to a pastor and a musician.
___Milburn Price, dean of the School of Music at Samford University and minister of music at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, and Vestavia Hills Pastor Gary Furr explored "Worship Wars: Framing the Questions" at a summer Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting.
___"Other than issues of biblical inspiration, there probably has been no more divisive issue in churches than worship," Price acknowledged.
___Five key questions frame the discussion, Price and Furr said:
___ "What are the irreducible, essential aspects of worship?" Price suggested four such essentials.
___"First, in Christian worship, the community (church) gathers, understanding it is in the presence of God," he stressed.
___"Second, as they gather ... they speak to God--in confession, petition, thanksgiving, renewing commitment, etc.
___"Third, in the midst of that gathering, the word of God will come to us," he said.
___Many Christians erroneously have narrowed that message to Scripture-reading and sermons, he said. "In a variety of ways--musically, through symbols and through drama--the word of God is communicated."
___Finally, through worship "the people of God communicate to each other about their faith," what the Apostle Paul called "exhortation," Price said.
___"We can evaluate the appropriateness of anything we do in worship by these four criteria," he insisted. If an aspect of worship does not align with them, it should be questioned, he added.
___ "What are the diversions and confused motives that might keep us from true worship?" Furr cited three diversions.
___The first confusion is the sociological notion that "worship must be interesting and entertaining to be valid," he said, conceding, "It is not our purpose to say worship is better when it is dull."
___But worship is not for human entertainment, even if it might be interesting, he noted.
___A psychological distortion also confuses many Christians into thinking: "It doesn't
really matter how we worship as long as we're sincere. Style is only cultural," Furr said. "But there always is a theological component of worship. Are we proclaiming the gospel, praising God, confessing sins and affirming our faith? You still have to do these things."
|"What is the role of music in worship?" This is a foundational question, Price noted. "Until you've decided 'why music?' it makes no sense to ask, 'what music?'"
___Unfortunately, philosophical pragmatism also confuses Christians, he observed. Under this guise, worship planners focus on what "works" in order to bring more people to the church building.
___An aesthetic appeal additionally confuses worshipers, he pointed out.
___"This is a kind of elitism: The more inaccessible something is, the more transcendent it must be," he said. "Worship doesn't need to be like everything else I do during the week. What harm is there if for one hour per week we do something we don't do the rest of the week?"
___ "What is the role of music in worship?" This is a foundational question, Price noted."Until you've decided 'why music?' it makes no sense to ask, 'what music?'"
___Some people think music in worship is only "a preliminary to the main event," he said. "Preaching is not the only way we hear the word of God. Music is not merely the warm-up act."
___Other people perceive music as an aesthetic display, only present for its beauty or entertainment value, not as a medium to proclaim the gospel, Price lamented.
___But the "primary role" of worship music is to allow the people to speak to God, God to speak to the people and the people to speak to each other, he reiterated.
___"No matter how beautiful a piece of music, if it doesn't facilitate the conversation within the community of faith, it is thrown out," he said.
___ "What are we attempting to do in worship, and who decides?" Worship must "give attention to God and God's work in a way that reflects our shared understanding as the people of God," Furr said. "It's not just the pastor's or staff's agenda."
___Churches can utilize more than one style of worship music, but they won't be successful if they pick music from the ends of the spectrum, he said. For example, high-church liturgy and rock-n-roll seeker music aren't likely to be successful within the same congregation.
___"We've got to be as clear as possible (within a church) about who we are and the limits we can tolerate," Furr advised. "All worship that is vital, that brings us to the presence of God, is 'contemporary.'"
___He outlined several options for determining the type of worship music a church will use.
___First is to "determine one identity, do it well and don't worry," he noted. "I actually send people who are looking for another style of worship to other churches. The clearer you are about who you are, the less confused are the signals."
___Second is a switch to another worship style. "This needs to grow from a felt need in the church, not just based on the last conference the pastor or minister of music went to," he cautioned. Churches that follow this plan must engage in discussion, build consensus and prepare for some tension, he said.
___Third is to utilize a blended worship, with more than one musical style, he said, noting this only works when the styles are relatively close.
___Fourth is to offer different kinds of services at different times, such as contemporary and traditional services on Sunday morning or a seeker service on Saturday night. "Pastor, be careful, lest you despise one and love the other," he warned of this approach.
___Churches that take this approach might want to start an intentionally different congregation as a mission of the more traditional church, he noted.
___Fifth is an option that applies to all the others: "Talk together and craft a document on who we are in worship," Furr suggested.
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