Worship Styles: One Essential Ingredient

Worship Style Questions
What’s the best worship style?
Should we add a service with a different worship style?
Which worship style will draw more people?
Which worship style is the most spiritually authentic?

Worship Style Statements
“I would never go to a church who worships that (fill in the blank) way”
“That kind of worship is too shallow – it’s all hype. They’ll come back when they need more depth.”
“That kind of worship is too boring – it’s just a duty. They’ll come over when they get too dry.”

Few other activities in churches can generate so much fervor as worship styles. This over-the-top reaction reminds me of those lines from a hymn by Frederick W. Faber, “There Is A Wideness In God’s Mercy,” published in 1854:

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Wow, this line really describes how many clergy, church staff, and lay persons think about worship – believing we know and practice the most spiritually correct form of worship.

Not long ago I completed a Renewal pastorate, creating the opportunity to worship in churches in our area. We are intentionally visiting a variety of congregations, with a variety of worship styles. The congregation I just completed serving is a Baptist church who worships in the Charleston tradition. Worship there is very formal, with a litany, confession, assurance of pardon, pastoral prayer, Lord’s Prayer, and so on – all guided by the lectionary. The first church we visited afterwards is a Methodist church with two worship services. We attended the contemporary service which met in their chapel. The dress was casual (what a relief not to wear a tie!) and the room was filled with people of various ages. The band played contemporary music, rocked out on the stage, and the pastor gave an inspirational message which resonated with this congregation. The next worshipping congregation we visited is from the Presbyterian tradition, being a relatively new church. One can see the Reformed theology and tradition in their worship (Apostle’s Creed, confession and assurance, etc), yet the style was hip. Their band sounded very similar to Mumford and Sons, singing what appeared to be originally written music. The location was a renovated gathering space where local events and small venue concerts take place. Part way through the service, we took a 5-minute break to greet one another, get coffee and sweets, and mingle.

So, which of these approaches to worship was good, real, genuine….or dare we say…right?
The sociologist part of my brain was on information overload as I worshipped each place. Observing and listing the influences which come together to inform each of these services, I was noting:

Theological perspective
Denominational tradition or non-tradition
Shape of the building
Personality of worship leaders
Socio-economic level of congregation
Predominate ages of congregation
Cultural and racial influences
Etcetera almost to infinity

Given the strong energy level and buzz in each of these congregations after worship, it appears as if each of these resonates with and inspires many of the worshippers present.

So, what is it that makes worship real, genuine, faithful, and life-giving? Obviously, Christian disciples authentically worship God in a wide variety of ways.

Apart from the factors above, I believe there is one essential element flowing beneath the varied streams of worship styles. This essential element strongly influences the worship experience. It has to do with the spirituality of the worship leaders. When they are invigorated disciples, actively pursuing God, with some level of fascination, admiration, and love for Jesus Christ….then this comes through in worship, regardless of the style. I’ve witnessed extremely formal and liturgical worship which is spiritually invigorated and inspirational. I’ve also witnessed casual and contemporary worship which seems to have no heart.

I don’t want to discount the role of the congregation when it comes to worship. Invigorated worship leaders can grow dispirited with a lazy unengaged congregation. Yet, few congregations will become spiritually invigorated when the worship leaders are burned-out, exhausted, bored, and rather be somewhere else.

In our clergy leadership coaching, we periodically hear minister talking about their spiritual dryness. How does one engage in spiritual disciplines, rally spirituality, and renew a taste for God when it’s also the way we make a living? As with worship, the answers are many and varied. But the bottom line is: find a way. It’s worth it to take time away from running the church in order to connect with God. Whatever your approach, put yourself in a place where you are likely to encounter the risen Lord. This is the best thing you can do for the congregation you serve this week.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA

Contact Mark at markt@pinnaclelead.com.