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Accessible Worship - Is It Really About Style?

I've had the privilege to be part of some great churches growing up and a lot of great mentors in my life.  My life experiences as a meteorologist at Weather Eye, Inc. and the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee running Innovative Weather.  20 years around broadcasting and trying to communicate difficult concepts in simpler terms for people to understand.  Blessed to work in high school and college ministry trying to walk with the next generation well and learn from them as they grow through some common roads that we are traveling.  Blessed to be a husband and father, to be a loved son raised in a Christian household.  And as a touring Christian artist to work with many WELS churches encouraging people and helping build and affirm the Christian culture of those churches.

 

Over the years, I have helped lead in many worship settings from traditional/classical, to contemporary/modern worship settings in our WELS churches and I believe that God has given me something to share that I hope will be an encouragement in the end.  I am working at trying to articulate some of what I have learned as an artist that has been able to travel to different parts of the country and worked with a myriad of different church cultures over the past 10 years.  The end result is a presentation that I am calling "Accessible Worship".

 

Too often the "style" of worship in our churches gets a lot of sarcastic, even sinful comments ripping up or tearing down one another.  In the WELS, it's actually quite tame compared with the rhetoric of some denominations, but the feelings run deep and over the past 10 years I have not seen much conversation between two primary camps.  Even labeling the camps can be considered derogatory, but like in so many other areas of life there are often two that pull against each other.  Call it Traditional and Contemporary, Liberal and Conservative, Progressive and Orthodox, Right and Left.  In the views of many, these words are used too often to label worship environments, language and culture and in labeling them, we often miss out on some important details.

 

My effort in a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) setting, is to actually push past the labels to try to make the point that communication is not simply content, but involves all of the senses and that a variety of worship environments, when filled with the right content, is not only healthy for the church, but biblical at it's core.  Yes, even if it involves an organ with a 40 voice choir, or a worship team led by guitar, keys and drums.

 

This space is really just a teaser for something that I hope to share with people in the coming months, but while I try to gather thoughts and put them down in coherent and hopefully encouraging and above all, biblical ways, I want to introduce to you the tension in three examples:

 

A member of a church that worships in a worship environment that is traditional and liturgical in the way it communicates, leaves a worship service feeling preached at, uninvolved and frustrated.  They can't put their finger on exactly what it was.  They might say it was the message, they might say it was the music and the songs written by Yoda, they might say it was the distractions or just life in general, but they leave feeling as though they did not worship.  Yet when you look at the content of what was said and done in worship, all of the important elements were there.  God's word, songs of praise, a lesson, communion, a creed, prayers of the church, a message.  They leave frustrated and wondering what's wrong with me.

 

A member of a church that worships in a contemporary and non liturgical worship environment and they leave feeling as though their ears are going to burst, like the attended a rock concert and while they felt respected by the people there, they felt the whole thing was irreverent and did nothing to honor God.  They might say it was the lights, or the stage, or the pastor who wouldn't stand still, or the style of the song and the seven 11 simple lyrical content and they leave feeling as though they did not worship.  Yet when you look at the content of what was said and done in worship.  all of the important elements were there.  God's word, songs of praise, a lesson, communion, a creed, prayers of the church, a message.  They leave frustrated and angry at this so called church.

 

A Pastor, takes a call knowing he's involved in a somewhat impossible task, of trying to be everything to everybody.  Even though he's been warned he can't be and that God will care for those he can't, it's not about him after all.  Yet he has both of these people in his congregation.  He has his own preference on how to conduct worship and he has his own experience set.  Yet his heart breaks for both of them.  Does he take a blended approach to worship "style"?  Does he split his congregation by having both traditional and contemporary offerings.  Can the church culture understand the importance and validity in both when they are done with the utmost respect to God's Word?  When he sits down to talk with them with an aching heart he says to one or the other "what am I doing wrong?".  He doesn't know, the people don't know - they just hurt.

 

Well I want to speak into this so that both sides and anyone in between can have a chance to sit down and have an honest conversation about things like: "Worship, Communication, Language, Relationship, Evangelism, Entertainment, Performance and Encounter.  I want to take a harder look at the use of Traditional, Blended, Contemporary and Modern worship settings from a WELS viewpoint and I hope and pray that God will remove the fear that is unnecessary and may fill us with a passion for fearlessly proclaiming the whole of the Gospel as has been the heartbeat of so many Christians who have gone on before us.

 

Please pray for me and those who are my mentors on this topic, that it would ultimately bring Glory to God, clarity to worship leaders and through it all, more people to know the saving power of Jesus Christ and where true Life can be found.

 

Mike

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