Notes from the Shore

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Traditional vs. Contemporary, and the Myth of Blended Worship

This is an essay that I wrote a number of years ago. I’ve always meant to publish it and don’t know why I’m finally getting around to it tonight. It’s fairly long, so I’m going to present it in four parts, spread out over several days. I hope you find it interesting and maybe thought provoking.

Part 1: Introduction

Contemporary worship is all the rage in the church today. It seems that as you drive down the street, every third church marquee is advertising a “Contemporary Worship Service”, sometimes on Saturday night, sometimes on Sunday morning in addition to a traditional service, and sometimes in place of traditional worship altogether. Maybe your church is contemplating a move to a more “contemporary” worship service. Or maybe you’re already there and are wondering why it’s not all you’d heard about.

I believe that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what contemporary worship is. Traditional and contemporary worship are not defined by what songs you sing in your worship service. In fact, it is not impossible to put together a contemporary worship service using nothing but songs written 100 or more years ago. Some of the aspects that make a worship service “contemporary” may be more difficult to coordinate using older songs, but it is none-the-less doable. We will look more at these aspects later in this article.

First, let’s dispel the popular idea of what contemporary worship is. Many music pastors and music department heads think that if you add guitar, bass and drums, swap out the choir for a few back-up singers, and do songs written in the last five years, you are doing contemporary worship. While this church may be singing contemporary songs, contemporary worship is made up of entirely different qualities.

To depict the differences, let’s take a look at a possible order of service in a traditional worship setting. It may look something like this:

10:00 AM Greeting
Opening Chorus
Congregational Song
Choir Special (Congregation to be seated)
Intercessory Prayers
Congregational Song
Offering (congregation to be seated for Choir Special)

Maybe there will be one more congregational song at the end of the sermon. Note that I didn’t say what songs were being done. They could be hymns, they could be contemporary choruses. This is mostly superfluous when gauging traditional vs. contemporary worship.

I would use two words to characterize “contemporary” worship and distinguish it from “traditional” worship. These all-important descriptors are “flow” and “connection.” In the next two articles I will take a closer look at each of these concepts.

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