Worship for All God's People

By Ron Man, Pastor of Music and Worship, EXW Contributor
June 15, 2017

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Bridging the Generation Gap

Music is a sublime creation of God which is especially suited as a vehicle for believers to express praise to their Creator. How it must then grieve Him (and delight the Enemy) when this special gift all too often becomes a force for division (if not strife) rather than unity in our churches. The Church of Jesus Christ is to be a place where barriers come down - barriers separating Jew and Gentile, man and woman, laborer and executive, young and old. When this occurs it is a powerful testimony to the supernatural nature of the Body of Christ - because people just don't act that way towards one another, and get along so well together, under normal circumstances.

Like the tongue (James 3:9-10), music can be a force for great good and great evil. The latter can occur when battle lines are drawn between the generations in the local church. Typically, the older adults prefer more "traditional" church music (the standard hymns and gospel songs plus church anthems of a bygone era), while the younger set leans toward choruses, praise and worship songs, and a generally more upbeat style.

Churches take different approaches in dealing with this dichotomy:

1. The church goes almost exclusively in one direction (traditional or contemporary) based on factors such as the congregation's history, its constituency, or the personal preferences of the leadership. As a result the church keeps and attracts those whose personal tastes tend in that same direction, while those whose preferences lie in the other direction gravitate toward other churches where the music is more to their liking. At least this is what happens in larger towns where there are a multiplicity of evangelical church choices - the towns end up with a variety of "specialty" churches from among which one may select according to his or her liking; one goes to such a church if he or she is looking for a particular kind of music. In smaller communities where a single evangelical church may be the only real option, the results of musical specialization can be more problematic yet, even tragic: a group within the church can feel alienated and disenfranchised with no alternative solution. (This can also be the case when a well-established church makes a deliberate shift to a new musical style, and long-standing members find themselves suddenly feeling like outsiders.)

2. In an attempt to address the very real differences in musical style preferences, more and more churches are providing separate worship services, each with a very different flavor and musical style. Very often this means starting a "contemporary service" to supplement an existing "traditional service." Rather than forcing people to choose between different churches to find the approach to worship which is meaningful to them, this approach has the laudable goal of providing, within a single church body, worship experiences at both ends of the spectrum. But it must be asked whether the unity in the body which this approach seeks to preserve is truly served in this way. One may provide a way for these two constituent groups to meet inside the same set of walls; but when they gather at different times for the regular corporate meeting of the church, and under such diverse circumstances, are they not in reality more like two congregations than one? This approach seems to accentuate the differences between the groups, to concede that "ne'er the twain shall meet," and to miss out on the unifying potential of corporate worship.

3. It is possible to bring the generations into worship that is meaningful to all and truly expressive of the oneness of all persons in the Body of Christ. God has led our church to gradually develop a style of worship which manages to involve all ages and tastes in a way which is truly unifying.

* * * * *

While each church must find a form of worship which fits its particular mixture of people, gifts, and resources, the following characteristics would seem to be important (if not essential) to the task:

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Ron Man, Pastor of Music and Worship, EXW Contributor
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