The Real Worship War Is Not About Style

I experienced some backlash this week after sharing a Patheos article on Facebook. The article, “How Offering Different Worship Styles Contributes to Church Decline” by Jonathan Aigner has made the rounds recently.

One commenter referred to the article as “toxic waste,” said I was wasting my time, and claimed I was starting a “worship war.” I found it hard to understand why there was such fiery backlash. Most of the objections were because they felt the author was invalidating any style of worship other than his personal preference. They seemed to think that the author was advocating for one, and only one way of worship.

To be upfront, the author is coming from a Baptist, evangelical framework which could be a reason for some of the backlash. And the author did take some potshots at contemporary worship: “Sentimental worship is just as toxic as contemporary worship.” Perhaps it was because I was just skimming the article, but when I read I tend to skip over the less helpful parts and focus on the things I think are said well. For example, one of the highlights for me was this excerpt:

“When we tell our people that we’re here to connect them with God through their own preferences, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.

When we suggest that corporate worship is about fitting everyone just right, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.

When our strategies for church growth hinge on making the worship life of the church fun, entertaining, and easy, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.

When we design worship services to flow seamlessly like a theatrical production, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.”

I have long questioned whether offering multiple styles of worship within one congregation is all that helpful. Is it a quick fix, a patch job, any easy way out of the slow, painstaking work of building a community that actually appreciates one another and puts their needs second to their neighbor?

Can we really claim to be surprised when church members act immature or self-centered after we have programmatically catered to their whims and preferences?

There are good reasons to offer multiple styles of worship. I think you could say that a church in a metropolitan, or ethnically diverse suburban area is being contextually faithful by offering multiple styles. But do we lose something by not learning each other’s songs? Are we missing a depth and richness of our song when it is stylistically monochromatic?

The real worship war is not about musical style or preference. The real worship war is about narrative. Who gets to be the main character in our worship? Whose story is the reason we assemble in worship?

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Narrative Worship Script

Some Assembly RequiredDuring the month of August at Faith Lutheran Church, we are in a message series called “Some Assembly Required” (borrowed from the Synod Assembly title that I jokingly came up with). It is a four week series on worship, with each week taking up a different fold of the service:

  • August 5 – “Gathering: Worship and the Stranger”
  • August 12 – “Word: The Narrative of Worship”
  • August 19 – “Meal: The Down to Earth God”
  • August 26 – “Sending: Worship on the Way”

As part of the series, we decided to include a “narrative” script during each service that describes the significance of each action of worship. It works as a running commentary of the “whys” of the worship service. We printed the narration into the worship bulletins, and had a person read the narration aloud during the service.

Sources for the script include Evangelical Lutheran Worship (pg. 91-93), Musicians Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (pg. 8-13), and original material.

Download Narrative Worship Script PDF

(before the Welcome/Announcements)
The basic pattern of this service – gathering, word, meal, sending – is a structure that originates from the earliest documented Christian liturgies. It is also a pattern we can observe in how God interacts with people throughout the Bible. As the people of God, we are joined together by the gifts of God’s grace, for the sake of the gospel, into the life of the one triune God.

(before the Confession and Forgiveness)
As we gather together as the body of Christ, we are reminded that Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection. We are assembled, brought together from different places, as a witness to the risen of body of Christ, active and moving in the world today. We begin in humility, confessing our sin and hearing God’s word of forgiveness.

(before the Gathering Hymn)
Singing during our gathering includes both hymns old and new. The songs that gather us together surround and support a people who come to worship with different frames of reference and different emotions. The gathering song moves each individual into the communal experience and purpose of worship.

(before the Greeting and Prayer of the Day)
During the gathering, the presiding minister and the assembly greet each other in the name of the triune God. The presiding minister gathers the assembly into prayer. All of worship is based on the foundation of prayer and can be understood as dialogue with God.

(before the First Reading)
The word of God is proclaimed within and by the gathered assembly. The first Bible reading, usually from the Old Testament, is followed by a psalm sung in response. This pattern of proclaiming the word is as ancient as the synagogue worship of the Jewish people.

(before the Psalm)
From their origin, the psalms were intended to be sung. Certainly the meaning of the text can be communicated when spoken, but the quality of this ancient poetry is inherently musical.

(before the Second Reading)
The second reading, usually from the New Testament letters, bears the witness of the early church. After the second reading, we stand to greet the gospel and sing an acclamation.

(before the Gospel Acclamation and Reading)
Christians have inherited the practice of publicly reciting the appointed biblical texts and responding to the recitation with singing. The read-sing-read-sing sequence continues. The gospel acclamation consists of two parts, alleluia and a verse of scripture, which acclaim the living Word, Jesus Christ, present in the gospel reading.

(before the Message)
Preaching brings God’s word of law and gospel into our time and place to awaken and nourish faith.

(before the Hymn of the Day)
God’s word is further proclaimed as we sing our faith aloud. The hymn of the day is the principal hymn of the service and is a distinctively Lutheran element in the liturgy. The assembly participates in proclaiming and responding to the word of God with a common voice.  The hymn of the day typically relates directly to the season or day, the lectionary readings, or the preaching.

(before the Prayers of Intercession)
As the assembly prays for the whole world, we remember we have a high priest who continually intercedes for us. The prayers follow a pattern that encourages us to turn our hearts and eyes outward to the world. We pray for the needs of the church, for all of creation and the people of the world, for those in need, and for the local community. We also give thanks for the lives of the saints who inspire us in our pilgrimage.

(before Sharing Christ’s Peace)
Passing the peace of Christ is an ancient component of Christian worship and liturgy. Our modern day version of peace passing is descended from an earlier act of worship known as “the kiss of peace.” The practice of verbally and physically sharing Christ’s peace trains ours hearts, hands, and tongues in the ways of peace.

(before the Offering, Choral Offering, Offertory Response, and Offering Prayer)
A collection of material goods for the church’s mission, including the care of those in need, is a sign of the giving of our whole selves in grateful response for all God’s gifts. The table is set with bread and wine, also part of the gifts we offer to God. The choir provides an offering of music, a sacrifice of praise.

(before the Dialogue, Preface, and Holy, Holy, Holy)
Before the Lord’s supper is shared, the presiding minister leads us into thanksgiving. The words of the opening dialogue are known as the “Sursum Corda,” which is Latin for “hearts lifted.” This dialogue is found in the most ancient of Christian liturgies, dating all the way to the third century. The presiding minister and assembly exchange a formal greeting. Then the assembly is invited to lift their hearts to God. The final exchange indicates the assembly’s agreement to the presiding minister continuing to offer the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer on their behalf. The proper preface follows, which relates to the liturgical season or day. The assembly then joins with the whole creation in singing the angels’ song: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.”

(before the Words of Institution and Lord’s Prayer)
The grace of God’s gift is always proclaimed in Jesus’ own words of command and promise at the table. The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” The service of Holy Communion is connected to every meal in which Jesus gave thanks before breaking bread. The thanksgiving concludes with the prayer our Lord Jesus taught us.

(before Sharing the Meal and Prayer after Communion)
In Christ’s body and blood given to us, God forgives us and nourishes us for mission. We sing as the bread is broken and as the meal is shared. After sharing the meal, we pray, asking God to send us in witness to the world.

(before the Benediction, Sending Hymn, and Dismissal)
God’s mission sends us out. God’s mission includes the gifts of grace that we share in worship. Now, we are sent to continue our participation in God’s mission by sharing these gifts of grace with the world. With the blessing of God, we go out to live as Christ’s body in the world.