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Food Court Worship – The Starvation of Church Unity

Food Court Worship – The Starvation of Church Unity

Several of my posts in the Worship Wars series talked about an ideal of Unified worship. In my experience with churches across North Carolina and other parts of the world, I continue to see members of congregations fighting among themselves to have worship their way and their way only. I have seen churches in major conflict and division. Worship should be the most unifying activity of the church, yet the deceiver has found a way to make it one of the most divisive ones.

Bruce Greer has written an excellent article which gives us more to think about when making decisions about worship in the local church.

As I sit here reading once again of a certain church making the ever popular decision to increase their options in worship styles by adding yet another service, I find myself asking the question, “Really? Another option is the answer?” Somehow we’ve decided that the ‘Food Court’ approach is the best way to reach our ever increasingly diverse world. You know what I’m talking about. Go to the mall and everyone divides up and goes off to eat a meal of your own choosing. It seems logical. Of course, there is no passing of the bread or the cup. No real supping together. And somewhere inside, my spirit is crying out, “NO!”

The obvious conclusion that churches make in reaching the world for Christ is to provide more options in worship styles. Of course, this is only in musical terms because in most cases every other part of the different worship experiences is identical, except for the clothes. The “church” vocabulary remains the same, thus assuming that the unchurched people they are trying to reach will understand their language as long as the music is rockin’ and the pastor and worship leaders are NOT wearing coats and ties. This is not an argument about which clothes are appropriate. I really don’t think God, our audience, cares what we are wearing. Nor is it an argument as to which musical style is best. It is, however, a pondering on the effectiveness of a single church body giving options based on personal musical tastes, as if it’s all about us and what our likes and dislikes are.

So what IS church about? Obviously, it’s about worshipping God through Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer. It’s about lifting HIM up. Jesus calls us to love God AND to love each other as well. There is no formula to carrying out this mandate. There is no musical style that is ‘better’ of more preferred by God. I think it is about being authentic, worshipping in spirit and truth, when we stand before Him in worship as a family. We are family!

So if we are a part of a family, what is the best way to unite ourselves to one another and to Jesus? By standing (or sitting) together to worship God and fellowship with each other. A church body can no more divide itself up into groups and go off into different rooms and worship God separately and still be united anymore than your earthly family could. Imagine going to a family gathering for fellowship together and telling everyone they need to decide what they want to do. Play bridge? Video games? Talk? And then have them go to their designated rooms and remain there. Eat there. Share experiences there, with only the people who have chosen similar likes. That would be a tragedy. That’s not a family engaging together. Part of being family is that we share experiences…together. A grandmother will always choose to spend time with her grandchild even if the child wishes to do something she wouldn’t necessarily choose. The same for the son or daughter, they would choose to be with their parents even if the activity they are engaging in is not their preference.

So why do we think it is best to choose sides and divide up in to groups for worship? I guess we think it is easier that way. Corralling people together and not having to hear grumbling about a disliked song, or organ, or drums, or liturgical reading, makes for one less distraction on the way to proclaiming Christ…right? But what about the unity of the church body? I’ve been in thousands of different churches all over the country. I’ve led as an interim music minister in many, and what I have observed in those churches who fall into the ‘food court’ way is actually several different bodies living under one roof. They are no more connected to the people in the next room than they are to the people in the church down the street. Yes, we are all part of the larger Body of Christ, but we also need to hopefully come together as united church bodies as well.

UnityOne body…sharing the experience. I feel that even if there is the physical need for several services within a single church, they should be the same. Whether it’s gospel, liturgical, blended, contemporary, be united! Stop trying to play the role you think someone else wants and start being authentic. You say, well there is such diversity in our church. I know. My church might be the most diverse church I ever been a part of in terms of personal tastes. We try to worship God with whatever musical means we can find knowing that some things connect more with these people and others things with other people. But with each passing day I am surprised by the unity we experience in worship. We don’t do what I call blended worship, but more like a ‘converging worship’ where there is distinction in musical styles. Juxtaposing a grand hymn accompanied by pipe organ right next to a contemporary song led with guitars and drums. You would be surprise how supportive and engaged our people (young, old, rich, poor, black, white or brown) are to this approach. I wrote an article in 1999 for the Baptist Standard called, “Worship Wars”. Here is a passage from that article concerning the use of different styles in worship.

Some churches have tried to make peace by developing a “blended” worship style, Greer reported. “In theory this works. However, in practice a lot of ‘blended’ music is scrambled music,” he insisted. “Instead of being what it is–diverse songs in diverse styles–it’s homogenized.” Piano, bass and drums added on a traditional hymn is not a bad idea in and of itself, but worshippers who prefer traditional hymns are disappointed when they are never allowed to hear their favorite hymns in a traditional style. Likewise, sometimes the organ overshadows choruses, and they no longer sound contemporary. 

For example, praise choruses can be very effective when they are sung in a contemporary style with the use of keyboards, guitars and drums. Similarly, hymns can be just as effective sung in their simplicity without extensive instrumentation or arrangement. These beautiful melodies can be enhanced with just organ and piano. 

“Churches can find that worshippers tolerate diverse musical styles when each style is presented with musical excellence,” Greer said. “Think through the music regarding style and content, and let the music stand on its own.” 

Our problem is we try to literally ‘blend’ everything and we come up with nothing distinctly recognizable. It’s kind of like making blueberry muffins. You are supposed to gently fold in the blueberries so that you don’t end up with a purple mush. Or maybe it’s like a stew. The problem is we try to puree the pizza, hamburger and fries, and add it to a seafood gumbo. That way we’ve covered the gamut of tastes in our congregation. Really?

A great, well thought out meal requires a great chef. A great, well thought out worship experience requires a
gifted, creative spirit. It doesn’t matter if the leader is that young guy with hip glasses, tennis shoes and a guitar, or a middle aged person who recalls fond memories of jamming with his garage band, or one who has a doctorate in Choral Conducting, the job requires a heart for worship and a lot of knowledge about music and how to put it all together in a effective manner that speaks to the breadth of your congregation. Those leaders are out there. Don’t always necessarily follow the trail of glitter and rhinestones to those obvious choices. Look deeper for unpolished gems that will someday lead with brilliance. There are a lot of good cooks but fewer great chefs. Being a great worship leader/planner requires education, experience, exposure to great and diverse music, a heart for God, and good planning. And like a great chef, a sensitive, refined palette helps.

Okay family; let’s come to the table and share the Feast…. together! Pass the Meat, the Bread, the Cup, and maybe a little something sweet! Bon Appétit!
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Bruce Greer is a Dove award-winning composer, arranger, concert pianist and vocalist. He is co-Minister of Music and Worship with his wife, Kim, at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. Visit his website here.

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4 Comments

  1. Interesting article. I guess what I’ve been doing for several years now is converging worship, I’ve never heard that term. It is a struggle trying to make the organ/piano hymns back up against the band driven rock music; some weeks I think we are more successful with it than others. My general joke about it is that by doing it this way everybody gets to find something they don’t like! So far this church has been supportive of it; as long as the message is good the style hasn’t been much of an issue. We don’t do hard rock/rap or languages (latin, french, etc) however since I think those would be a little more devisive. I think a lot of it has to do with the spirit you do it in.

    Reply
  2. The struggle I face with “unified” worship is that when you do a worship set with contemporary then add a traditional hymn, the stylistic shift is so obvious and doesn’t fit well. When I modernize the hymn to fit the style, it leaves a bad taste in the older members mouth. Would it be better to do a set of traditional hymns and choruses on their own then do a contemporary set? Our leadership is really trying to keep our worship unified and learn from each other to worship together, but there is an under current pressing for 2 services. We are working hard to educate them. I have been in music ministry for over 25 years and its always a challenge. Why music is so divisive. We don’t “rock out” I try to keep the contemporary pretty mainstream.

    Reply
    • Sorry, Bob–we have had so many spam comments, your comment got lost. It sounds like you are seeking to have unified worship, but much of your congregation is merely seeing blended worship.

      Unified worship is not contemporary, not traditional, not really blended (where half the people are upset with the music half the time). A tapestry. Multi-generational, multi cultural. Seeking to connect with the people in your community. Seeking to connect with younger families.

      Unity will only be achieved as the church is willing to make sacrifices and love one another and to focus their efforts on God and not themselves.

      It’s a worthy goal. It needs much prayer support. It has much preparation to be done to do it right.

      Reply
  3. Kenny, I usually appreciate the ideas you post, but this one is pretty off-base in my opinion. In fact, I think the entire logic of the post breaks down when you admit that churches may have multiple services because of space considerations.

    If you want to make the argument, like some do, that to be a church, the entire body must be assembled together at the same time for the worship service, then I think there’s a leg to stand on when claiming we all need to be “one body… sharing the experience.”

    I think it is completely possible for a church to have services with distinct styles of music and for it not to devolve into selfishness, “all about us”, and a divided church. In large measure it would depend on the leadership to make sure that doesn’t happen, and it may not be easy. But I believe it can be done and in some cases would be a good idea.

    I don’t find it any more convincing to say we must have the same worship order and style across multiple services in order to be unified than it would be to say something like… In order for a church to be unified, they must all use the same Sunday School literature in every class. “One body… sharing the experience” and all.

    I’d be glad to talk with you some more about this or even write something defending my view.

    Reply

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