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Worship Wars 7: Unified Worship – Breaking Down the Barriers of Age and Ethnicity

Worship Wars 7: Unified Worship – Breaking Down the Barriers of Age and Ethnicity

Note: For best impact, begin with the first post of the Worship Wars series.

Many churches seem to have landed on what they feel is a solution for worship wars–provide differing styles of worship so that you can provide an option that meets most people’s personal preferences for worship. Indeed, Saddleback offers eight different worship styles options. As Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, writes in his book, Unfashionable, “Building the church on age appeal…or stylistic preferences is as contrary to the reconciling effect of the Gospel as building it on class, race, or gender distinctions.” Is our effort to reach many through offering a variety of options in worship actually being counterproductive to the message of the gospel? Consider Dr. Tchividjian’s words:

Most churches would agree that racial or economic segregation runs contrary to the very nature of the Gospel. Most would also acknowledge that any sort of class bigotry is antithetical to the Gospel and should therefore not be tolerated. But there’s another, perhaps more subtle, type of segregation that many churches today have actually adopted and embraced. Following the lead of the advertising world, many churches today (and more specifically worship services) are targeting specific age groups to the exclusion of others. For years now churches have been organizing themselves around generational distinctives: busters, boomers, Generations X, Y, and Z. Many churches offer a “traditional service” for the tribe who prefers old music and a “contemporary service” for the tribe who prefers new music. I understand the good intentions behind some of these efforts but something as seemingly harmless as this evidences a fundamental failure to comprehend the heart of the Gospel. When we offer, for instance, a contemporary worship service for the younger people and a traditional worship service for the older people, we are not only feeding tribalism (which is a toxic form of racism) but we are saying that the Gospel can’t successfully bring these two different groups together. It is a declaration of doubt in the reconciling power of God’s Gospel. Generational appeal in worship is an unintentional admission that the Gospel is powerless to “join together” what man has separated. Plainly stated, building the church on age appeal (whether old or young) or stylistic preferences is as contrary to the reconciling effect of the Gospel as building it on class, race, or gender distinctions. Negatively, when the church segregates people according to generation, race, style, or socio-economic status, we exhibit our disbelief in the reconciling power of the Gospel. Positively, one of the prime evidences of God’s power to our segregated world is a congregation which transcends cultural barriers, including age.

Some great thoughts to weigh in as we look at the issue of worship wars. I welcome your comments.

Worship Wars: Next post in the series

About The Author

Kenny Lamm

Worship Consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. A frequent worship clinician and guest worship leader. Extensive work in worship renewal in several Asian countries.


  1. Erin McGaughan

    Great points, keenly felt. Again, I’d look back at purpose/mission. If the point is to facilitate conscious connection to the divine, then we need to have an opinion about what connection is, what it feels like. If it is the feeling of sanctuary and comfort, homecoming and belonging, then we go for stylistic uniformity, whether that means all rock or all hymnody. If we feel it is transformation, epiphany and growth, we go another, always expanding our stylistic range.

  2. Rick White

    Has the use of different versions of the Bible hindered the reconcilation process? If we hold that we should all be singing the same songs, then shouldn’t we all be using the same version? How about the textus receptus? Latin? King James from the 1600’s? I thinket not

  3. Jason Chollar

    Asking people to sing=communicate in a foreign dialect=style of music can be a real challenge. Especially for those who are being asked to change. Often the ones we are asking to change the most are the people who on the one hand should be the most mature, but also would have the most difficult time changing? The older you get, the harder it is to learn a new language, new song, new musical style. And in a culture that already worships youth and throws away the old as no longer useful, and all their friends are dying and they can’t even get the fancy new remote to work on their new television and it hurts to get up in the morning and they are so lonely and they feel like a burden and just wish things would go back to the way they used to be … and now the church music, which has been the same for sooooo loooong is being changed so they can no longer participate fully because it is all syncopated and new songs and no notes in the hymnal and …. You can see why there is tension. A young person walks in and just starts participating because it is in the same style of all the rest of the pop music they are already listening too, but even if it wasn’t…. they pick up new languages fairly easily … the question is… why would they want to? And if they are younger believers, expecting them to jump in on the concept of singing older songs to honor the elderly might seem odd. And do you just make everyone unhappy and sing some of everything? …. I’m looking forward to reading some of the other articles that deal with this. Offering different services for different cultural language groups can make a lot of sense…

  4. eahaddix

    From what I understand about the issues underlying the Christian “worship wars,” the key issue seems to be that, even in Messiah focused praise, the act of engaging with music and the act of singing a song during praise are very personal acts. This means that, depending on the music and songs being used, either you will make praise “your own” and be fully invested in it or you will simply put up with praise and simply passively participate in it.

    To illustrate, let me ask: if a song says things that you would not say, would you sing it? Or if a song is played in a style of music which you find remarkably unremarkable or repulsive for some reason, would you still engage the music and sing the song? I don’t think so, unless you had something to prove.

    And, as of right now, I really do not see how you can compromise over doing what are, by definition, personal acts without unjustifiably compromising the person behind the personal acts in question.

    Anyone have any thoughts on this point?

  5. matthew dorsey

    I believe Bob Kauflin said different styles of services leaves us to think that musical styles have more power to divide us than the gospel has to unit us. I have seen this truth in fifteen years of ministry.

    “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Ro 15:1-7 ESV)

    Thanks for the good word, Mr. Lamm


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