Worship wars are about distance not style

I continue to hear of worship wars and rumors of worship wars.

If you are still battling worship wars in your congregation, you may be in conflict over the wrong issue. Worship wars are not really about the style of worship; particular the style of the newer service. Worship wars are about distance. Let me explain.

Northern Hills Church had for most of its 50 year history a worship style that would be called traditional within their denominational family. After many years of transition and change in their community context, and with the calling of a younger pastor, the congregation added a style of worship that would be called emergent. It was way beyond contemporary.

Not only did the congregation initiate this emergent worship service, but it also held it at the sacred hour of 11 AM on Sundays. In the recent past the church had two worship services on Sunday mornings, but they were both traditional.

From the very beginning, there was a medium level of conflict in the congregation over the new worship service. In addition to being held at the 11 o’clock hour, the emergent service seemed strange to the people who had been around the church for many years. In fact, it seems so strange that they were not quite sure that it was Christian worship.

Another challenge was that not only was the service successful, but its numbers were growing to where it appeared that within another year it might be larger than the numbers present for the traditional worship service. Long-term members saw their church slipping away. At least one person verbalized the question “Who stole my church?”

Surface evaluation of the worship services might indicate that the problem was the style utilized by the new emergent service. However, another way to look at the situation is to not criticize or blame the style of emergent worship, but to talk about the distance between the emergent worship service and the traditional service.

To do this, visualize a horizontal scale from 1 to 10. Use this as a continuum on which to plot the two worship styles at Northern Hills. Lower scores would indicate more traditional and even more liturgical worship. Higher scores would indicate more contemporary to postmodern to emergent worship.

The first action is to plot the two worship services on the scale. In Northern Hills they evaluated the traditional worship service as a three. The new emergent worship service was seen as a nine. What does this mean?

It means that the distance on the scale between the traditional worship and the emergent worship is too great for either worship service to be comfortable with the other. The simple idea regarding the scale is that any worship service that is more than three points along the scale away from an existing worship service is at a greater distance away than the congregation can embrace without unnecessary and unhealthy conflict.

Therefore, I suggest the challenge is not the style of worship, but the distance along the scale that the new worship is from the old worship.

Unmentioned to this point is that the emergent worship service participants had difficulty understanding the traditional service truly as worship of the Triune God. So the lack of perspective, and the distance felt, was characteristic of both groups.

Another point of distance is that the people who attend the traditional worship service and the people who attend the emergent worship service with a few exceptions really do not know one another. There is too great a distance of friendship between the two worship services. Typically a person is going to be more accepting of diversity if they know the other person, care about them, and can in their own words express the characteristics of their appreciation for other the person as a Christian sister or brother.

If participants in an emergent worship service do not know and are unable to express the character of their love of the people who attend a traditional worship service, then the relationship distance is too great. Obviously, the same would apply for people who attend the traditional worship service in terms of the closeness or distance the people who attend the emergent worship service.

If your congregation has two or more worship services of two or more styles, what is the distance between them? How should you respond to this distance?

George Bullard

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About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See www.ConnectWithFSCLC.info. George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at www.NABF.info. This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at www.TCPBooks.info. More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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