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Constance Cherry: Planning Blended Worship

 

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The following is the text from a session Connie presented at the Symposium on Worship at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, January 2006.

Session Description: Learn how to re-think the meaning of blended worship. No more quotas of hymns and choruses! Instead, learn practical ways to add fullness and depth to your worship by integrating a wide variety of worship expressions, both old and new.

What Has Blended Worship Come to Mean?

Not long ago, a pastor contacted me who was endeavoring to bring life and vitality to his medium-sized congregation’s worship. He had become intrigued with “blended worship” and so he had begun to experiment with adding some “contemporary” instrumentation and eliminating some worship acts which might be considered too “high church”. He liked the concept of blended worship and was beginning to implement it as best he could. Yet even as he was attempting to move in this direction, he had reservations.

He struggled with questions such as these: Are we trying to provide just enough contemporary flavor to keep people hanging on (and is that the idea)? Is it wise to be in the “middle ground” stylistically when it seems that some growing churches are at one end of the stylistic continuum or the other? Do we really get anywhere trying to be all things to all people?

Have you wondered the same things? The questions this real-life pastor was asking did not surprise me because they represent a very common approach to what many call “blended worship”. Buried in these questions are several assumptions about blended worship that I find to be very common among worship leaders today. Blended worship:

  • is primarily a matter of fulfilling a certain quota of musical styles (i.e., using a certain number of hymns and a certain number of choruses).
  • is essentially a matter of compromise in order to keep people happy (i.e., let’s have a little something for everyone).
  • results in generic services (i.e., church distinctives are lost as it all begins to look alike in the land of “middle ground”).

The problem with the pastor’s dilemma in my example is that he is attempting to approach blended worship much like manufacturing a product. He views blended worship as something which he can design by following the recipe (having the right formula of hymns and choruses) and which produces the desired results (new and improved worship).

“Blended Worship” has become the popular term of choice for a style of worship that combines the old and the new. For better or for worse, it has come to be associated almost exclusively with the music of the service. Ask most worship leaders today to explain what blended worship means to them, and chances are you will hear a discussion of musical styles. You know from your own reading and conferences that blended worship is generally presented in terms of combining hymns and praise choruses. Let’s face it, people most often think of blended worship in terms of the programming of worship music.

In short, blended worship, through common usage, has come to refer to something very limited in scope—the so-called blending of musical styles. When I speak with pastors and worship leaders who say they have a blended service, I ask them to tell me what that looks like or to show me a bulletin. I usually discover that they have a “set” of hymns and a “set” of choruses, and the rest of the service is unchanged/traditional. Or another common way of doing blended worship is to have a traditional service with a chorus or two included; or conversely, a praise and worship service with a hymn included. Voila! Blended.

If this were the sum total of what blended amounts to, I would not be here. I think it has very little to offer today’s worshipers. I confess to you that I am at a loss about what to do with this term “blended.” At this point in time the term is burdened down with a very narrow definition. Yet others, like me, use the term quite differently than this common usage of the term.

I am going to suggest another term than blended, but before I do, let me say that I am not hung up on what we call blended worship as long as we are clear about what we mean by it. I hope to broaden and deepen our view of what blended worship means. I could just as well call it “the new blended,” but I think that would get even more confusing. I think a lot about what term is best, other than blended, but I have not had any epiphany, though I’ve had a few ideas. Not everything has to have a label, of course, but as long as it is necessary to identify the various styles on the worship landscape today, there might as well be a good one for “blended.” So let me suggest the term convergence worship to refer to the broader view of blended worship which I will explain.

What is convergence and how is it different from blended?

Robert Webber has utilized the term “convergence” probably more than anyone else. In simplest terms, he states that Convergence Worship is “…the coming together of the historic and the contemporary in worship.” Let me take this basic idea and compare and contrast it to blended worship.

Convergence worship unabashedly seeks to reclaim the biblical focus and historical worship elements so vital to authentic Christian worship throughout the ages. Here are a few examples of vital historical foci and elements:

  • the two-fold order of Word/Table (or Response to the Word)
  • extensive reading of the Holy Scriptures
  • multiple types of prayer
  • functional congregational song
  • participatory worship through gestures and enactment
  • creeds or affirmations of faith
  • the Christ-centeredness of worship
  • the God-ward nature of worship
  • the sense of community

Convergence worship claims that there are biblical and historical features that are necessary in order to fulfill scriptural expectations, and important in understanding worship to be at once past, present, and future.

But Convergence worship also values the expressing of these substantive acts of worship in culturally meaningful ways so that contemporary worshipers can more truly encounter God in Christ.

Even with this small amount of explanation you can easily see that the term “convergence worship” carries with it a depth and breadth that encompasses much more than the term “blended” usually represents. The discussion of hymns vs. choruses is now only a speck on the landscape of the worship canvas.

In my own work with blended or convergence worship, I support the combining of the historical and the contemporary at every level of worship to create maximum opportunities for engaging worshipers with the presence of God.

I support it because I think it’s biblically faithful; I also support it because it’s highly practical. I believe convergence worship is very useful in our world which is becoming Postmodern. As I mentioned, we are living in the transition time between the modern era and the postmodern era. It’s an exciting time and a frightening time. But whether we like or approve of the change in eras, we will not stop the course that the world is on.

What does this have to do with Convergence Worship? More and more young people are particularly interested in the relationship between the past and the future; they relate very well to ancient-future paradigms. Would it surprise you that there has been a strong attraction among today’s young person to the liturgical? The mystical? The transcendence of God? I have a number of students that have begun ancient-future services in surprising places including Free Church-type denominations. Certain aspects of emerging worship reflect this attraction.

Does the contemporary worshiper have anything in common with worshiping saints of the past twenty centuries? I think we do. I think we share many things:

  • desire for Word/Response to the Word
  • desire for more frequent opportunities for celebrating the Table of the Lord
  • desire for the celebrative nature of worship
  • the common story—the “metanarrative”
  • an interest in the common corpus of song
  • an interest in the visual presentation of the Gospel (visual art, dance, drama, music, poetry, banners, sculpture, architecture, stained glass, etc.)
  • a hunger for silence and quiet reflection
  • a cherishing of the Word of God read with simplicity and clarity
  • the numinous
  • a connection between worship and mission
  • full participation in the liturgy

These are just a few of the things historic worship and contemporary worshipers have in common.

Blended worship is concerned with programming a little something for everyone to keep all parties satisfied. But have we been guilty of choosing between the perceived preferences of two or three generations of worshipers when there are other, more substantial and relevant things to consider? I believe that when historical worship practices are intentionally brought forward and then expressed in contemporary, meaningful ways, perhaps the preference tug-of-wars would be negotiated more peacefully.

What does it mean to reclaim historic worship? To affirm the historical in worship does not require a congregation to repeat a set of ancient practices verbatim, in their ancient form. To me, embracing historical worship means:

  1. to demonstrate a willingness to share in that which the historic church has always found meaning (and expressing these things in currently meaningful ways);
  2. to make our own contribution to the historical stream of worship.

It is then that our worship expressions converge!

Worship progresses best when each generation (or era) makes its own contribution to the larger tradition of worship and then proceeds to express all of it in time as the various Lord’s Days transpire. Then the question is no longer that of various people in a congregation compromising so that each one is allowed their chance to sing the music they like best (blended). Instead, worship planners seek to remember the whole church at worship and when they do, the variety of expressions is not only satisfying, but also endless (Convergence)!

Convergence is a gathering of liturgical repertoire. It is in expressing the ancient and the present and the future that the worshiping church converges.

One of my former students summarized it well: “Blended worship is a plan on paper; Convergence worship is a point in time” (Bob Baratta). Blended worship can take place in a bulletin format; Convergence worship cannot. That is because essentially, Convergence worship is an occurrence. It is the attempt to bring together what is of value historically and currently to create a space where folks can encounter God. It is, as one pastor explained, when chronos meets kairos.

Let me summarize what I have said thus far.

The goal of blended worship is usually to offer a menu of musical styles as a way of 1) appealing to a wider audience, or 2) attempting to be “contemporary” while maintaining a core tradition.

The goal of Convergence worship is to celebrate the God of the Tradition in a manner reflective of local tradition and expressed in ways relevant to the contemporary worshiper.

In short, it is the difference between a product and a dynamic. A product is something that is fashioned for a specific audience/target group. It is formula driven and therefore somewhat static, manufactured, serves a functional purpose, and is likely to be disposed of when its function ceases.

If something is dynamic, however, it is alive, active, and moving purposefully forward in life-giving ways. Convergence worship holds the potential for providing dynamic worship because it is not produced based on formulaic principle. It is the coming together of many forces that converge in ways beyond our control. The elements meet (converge) in different ways each week.

In Convergence worship, one is not after an effect, a product, or a quota. Rather, one is after an encounter with the living God in the context of Christian community. Therefore the worship planner seeks to create an environment of order, celebration, musical range, and use of the arts that reaches into the past and finds meaningful expression in the present—a weekly event that offers God the full range of expressions of faith, expecting that God will meet us in these faithful expressions.

Here is a side by side comparison to help:

Blended Convergence
Product (static, functional) Dynamic (active, progressing)
Middle ground (pursuing quotas) Common ground (pursuing continuity)
Compromise (tolerating other worship expressions) Fullness (appreciating other worship expressions)

Conclusion

I think you and I are here because we have an underlying belief that Blended or Convergence worship is something positive and of great benefit for the church in the early part of the 21st century. Blended worship IS a positive approach to worship IF we can reframe it as more than the music, more than choosing sets of hymns or choruses, more than trying to please constituencies. Instead, it is the embracing of twenty centuries of Christian worship and joining our contemporary voices to that worship stream to the glory of God.

How would we go about creating truly blended worship?

As we noted, Blended worship has focused primarily on blending the music. So let’s start there. How does Convergence worship affect our musical choices in worship?
Remember two things:

  1. In blending music the historic and the contemporary come together.
  2. In blending music the whole repertoire of the Christian tradition is embraced: past, present, and future.

Common mistakes worship leaders make:

  1. Thinking that their choices are “either/or” (hymns or choruses).
  2. Segregating musical styles (traditional hymns here; contemporary choruses there).
  3. Re-packaging the old to appeal to popular culture.

Notice that these mistakes view the musical issues from the vantage point of style. We then run into the need to defend our viewpoint and talk about preferences again.
What If?

  • We temporarily laid aside all discussions about style?
  • What if we approached each musical piece on the basis of its best function?
  • What if we embraced the whole liturgical repertoire (which now includes praise choruses) as a reservoir for our choices?

The question would no longer be, should we or shouldn’t we use a particular style. Rather, the question would become, how do we best use the various types of congregational song in worship? So instead of asking what style we prefer in this part of the service, let’s begin by asking what function is needed in this part of the service. Let’s begin to make some choices on the basis of the music’s function rather than its style.

To begin, let’s look at the structure of a service of worship. A very common way of viewing the structure of a service is to see it as primarily revelation/response. This two-fold structure is seen in many biblical descriptions of worship (e.g., Exodus 3, Nehemiah 8, Isaiah 6, Luke 1, Acts 2.42). God approaches and addresses people; people respond in some way.

Revelation is the word of God proclaimed to the Christian community; an intentional presentation of the truth about the Triune God and God’s relationship with God’s people. Think of revelation as the basic content of worship. It is the time when truth is delivered. This can come in many forms. Primarily it comes through the reading of the scriptures and through preaching. However, revelation—the outright presentation of truth—can be delivered in a variety of ways: through congregational singing, testimony, prayers, prepared music.

Response is the reply of God’s people to the truth proclaimed through revelation. Think of response as the prepared or spontaneous opportunity given to the people through which they can answer, reply, or react. As is the case for revelation, responses can come in many ways—in fact through the same ways: through congregational singing, testimony, prayers, prepared music, etc.

The ancient and biblical two-fold structure of worship consisted of Word and Table. The service of the Word was revelation; the service of the Table was the response of joy! Revelation/response takes place in the big level in this case (macro). But revelation/response all takes place multiple times in units within a service (micro).

A worship element functions as a vehicle for revelation when it proclaims the truth about God, matters of faith, or the Christian experience. A worship element functions as a vehicle for response when it provides an avenue to express what the proclaimed truth means to the worshiping community.

So you see various worship components can function either for revelation or response. The words of most worship elements tend to be either a proclamation of a truth about God (revelation) or an honest expression of how the truth is received by the believer (response).

Now let’s look at some examples. Rather than thinking, “time for a hymn; time for a chorus,” let’s examine the text and make a decision about its logical function. Remember, music serves the text. Here are a few examples that will model this approach. Decide if each piece is primarily revelation or response and why.

  • A hymn that reveals specific mercies and the faithfulnesses of God is “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” #82; a chorus that celebrates the mercies and faithfulness of God: “I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord Forever” #60. Sing.
  • Many times traditional hymns proclaim truth. Often they are doctrinal and poetic presentations of truths about God and/or the Christian faith. Most hymns teach, explain, and exhort believers.

  • Another example: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!” #106; followed by “All Hail King Jesus” #92. With a partner, identify the biblical/theological facts expressed in this hymn. Sing. (“Crown Him With Many Crowns” #317 is also an excellent partner with “All Hail King Jesus”)
  • I think you see that the possibilities are endless. Music can also serve as a means for other elements of worship.

  • A confession of sin/assurance of pardon. (The assurance of pardon is nothing less than a proclamation of the truth about God’s grace).

    Possibilities for confession:

    • “Change My Heart, O God” (#373)
    • “Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God” (#378)
    • “Dear Lord, and Father of Mankind” (#470)
    • “Kyrie”

    Possibilities for assurance of pardon following confession:

    • “Grace Greater Than All Our Sin” (#353)
    • “Just As I Am”, stanza 4 (#354) Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
  • A prayer for illumination: “Thy Word” (#664) or “Wonderful Words of Life” (#668).
  • A call to prayer: “Be Still and Know That I am God” (#450), “Be Still, My Soul” (#451)

Summary: Because form follows function, a hymn that proclaims a truth, followed by a chorus that allows for response (or vice versa) can be a powerful musical combination. Pay attention to function! Who is saying what to whom?

Three Tips for Blending Music

  1. Examine each part of the service deciding upon the role that music is to play at each point. Is it revelation or response?
  2. Consider the whole musical repertoire of the Church for fulfilling the function, not just hymns vs. choruses. Utilize other types regularly (Gospel songs, Taize, ethnic song, chant, spirituals, etc.).
  3. Determine where music can serve as other acts of worship.

What about blending other elements of worship? Remember, convergence is the coming together of the historic and the contemporary. The key to successful convergence is not to think “either/or” but “both/and”.

Prayer

  • Blend the form (written/extemporaneous)
  • Blend the leadership (clergy led/lay led; female/male; child/older adult)
  • Blend the types of prayers (ancient/modern)
    Historic Contemporary
    bidding prayers small group
    litanies liturgical movement
    Lord’s Prayer Taize
    sung prayers conversational

Scripture Reading

  • Blend the presentation
  • Historic Contemporary
    lectionary choices dramatized readings
    use multiple readings story telling
    chant the scriptures choral reading
  • Blend the scriptural passages throughout the whole service

© Constance Cherry 2006

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