Worship leaders and pastors who are wrestling with the important and difficult decisions about when and how to bring fresh expressions of worship into traditional services, or more traditional/liturgical elements into contemporary services have a hard job in front of them.
Blending the new with the old is not as divisive an issue as it was 10 or 20 years ago, mainly because the worship wars have largely subsided, resulting either in different styles having their own services, or a different style having prevailed after a long battle.
But many churches are still attempting unified expressions of worship, in one service, either on a weekly or occasional basis.
And for those kinds of churches, and their worship leaders and pastors who are thinking through how to blend the new with the old (and do it well), I would like to caution against two commonly believed lies.
Lie # 1: The presence of something new will result in the removal of something old.
There is no reason why this has to be true. Just because you bring a drum set into the sanctuary doesn’t mean you’ll be removing organ pipes. Just because you have the choir sing an anthem doesn’t mean your electric guitarist needs to pack up his pedals. There has to be a way we can embrace a Psalm 150-esque model of robust and God-centered worship that draws out from praise from a variety of instruments across the spectrum.
And the way we begin to embrace that model is to just go ahead and do it. Will it be messy sometimes? Yes. Will we get critical responses? Yes. Will we do it perfectly? No. But we can’t just talk about putting the new and the old together in one unified expression. We actually have to make the hard decision to start doing it.
The pastor has to decide to spend some capital on teaching on it. The worship leader, and/or the worship staff, has to decide to do some hard work on moving forward as one with a broad variety of musicians with a broad variety of tastes and training. The leaders (or elders, or vestry, or deacons) have to be prepared to answer the congregation’s concerns.
Deciding to do some addition doesn’t mean you have to do subtraction. You can add without subtracting. This is the beauty of worshipping a God whose greatness is unsearchable! Lead your people with the constant refrain: “Do not be afraid.”
Lie # 2: The immediate embrace of something new will bring immediate revitalization.
There is no evidence that this is true. Many churches over the last few decades have rushed to incorporate contemporary music into their services, oftentimes firing their choirs and organists and assuming that by bringing in new forms of worship, they will experience immediate growth and revitalization. Similarly, many pastors have decided to introduce a lot of liturgy and/or formality into a service unaccustomed to it, thinking that it will bring immediate health or depth.
Most of the time, however, the opposite happens.