(For several decades I have led and pondered Christian worship. My observation is that leaders must make a serious effort to understand the practice in some depth or they will tend to lead only in accordance with their own tastes. These tastes might have been shaped by childhood church experiences, or mere personal inclinations, or even by practices gathered from the entertainment world. What follows in four parts is not offered as a final or comprehensive word on this critical subject. But it may be used to prompt worship leaders to seek deeper understanding and balance for the serious task of leading God’s people in worship)
During a brief stay in the Midwest my host took me to a Sunday morning service in a large, conservative, evangelical church where worship is conducted in traditional ways. I knew that this church has grown remarkably in the past decade through a variety of creative ministries and now exceeds 2000 in attendance. But, as we were leaving the service, my host confided, “There are many refugees in this church.” Later, he explained that some “refugees” were there because they had fled churches where bitter debates over musical tastes had divided a congregation; some were from churches where a leader had imposed new styles of worship without consulting or seeking support from the members; and some had come from bodies where worship styles seemed to have been taken over by the entertainment world.
Were these flights merely the results of the rigidities and anxieties of an aging generation? Or were they concerns that should be given greater attention?
I have visited many evangelical churches in recent years and my observation is that some are handling the revolutionary worship impulses so as to keep a congregation moving forward together — though with some strain. But in others it appears that the robust and sustaining Christian faith has been watered down to something like a folk religion where the major objective seems to be to make everyone feel “comfortable.” Certainly, worship practices will vary from place to place. One generation will never duplicate in every respect the worship practices of another, but if God does not change and human nature remains constant then there must be some fundamental ways in which the worship of God does not change from age to age.
So, where can we turn for a broader perspective on what’s going on? I propose that historically, Christian worship has tended to fall into one or more of three categories: word-centered, liturgical, or charismatic. Each type has its place and its perils. Blended appropriately, each deserves respect.