Blended Worship vs. Balanced Worship (Part 2 – Revelation and Response)

In the last post I presented a few challenges with the idea of “blended” worship and addressed why this can often be a misunderstood approach to corporate worship in the church. In this post I want to present some thoughts concerning “balanced” worship and why this might be a better approach for those seeking gospel unity in the church.

Why the fuss over terminology?

Words matter. Last month during the Church Life Conference here on Trinity’s campus, Charles Billingsley gave a great talk to worship leaders regarding how to transition your church’s worship without starting a worship war. In that session, he spoke of the importance of language and that communication is not so much what you say, but what people hear. Sometimes it’s better to use a term that requires defining, than a term which may be misunderstood. So whether you prefer to use “blended” or “balanced”, below is the first of a few “balance points” that constantly challenge me as I approach corporate worship planning.

Revelation and Response

Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see a very clear pattern that emerges in the worship of God’s people. Mainly, God reveals Himself to His people–the people respond to Him in worship. This appears quite simple, but has often been a neglected balance point for me as I have planned and led corporate worship. During the 90’s the majority of new music was focused on “me”, “my”, and “I”.  In defense of this, I sense that songwriters were writing in this vein primarily because those expressions were lacking in so many of our churches. Worship for many churches had become a very dry, cognitive ascent to a set of beliefs or values, but often did not engage the entire person (mind, will, emotion) in worship. So, in reaction to this, songwriters began to write about their emotion and their feelings toward God. What happens often in modern church culture, however, is that we try so hard to stay “current” and fall victim to whatever is “hot”. The CCLI top 100 song list becomes the basis for our worship planning with little thought to content or direction. Don’t get me wrong–I regularly use most of the songs that are on these charts, and I also recognize that these songs are there for a reason–primarily because they, generally, are good songs and God is using them globally in a great way. However, the needs of your church and my church are very unique and we need to keep this in mind as we “put words in the church’s mouth” as Glen Packiam (“Fairest”, “My Savior Lives”, “Your Name”) describes so well (you can subscribe to his blog here).

Here’s the bottom line: does the music your church sings present a balanced view of God’s revelation to us (His attributes, His character, His gospel) as well as providing opportunities for your church to respond to that truth in authenticity?  If we over-emphasize revelation to the exclusion of our authentic, heart-felt response to God, the result can be a dry, crusty, Christianity without heart and genuine emotion. If we over-emphasize our response to God to the exclusion of knowing Him, His revelation (through His Word), and obedience, then we can end up with a psuedo-emotional, “me-centered” Christianity that knows little about the God we are trying to worship. I recognize that the entire weight of this does not rest entirely on the music we choose (that’s why we have preaching/teaching), however, I can also say that I’ve forgotten many more sermons than I have forgotten songs. What we sing can help reinforce the truth that is presented in our services through all the creative means, whether it be teaching, preaching, Scripture reading, or some form of dramatic interpretation or other form of visual art. It is, however, the songs that carry the melodies that can help us to remember these truths at those times when we need them the most.

“Incredible!”

During the last month I had the opportunity to spend some time with a worship leader of a new, vibrant church plant. We were discussing this very idea of revelation and response, as well as how much of what our churches believe is a result of what we sing. After spending some time thinking and reviewing several of his services over the past few months, he noticed a pattern that he shared with me. He said that after reviewing several of the services where the church seemed to be more in tune and engaged with God, he noticed that it was those services where (in hindsight) he had led the church in this “balance point” of revelation and response. Now, this doesn’t mean that God can be confined to some “formula” and that this idea become another legalistic “rule” to follow in worship. However, what it does say, is that a pattern of several millennia of recorded worship and response not be too quickly dismissed simply because it is not “current”.

What is working for you?

At Trinity, we have recognized this and try to present a balanced selection of music that allows for both of these expressions. Often, “revelation” can be found in many of the older hymn texts and “response” can be found in many of the simple choruses that have been popular (though it is also conversely true as well). There are also many new songs that deal well with God’s revelation to us like “In Christ Alone”, “The Power of the Cross”, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”, and many that are great at combining both of these concepts within the same song like “God of the Ages” (Travis Doucette)*, “How Great is Our God” (Chris Tomlin), “Revelation Song” (Jenny Lee Riddle), and a new song written by one of our staff, Joel Carney — “Isaiah 53” (You can get charts and full orchestration for this song by contacting music@tbc.org). There are also several arrangements of hymns that have added choruses that can help with this as well, like “Fairest” (Glenn Packiam), “I Am Yours” (Michael Neal), “To God be the Glory” (Tommy Walker),  “Be Thou My Vision” (Adam Lancaster)*, and one that I have written recently called “What a Savior You Are” (also available from music@tbc.org).

My challenge to all of us would be to go back and review our own worship services and see if we find similar patterns. I do know that God always honors His Word and that he desires for us to respond to Him in worship and obedience (John 4:23).

What music is working well for you in your church?

What songs would you add to those mentioned above?

What expressions, besides music, are you using to demonstrate this balance point?

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at the “balance point” of context and church culture.

* Arrangements to these songs can be found by contacting lori@redtierecords.com. The remaining songs can be found at www.praisecharts.com.
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About jasoncrosslive.com
A former pastor reflecting on matters of faith, culture and the arts in the context of real life.

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