by Bob Whitesel, D.Min. Ph.D., 10/10/15.
The following argument for blending worship came from a former student. You might benefit from the interaction.
Dr. Whitesel, You’ve really had me thinking about the whole question of ‘blended worship,’ especially as it relates to worship services, and in a church that desires to connect with its community, this is a big deal for me. You ask the optimum question: Can blended services actually be evangelistic?
You know I respect you, so I kind of naturally want to morph my thinking to accommodate your position. I do. You’ve shaped yours after years of working with hundreds of similar churches. It is wise for me to listen, and as I have the responsibility for helping craft worship during this particular season of ministry, I want to make sure I am truly aware of the bigger picture.
The puzzle rests in something I’ve wrestled with for years now. Though there is little literature in church history (that I’ve been able to find) about the nature of ‘Times of Transition,’ some literature exists concerning the nature of transitions in culture in general. Norman Cohn’s historic study of the end of the first Christian millennium is a case in point. Dr. Cohn’s book “The Pursuit of the Millennium” (1970 ed, Oxford Press) studies the world stage at the 999/1000 marker. (It was an interesting study prior to the so-called Y2K millennium break, that’s for sure.) There is a library full of information about both the Reformation and the Great Awakening certainly, but precious little in the specific area of the reality of muddied communication during the course of a sensitive transition, and the movement from Modernity to Post-Modernity fits that description to a ‘T.’
Though I don’t want to stretch the idea too far, it seems that -— during times of extended cultural transition -— terms blur, definitions blur, and their applications often do as well. Is it possible part of the reason this discussion has something less than a crisp edge for me is that the idea of a blended service is an example of an idea that remains in flux?
As this decade comes to a close, fewer and fewer churches will follow a strictly liturgical path in designing worship, and yet few have absorbed the conventions of clearly contemporary music either. So many of us are somewhere in the middle. If we are to remain a step behind ‘the latest and greatest,’ aren’t we going to have to wrestle with blends of style and application for some time to come?
Again, I’m really wanting to better understand -— and really there are few folks who even begin to want to engage in this conversation here :) -— so, I hope you don’t mind an ‘off-the-forum’ request for your insights. Your thoughts matter to me, and I’m grateful for any additional insight you might feel comfortable sharing. As always, thanks for engaging the gears. Steve W.
You are right about a transitional period in organizational behavior. Van de Ven and Poole (Handbook of Organizational Change, 2004) have probably the most extensive overview of organizational behavior theories of change in such times. It is a pricy book, but I had a copy bought for the IWU library and you can get it from OCLS. Also, organizational theorist Mary Jo Hatch deals with terms and icons in transitional periods.
Per these readings I would say that blended worship (and here I am making a difference between blended where two styles are bounced together in a service, and ancient-future where the two styles are integrated) is usually a result of cultural overhang. Because as a missiologist I have such an adverse view of cultural overhang (due to the way it fosters what Wagner calls the creator complex, as well as inhibits evangelistic engagement) and because blending worship has become so prevalent by churches that hope such tactics are creating something aesthetically attractional (when they are usually not), that I see this as a widespread contributor to poor evangelistic performance.
The middle ground I think you are probing is what I consider ancient-future, and I like the hyphen for it denotes a connection or integration (instead of a forward slash). Ancient-future creates and integrates a new musical narrative, whereas blended (in my definition which I think is the accepted viewpoint of most churches) juxtapositions styles in hopes of an economy of scope. You noted, “As this decade comes to a close, fewer and fewer churches will follow a strictly liturgical path in designing worship, and yet few have absorbed the conventions of clearly contemporary music either.” I think this harkens to ancient-future, and is very relevant.
I hope this adds to your fertile thoughts :-) In His Grace; Dr. Whitesel