WORSHIP & How the Hebrew Word Tells Us Worship is Not “Neighbor-directed” … but “God-directed”

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., excerpted from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart (2013).

“… the Hebrew word for “worship” implies God-directed, not neighbor-directed reconciliation.(Footnote 1)”  p. 64

Healthy Church Cover sm(Footnote 1) The Hebrew word for “worship” means to come close to God’s majesty and adore Him. It carries the idea of reverence, respect and praise that results from a close encounter with a king, see Francis Brown, S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament Based Upon the Lexicon of William Gesenius(Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 1005. Thus, worship should not be about fellowship (the New Testament Christians had meals for that), but rather worship was to be about personal communing with God. This reminds us that worship should be about connecting with God and not about creating friendships among people (we have time before and after “worship” for getting to know one another in “fellowship” halls and in common areas). Making worship into a fellowship among humans, robs its place as the supernatural intersection between humans with their heavenly Father. We shall discuss the Multicultural Blended Model shortly, but I have noticed in most blended models I have attended, that supernatural connection is not the focus or their aim, but rather unity is the objective. While the later goal (unity) is needed, it should not be attained at the expense of worship which is primarily intended as a environment in which to connect with God.  p. 158

RECONCILIATION & The Power Struggle Involved in Transitioning to a Multiethnic Church

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Reconciliation is not about acculturation or blending, but about “giving up power.” That’s what Mark and I tried to say in our book: re;MIX Transitioning Your Church to Living Color (Abingdon Press, 2017). Read this article below for a good corollary.

“Transitioning to a Multiethnic Church” By Eric Nykamp, Global Christian Worship, 8/25/17.

Many urban white churches realize that their congregation doesn’t reflect the diversity of the cities they reside in, and many of these churches desire to become multi-ethnic communities. However, moving from this desire to developing into an actual multi-ethnic community can be challenging, especially for churches with a track-record of being a “whites only” worship space in their city. Since most white people have little awareness of their white cultural norms, they mistakenly assume that what is normal for them is also the norm for all people … and are puzzled when their “outreach” or “welcome and enfolding” efforts fall flat with people of color. Due to this cultural blindspot, they are unable to recognize that some of their white cultural norms send the message that people of color with different norms of worship are not welcomed, unless the person of color is willing to assimilate.

Some majority-white churches realize that changing their worship norms will help them develop into the multi-ethnic space they desire to become … but find that they are stuck in making this happen. This talk, given at one such church, addresses how white Christians need to recognize and understand how white norms about worship may operate within their church. The presentation asks questions about what it would mean for white people to change their ways and give up power in order to become a multiethnic community. He concludes with a challenge to white Christians in multiethnic churches to love their brothers and sisters of color with Christ self-sacrificial love for the church, especially when it comes to issues of power and control in multiethnic churches.

Read more at … http://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/164621929550/transitioning-into-a-multi-ethnic-church-eric

Hear it at:


and go here for more:

BLENDED WORSHIP & How to Employ the Compartmental Option … by Rebecca W.

by Rebecca Whitesel, 11/22/16.

Recently, a worship leader friend of mine received an anonymous note from a church person Sunday: “How about a hymn!”

He said they’d done two that morning…

Here’s a thought on churches who insist on having people of differing worship preferences present in the same service:

Offer two sets of music at different times during the service. Maybe start with traditional music before the message rather than “blending” so the older folks feel like they’ve been to church as they remember it. Ask ones who like modern music to pray during the traditional music.

After the sermon, enter into a contemporary expression of praise and worship. Traditionalists can either stay and pray during this or quietly leave.

For more examples and planning ideas on the “compartmental option” for worship see these posts:


WORSHIP & Reasons Why Blending Worship May Not Be An Effective Evangelistic Strategy

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/24/15.

A student once tendered the following query.

“You really believe that three services are necessary to reach the three different generations? I understand a little difference in order to reach a different group, but three seems a little over the top…. Our church currently has two services. One is praise and worship, and one is Traditional. These two services have come with pros and cons at our church. It has expanded the ministry and allowed us to reach some new people. It also has created some division among some who don’t like the other service or feel the two services are actually driving the two groups further apart instead of together.  Personally, I am a proponent of a well blended service. Ideally this brings generations together in the same service and teaches them both about compromise when it comes to music styles. I will say for this to work the musicians and music leaders must be good and do a good job of blending the music. Music hopefully is a tool to lead us to worship, that is why I don’t get hung up on styles. I have a problem with those that think only one style is the correct way to worship.”

These are good, and common questions.  And, here are my answers.

Hello ___student_name___;

You queried, “You really believe that three services are necessary to reach the three different generations?”  Yes, I do.  However, variations of this exist so let me give you some general parameters.

Some churches will have a traditional (reaching older adults who want stability in their increasingly unstable lives), blended (really a Christian variation that can seem culturally confusing to unchurched people), contemporary (upbeat with a backbeat) and modern (more engagement and improvisation, see my case-study book: Inside the Organic Church, 2006).

You noted that this has “allowed us to reach some new people.”  That is good news!  And, wait until you read Chip Arn’s book, How to Start New Service (a textbook for this course) and you will see that his research supports your conclusion: more variation in service styles has been proven numerically to reach more people for Christ!

But, I also think you can see that each of these worship expressions are stylistically different enough to require separate venues, or a sizable segment will not relate and not worship.  While your desire to mature people by “teaching them to compromise” is a laudable goal (and one with which I wholehearted agree), the worship service man not be the best venue for this.  You see, if you have only a blended service you will lose some of the babes-in-Christ because they may not be ready for adult food.   Romans 15:1ff is as good summation of the writer’s argument that for salvation sake, we must try not to put roadblocks (if they are culturally inspired and morally neutral) in the path of young believers.

Thus, if your goal is to reach the unchurched and introduce them to Christ, you will need to get them into an environment where they are not uncomfortable or perplexed by the culturally-derived aesthetics.  You won’t want to leave them there. But, you will want them to be able to start there, in a place where they are more culturally comfortable.  This is what a missionary does, they take the Good News and put it cultural aesthetics (and worship styles) of a society.

Since my purpose is to introduce them into an encounter with God, it makes sense to present the encounter in the most relevant (to them) way possible.

Many people note that this creates division.  And, it does.  But I am not sure that worship is the best venue for unity.  One young man I asked about this responded to me “you can’t create unity in worship, the seats face the wrong way.”

That is why I agree with you that we need to foster compromise.  I wrote two books about this: Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church (Abingdon Press, 2010) and Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It (Abingdon Press, 2003).

But, to create this unity I am not sure worship is the best venue, for it is a place of spiritual encounter.  Thus, you will notice in my books that I strongly emphasize that we supplement varied worship venues with new community spaces where people can gather after church and talk about the same message they heard in the different culturally stylistic venues.  Therefore unity experiences and venues, where people can fellowship and get to know each other, must be created.  It means not trying to create this in worship, for there it can rob us of our heavenward focus.  But rather it means creating unity experiences and opportunities; and offer as many each week as we offer worship experiences.

BLENDED WORSHIP & Why You Should Use Both Blended Music & Heart Music

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/5/15.

Linked below is an insightful article by James Ward, an accomplished and popular Christian musician about the challenges, yet benefits, of blending cross-cultural worship. In my view, we should have such cross-cultural worship expressions. Yet I also emphasize that we need culturally diverse worship expressions too, in order to connect with what Ward calls “the heart language” (pp. 44-45) of more people among today’s increasingly diverse cultures.

And so, this is a helpful article, written by a musician/scholar who a Caucasian pastor once asked, “I want to have a parish church, uniquely positioned to meet the needs of our immediate community. How do begin to do that in our worship if our neighbors are black?” (Ward, 2012, p. 40) James Ward’s answer became the basis for this article: http://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/8744200959/strategies-for-cross-cultural-music-worship-by

Leadership Exercise:

Take a look at this article and then answer with colleagues, one of the first two questions and then also the third.

1. How can cross-cultural worship break down pejorative stereotypes?

2. How can cross-cultural worship fit into a church that is, like the example mentioned by the Caucasian pastor, seeking to reach out to a changing demographic in the neighborhood?

3. Finally if you can only answer one of these questions, answer this one. Ward says, “As wonderful as it may sound, cross-cultural worship seems not to be for everyone” (p. 46). Thus, how do you balance in a church “heart language” worship with “cross-cultural” worship?

I think Ward has some good thoughts about “heart music” which he defines in ethnomusicological nomenclature as “a musical context leaned in childhood that most fully expresses one’s emotions” (pp. 44-45).

BLENDED WORSHIP & Will Blended or Indigenous Worship be the Future?

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  

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.


Hello Steve;
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

BLENDED WORSHIP & An Analysis of Blended Services from a 20-something Volunteer

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 5/10/15.

In an attempt to bring about cultural (and usually ethnic) unity, churches often try to create Sunday morning services that reflect the cultural diversity of their community.  The Sunday morning service is thus a “unity” service and is blended with many different styles of worship.

As you know from my my books (“ORGANIX,” “Cure for the Common Church” and “The Healthy Church”), I believe that unity is critical!  But, I also believe that Bible teaches that helping a person experience spiritual transformation (i.e. conversion) is even a higher commission!!

Thus, because Sunday morning continues to be the primarily time when non-churchgoers will visit a church, I believe that a Good News church will offer as many Sunday worship encounters (i.e. worship services) in as many different styles as it feasibly can at the times when non-churchgoers are likely to attend.

Below is the true story of a large church, told by a 20-something volunteer, that once had varying styles of worship at varying times and was growing.  But, in the name of uniting multiple cultures (in this case ethnicities) the church created a blended format.

Author: Steph F.
Posted Date: November 7, 2011

Worship Disasters

I can’t say as though I have been privy to a new worship service disaster. However, I have been privy to worship service disasters due to trying to implement too many components in one worship service experience. Our church can tend to try and pack as much into one service as humanly possible. We are “masters” (please not the sarcasm) of attempting to reach as many different people and groups as possible in one worship experience. What ends up happening is we don’t do any style or component that well and there ends up being great confusion and lack of cohesiveness…therefore, congregants walk away feeling more disjointed than unified and clear on the purpose and message.

1. When did the mistakes begin?

Especially with the shift in leadership at (name of church), we have had a stronger emphasis on our congregation reflecting the diversity already present in the immediate surrounding community. Therefore, rather than taking the multi-generational model as outlined in Whitesel’s book, (name of church) usually takes one of two approaches. We either try and encompass and represent several worship styles and experiences within each service (same service for all 3 times) or we decide eventually to church plant another church to more purposefully meet the needs and desires of a specific group or location.

That is not to say that either idea in and of itself is necessarily bad all of the time. However, there have been numerous times in which the blended worship services have been more of a failure than a success. And in regards to church planting, we tend to church plant quite often, which I am not against if it is truly needed. But if the purpose is to simply have a separate church for those already living in the community of (name of church), I think that is unnecessary when the organization of (name of church) can be reformatted to reach multiple groups.

2. What were the primary mistakes, and what should have been done differently?

I like the way Arn summarizes what happens when a church tries to “incorporate more variety into an existing service” (37). “In an effort to provide a service in which everyone finds something they like, you will more likely discover you have created a service in which everyone finds something they don’t like.” That is exactly what happens at (name of church).

Please hear me when I say I know the motives and thinking behind incorporating more variety into our already existing services is pure. I believe that! However, it is now typical to have a service that utilizes videos, contemporary music, hymns, songs in other languages, props, dramatizations, spoken word, question and answer, and several other elements. Each element in and of itself is a great tool in reaching people for Christ.  But each element is not effective in reaching all people groups and may not be nearly as effective in the group they are trying to specifically minster to in light of all of the other elements in that same service.

I believe what should have been (and could be) done is specifying each of the three services to target a specific generational group and worship style. That is actually the way it used to be. The Saturday evening service was more geared towards the younger, very contemporary groups. The early Sunday morning service was more geared towards the older, traditional groups. And the later Sunday morning service was more geared towards the middle, contemporary groups. However, in subsequent years, the leadership of the church has felt each of the three services need to mirror each other. I truly feel we need to go back to three distinct services each with the same message preached, but the style of worship and teaching unique to each service.

3. What was the aftermath?

The aftermath has been a slight decline in attendance…certainly a decline in new attendees and the unchurched attending. And from sitting out among the congregation, an overall dissatisfaction with the worship services. I unfortunately hear more negative at times than I do positive. Mind you, I realize that we (as humans) tend to gravitate and fixate on what we don’t like and quickly forget what we do like. However, there are so many aspects to a service that unfortunately due to the extreme variety, there is always something someone is not going to like. Whereas if there were worship service experience options, I think there would still be complaints to a degree, but that is then more reflective of your choice of worship service over the actual worship components and style.

Again, the motives and purpose in representing and catering to the needs and desires of many in one worship service is admirable. I think it just may be time to reconsider 3-4 unique, individual worship services keeping unity through the same message preached throughout all services, but the worship and teaching styles specific to the needs and desires of the overall group represented.

BLENDED WORSHIP & To Blend or Not To Blend: Here is a better option for small churches

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/51/15.

Let me share about blended worship and the evangelistic prowess of blended services (which I prefer to call “unity services” rather than blended – but for this discussion and clarity I will use the latter).

I’ve made clear in my books (“ORGANIX,” “Cure for the Common Church” and “The Healthy Church”) about the lack of evangelistic efficacy of blended services, but often smaller churches (as I mention in “A House Divided”) have trouble having enough people to move to two services.  In this scenario the better option to the blended format is the compartmentalized format.  In this strategy the key will be to compartmentalize your service until you have grown sufficiently to launch two services.

One client had a pre-glow contemporary music component from 10:10-10:30, and then their standard traditional service from 10:30-11:30. This meant those who didn’t like modern worship didn’t have to sit through it. I have also seen this work as an after-glow too (though with a bit more difficulty).  Eventually as growth occurs the two services grow into two worship alternatives.

The reason this is necessitated is that people worship most passionately without alien (to them) music and culture invading. That is because we worship more readily and unhindered when surround with familiarity. Thus separating the two segments (rather than blending them into some sort of muddled goo) allows people to worship more passionately.  Biblically, we see Davidic worship very different than New Testament worship.

Thus, many churches will need to follow this strategy to grow. An area growing with younger families may especially require this. As you know in my book I show you how with about 100 people you can readily go to a second service. This is the ultimate way to dissuade the cultural music wars 🙂  Until then, the compartmentalized format will help smaller churches grow with some degree of cultural anonymity.