So far in this series, we’ve seen that God has one covenant people. We’ve learned that the embryonic form of this people was Israel, the “assembly,” of God. Then we learned that the fulfillment of this covenant people is the “one new man,” Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2, the Church, the New Testament Body of Christ. In every season, God has commaned that his people worship him together, that they glorify him not only individually, but together, and that they proclaim his mighty works together. Lastly, we have seen how the modern “worship wars” have threatened to drive a wedge right between God’s one people. We just can’t seem to get along musically. So what have we done? Striven for unity? Fought for peace? No. We’d just as soon put the “rock back down” than to see all the bugs and dirt underneath as one worship leader recently told me. We’ve divided our churches between young and old, we’ve split congregations in “traditional” and “contemporary,” and in doing so, we have divided God’s people and broken God’s heart.
I want to therefore present unity in the body of Christ, the local church, and the corporate worship service, as a prize to be fought for and won. It will not be easy; nothing good comes easy. It will not happen quickly; nothing good comes quickly. There must be strategy involved, a plan made, and a spiritual battle fought.
The first strategy in the fight for unity must be a unity within the Pastoral and/or music staff regarding a philosophy of ministry and worship. There must be an agreement between the Pastoral staff or Elders and the worship or music ministry regarding the importance of the unity in corporate worship. Without this, more disunity may become an issue. In that case, simply wait, pray, and seek God’s wisdom in helping his church come together.
The second strategy is the to intentionally blend your worship services. What I do not mean by this is to simply throw together older songs and newer songs that share common themes. I mean to intentionally incorporate both old and new forms and styles so as to directly communicate the importance of heritage, the value of history, and the promise of the future. This can mean incorporating responsive Scripture readings, scheduled individual Scripture readings, and corporate prayers, all of which will find little to no resistance from any group. This should mean incorporating leaders and participators from different age groups and preferences. Use different soloists, worship leaders, and other participators from different generations and preferences in one service in order to display the diversity and variety of the gifts of God within your congregation and to demonstrate their cooperation with and love for one another. This might also mean using more modern arrangements of hymns and gospel songs. I say that last one with one caveat. Sometimes, modern arrangements of older hymns and gospel songs may change the melody to such an extent as to render it unfamiliar to those to whom is was intended to be familiar. While use of such modern arrangements is by no means to be frowned upon, be sensitive to making sure old songs sound just that sometimes, old (and old is sometimes good).
The third and final primary strategy for intentionally blending your worship services is to intentionally teach and illustrate the principles behind such a philosophy. Again, this is hinged on the unity of philosophy between the Pastoral and music staff. Also note that any attempt to do the second strategy without this third step of teaching, may fall flat for lack of direct communication regarding the meaning and intention of the blending.
This process is not to be taken on for the express purpose of simply “making everybody happy.” I hesitate to even use the word “blended,” because of that very connotation. I do not mean by this that our purpose should be to “tickle” every ear and “scratch” every itch. I mean to intentionally and deliberately train your people to see the worth and value of worship, especially through song, of every generation of God’s people.
Worship is a sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). Worship is an intentional offering of ourselves to God in service, love, and devotion. Corporate worship is the chief goal and manifestation of the fullness of worship in this life and it requires an even greater sacrifice. Just as we must come to God laying down our pride and preferences, we must also come to God together laying down our pride and preferences. We sacrifice for one another simply because we love one another. We lay aside petty disputes over preferences of style and form in order to unite over the signs of the gospel, namely the Sacraments and the preaching of the Word. Aside from those two elements, everything else is expendable. Understanding that, we should strive and even fight for unity and love within the local church. Admitted, sometimes dividing over preference may seem like a necessary evil in order to simply keep people in your church, but it should be lamented and avoided at all possible cost. I have given some simple strategies for how to overcome issues of division over preference in favor of a blended or inter-generational form of corporate worship. We should willingly sing each other’s songs, we should willingly sacrifice some preferences for the weaker conscience of others, we should willingly live in peace with one another, even if it means not singing our favorite songs all the time. These are ways that we can sacrifice for one another, ways that we can reach out to every generation of our culture, not just a coveted subset. Ultimately, these are ways that we can obey the command of God to “walk in love” and “unity” with one another. In doing so, we may truly see God’s mighty works “commended” from one generation to another so that when children and youth might ask us “what do these stones mean to you?” We might be able to answer them… perhaps even in the same worship service.