WORSHIP SINGING AND CHURCH UNITY

 I recently read a thoughtful article by composer-arranger-recording artist, Bruce Greer[1]. The title of the article caught my eye, “Food Court Worship – The Starvation of Church Unity.”  Rather than re-quote the full article here, I would like to draw attention to a few segments and couple those with reflections I have read from other church leaders who have given voice to these issues.  The “Food Court” article says,

Somehow we’ve decided that the Food Court approach is the best way to reach our ever increasingly diverse world.  You know what I’m talking about.  Go to the mall and everyone divides up and goes off to eat a meal of your own choosing.  It seems logical.  Of course, there is no passing of the bread or the cup.  No real supping together.  And somewhere inside, my spirit is crying out, “NO!”

Bruce is spot on in drawing our attention to this comparison.  His statement draws out the fallacy of “preference-based” worship.  How can “getting what I want” in worship music style possibly square-up with Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21-23?

May they all be one,
as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You,
May they also be one in Us,
so the world may believe You sent Me.
I have given them the glory You have given Me.
May they be one as We are one.
I am in them and You are in Me
May they be made completely one,
so the world may know You have sent Me
and have lovedthem as You have loved Me.

 Greer further advocates for “converging worship, where there is distinction in musical styles. Juxtaposing a grand hymn accompanied by pipe organ right next to a contemporary song led with guitars and drums.”

In this method Bruce is calling for stylistic expressions to be allowed their own authenticity.  He indicates that this converging approach is practiced in his own congregation and indicates that it is not just “tolerated,” but rather indicates a “surprise how supportive and engaged our people (young, old, rich, poor, black, white or brown) are to this approach.”

He further contrasts this approach with situations whereby

Some churches have tried to make peace by developing a ‘blended’ worship style.  In theory this works.  However, in practice a lot of ‘blended’ music is scrambled music.  Instead of being what it is – diverse songs in diverse styles – it is homogenized.”

I can feel some of you purists (classical or rock) cringing now.  Believe me, been there – done that.  And I have also sadly heard and overheard denigration of worship expressions offered by others (in a preferred styled other than their own of course) with little consideration seemingly given as to what may have been taking place in the hearts of the worshipers from which they came.

The point well taken from Greer’s article is the plea for unity in the church!  Though coming at the issue from different directions, or more precisely from different disciplines, author/pastor/theologian, Tullian Tchividjian arrives at a similar point of view with different terminology.  The heart of the matter in each case, however, I believe is the same.  The real concern is the unity of the church and the power of the Gospel.  Tchividjian rightly directs our attention to the potency question:

You see, when we separate people according to something as trivial as musical preferences, we evidence a fundamental failure to comprehend the heart of the gospel. We’re not only feeding toxic tribalism; we’re also saying the gospel can’t successfully bring these two different groups together.  It’s a declaration of doubt about the unifying power of God’s gospel.

For many of us who are musicians our starting point in evaluating worship music is the music itself.  For pragmatic church builders, the starting point may be how many worshipers are drawn under their steeple by a kind of music.  In truth, if the point is worship of the living God in Christ, who looks upon the hearts of those gathered in His Name, then why would not the controlling point of our worship be that which answers His prayer? (John 17)  Why would we desire any less than grand display of power in the gospel that knows no male, female, Jew, or Gentile, but rather seeks to save that which is lost!  O that we might know Him in the power of His Resurrection and each time we gather to worship truly be

One body and one Spirit(I)—just as you were called to one hope[b](J) at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:4-6)

Now that kind of singing is powerful singing!!!  Soli deo Gloria!


[1] Bruce Greer serves with his wife, Kim, as co-Ministers of Music for First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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5 Comments on “WORSHIP SINGING AND CHURCH UNITY”

  1. Collin Wood Says:

    I appreciate Bruce’s desire for unity in the church and I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor that all who shepherd should pursue with vigor. Bruce argues that unity is built around a shared experience yet he only focuses on a shared experienced of music “sameness”. For churches that have multiple services, preferences are already part of the worship services as people make a choice based on a preference of what time they attend a worship service. According to Bruce’s argument these churches do not have unity because they do not have a shared musical experience. I would say that now we’re just arguing over the degree of unity or disunity that churches have.

    Full disclosure, at my church we have 7 services in 5 venues using several different musical styles. There are other things besides the music style that make each service or venue distinctive including dress, architecture, coffee or not, chairs or pews, english or not, etc. However, we have made the decision not to build a $25 million dollar building large enough for our entire church to worship in one room at one time. We choose to unite around something greater than music style or cultural expression. We spend our time and effort as pastors encouraging unity among our people around the gospel and the mission God has called us to. Primary issues should be what unite us, not tertiary ones.

    I will be the first to admit that we do not have it figured out and are seeking God every day as we attempt to lead a church growing very rapidly. I agree with Bruce’s assertion that a church small enough to meet together in one room at one time would be best served using a convergent style but I believe that ultimately there are larger issues to unite over.


    • Collin,

      Not sure I grasp your pushback. I admit I cherry-picked Bruce’s article (with his permission) to underscore the power of the Gospel to be the priority – not at all musical style and certainly not “sameness.” In fact, the very thing you indicate your church chooses to unite around, with which I would concur wholeheartedly given what I know about you, your staff, and your congregation, is what I hear him saying, though his scenario is in one service where diverse songs are shared in diverse styles, whereas yours are in multiple services and styles. Whether we are a church meeting in “7 services in 5 venues using several different musical styles,” or we are a congregation that, following a devastating bombing attack two blocks from our building that shattered our windows and our hearts, is recovering in smaller numbers but with enlarged hearts that are more fully welcoming to people who look different, struggle with different life issues from what we have been use to, still our worship rallies around a Gospel of Jesus, which is indeed primary, not tertiary.

      My point is that hearts changed by the power of the Gospel seem capable of singing the sweet, sweet song of salvation in many, yea perhaps any style, as long as the purpose and point is the Gospel itself, never “what I like.”

      • Michael Says:

        Paul & Collin,

        I think there’s another dynamic at play here; not so much one that makes you both “right,” but that certainly is explanatory. Though probably not satisfactory.

        First, a little disclaimer: my parents attend Collin’s church, and they are very happy there. Probably the first church my dad has attended in… like… EVER, where he didn’t complain to me about the music. 😉 Their solution to “population control” is not the only one in that community, and that, I think, is where the application of Bruce’s thoughts are problematic.

        Within a church context, Bruce is right, I think: not that music be homogenized, or in pursuit of “sameness” (not, I think, what he was saying in the first place), but that a body of believers experience unity in as many aspects as we can control (I’ll wait for your knowing chuckle). We must present a unified sense of worship (not a plain “same” style) to lead our people to God’s throne.

        However, in a multi-service (and even multi-site) context, this is challenging. As Collin has said, some churches are effectively split depending on when and where to worship. In this sense, it really isn’t about worship; if such can be imagined, there is a deeper issue. I don’t want to denigrate anyone’s congregation, so I won’t risk being so stupid as to suppose motivations. The point is, if a church isn’t unified for something like time and place, music is the least of the problems. It may be the excuse, but not the inherent cause.

        HOWEVER however, in Collin’s context, space is an issue. There have been some churches that have solved that problem by moving to another area. To their credit, Collin’s church has bloomed in the community in which it was planted, and serves the people there well. The solution they’ve chosen is not original with them, and it may be debated separately whether this technique of church growth is the best or not. As he stated, this is the solution they’ve adopted. In that context, however, Bruce’s point becomes all the more evident: many people are as much picking their church as which service they go to, frequently based not on how they can serve God with that congregation, but on “what they like.” Hence, food court worship. Again, music is a tertiary consideration, even if it’s given credit as the deciding factor.

        A careful look at the New Testament solution indicates the seeding of “daughter” churches. I get that multiple services and “multi-site” plants allow for more control over orthodoxy, but I’m not sure that was the concern in the early church. The Gospel was the primary factor, and there was (of necessity) a lot of faith and reliance placed in the Holy Spirit to keep the integrity of the message in line.

        This has meandered a bit, my apologies. I get both sides, and see the complications for and from both perspectives. It would be so much easier if people weren’t involved. 😉


      • Thanks for chiming in Michael. This is all healthy conversation, especially among worship music leaders like Collin and you (and Bruce and I trust, me for that matter) who take very seriously the larger picture.


  2. Great word Paul! I agree with you totally. This is something I have been preaching for a few years now. Hopefully these ideas will emerge into a movement among our churches.


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