In Defense of the “Contemporary” Church

stained glass

Since when did it become popular to critique the style and form of how some churches choose to worship?  The most recent trend has some writers taking cheap shots at what they are calling the “contemporary” church.  You know, the ones with the praise band who are attempting to be “relevant.”  While I find this trend a little disturbing, I find myself coming to the defense of the “contemporary” church, if for no other reason than to hopefully broaden the debate over worship forms and styles.

Twenty years ago, Mike Slaughter published a book called “Spiritual Entrepreneurs,” in which he writes, “Renewal gives birth to new worship forms, which relate to the needs and culture of unchurched people rather than to the preferences of the churched” (Slaughter, 59).  And for me, this is why worship styles should be flexible.  Your community looks different than mine.  Your culture looks different than mine.  So shouldn’t our worship style have enough flexibility to best reach people in our context? This is why I am having a hard time understanding these critiques.  If we are effectively reaching people with the message of Christ, does it matter what form our worship takes?

The latest offering from Erik Parker (here) even uses Martin Luther (yes the same Luther who I would argue, along with Slaughter, was the architect of the “contemporary” church of his day) to argue that praise bands disengage the congregation.  Parker writes:

“Martin Luther, the key dude of the Reformation didn’t like this at all. He translated the bible into the language of the people. AND he also translated worship into the language of the people. Liturgy (which means ‘work of the people’, but also refers to those wrote prayers, litanies, responses, music etc…) was changed so that the people could be included. No more secret prayers, no more facing away from the people, priests spoke in the language that most people understood, and worship was about participation and designed to be for the people. Worship was so that the people could hear the Gospel, instead of be bystanders to the hocus-pocus magic. The assembly, all the people gathered for worship, were now considered necessary.”

Hmmm… “translated worship into the language of the people.”  Sounds a whole lot like what happened at FaithBridge on Sunday.  Slaughter writes, “Luther was so concerned with finding ways to reach the young college students that he put the gospel message into popular music form…It is well documented that many of Luther’s hymns were inspired by the ‘beer garden’ music of his day” (Slaughter, 59).  Worship forms change. Worship styles change. They must. But the content stays the same.  Because the Content is the same yesterday, today, and forever. New wineskins for new wine.

The thing is, I’m not going to say that our style of worship or form of worship is any better or worse than some others. I think in order to reach as many people as possible, our churches should differ in their styles and forms of worship.  But our mission at FaithBridge is to be a bridge of faith through Christ for those who are disconnected from church, and our worship style reflects that mission.  Our hospitality and outreach reflects that mission.  Everything we do reflects that mission. But don’t think for a second that we are “selling out” or refusing to preach the message of Christ. It just so happens that we use a guitar and drums to convey the content. Styles and worship forms will come and go, but the content never changes.  Even in the dark ages.

About Parson Carson

I am a husband, father, United Methodist pastor, Wolfpack fan, and outdoor enthusiast who loves meeting new people and hearing their stories... All while trying my best to love God and love others!
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12 Responses to In Defense of the “Contemporary” Church

  1. JB says:

    Although the article’s author paints with too wide brush in my opinion, I do think the article raises some valid concerns about praise worship poorly done or at least poorly considered. As more churches consider contemporary services to be the magic bullet for worship attendance, rather than determining whether it truly fits their mission and community, we see more services just thrown together. And that is cause for concern.

    I know that I have had a sense of worship disrupted when I’m asked to sing an unfamiliar song and the projected words don’t match. Whether the words are to a different version or it’s obvious the entire worship team hasn’t rehearsed together, it can be very difficult for the congregation to engage. That’s not specific to contemporary settings but I see it there more than I do in traditional.

    All that said, when the elements of a contemporary service are well planned and rehearsed, and when the service matches the mission of the congregation, it’s incredibly powerful. I hope I can visit FaithBridge one Sunday to worship!

    • Thanks JB for stopping by, and for the comments. I agree with you, changing worship styles for the sake of change, or because it “works at the church down the street” is a poor reason to change. Style is not a magic bullet, nor will it ever be.

  2. Nancy Carson says:

    Ben, you are sharing Jesus to a receptive audience using a style that is a perfect fit for you and your congregation. This is not what worship looked like when you were growing up in your home church but you are reaching out to a different audience, sharing the love of Jesus with all who cross your path! Christians and non-christians come in different colors, dressed in different clothes and thankfully there is a variety of worship styles for them to choose from. Jesus loves them all and your ability to share that love, in a variety of styles, is a blessing indeed!

  3. Dave Phillips says:

    Well said Ben!

  4. Pat says:

    Great article! You are so right. The way I worship now is so real and deeply spiritually satisfying. I love that music has changed. I love that I can turn on my radio to KLOVE and hear many of the same deeply felt music we hear in church. I love the old hymns from my childhood but the ones we have now speak to me on such a personal level. Keep these worship writings coming. I love them. Bless you, your family, and your church. I love the name of your church! Blessings, Pat Gunn

    Sent from my iPad


  5. Jonathan says:

    Generally, I appreciate the notion that worship styles change. Clearly history has shown us that the organ serves a purpose, which is to allow churches music without having a full orchestra, etc.

    The thing I contend with is “What it teaches.” To assume that the theology or even simply the story of salvation has not changed over time just does not seem to be the case. Each new generation brings about new understandings of history, God, and Jesus, and we use the medium of that generation to tell the story. Plus the medium tells a story, it changes the story.

    20th century theology has seen a huge fluctuation in understanding Jesus, beginning with protestant liberalism and Pentecostalism in the early 1900s, followed by Boston Personalism, Neo-Orthodoxy, Process Theology, and on into Liberation theologies (Black, Feminist, Womanist, Queer, Latino/a, Korean, African, etc.), Postmodern Thought, the death of God theologies, radical orthodoxy, post-liberal and narrative theology, and I know I’m missing some. Each of these theologies interpret the message of scripture and the life of Christ in very different ways. Salvation from what, for what? Who is saved? etc. are all questions.

    Worship, then, is often lived out in light of these theologies.

    • Hey Jonathan, thanks for the comments, and I agree. One of my semi-retired clergy friends says that worship must always be incarnational (each new generation must interpret that for themselves), which gets to your point about how different theologies shape how we view salvation, and as a result, worship. I guess my question back would be: is there a core gospel message that has remained unchanged over time?

      • Jonathan says:

        I would say, maybe, but that would mainly be that the Christ event (Life, Death, Resurrection) is of some importance to the arc of history. Salvation has been worked through victory, forgiveness of debts, substitutionary atonement. It has been corporate and individual, it has been because of the cross, in light of the cross, or despite of the cross, or regardless of the cross. So Jesus would be the thing, if there must be a thing, but I tend to lean toward Christianity being an evolving event (perhaps with direction, perhaps not).

  6. Mark Conforti says:

    Well put, Ben! You make several good points here… Critique is one thing, but tearing apart another faith community’s approach to worship only tears us all down.

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