Stop Trying to Be Something You’re Not

Quite often I’m asked the question, “how does your church do intergenerational worship?” I gather these well-intentioned folks really want to know what tools, music, service orders, etc. we employ to ensure that all generations in our church are “happy.” The truth is…you can’t DO intergenerational worship, being intergenerational is who you ARE. When a church IS intergenerational in nature, the leadership makes sure that worship services are structured with the intention of demonstrating value to all ages in the congregation. This over-arching philosophy isn’t a liturgical formula, nor is just using a blended style of music in your service. It is not a multi-generational approach to service planning where there is a little something for everyone either. It is a guiding principle upon which decisions, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may be used to increase interaction among the generations within the church. Here are a few keys to creating an atmosphere of intergenerational behavior in worship settings for pastors and worship pastors:

*Know your people. It’s essential to know the make-up and history of the church you are serving. While you may have been hired to move things musically to another level, you’ve got to understand where your people have been. You must peruse the music library and study a few years of used congregational songs to figure out where to start. Any radical shift too soon may result in disaster. While this point may not sound like it should be included in a discussion of intergenerational behavior, remember–demonstrating value of all generations is important. To turn and “focus on a younger generation” without some education and care simply ostracizes the other generations. I’m all for investing in our next generations, but do so strategically. While your ultimate goal might be to push the envelope musically, don’t make a 180 degree turn overnight.

When I arrived at my current church, I asked lots of questions about the music and the people. I wanted to know the stories; I studied who people were and the journey that led them here. What I found out wasn’t shocking, but it was essential: our church wanted to remain family-centric and generationally diverse while being gospel centered. Basically, we want to do life together, to grow, serve, and share the love of Jesus as an intergenerational body of believers. While some of our processes (music included) have evolved, that simple idea rings ever true. This process never stops happening. As your church grows and morphs, the demographic shifts with it. Be ever-vigilant in your pursuit of knowing your people. Love them, shepherd them, and listen to them.

*Know your outside demographic. You SHOULD desire to reach your community with the gospel. You may think your music or preaching alone is going to do that, but I doubt it. What will? Ask yourself, “how excited are your current members about what God is doing in your church?” Strong morale (esprit de corps) is a powerful tool for encouraging your members to get out in the community and invite their lost friends to church.

It is also important to engage with your community at large with your physical presence as a leader. Get involved with the schools and community events as you are able. How you engage with others in the community will make a difference on your impact on the local church side.

As for the demographics within your church, you should aim to reflect the community in which you live. If not, why? I live in a fairly affluent, suburban area with a strong multi-cultural presence. There are people in our church that have lived here all their lives, but by in large, most in our area are transplants; many from all over the world. This is reflected in our area churches as well. We’ve seen more diversity over the last several years as well. This dichotomy affects who we are today, but we must be sure to be welcoming as our diversity blossoms.

Our people’s histories within the church are vast and varied. I’d say at least 60 percent of our members have been members less than 10 years, having lived somewhere else before our community. This means that a lot of our people have established preferences and specific ideas of how to do ministry. You might be surprised to find out that even with this varied experience, most newer folks have gotten on board with who we are. Yet another great reason to be sure who you are as a church. Otherwise, it might be a disaster with so many opinions. I want to say a special word about long time members…you show value to those members who’ve been here a long time is especially important because they’ve literally watched the landscape of their community change within the last twenty years. They get extra points in my book for being welcoming when their once familiar community became a popular place to live. As my pastor reminds our staff often, we’re “standing on the shoulders of their faithfulness.” Value their history and always remember the past as you look forward to the future.

*Worship music should reflect who you are. There is no magical formula for finding a ratio of modern worship songs and time-tested hymnody. It’s not possible on a global level. Gone are the days of simply using the denominational hymnal as our only source for congregational song. Should you sing lots of different music types? Yes. However, you shouldn’t “throw in” a hymn or a modern song just because you’re trying to please everyone. YOU WON’T. Stop trying to please everyone based on perceived wants. As I’ve stated before, it is more important to use songs that fit the make-up of your church. Look around you each week. Are people singing the songs you choose? If not, there’s a problem. My aim is to find a balance of choices (over time, not necessarily in one service) where most folks find something familiar. There are other obvious criteria for selection of music that have been written about numerous times, but the two most important I’ve found are: TEXT and DO-ABILITY. We never sing something that we can’t do well and we never sing something that is not textually strong.

I don’t believe it is necessary to emulate what other churches are doing around you. I don’t think it’s bad to see what they are doing and get ideas from them, but it MUST fit in your context. For instance, we are limited in our ability to do much with lighting in our worship space based on our ambient lighting. Sure, we could block all the windows and create a dark space, but our limitations stem from the fact that we value being able to see each other in corporate worship. We don’t want to create a performance venue space. This limits our ability to do some things that might be pretty neat, but it’s not who we are. We don’t make apologies for it either. We focus on what we do well and leave the rest to the other churches. There are plenty of fine churches around with FAR greater resources and space to accomplish the things that God has equipped them to do–we will be us.

 

Moving OVER, but not OUT

I wish we sang something in my church that I know.
I don’t know any of the new songs and no one around me does either.
I wish we would sing some/more hymns…you know, something with lyrics that don’t repeat 700 times?
We want the young people to participate, but we don’t want them to play too loudly.
We want the young people to participate, but we don’t want them to take our solos, spots on instruments, etc. 

Have you ever heard phrases like this? I’m sure I could fill much space with comments from our older generations. I’m not deceived, even as a Gen Xer, I’m officially an “older generation!” Let’s face it; we’re all prone to preferences. We all long for the music and worship atmosphere that feels safe/holy/familiar. Certainly, none of us “older” saints wants to feel irrelevant, either! I’d probably still think I was cool except my teenage sons remind me daily that I’m not. Truthfully, I never was, but I digress…

From a worship setting standpoint, I believe worship settings should err to the “younger look” while still maintaining an older presence. Here’s what I mean: I’m not advocating a particularly musical style. I’ll say it again, the local church musical style should reflect the context and demographics of the church and surrounding area more so than just what’s popular. That’s why we do old and new, because that’s who we are as a suburban, intergenerational church. BUT, the platform should include YOUNG and OLD worship leaders. There should be intentional opportunities for the young to learn from the older worship leaders (vocal and instrumental). Further, this intentionality goes beyond just platform presence, it should reflect the musical interests of our emerging generations, as well as tried and true. Sing to the Lord a new song (Psalm 96) AND The great hymnody of the faith.

Scripture is clear; it is the responsibility of the older generation to teach the younger generations, but doesn’t mention anything about music style, right? Nevertheless, the opening of Psalm 78 paints a beautiful picture of the what it DOES mean to investing in the young:

2I will open my mouth in a parable;
    I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
    that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
    but tell to the coming generation
    the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
    and the wonders that he has done.

He established a testimony in Jacob
    and appointed a law in Israel,
    which he commanded our fathers
    to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,
    and arise and tell them to their children…

The other day, I read an interesting portion of a book that really brought this home to me. The author referenced Numbers 8:25 as he reminded the reader than the Levites were to stop working at age fifty, but should switch their role as “leader” to assisting, empowering, inspiring, etc. While I hope I’m still “working in the service of the Lord at age 50,” it does bring home an interesting point…once we’ve reach a certain age, hopefully wiser as well, we need to mentor the next generation(s) to do the work of the Lord. Will their work be different than our work? Absolutely! But, we aren’t trying to create musical clones of ourselves, we are to teach/invest in their lives spiritually and, if you’re a worship leader like me, perhaps incredible musicianship rather than a particular style. At some point, my friends, each of us will realize that it’s time for us to move over and hand the “baton” to someone else. Don’t lose heart, you aren’t washed up, you’re role has just shifted to being a helper to the next generations.

One Body with Many Parts

Sometimes I like to read through familar passages of scripture using different translations than I normally use. Recently, I’ve been using the CEV version while reading through some of Paul’s letters. When I got to 1 Corinthians 12, I was particularly moved by the syntax used to describe the function of the Body of Christ. While I’ve read this passage numerous times, the words seemed to take on deeper meaning for me this time.  Here some of the passages from 1 Cor. 12 (CEV):

14 Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. 15 Suppose a foot says, “I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? 16 Or suppose an ear says, “I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? 17 If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. 18 But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. 19 A body isn’t really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20 It takes many parts to make a single body. 21 That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. 22 In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest…. 24 put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25 He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26 If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. 27 Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.

My heartbeat is helping every person in my sphere of influence find where they fit in the body of Christ, particularly as it relates to music. No matter what age one is, there’s a place for serving. It pains me to see music ministries in churches that underutilize the gifts and talents giving to church members by relegating music leadership to only a few. I’ve heard many fine singers and players wax nostalgic of the days when they could play and/or sing in their church music ministry. Nowadays, they sit in their seats because they are no longer valued. Paul thinks differently…just because you aren’t a rock star singer doesn’t been you are not a part of the body (v. 14 my paraphrase). I couldn’t agree more. Furthermore, the personalities, timbres, musicality, etc. of the WHOLE body may not be a perfect musical offering, but it’s an authentic one for sure. Paul speaks to this in verse 22 when he says, “in fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest.” WOW! Then I love what he follows with, “He [God] did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others.” Anyone else hear what I heard? Love your neighbor as yourself…consider the interests of others other than yourself…live in mutual submission to one another. Hurt when others hurt…live in unity together. Folks, we need to get serious about truly caring about others in the body. I’m ALL for evangelism and reaching out, but when we focus entirely on reaching out and not loving/caring for our own people, the unbeliever will not see the love of Christ being displayed. Scripture reminds us that the “world” will see Jesus in our love for one another. We MUST be unified before we are able to reach others for Christ

To live in unity takes work. A few days ago I was saddened by a conversation I overheard from a small group of older adults (not at my church or by my church members) that basically trashed contemporary forms and expressions of musical worship. The argument was completely selfish. I was saddened because these folks, by estimation, were believers. They had no interest in working together with other parts of the body to seek to understand the musical expressions of many generations. Don’t think I’m pointing fingers at older adults solely; these types of behavior are found in people of all ages. Anytime someone(s) think they are/viewpoint or style is more important than someone else, the body is not in unity.  Even Paul reminds us that the parts of the body that seem insignificant are actually important.

It takes all parts of the body to live in unity. For those churches that are not thriving, my questions are: is your church unified in purpose? Are there folks like the ones I mentioned that are unwavering in their desire for anything in their worship service to change because they don’t LIKE it? Are the various generations in your church valued? Are the older generations investing in the younger generations…not just by giving leadership over younger members, but actually working together by valuing contributions from all? If not, then this lack of humility may be used by the enemy to destroy the body from within.

I don’t know about you, but I would imagine if I couldn’t smell, I may not realize the joy of fresh baked bread, flowers, and cookies in the oven. If I could hear, I would’nt hear the music that I such an intergral part of my life and ministry. Would I be alive? Yes, but I would not be WHOLE. If we miss the JOY of developing relationships across generational lines, we miss the wholeness of being a part of the body of Christ.

TOGETHER (not apart) we are the body of Christ. EACH of us is part of that body. EVERYONE.