Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 2- First Steps

In my last post, I discussed some of the biblical foundations that support intergenerational worship and why multiple services driven by musical style may be a detriment to the unity of the local church. If you missed that post, click here to read it: Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 1- Biblical Foundations.

In this post, I will begin the journey of how any local church, who has divided for musical reasons, may begin the process of coming back together into a unified worship plan. While I spoke with several worship leaders who have led local churches through a transition such as this in order to prepare to write this, I am especially indebted to the experiences of two men: Slater Murphy (MS Baptist Convention) and David Hasker (FBC Melbourne, FL). Thank you!

Because there is much to cover in this process, I’m only going to cover the first steps to getting the transition started. In my next post, I will get into more detail on the practical ways worship leaders (and all church leaders) should utilize to ensure a unified transition, especially as it relates to synthesizing multiple music/worship teams.

FIRST STEPS

PRAY. This is the most important thing to do. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, nothing will be accomplished. You, as the leader who is convinced intergenerational worship is the key to longevity of the local church, must be educated in what the biblical, philosophical, and practical implications are in order to inspire others to catch the vision. Your passion is necessary to cast the vision of what a healthy intergenerational church should be.

The common theme of all I spoke with about this transition is that it MUST BE SENIOR PASTOR LED. As the chief shepherd of the local church, if your senior pastor isn’t 100 percent on board, then the transition will ultimately fail. This doesn’t mean that a Senior Pastor cannot be confronted (IN LOVE) with the philosophical argument that multi-styled worship services are more divisive than unifying. Perhaps you, as worship pastor, should speak truth from the scripture in order to encourage your senior pastor to consider unifying worship services at your church. Continue to have candid, respectful conversations in order to “educate” of the merits of unified worship.

BE PATIENT. Convincing a senior pastor to make a paradigm shift is not easy. If the current pastor initiated multiple services years ago based on the Church Growth Model, your suggestion to return to a unified worship approach will likely mean the senior pastor has to admit they were wrong. Further, if the senior pastor only created multiple types of service to appease certain groups of people, those same people will likely share their disdain with you. It may take months or years even. Keep praying and keep educating.

Once the Senior Pastor is on board, the next step is to have conversations with the rest of the staff, key leadership, and deacon/elders. While it’s always best to have everyone totally on board with the idea of bringing the worship services back together, it might not happen easily. As with most decisions involving a wide range of personalities and experiences, there will always be late adopters. David Hasker says that a few on their staff did not agree initially on the return to a unified worship style, but in the end the decision was made by the majority and they supported it. Anticipate possible questions and do your homework before the meetings to make sure you are able to explain what the transition might look like.

After the key leadership, other key groups in the church must be “educated” in the next steps of what will happen. Some key groups  include: the music ministry team (especially since this involves them a GREAT deal), Bible study leaders, etc. Make sure communication is frequent and clear and all involve persons have a chance to voice concerns and have questions answered. It’s essential that the key leadership be unified before the church body itself is presented with the plan. Additionally, remember to always be respectful and kind when dealing with folks who are passionately against returning to a unified worship style. Love them and ask them to support you as you try to live out the vision God has given the church. Remind them that a unified worship style is NOT anti-evangelistic or anti-contemporary worship.

Once the decision to bring the unified plan to the congregation is made, allow multiple opportunities for the church to hear the vision and ask questions. The pastor and worship leader should share the biblical and philosophical merits of a unified worship approach. Once these meetings are finished, then your church should vote (or whatever process you use to implement change).

One more thing…

Any change comes at a cost. You may have to “cash in” quite a bit of “people collateral” in order to make this happen. For the worship leader just 6 months to a year into their tenure somewhere is going to have a much harder time convincing the pastor/congregation of this paradigm shift. Many will only believe you are there to stir things up without any regard for the actual people you serve. It takes time (no matter how talented you are) for people to trust you as a leader. Even if you have decades of experience, people simply need to know you not only have Kingdom work on your heart, but you understand and value them as people and the church culture and context of the local body.

In my next post, I’ll deal with the practical side of how the musical styles and teams can work together in a new context. You’ll need to have a detailed plan of how to integrate your teams before the vision is shared because people are going to want to know exactly how the change will affect the overall ministry of the local body. Let me be clear: You MUST find a way to integrate the instrumentalists, vocalists (choir, praise team), teach teams, actual venues-if different, from ALL worship services/styles into one. Remember, one of the key parts of what intergenerational worship is—-everyone must feel valued and important. More soon!

 

Why Leaders Value an Intergenerational Choral Ministry

Most leaders of churches that are intergenerational usually have a philosophical reason to value them. Even those leaders that are organically intergenerational and not always intentional about celebrating the diversity of ages in the church, still value that the generations are worshiping together in their church. When asked why these leaders, who already serve intergenerational churches, value not only having an intergenerational church, but having a choir that is intergenerational, they responded with the following answers in rank order:

  1. The choir reflects the age diversity already present in the congregation. Over 70% of those interviewed stated that they simply want the choir to be a reflection (generationally) of what is already present in the congregation. Makes a lot of sense!
  2. The choir is the easiest/best way to involve multiple generations in the worship service. These leaders have realized that the music ministry is an excellent way to get all ages involved in  serving in worship. What other ministry of the local church involves the youngest and the eldest members of the church (possibly even simultaneously) on a regular basis?
  3. Older and Younger Members should learn from each otherThese leaders have identified what I call mutual submission or mutual learning. As I’ve mentioned before, there is something to be learned from young people. Likewise, the older members can pour into younger members the wealth of knowledge they’ve gained along the way. Each generation must learn to be submissive and respectful of all as the intergenerational church learns to co-exist and aim for unity (think Phil. 2).
  4. It’s Biblical. What surprised me was that only about 20 percent of those leaders I interviewed even mentioned the biblical model for intergenerational worship (family worship/worshiping in unity). Of the 20 percent, the leaders overwhelmingly were older Millennials and leaders from Generation X. My research did not indicate WHY this was the case, but my thought is that our younger music leaders are being encouraged to consider the biblical model because they grew up in the “worship wars,” while the older leaders never were taught many years ago (and they didn’t have to) why they should be intergenerational. They desire to return to a purer form of worship which promotes a “family” worship style.
  5. Leader’s personal preference or experience. A few of those interviewed (actually most of these, not surprisingly, were from organic intergenerational churches) indicated that they felt the church should be like it always “was.” By this I mean, several decades ago there wasn’t the need to be discussing this topic and their churches are still operating in that same mode of “family” church.

    The choir has the opportunity to pave the way/model intergenerational behavior throughout the rest of the church. The choir must work together to overcome music style differences, traditions, and preferences in order to lead in worship. Because they are the “leaders” who must strive for unity musically, choir members are in a strategic position to model unity for the rest of the church IF we leaders teach the biblical mandate to worship together. Failing to have the “driving” factor of biblical precedent as our guide seriously diminishes the value of intergenerational ministry in the first place. I long for a time where the most frequent response to the question of why value intergenerational ministry is for biblical reasons, and not simply a pragmatic reason.

Using the Gradual Release Model to Develop Next Generation Leadership

One of the core values of any intergenerational church should be developing new leaders. While all generations are valued and important, perceived value must be shifted during the development of new talent and leadership. Often seasoned leadership must take a “back seat” to let emerging leaders develop the necessary skills and traits to be able to lead forward. However, each person (the “teacher” and the “student’) still have valuable roles, albeit at times different generations will be more visible than others.

Because we value all our generations in worship so much, we regularly schedule time for our children and youth to share their gifts and talents in worship leadership. It’s an intentional process. We don’t just teach them music performance, but also the importance of modeling worship behavior for congregational participation. For our students that show great musical potential and feel the call of God to vocational ministry, we work hard to invest in them specifically. We accomplish this by using the “Gradual Release Model,” developed by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. This model (seen below) does exactly what the term suggests, it allows the “student” to assume responsibility as they get more opportunities to serve. Ultimately, it is our prayer is that the Lord will call some from our church to vocational music ministry and because they’ve been leading throughout their lives, they will already be equipped to lead elsewhere.

Obviously, the role of the “teacher” changes as the students are developed. This “passing the torch” approach is not without its difficulties. Obviously, the budding leadership still needs guidance along the way, especially if something the emerging leader does something that might be perceived as a mistake or cause embarrassment to themselves or others.

Here’s a practical example of how we are using the Gradual Release Model. One of my personal piano students has a desire to use her gifts further in accompanying for choirs and worship services. Currently, we’re using the model with her and using our Youth Choir to give her a safe place to test her wings. Our pianist for the Youth Choir is an excellent mentor herself. This fall, we had my student sit in on rehearsals and watch our pianist at work. During rehearsals they would discuss important things such as playing parts, anticipating director’s movements/gestures, playing techniques for a choir, etc. (Focused Instruction). By Christmas they had moved to Guided Instruction, both sitting at the bench, working together. They even played a four-hand accompaniment to one of our songs for Christmas. Since January, they’ve entered the Collaborative Learning phase. Our student has learned the parts and accompaniment to one of our songs and she is taking “lead” in the rehearsal on that tune. Our pianist is sitting with her and helping make sure she doesn’t miss anything and is successful, but it’s basically the student playing for me. By the end of the Spring, I hope that we’ve moved her more and more to her to the Independent playing phase where she becomes our pianist for the Youth Choir by this fall.

This process helps the student be successful, but also keeps the pianist and me on our toes as we strive to make clear what we need from our student. It’s a gratifying process, especially if the student is quite good and practices before rehearsals! The value we place on investing in next generations will be evident as we develop new leaders who will “carry the torch” after we are unable to.