Dear Traditional Worshipers

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I know you’re there.

I know there are many, many of you out there, no matter what others say.

I know how you feel.

Writing this blog has shown me just how many of you there are. All ages, races, denominations, who believe wholeheartedly in the historical, liturgical pattern of worship.

It’s devastating to see what’s happened to worship in the church. You’re right. The blindness surrounding the issue is astounding. The insistence that the common trends of the day are most fitting for public worship is wrong and short-sighted. It’s grieving that most churches now let Christians choose to not learn the historic creeds, or the great tradition of hymns and songs, or the great privilege of praying together and reading Scripture together. The commercialization of our sacred time, well, it’s nothing short of tragic. Yeah, we’ve sacrificed so much of who we are.

I know you feel like it’s been stolen from you. I know the pain runs deep. I know you’ve lost jobs, friends, family, congregations. I know you’ve paid a dear price.

I hear you. I’m am one of you. I get it.

Litany of Loss

I hate that organs, the kings of instruments, are being silenced and dismantled.

I mourn the loss of hymnals, four-part singing, printed word, a sense of order.

I’m left hanging in a worship service without the opportunity to lift my voice with the congregation in response.

I’m disoriented by not being expected to do any work.

I have trouble with the idea of dividing congregations based on how worshipers supposedly “connect” to God.

I’m frustrated that we’ve lost the sense of “sanctuary;” that the place we worship corporately no longer feels like a refuge.

I’m confused why congregations don’t see a homogenous group of worshipers as the tragedy it is.

I don’t get why so many churches don’t seem to understand the difference between “butts in the seats” and “making disciples.”

I’m tired of the show, the performance, the technology, the “rock star” worship leaders.

I hate saying “traditional worship.” It’s just worship. Liturgy.

I’m weary of being told it’s just my preference. That I need to get over it. That I’m a relic. That I’m an idolator because I say there’s value in our history. That I should just shut up and quit causing problems. That Satan rejoices with every one of my blog posts.

I’m so very tired of all of it. I very nearly left the church over it.

But here’s the deal. We’ve become part of the problem.

It’s not enough to say “we like it.” That doesn’t matter. The worst thing that “contemporary worship” did when it came on the scene was to promote itself as just another worship option, and then get away with labeling the liturgy as a choice, also. When we make the conversation about preference, we don’t get anywhere.

It’s not enough to say, “That was my mom’s favorite hymn.” Or, “It’s my preference.” Or, “The colors are so pretty.” Or, “The liturgy makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.” Or, “Those were some of my best childhood memories.” It’s got to be deeper than that, or we’re just guarding our relics, our museum pieces.

It’s not about sentimentality. It’s not about taste or preference. It’s about meaning.

So maybe we need to rethink our plan of action.

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Going Forth with Tradition

We must not be reactive. I know this is an emotional issue for many of us, but we can’t let our emotion dictate our response. The field is ripe for the contemporary church to re-engage with tradition, but fighting and arguing and contentiousness isn’t going to help. The “Worship Wars” happened because so many of us were caught by surprise. Don’t be caught be surprise anymore. Be well-reasoned, sensitive, and engaging.

We must never focus on nostalgia and sentimentality. A big reason traditional worship doesn’t grow is that it’s been treated like an all-request golden oldies hour. “Come to the 8 am traditional hour and remember the good old days.” Traditional worship is not for old people. It’s for everyone.

We must be table worshipers. I’m more convinced of this than ever. The Eucharist is the natural culmination of worship, of proclamation. To outsiders, this is foolishness. To us, it is grace, mercy, healing, and preparation for the journey that awaits.

We must be liturgical. The drama and rhythm of liturgical life keeps us anchored, gives us words to say, gives us a part to play.

We must be eschatological. To be in Christ is to be a new creation, a part of an already/not yet Kingdom. It’s here. It’s coming. Our corporate worship should reflect that. It’s a global celebration, not just a personal one.

We must not be elitists. We have to open ourselves up to more diversity in terms of instrumentation and genre. I’m not talking about “praise bands,” but being more creative in musical expression.

We must not be emotionally manipulative. We feel like we need to be, don’t we? We’re afraid nobody will come without the promise of a jesusy high. But that’s not who we are.

We must be intentionally theological. Everything we do in corporate worship should have a theological basis, from the instruments we use. to the hymns we choose, to our prayers, anthems, and sermons to how we do announcements.

We must be open to new material, language, and influence. Every generation has had something of value to add to the great tradition of Christian worship. We just have to make sure we choose well, and that we don’t compromise who we are by commercializing, dumbing down, or bastardizing the worship gathering in a holy bait-and-switch.

We must put our hearts into what we’re doing. And communicate that to our congregations. It’s easy to go through the motions, be cynical, jaded. But this isn’t about empty ritual. It’s not about our preferences. It’s the life and breath of our faith communities.

We must gather together. With the conclusion that Sunday morning is all about preference, we’ve lost sight of the idea of “corporate.” Worship gatherings are not about “getting alone with Jesus.” It’s about remembering who we are as God’s people, and who we are to be in the world. It’s about telling the Christian story.

We must be educators. Musical educators. Theological educators. Liturgical educators. We need to equip lay people to take an active role in church worship. Gathered worship is not peripheral. It’s central to church life. It’s the most important thing we do on our church campuses.

We must break down the silos. A lot of congregations, and a lot of traditional people, have decided kids don’t have any business worshiping with adults. That’s toxic. It completely belies who we are as the covenant people of God. We need everyone. If silos have been built in your church, you need to invite younger people to be a part, to discover the wonder of worshiping together.

We’ve got to be generous, patient, empathetic, and understanding. Tradition will look differently across denominations, geographical locations, and cultural context. And we’re not simply rolling back the clock here. Reintroducing tradition is going to take time. It’s not going to happen all at once, and we need to help congregants understand why we do what we do.

A Beautiful Benediction

The bottom line is this. We don’t keep tradition because it’s tradition, or because it’s old, or because it’s comfortable, or because we like it.

We keep tradition because it’s worth doing. Because it anchors us. Because it’s bigger than us. Because it reminds us that we’re not alone. Because it keeps us honest. Because it helps us avoid thinking that this worship thing is all about us. Because it accepts us as we are, but expects our participation in worship and beyond. Because it lets us engage our minds with our spirit.

Because it builds up the church.

So no more tradition for tradition’s sake, but for the sake of our identity and mission.

It’s time to be the church on Sunday, so that we can be the church every other day.

Photos:
Flickr – Rick Harris, creative commons 2.0

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