It’s evident in every area of our lives. It would seem that in every leadership sector we hear the phrase “language creates culture” repeated continuously. It’s almost as ubiquitous as the catch all question “yes, but is it scalable?” (The big secret is nobody really knows what that means, it just sounds cool in meetings) No matter how much we hear that language matters, in every platform of leadership, the choice of words matter. They shape vision, forward motion, and training.
In the world of church worship, this could not be more true. As “lead worshippers”, we are constantly framing and reframing how God works, how he relates to humanity, and what His word says about Himself.
No pressure right?
As a worship leader at Houston’s First, I’ve had to learn to speak about worship in new ways. After 175 years of history, our glossary of terms might seem set. But, with each new generation, the words we use change.
I don’t claim to be a code-cracker. I’m a learner like you. But I would recommend updating a few terms in your vocabulary so you can be better equipped to bless and encourage your people.
The words contemporary and traditional are words that have been regularly used to classify our services and music styles. In the mid 90’s, we started a “contemporary” service here with much success. Our traditional roots in worship remained, but seemed to wane in “popularity” with the advent of the new. The crux of the problem was that we had one group intimating the irrelevance of one style and another group intimating the irreverence of another. I know…right? Impossible in the church!
God has graciously given us a way forward and a fresh vision for worship through song in our house. Here are three things we are learning:
- Blended can be “Blanded”.
No matter the style, when you sacrifice virtuosity on the altar of preference, you are left with something luke-warm and vanilla. The human heart responds to excellence and mastery of an instrument. No matter your worship style or styles, strive for virtuosity. It’s better to ere on the side of excellence then dumbing things down to a lowest common denominator.
- Define the Terms.
Reject the terms “Contemporary” and “Traditional” outright. As church leaders, let this be the last day you place music into a nice category. Instead, classify your worship styles based on the group that is leading. For instance, instead of traditional worship we use the term “choir and orchestra led.” Instead of the term “contemporary” we use the term “band led.” This has gone a long way on our teams. Instead of using what are now subjective, emotionally charged words, our new taxonomy allows us to unite our worship teams and yet have different objective expressions.
- Speak THE Common Language
This last step is most critical. If you’re just scanning this article, take time to read this paragraph! Hearts have been broken in what used to be called the “worship wars.” The way to mend hearts is to affirm the past and embrace the present. This will happen by coming to an agreement on your leadership teams that all worship through song is a common language spoken in many different dialects. A guy from Brooklyn, talking to a guy from Cleveland, talking to a girl in Mississippi, talking to another dude in California are all going to have different accents. That’s the beauty of the States, and we all take it lightly! You see, its all English, but we can still understand the other person. In the same way, see past a style, dialect, or accent and affirm the common language of worship that your entire congregation is already speaking together. Don’t tell somebody this is real worship and that is not. That’s not your job leader. Your job is to listen to the Lord and listen to the dialect your people are speaking…then go for it. He speaks the language of their hearts, he speaks the language of your heart. Through the power of his spirit, he will connect the two.
Stephen Smith (@stephenandstar) serves on the Leadership Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. He shepherds four teams within the church: Music, Multisite, Media, and Marketing. He spends the remainder of his time these days with his head in a book or dealing with an unruly yard. His passion is leading worship through song with his wife Star and leveraging their lives to see ministry multiplied in their home church and beyond.