Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Worship Tension Spectrum

Inspired by some conversations with Memphis Area Worship Leaders, I began to think about the way some worship values compete with one another, and I began to craft the following spectrum with the help of my scholarly friend, Dr. Jason Hood. I intend to use this to help my own church think through our worship identity and to then use our conclusions as a touchstone to help us avoid any unnecessary conflict. I have attempted to give fair voice to all without exposing my biases. I thought this might help others think through these things for their own churches.

The Worship Tension Spectrum
We cannot order our worship with intentionality if we are not confessing and communicating our values. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts, but they do create tension when we attempt to pursue them simultaneously. What does your church value? Are your worship efforts being hindered by duality of vision? Is there another tension you're dealing with that's not listed here?

1. Performance vs. Participation
  • Performance – God’s transcendent nature is best imparted through displays of excellence in presentation.
  • Participation - God is most pleased when the whole congregation has ownership and involvement.
      Tension: Excellence is typically produced by limiting productivity to the specialized. 

2. Attraction vs. Discipleship
  • Attraction – If more people could only get in the door, then they would be transformed by the gospel.
  • Discipleship –If people could only be transformed by the gospel, they would bring more people in the door.
      Tension: Discipleship requires effort and obedience, which is unattractive.

3. Targeted vs. Inclusive
  • Targeted - Focusing on the fewer interests moves people with greater efficiency toward Kingdom goals.
  • Inclusive - Creating an environment enriched by diversity is a Kingdom goal.
      Tension: Diversity requires compromise, which hinders agility

4. Dynamic vs. Conservative
  • Dynamic – Meaning emerges spontaneously from the immediate context of the worshipers.
  • Conservative – Meaning is preserved within the proven liturgies and traditions of the Church.
      Tension:  Spontaneity can create competing authorities


T-Bear said...
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Halcyon said...

Every one of the concepts that you (Josh) listed are all equally true. If that is the case, then we should take them all: our worship should be performed excellently and be participated in by the congregation, it should be attractive and disciplined, diverse and specific, spontaneous and traditional.

I think the problem here is that we create false dichotomies. Who says that excellence in performance necessitates specialists? (I know you didn't say that, Josh; just follow me here.) Are not some of the greatest excellencies products of/for the people (e.g., Shakespeare wrote for the groundlings as well as the aristocracy, and Dickens was definitely a writer from and for the people)? I think we need to rethink what we mean by "excellence".

Who says that discipline is unattractive? If the object in your sights is of great value to you, does not that make every "effort" and "obedience" highly attractive (e.g., St. Francis called himself the "troubadour" of God, i.e., singing songs to His beloved in the shape of poverty and aestheticism)? I think we need to rethink what we mean by "obedience".

Who says that diversification and spontaneity necessarily negates doctrine and tradition? Who says that freedom necessarily negates rules? What freedom is there without rules? What adventure is there without some authority informing you on what is and is not right and wrong, dangerous and safe? Just as you cannot play any game (even Calvinball) without settled and specific rules, so you cannot have true artistic spontaneity and freedom without (1) a clear grasp of the basics and (2) an adherence to some kind of tradition. We all draw from something, somewhere, even in our spontaneity. I think we need to rethink what we mean by "freedom".

I see all of this as the unfortunate hang-over of post-modernism: we set at odds things that were never meant to be at odds. We create unnecessary divorces. I think worship would be greatly improved if we would reevaluate the dichotomies and categories that we use to frame the debate.

Joshua Andrew Smith said...


You're right that I did not say that these are necessarily mutually exclusive concepts. However, the idea that these are all EQUALLY true makes YOU seem like the postmodernist...;)

My point is that these themes are complementary, (not opposite), and so their juxtaposition can create tension that must be admitted and navigated intentionally (just like marriage), so that their union is complete and enriched.

Halcyon said...


If that is what you are saying, then we are in agreement.

BTW, in order to save myself from your libelous charge that I have been "postmodern" in my assertion, let the record show that asserting that two things are equally true is only postmodern when the two things in question are clearly oppositional (e.g., "God exists" and "God doesn't exist"). That is a rejection of antithesis per se.

As such, I do not reject antithesis (which is logically impossible) but rather false antithesis (i.e., "false dichotomies").

Let the record show that I have answered your slanderous remark; and if you ever call me "postmodern" again, then I will come over to your church and slap you silly in Christ (of course). 8^D

Jason B. Hood said...

While we're on the topic of precision in terminology, wouldn't it be truer to say I'm your "nerdy" friend rather than "scholarly" friend?

James said...

I love the tensions you identify, but, as we discussed today, I agree that a vertical vs. horizontal tension should be added. It is not feasible to significantly and meaningfully focus on all things "true" in one sermon, song or worship set. But as we look over the entire service or a series of services, balance is the goal. I can't wait to hear more from you. Worship that moves me into the Father's arms and into the footsteps of Jesus as He seeks the hurting and lost.