Constant efforts by church leaders to meet their members’ personal tastes for worship styles and times can be exhausting. Tom Long, professor of preaching at Emory’s Candler School of Theology and author of Beyond the Worship Wars, has some good insights on this matter.

The book by Long, who spoke to a Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia breakfast in Dalton last Monday, resulted from a grant-supported study of widely diverse congregations that have found a “third way” between the divisive labeling of “traditional” and “contemporary” worship.

Here are two of those insights I picked up from him on Monday morning:

First, most church leaders define acceptable worship music by drawing vertical lines according to style. They say: “We only do this type of music at our church.”

Dr. Long suggested drawing a horizontal line with “excellence” above and “trivial” below. He gave a couple of examples, but the one I remember is that “Shine, Jesus, Shine” is below the line while other newer songs fit above.

Churches can be eclectic musically while still insisting on excellence, he said. Good point.

Second, churches that develop and define separate worship services as “contemporary” or “traditional” are beginning to have “buyer’s remorse,” he said. Often the result is a congregation that is separted by generations.

I agree. It is hard to have a “church family” when the children and older adults never share worship time and space.

There is much more to be mined here, but these two observations could go a long way in helping church leaders who seek to make congregational life both relevant and reverent in a fast and significantly changing culture. However, there are no easy answers.

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