If you’ve spent much time around church-folk, you’ve heard all kinds of terms used to describe different styles of churches and their worship. You run across descriptions like: liturgical, traditional, contemporary, charismatic, pentecostal, etc. These terms may have positive or negative associations for you. It all depends on your experiences and maybe how you were "brought up." Each style can be greatly affected by a particular church's desire to emphasize certain elements of worship. But just for the sake of comparison, here is an unofficial and perhaps terribly simplistic description of some of these worship styles – which may help serve as a background for what inspires us as a worshiping people. At Vine of the Mountains, the word “convergent” may best describe our style of worship as it captures a sense of “coming together” of various Christian traditions and we believe speaks meaningfully to our current time and culture.
Liturgical worship is usually associated with Catholic churches and older mainline protestant denominations. You may think of them as being “formal” in their approach to worship. The music is generally of a more classical or old-time style, using hymns led by a choir with mainly organ or piano accompaniment. Worship services follow a consistent pattern (liturgy) of formal prayers, call and response readings, creeds, hymns, offerings, scriptures and sermon. The setting, usually a sanctuary, often features architecture, furnishings, clothing (robes), lighting, art and stained glass – all intended to evoke feelings of reverence and transcendence. For millions of believers, this style of worship is very meaningful and helps them feel connected to God and their fellow church members. It may be interesting to note that, other than perhaps “high mass” services within a Catholic or Anglican church, church attenders from a just few decades ago would find most of today’s “traditional” services to be rather informal compared to times past. The truth is: all churches are liturgical to some degree and tend to follow consistent patterns of how a worship service unfolds – even those who prefer to say they are simply and spontaneously led by the Spirit.
Often associated with the rise of newer denominations and community/independent churches (and many traditional churches who now offer contemporary worship as an "alternative" service), this style is largely a result of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s, which deeply questioned the meaningfulness of traditional worship for the baby-boomer generation. It is also influenced by a slowly growing but significant openness between traditionally white and traditionally African American churches. Consequently, contemporary services may carry overtones of shunning or leaving behind the “restrictions” of the past and its traditional worship. Nonetheless, such mildly “rebellious” roots have now largely given way to becoming an established and acceptable norm for worship. Contemporary churches currently host the fastest growing congregations in America.
Contemporary worship services often have very consistent patterns as do traditional services (we humans are creatures of habit!), but the music will usually be of an upbeat nature -
perhaps using pop, rock or folk styles and instrumentation (i.e. keyboard, guitars, drums and bass.) These services will often offer extended time for singing praise songs and choruses - simple, often repetitive lyrics and melodies designed to be easily sung and remembered. Attenders are often actively encouraged by someone serving as a "music/worship leader" to experience a meaningful connection with God. Contemporary services often use presentation technology throughout the service. This type of service may offer drama or dance as elements of the worship experience. Casual attire, coffee bars, a kid friendly atmosphere and other “twists” on tradition help foster an environment where spiritual seekers may feel at ease.
Pentecostal/Charismatic (frequently lumped together, though there are differences)
Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are often associated with the Assembly of God and Church of God denominations, as well as a wide variety of other denominations and independent churches. Following a particular style of worship in these churches is secondary to what may be termed an openness to spontaneous expressions of worship and ministry as prompted by the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal/Charismatic churches run the gamut of quite traditional (as in some charismatic Episcopal congregations) to very contemporary.
Sometimes described as the Spirit-filled worship experience, these services are energized, some may say “authenticated,” by the presence of biblical signs and wonders (i.e. speaking in tongues, prophetic pronouncements, miraculous healing, dancing in the Spirit). The preaching is likely to be emotional and intense. Many people are drawn to and blessed by the highly dramatic faith experience which the such this worship service fosters. Honestly, all churches who have recently (last 30-40 years) placed a renewed emphasis on experiencing heartfelt worship are deeply indebted to the Pentecostal/Charismatic worship movement - whether they'll admit it or not!
Emerging Church/Postmodern worship
What is being called the “emerging church movement” is a phenomenon so new (only about 15 years old) that most people have very little familiarity with the term. In some ways, this movement was presaged by Robert E. Webber (1933-2007) and other evangelical theologians who identified great value in and sought to recover ancient worship practices discarded by Protestants since the Reformation (early 1500s). Though it will take many more years to have a clear perspective, it seems that the postmodern church movement has emerged in response to a great western cultural shift of the late 20th century, known as Postmodernism.
This shift is one in which many people, though highly engaged with the “fruits” of the modern era (sciences, technology, etc.) also tend to expose and “deconstruct” modernism. In their daily living, they long to know and experiencemystery and wonder in their lives - a reverence for “things of the spirit” and life’s imponderables - which the philosophies of modernism’s heroes (Locke, Nietzsche, Darwin, Marx, Freud, et al.) seem to have snuffed out over time. Postmodernism questions the validity of certainty, absolutes and the empirical rationalism which permeates western culture. Similarly, the emerging church movement questions what seem to be some pervasive church characteristics (i.e. Is Christianity just about “getting to heaven?” Why don’t evangelical Christians care about the environment? Can we be faithful, yet more generous in our views of those who believe differently than we do? Is capitalism God-ordained, the best we can do? Have some of Jesus’ teachings – or the words of other New Testament writers – been “hijacked” to support agendas that God never intended? Currently in Europe and America, alternative new age spiritualism (neo-paganism) and nature-based religious beliefs are flourishing in response to this postmodern hunger for a life experience that reveres mystery and wonder. Meanwhile, the predominant western faiths (esp. protestant Christianity which long ago co-opted much of modernism/rationalism into its basic world-view) are experiencing relative decline. Emerging/postmodern worship (or what Webber called Ancient-Future worship) specifically seeks to reconnect Christianity – the epic narrative of God’s redemption of creation through Christ – with this deep, God-given human desire to engage life's inherent mysteries like beauty, spirit, romance, and wonder. It recovers many classical practices of Christianity and infuses them with new energy and revived meaning to respond to this need. Inspired by the best elements of this movement, The Vine looks like a convergence of various traditional, contemporary, Spirit-filled and ancient church elements brought into harmony by a focus on truly engaging with God in what could be called the “conversation” of worship and Christian faith. The term “convergent” nicely describes this fusion of ancient and modern, yet thoroughly Christian, worship practices.
At The Vine, our worship seeks to reclaim the arts (drama, dance, painting, music, poetry, sculpture, new media, etc.) for the sake of pointing to God's glory. Though centered in God's Word, we are not threatened by any truths highlighted in other faiths (or science). Rather, we are motivated to humbly, lovingly and confidently offer that saving Truth – grace, forgiveness, restoration, eternal life – is found generously, yet only, in Jesus Christ. We value genuineness over hype, orthodoxy over fad, community over individualism, asking hard questions over blind faith, "we don't know" over "we've got all the answers," caring for the earth over conquering it, permission over control, relationships over institutions, and passion over programs. These values, and more, are forming our practice and experience of worship. In short, we are seeking the Kingdom of God – present and in our midst!
Come and experience convergent worship at Vine of the Mountains!