Here’s to Erasing a False Dichotomy!

28 01 2016
Photo by Wil C. Fry, accessed through Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Wil C. Fry, accessed through Flickr Creative Commons.

Today the Robert Webber Institute for Christian Worship drew my attention to an article by Jonathan Aigner called “How to Make Worship Kid Friendly” published by patheos.com. As I am always interested in learning how to better facilitate multi-generational worship, I clicked through to read said article. My enthusiasm, however, quickly turned to frustration. Enough frustration to make me sigh audibly in a way that caused questions from those with whom  I was sharing a living room.

What Aigner has done here, (and I would encourage you to read the article by accessing the link above) is to provide some great ways in which parents and congregations can engage kids in “traditional” “liturgical” worship services. Unfortunately, rather than simply provide this very positive help, he has chosen to do so while also asserting not-quite subtly that “contemporary” worship “engages” kids at the cost of spiritual depth and personal growth. The underlying assumption is that “contemporary” worship uses modern entertainment as a “hook” to get young people in, but then doesn’t provide any transformative teaching or historical richness.

Interestingly… mid-way through his post, Aigner asserts:

The self-imposed contemporary/traditional worship dichotomy has had far-reaching negative effects on traditional worship. Instead of being a place for multi-generational participation, it’s been labeled as “old people worship and turned into a self-indulgent, “get all your blue-haired friends together” all-request golden oldies hour.

Yes. Absolutely. That has been the cost… on one side. Aigner seems to feel the debate has left “traditional” worship out in the cold (sorry, couldn’t resist.), while simultaneously spouting the opposite, equally damaging, generality: that all “contemporary” worship is empty and simply a lure to keep young people in the church.

I have worshiped, with depth, and with cultural relatively (for lack of a better phrase), in both “traditional” and “contemporary” congregations. My perception is that a tendency to blame or praise a style of worship for a common failing or beauty of worship generally portrays not the truth of whether or not worship is scriptural, or alive, or transformative, but rather the personal preferences of the one speaking.

I chose to respond to the article in a comment,* but have expanded into a blog post in order to seek your wisdom in the matter. There are also many good points and creative ideas in Aigner’s article–which is possibly why I’m so annoyed. Am I over-reacting? I throw it to you, readers. Please read the original article before commenting here. My comment below the article is included here:

I agree with the premise of this article, that kids don’t need “contemporary” in order to connect in worship. I, myself, grew up in a liturgical church—and, even as a kid, loved going to church. Sometimes it felt long… sometimes I was distracted or bored (my childhood church also kept kids in during the sermon!), but the difficulties yielded results in perseverance and attentiveness and richness that I’m still reaping today. You have also identified some key ways in which parents (and other community members) can help kids to engage in worship within a more traditional structure. I am disappointed, however, that you felt the need in this article to set traditional/contemporary once again at logger-heads, painting all churches within those very generalized categories with the same brush. The fact is, contemporary worship is only empty when we make it empty. Not every church that would describe itself as contemporary has “sold-out” to popular entertainment values. And traditional worship is only full when we bring our full selves to it. Not every traditional church is alive to the life in their liturgy. Yes, I would absolutely affirm that kids can be engaged in traditional worship—that they don’t need hype and volume in order to be involved—but can’t we also affirm that kids can be engaged with depth, and without dumbing-down, and without catering to increasingly shortening attention spans in both traditional and contemporary congregations? Why make it a dichotomy?

*Update: My comment was apparently unfit to be post under the article, which I find additionally disappointing.