When discussing worship in the context of Sunday morning services, the topic tends toward polarization. “Worship wars” have been common throughout church history. Organ vs. piano, choruses vs. hymns, weekly communion vs. less frequent communion, verse by verse vs. topical preaching – each period of the church has faced unique challenges with the balance between what is biblical and what is contextual. The tendency toward polarization and “either-or” categories make it very challenging for church leaders and especially worship pastors/leaders. The issues are not new, and the solutions are not simple.
So here is the question: What should characterize the Sunday worship service at College Park Church? Here are my thoughts on corporate worship. My perspective does not solve all the problems but does establish a framework for moving us toward mutual understanding, decision-making, and planning.
The History and Trends of College Park Church
College Park Church was planted in 1985 through the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). This movement of churches was strong in its commitment to the faithful proclamation of the Scriptures, an emphasis on local church autonomy, a focus on global missions, and a fellowship among like-minded churches. However, the weakness of the GARBC was its historic over-emphasis on separation. The result was that GARBC churches became known more for what they were against than what they were for. The movement became associated with the Fundamentalist Movement of the 70’s and 80’s in tone.
Kimber Kauffman, the planting pastor of College Park Church, was a pioneer in the GARBC. His preaching style was deeply biblical and expositional (“verse by verse”) but it was also uniquely authentic. The church was committed to orthodoxy but also an unusual unity in diversity. There was a strong message of the authority of the Word, but there was also extravagant grace offered to hurting people. The combination was rare and welcomed.
The effect was that College Park Church became known within the GARBC as a bit of a “maverick church.” In the city of Indianapolis, the church was known as a refuge for those who loved the Word but longed-for freedom from the legalistic strictures of the fundamentalist movement. Sometime in the 1990’s College Park dropped “Baptist” from its name, a move that was about 10 years ahead of the national trend in other Baptist churches.
I joined the ministry of College Park in 2008, and the congregation was comprised of three groups of people: 1) those coming from conservative churches looking for freedom and grace, 2) those coming from seeker-oriented churches who were looking for depth of teaching, and 3) new believers or those in crisis who were simply looking to grow and change.
Over the last nine years, a shift has taken place in the body and the dynamics of College Park Church. A few observations:
- The number of people coming from ultra-conservative and Baptist churches has dropped since those churches have fewer and fewer people than they did 10 years ago
- A significant number of people continue to either come from more seeker-oriented churches or who have some significant fears about the seeker-sensitive movement
- An increasing number of people are coming from mainline churches and non-Baptist churches
- The ethnic diversity, while still far from ideal, has changed significantly and increased
- The number of people in crisis and who are coming to faith in Christ has increased significantly since 2008
- The church moved into a new sanctuary in 2012 which doubled the seating capacity and tripled the scale of our last worship space
These dynamics make the opportunities and challenges for Sunday morning services a unique and moving target. Therefore, it is helpful to consider the core philosophical center of Sunday mornings at College Park Church.
The Beauty of “Both”
By using the word “both,” I’m not referring merely to “blended worship,” although that certainly could be an aspect of “both.” Rather, I mean a philosophy which recognizes that the values regarding worship are on a continuum that must be balanced and then also prioritized for the spiritual health of a particular body of Christ in its unique setting and changing context.
My philosophy of “both” in worship involves two orientations. The first is the biblically-driven orientation which carries more weight and a greater prioritization in terms of where the focus lies. The Bible has more direct effect on this focus, and it is, therefore, more deliberate and prescriptive. The second is the contextually-driven orientation which is more influenced by the setting, the history and the background of the church. Both orientations have levels of fluidity to them, but the contextual orientation has a greater level of fluidity because it is less tied to biblical principle and is more subjective.
- Vertical and Horizontal. Given the uniqueness of Sunday morning worship from all other settings, I believe the Sunday morning orientation should generally be tipped toward a vertical, God-centeredness. Our singing, praying, preaching, and response should reflect a priority of directing our worship to the Lord – that we are coming before him and that he is our audience. Horizontal elements are an important part of our gathering, and they contribute to the goal of God-centeredness in all that we do. (Psalm 96:2-3; Ephesians 5:18-19)
- Special and General Revelation. Since the Word of God is foundational to the Christian life, I believe worship services should be informed by and driven by the Scriptures. Service elements should be anchored in biblical principle, and people should leave services with a renewed love for the biblical truth that will carry them for another week, motivating them in their own study of the Word. We should teach the Word, sing the Word, read the Word and pray the Word such that people come love the Word in new ways. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 10:17)
- Congregational and Individual. As the church gathers as individuals, special emphasis should be made on the corporate and congregational nature of Sunday morning. While recognizing the value of the individual, I believe that the unique opportunity for corporate worship and togetherness should be the primary focus. (Hebrews 10:24-25; Colossians 3:16)
- Believer and Unbeliever. The believer must take precedent in the overall emphasis of the worship service. I believe that a Christian should be the main audience with care and understanding that non-believers are watching, listening and searching. (Romans 12:1; 1 Cor. 14:24-25)
- Contemporary and Historic. Both contemporary and historic songs have great value. Given the landscape of Evangelicalism and our history, I believe that College Park Church should strive to have a worship that balances the importance of both but with a strong leaning toward the contemporary. Our diet will be closer, by design, to 80/20 in terms of the balance.
- Structured and Spontaneous. We should think very carefully and biblically about the total message of the Lord’s Day. I believe that we should plan, practice, and pursue excellence while remaining open to the spontaneous leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Celebratory and Contemplative. I believe that worship services should be designed mainly as a celebration of the gospel while finding important moments for contemplation and the expressions of “sorrowful yet rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). The services should be designed to help people “rejoice in the Lord” while considering the unique and potentially painful circumstances of the people gathered.
- Familiar and Creative. Trust is the currency of ministry. People come to church, join the church and invite a friend to church due to their trust in our ability to faithfully minister to them. But they also trust that we are not going to be stuck in the past. Therefore, I believe we should strive for a trusted creativity.
The Worthiness of Pursuing Both
This blog seeks to put language to College Park’s Church orientation in each of the valuable categories for the purpose of clarity, freedom, and unity. The aim is not to answer all questions or settle all controversies. Rather, the objective is to establish a basic foundation from which we can lead our people, and through which they can interpret their experience. The hope is that we can continue to steward the gospel while navigating a changing culture in a way that facilitates “worshipping in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Here’s what I hope is a helpful visual of what College Park is focusing on with our Sunday worship.
|College Park Sunday Focus
|Believer-focused & Unbeliever-mindful
|Intentional but open