Worship Culture


By Jonathan Shockley


If you’re like me, there’s nothing you loathe more than lots of choices. With choices comes disappointment, hurt feelings, regret, what-ifs, etc. For instance, when I go to get ice cream, it’s like naming my first born child. Some days calling him mint chocolate chip sounds great, while others she sounds like a strawberry kind of gal to me. Much is the same when it comes to picking worship songs in today’s church culture. While the smoke from the battle between “contemporary” and “traditional” styles is settling, there is still an extensive process to walk through when it comes to choosing songs for the church to sing corporately week after week.

In my very few years of experience as a worship leader, I have tried just about every style and classic worship tactic there is in multiple different settings and environments. At one point I was so overwhelmed with all the variety that I almost gave up and said forget it, no ice cream for me. But I realized that the variety should be filtered through a lens that is very catered and fit to the body in which I serve. When that is taken into account, it makes planning a set look almost as if it was handed to me rather than something I have to play eeny meeny miny mo to pick. Now I must confess, I did not craft this filter myself, but I think that only adds to its credibility. Back in the glorious year of 1990 (as if I was alive then), John Piper wrote an article on worship and culture. In this, he walks readers through two types of culture that are to be considered and administered when planning a worship set. Below I have summarized the two types and attempted to articulate some cons of both.

Fine Culture: puts high priority on intellectual and artistic expressions that require extraordinary ability to produce and often demand disciplined efforts to understand and appreciate

  • Has the tendency to sacrifice the ability to relate to the body as a whole

  • Very difficult to accomplish well

  • Leans towards performance

  • Creates ego

Folk Culture: puts high priority on expressions of heart and mind that please and help average people without demanding unusual effort

  • Creates laziness/indifference

  • Shortcuts the mind and plays heavy on emotion

  • Sacrifices doctrine for easy understanding

I believe that there is obviously no either or here, and thus a combination of the two should be implemented. Here are some pros of the two:

Fine Culture:

  • Strives to communicate sound truth, even when that is no easy task

  • Difficulty of the work displays a beautiful form of art, a form that is often used to display majesty and glory of the creator

  • No room for shortcuts, which allows all parties to see more of who God is in the detail


Folk Culture:

  • Relatable to all audiences, therefore there is a much lower risk of exclusion

  • Allows there to be a mastering of the simple, which leaves room to focus on what matters most

As I stated earlier, these two concepts are to be applied and catered to specific bodies, there is no one size fits all. So when I consider Arrowhead Church, it’s resources, community, I arrived at a combination that will help shape worship culture here for the seasons to come. I hope to view all decisions regarding set formats, songs choices, personnel, and other worship related aspects through this lens. We are going to do the details really well and really simply. While we are blessed with talented musicians, tech assistants, and worshippers, we aren’t Elevation Worship or Bethel Music. And take note, that’s not a bad thing! I say that to say, there is no need to put forth an effort to replicate a style or environment that isn’t what The Lord has given to us. Along with that, we will never sacrifice truth for relativity. The Gospel will be preached through how and what we sing. I believe this is where we see a merging of the two types of cultures that will fit our body of believers. Fine Culture will be tapped into for the sake of truth and doctrine. Folk culture will be administered for the sake of the body and focusing on the Gospel.

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