White to black — or black to white

A lady called some weeks ago saying that her church was in deep trouble. No surprise here — many churches are “in deep trouble” for various reasons.

She said the pastor decided to fire the part-time music director who had led the church for some 15 years in a more traditional and slightly blended worship experience and hire a local contemporary musician, who could not read music but played a fair guitar and had led contemporary worship a few times.

That, Dear Readers, is going from “white to black” in an instant! One Sunday, everything is normal. The next Sunday, the church has no choir but in its place a band, praise team and all the trappings of contemporary worship — with absolutely no forethought or preparation.

Needless to say, things went sour very quickly. People left the church in droves, the hired musician was fired, and now they are looking for a blended worship leader who can lead them to new paths of contemporary glory.

It is rare indeed that a church will go from black to white, such as from contemporary worship to traditional worship, in a heartbeat.

I venture to say that any church contemplating worship-style changes must go through various shades of gray in order to make the transition smooth and less offensive, be carried out with professionalism and, oh yes, ask God’s blessings on the changes – too often an afterthought.

The first shade of gray is for church leadership from many sources to be involved in these proposed changes from beginning to end. Otherwise they are doomed to fail.

Another shade of gray is to explain to the congregation on more than one occasion that changes in the worship style and structure are coming. Ask for their input, suggestions and thoughts on this matter. This is vitally important.

Finally, the worship personality who begins this process must understand that the success of this change does not depend on his or her vocal ability, guitar skills, use of the microphone or ability to teach new songs. It depends on knowledge of where the church currently stands in worship, where it needs to change and the flexibility to work with the people to make the changes gradual and non-invasive.

Using the “old” along with the “new” will help avoid the pitfalls that come with going too far, too fast and without preparation. It is important to trust your people, who will be there long after you have left.

This post originally ran on ABPnews on February 14, 2012.

Bob Burroughs

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About the Author
Bob Burroughs is a composer and arranger who directed the Florida Baptist Convention church music department until his retirement in 2002. He is author of What Think Ye?: Essays for Twenty-First Century Leaders, Pastors, and Church Musicians.

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