At the beginning of the year, the shepherds and ministers set aside 90 days for prayer and study regarding God’s desire for worship. Importantly, we were reminded that the lives we live are our worship to God. But our worship assemblies are also an important element of worship.
For our worship times together, four foundational principles were identified:
-Worship should honor God;
-Worship should be transformational;
-Worship should be edifying; and
-Worship should be missional.
After the end of the 90-day period of discernment, the shepherds and ministers affirmed that we found no scriptural requirement that the worship music in our Sunday morning assemblies remain a capella only. We also believed that including instrumental worship in our assemblies could enhance the four foundational principles for some of our members.
After publicly announcing those understandings in April, the shepherds and ministers hosted listening sessions, inviting all to come, ask questions and share their perspectives. The listening sessions were well attended and provided a richness in varied perspectives – with some excitement and some angst. Also in the month of April, a Worship Renewal Team was commissioned to study our worship assemblies… get feedback from our members… get feedback from other churches who had already wrestled with the same questions… and then to bring a recommendation back to the shepherds and ministers, for the consideration of the shepherds.
During May and June, Jeff and the teaching team presented a series of lessons painting a grand image of worshipping the God of creation. We were exhorted to love one another, assuming the best motives in our brothers, and to submit ourselves and our own personal preferences to our brothers and sisters in unity.
Throughout the months of May, June and July, the Worship Renewal Team met and worked on their charge. Most of you – 578, to be exact – participated in the church-wide worship survey. All of the survey responses were not only considered in the formation of the recommendation, but significantly influenced the recommendation. The team was also influenced by best practices of other churches like us.
Next, the Worship Renewal Team presented their recommendation to a larger focus group of our church members, to receive feedback on how it was being heard. That process largely affirmed the recommendation. At the beginning of August, the Worship Renewal Team met with the shepherds and ministers to present their recommendation, provide its rationale, engage in conversation and answer questions.
At this point, we want to thank the members who participated on the Worship Renewal Team, including: Jeff Brown, Calvin Channell, Helen Derryberry, Brad Fisher, Sara Harvey, Lauren Sheppard, Jon Tate and Will Walker.
After hearing the recommendation, we met together on two other occasions to further discuss our worship assembly practices. I want to let you know that the shepherds are in agreement with each other and have decided to make the following changes in our worship assemblies.
First, concerning worship music in our Sunday morning assemblies, the second service on Sunday morning will begin to use instrumental praise in a significant way. The first service will continue the tradition of a capella music as it has been done to this point.
Second, as to our communion practice, worship leaders are encouraged to think creatively and use variety in the form of communion. While some enjoy the regular practice of family-style communion, many of you felt that the current practice of family-style communion does not uphold our four foundational worship principles.
Third, worship leaders are encouraged to increase the number of testimonies shared, as they can be one of the most transformative aspects of our assembly time.
Fourth, worship leaders and the church are encouraged to invite a broad and diverse group of people to share their gifts with the church family during and in support of our assembly times.
Finally, the church will make available the necessary resources to support these changes, specifically, by hiring a full-time worship minister to work alongside Michael and the other ministers.
So what comes next?
The full text of this announcement will be available on our website later today. Also, sessions are being scheduled for this Wednesday and next Sunday so that you can provide feedback to shepherds and ministers and ask questions you may have about the upcoming changes.
We have not yet developed specifics about how any new practices will be implemented, but we will certainly communicate them once they are confirmed.
I want to assure you that from the very beginning of this process, our desire has always been to be led by God’s Spirit. Our study showed God’s desire for our worship to be authenticated by the lives we live in the 167 other hours each week when we are not in the Great Hall. Even so, God’s word also emphasizes the importance of our assemblies. We know a capella music has been a defining characteristic of our tradition, but we wanted this process to be much more than a question of a capella versus instrumental music. Considering how to embrace the freedom we enjoy in Christ and introduce instrumental praise into our assemblies was the issue that was most difficult to discern. Some want to embrace both styles of music in all of our assemblies, yet we do not believe that right now is the time to make that move. Ultimately,
different worship practices are transformative to different groups of our body, and we want to make space for all.
We do not believe we have now reached the finish line. You may see other new worship practices at Woodmont Hills that were not specifically mentioned in the four points that were just presented. Worshipping the infinite God of the universe is not something that we have “solved.” If we were to spend 100% of our collective lives pursuing this end, our efforts would still be a thin glimpse of the glorious praise the angels know.
So… thank you for the grace you have shown to each other and to us throughout this process. And please continue to pray that God’s Spirit will lead us forward in unity and beautiful harmony.