The Embrace of Musical Convergence (And Its Implications for Traditional Church Choirs)

Convergence

There are three common music models in western/protestant/liturgical churches these days:

1. The traditional model. The music is almost exclusively classical, and any contemporary elements are on the fringes.

2. The contemporary model. The music is almost exclusively modern, and any traditional elements are on the fringes.

3. The ping-pong model. There’s a traditional side and a contemporary side. Each side gets its turn, at its own service, or with its own songs, and there isn’t a whole lot of unity or cooperation.

Is it possible for a church with a history of a traditional music program (choir, organ, hymnals, handbells, etc.) to embrace modern forms of music (bands, vocalists, projected lyrics, “worship teams”, etc.) without the traditional music dying as a result?

Yes, it is possible. And that’s what my church, our congregation, our choir, our instrumentalists, and I are pursuing these days.

We’re pursuing a fourth model, which is called “convergence”. Maybe you call it “blended”. It allows for vibrant traditional music, and vibrant contemporary music, and it puts them together in one combined expression. Choir plus singers. Organ plus band. Traditional plus contemporary. 6th century plus 21st century. Liturgy plus spontaneity. We can play ping-pong when it’s called for, but we play together most of the time.

This “convergence” model accomplishes several things:
1. It’s faithful to our past
2. It builds a bridge to the future, and to those from outside our traditions
3. It’s a picture of the body (independence and interdepence)
4. It’s alive and messy and risky and new and exciting
5. It’s about addition, not about subtraction

Most importantly,

6. It demonstrates our unity in Christ

What does this model mean for a traditional church choir?

This model embraces the choir and calls them further up and further in. Is it different? Yes. Is it the traditional model? No. Is it calling more or less out of the choir than before? More!

In this model of musical “convergence”, being a member of the choir is not just about singing the anthem. It’s about singing and leading all of the songs in a service from beginning to end. From the call to worship to the final hymn. Every note of every song being an opportunity for the choir to fulfill a worship leading role, a congregational-singing-cultivating role, a visible role, an audible role, and a pastoral role. From challenging repertoire, to simple liturgical responses, to contemporary songs that will only (and should only) be in our repertoire for shorter seasons, the choir is being called to be an integral worship leading presence on all of it.

Here’s the kicker about “convergence”:

The addition of new things does not mean the subtraction of older things.

The experimentation with new forms does not mean the elimination of older forms. The birth of new songs does not mean the death of old songs. New singers and musicians on the platform don’t mean the replacement of other singers and musicians. We must force ourselves to think in terms of addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division.

The motto of “convergence” is “More! Older! Newer! All of it!” It’s leaning into what God’s doing, it’s being willing to be messy and make mistakes, and it’s trusting that the foundations are strong enough to handle adding some new structures. This isn’t demolition, it’s expansion. There aren’t any wrecking balls in sight, only more bricks.

And the Cornerstone isn’t going anywhere.

Classical musicians need not run in fear at the sight of an electric guitar. A drummer need not be banished to the youth room, hidden behind plexiglass, and surrounded by foam. Traditional choral repertoire need not be thrown into the trash can. There has to be a way for musical convergence to work. It can work when we love one another, when we keep the congregation singing along, when we exalt Christ above all things and above all preferences, and when we’re willing to take risks in an atmosphere permeated with God’s grace.

Here’s to keeping on trying to make musical convergence work!

11 thoughts on “The Embrace of Musical Convergence (And Its Implications for Traditional Church Choirs)

  1. Bob Tate January 27, 2015 / 10:38 am

    Brilliant! Well done Jamie!!!

  2. Dave January 28, 2015 / 10:54 pm

    I love all the positive forward vision-casting in this. It’s very refreshing and exciting. Yes, we can! Let’s go for it. That can be rare, and it indicates a heart that’s full of the hope of the glory of God.

    What again is so vacant, however, is God’s role. Has anyone heard God sing in their worship? Have you heard God speak? Have you seen God move amongst a body of believers? If you have then all the wrangling about what is sacred and what is not beautifully falls away.

    Just as culture is not sacred (it does not compare to the Glory of God), forms of worship are not sacred. The words of God will last forever (Is. 40). I’m not talking about preaching, but it could include preaching. Worship is so good when it climaxes to allowing God to speak and move not just on individuals but to the whole group. If this has not been experienced then I might as well be speaking Martian because it sounds so fantastical, but it is real, it is sustainable, and it can include and surpass all these forms.

    I’ll just leave it at that for now. Too idealistic?

  3. Robert January 31, 2015 / 7:20 am

    Jamie,
    I don’t mean for this to come off sounding harsh, but I think a little humility is in order. Your church has been employing this blended model for decades – long before you came on board. This isn’t something that you’re pursuing “these days” but something that has been the model for a long time. I’m glad you appreciate it though, and I’ll give you credit for coming up with the a cool name for it.

    There has always been a mix of traditional and modern (both songs and instruments) in every service on most every song. The choir has always been involved in every song, modern or traditional. They were even involved more so than they are now. “Further up and further in” sound like meaningless phrase when the choir actually has less of a role than it used to.

    I love the idea of putting all this together in one service. It’s part of your church’s DNA.

    • Jamie Brown January 31, 2015 / 9:08 pm

      Hi “Robert”!

      I appreciate you sharing your reaction to my post! Thank you. Four quick things:

      First: Absolutely, humility is always in order! Thanks for your good reminder to pursue humility.

      Second: Absolutely, long before I ever came on board, there has been a mix of traditional and modern music at our church. It’s a wonderful legacy. Indeed, we are continuing to build on this legacy with faithfulness to the ancient paths – yet with an eagerness to lean into what God is leading us into “these days”.

      Third, I didn’t/can’t claim credit for the “cool name” of “convergence”. The first person I’m aware of who used this term in the worship world was the brilliant Robert Webber. I should have made this clearer in the post.

      Finally, and I really do believe this (really!)… This model does indeed call a choir “further up and further in” to their role as worship leaders on every song. That’s not a meaningless phrase – but a potential reality for all the musicians at a church when their hearts long to see Jesus exalted above all things.

      By the way, I just sent you an email saying I’d love to grab coffee sometime, but it bounced back. Please shoot me an email or introduce yourself on a Sunday morning. I’d love to connect.

      Thanks again,

      Jamie

  4. Jeff Lindquist February 3, 2015 / 11:56 am

    J:
    Well done! I have thought in this manner for quite some time. Unfortunately, the hard part is getting everyone on board with the idea. “Unity demonstrated ” (unfortunately) is an idea that is not as strong as “preference” in many circles.

    Keep up the good writing. Love the blog. Let’s do coffee sometime. (I’m in Woodbridge.)

    Peace,
    j

    • Jamie Brown February 3, 2015 / 12:37 pm

      Thanks, Jeff! Yes, let’s do coffee sometime! Shoot me an email.

  5. Mark Powers February 14, 2015 / 12:44 pm

    Thanks Jamie – Convergent worship is definitely a worthy goal for us who appreciate all styles of music and love to glorify God. Two things to think about, though: CULTURE – God has created this world in such a way that all of us live in a cultural context. People will always connect best with God in their own cultural heart language. Culture is not a bad thing, rather it is a tool from God that He gave us to connect people with Him. Our differences in worship style may not simply grow from self-centered preferences, they may be a result of the context of culture God set up in our world. (Missionaries know this and operate within the confines of the culture to which they are sent all the time.) One day we’ll be in heaven, a place where there is only one culture: God’s culture. Until then we must relate the gospel in terms of indigenous earthly cultures. DISCIPLESHIP – The one thing that can overcome cultural context is growing disciples who are spiritually mature. A disciple who has grown into spiritual adulthood will give up their own preferences – cultural and personal – for the sake of raising spiritual children. I will always connect best with God in my cultural heart language, but for the most part I will give up that preference as I grow spiritually. For Convergent Worship to be truly successful, we must have an intentional relational process for growing disciples in our worship ministries. Thanks for the opportunity to comment and share. For more on this, see my book “Going Full Circle: Worship that Leads Us to Discipleship and Worship” (Resource Publications, Wipf & Stock, 2013). – Mark Powers, Worship & Music Director, SC Baptist Convention

  6. Ryan Egan March 24, 2015 / 9:54 am

    YES. Now, how to move a church into this where people on both sides are stuck on the concept of preference instead of unity? With great care and good shepherding, I suppose 🙂

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