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2 perspectives on worship

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Seniors can handle change – but not at breakneck pace

generation-vs.-generationMany seniors enjoy a new-found sense of freedom. Gone are the days when we have to be up at 6 a.m. to meet our obligations. Now we’re up at 6 by choice! The busy days of work, endless meetings, and chauffeuring children are behind us, and we’re quite happy to be at this stage of life.

But along with the shedding of responsibilities comes a sense of unease – even panic. The skin that fit for so long is sagging, and no amount of massaging will bring back that familiar, tight feeling of control and purpose.

This is unfamiliar terrain. We stumble. But then we pick ourselves up, evaluate the new landscape, and move forward, perhaps even better than those with fewer years and less wisdom.

We get rid of a lifetime of “treasures” and move into a condo. We use a walker, pop pills by the dozen, and weigh our daily sugar intake. Our lives are changing on an almost daily basis – and we become masters of change. We learn to compromise when necessary, and stand firm when it’s important to do so.

Unchanging God, changing church

As we work through the transitions, we take great comfort in the one thing that remains constant, familiar, and purposeful: our relationship with God. We believe God is loving, faithful, and “does not change like shifting shadows.” In these sunset years, more than ever before, we desire to worship him in Spirit and in truth, and to sing his praises in the sanctuary.

But the sanctuary has changed, and the praises have changed even more. Things we thought were fixed, sacred, and timeless are shifting, temporal, passé.

Is it any wonder seniors who’ve braved a thousand other storms with grace and dignity suddenly find themselves on shaky ground, unable to negotiate the next step? We expect the church to be a place where seniors are lovingly carried along. But often, we’re left to fend for ourselves.

For those of us who grew up in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, worship first consisted of beloved, familiar hymns with meaningful and timeless messages.

We then saw a shift to a brighter, more joyful sound. Choruses were personal and relevant to daily life, with powerful mini-messages that stayed with us all week. We learned that clapping our hands – and even stomping our feet – were other expressions of love toward our Saviour and Lord.

Then came another shift: soft, slow, profoundly worshipful; less melodic but more reflective. What a richly laden table of music we’ve been given over the years – all inspired by the same Holy Spirit!

Slow down

And now? Sometimes it seems Sunday morning praise and worship is a musical race to see who can sing the most new songs in the shortest time. Even traditional hymns are arranged with different rhythms and tempos. For seniors, something vital is lost.

It’s not change that throws us – it’s learning so much new music so quickly. “How can I worship if I’m always in learning mode?” commented a friend.

At 69, my husband and I are experiencing the same thing. We recently moved from Chilliwack to Abbotsford, and are attending a church we enjoy. However, all the music is new to us. Most Sundays, we feel more like watchers than participants.

Seniors aren’t unwilling to learn new things. But more compromise – and less speed – are required. None of us wants to eternally sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” but we do want to participate rather than just observe.

In congregations of young, middle-aged, and older people, worship should reflect a blend of “young, middle-aged, and older” songs. We should enjoy all the music God has given his church – with something familiar and uplifting for everyone.

Change is a fact of church life; applying those changes with regard for the entire community is love at its finest.

—Lilli Kehler and her husband Erv live in Abbotsford, B.C., where they attend a Baptist church.


Generation vs. generation: Is it really about the music?

He was curmudgeonly, but big-hearted below all the bluster. In the months during our church’s transition from a classical organ and choir service to a more guitar-centred, contemporary soft rock format, this dear senior would walk through my office door many Monday mornings, shouting at me – his pastor – about the “[expletive] music we had here yesterday!”

During our lively conversations, I quickly discovered that the man’s son, rejecting his father’s church and possibly his father’s faith, had moved to a faraway city and was making a living playing in a rock band in late-night clubs. Perhaps the problem wasn’t that this senior disliked the music on Sunday mornings, but that the style of music reminded him of the heaviness around the emotional loss of his son.

“This isn’t really about the music,” I’d say. He wanted to argue that it was.

Then there was the esteemed musician and soloist who had been a church member for many years. He came to me, outraged that the “new music” had brought his son back to the church with the opportunity to play bass guitar during worship. The father’s anger seemed to come from a sense he had lost face. He registered shame that this loud, “unholy” music had overtaken and replaced “superior” traditional church music.

In the late 1970s, I remember reading an article in Newsweek or Time that said, “Every generation needs to play its own music. Children – becoming the next generation of adults – need to differentiate themselves from their parents. Often, they do that through the music they chose to embrace.” If that statement is true, it’s massively important in the life of the church, especially in light of the “worship wars” of past decades.

After nearly 30 years of pastoral ministry in two churches in our Mennonite Brethren denomination, allow me to share an observation about the conflict around music. The exchanges were nearly always wrapped in sentiments about “good,” or “acceptable,” or “appropriate” music, and people waxed eloquent, more often than not, about the superiority of their own taste over and against those with whom they were disagreeing.

But the worship wars in our churches were not – and still aren’t – about music. They’re about lost children. And the pain that comes from that loss.

Let’s indulge a new generation to play their music in our churches (with appropriate lyrics and theology, to be sure). In the life of the church, let’s accept, even celebrate our children’s input, and love our young people as partners in decision-making about any number of things in our churches.

Music isn’t just sounds and notes between silences; it’s also – maybe even more – about heart and soul, children and parents.

—Dan Unrau is a former MB pastor and author of the recently released novel You Are the Boy.


“Today, particularly in the North American church, we have focused so much energy on the power of music within our weekly services that we have, inadvertently, begun equating music with worship….”

“Our corporate expression of worship invites renewal when we focus on God – not on style, on format, or on ritual.”

—Worship Walk: Where worship and life intersect

—Gareth J Goossen is executive director of Make Us Holy Ministries. In 2012, Worship Walk was re-released in a revised edition and in Spanish.


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