Contemporary Worship for the 21st Century: Worship or Evangelism? | Daniel T. Benedict

Benedict, Daniel T.; Miller, Craig Kennet. Contemporary Worship for the 21st Century: Worship or Evangelism? Nashville, TN: Discipleship Resources, 1994. 128 pp. $13.00.

With the coming of the new millennium just around the corner, Daniel Benedict and Craig Miller teamed up in 1994 to address the role evangelism plays in worship in their book Contemporary Worship for the 21st Century: Worship or Evangelism? At the time of writing, Daniel T. Benedict served as Worship Resources Director for the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church. Craig Kennet Miller served as Director of New Congregational Development at the time of writing and has authored several books pertaining to two main topics:  generations and the church. He is currently Director of Pastoral Leadership on staff at the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church. Against the expanding backdrop of ever-changing generational characteristics, rapid advances in technology and postmodern individualism throughout the 90s, Benedict and Miller project several possibilities for the role of the church in the new millennium.

The authors make it clear from the beginning that this book is an “explorer’s log” (vii) of sorts, not a recipe book. Benedict’s and Miller’s argue that the conversation about contemporary worship must include “a new dialogue about the making and nurturing of Christian disciples” (p. vii), warning against a church stuck in self-maintenance mode. The authors present the contents of this book as topics in a conversation stating the two purposes of this book:

  1. To present a resource that evokes conversation, and
  2. To stimulate ideas and to point to further resources

Finally, they present a thesis: the “content of this book will focus on the setting of congregational worship as key to the evangelistic ministry of your church” (p. 5).

Benedict and Miller begin by sketching the characteristics of contemporary worship.  Contemporary worship is affected by the “push of tradition” and the “pull of culture” (p.8). Using diagrams, the authors then identify three formats of contemporary worship resulting from attitudes toward worship. The Book of Common Worship Service (BCW) is rooted in history, containing blended worship (for believers) as well as visitor friendliness. The Book of Common Song Service (BCS) is adjusted to contemporary cultures, and contains blended worship as well as seeker sensitivity. The Seeker Service is “culturally specific,” containing both visitor friendliness and a seeker sensitivity.

They define believers as those who have placed their faith in Christ while seekers are “non-Christians who are seeking an experience of God” (p. 26). These culture types and their variants lead the authors to question for whom is a worship service created? In view of this, they advocate a variety of worship options, which they display later.

Benedict and Miller proceed to ask where the church fits into contemporary culture where generations constantly rise and fall. They argue that for a congregation to be culturally and generationally effective a willingness to change is necessary.

The authors attempt answer the question that still seems to be unanswerable to many congregations today: worship or evangelism? They advocate a balance between the two and later present options for how to execute this balance. Following, the authors lay out very basic blueprints for creating contemporary worship services in churches of all sizes over certain periods of time. Benedict and Miller then begin to emphasize the important role leadership plays for the expansion of worship “for the range of people who could be participants” (p. 64), sharing tips for effective leadership.

From this point on, Benedict and Miller present what they call “Worship Options,” case studies that present elaborations on the three formats of worship previously discussed (BCW, BCS and Seeker). See below for a comparison of these formats with other interpretations.

Content Support of Thesis, Goals Reached and Claims Supported

The thesis assumes an equality that is not well founded in scripture but well supported in the culture of the contemporary church. Therefore using real examples of contemporary church service settings, the observation-based content supports the thesis very well. The authors follow through with their commitment to evoke conversation, stimulate ideas and point to further resources citing examples of contemporary practices nationwide and providing a list for further research.

What the Book does Well

The book gives readers of various denominational backgrounds a glimpse into the mindset of a more liturgical denomination discovering the growing importance of outreach versus “self-maintenance.”  Some readers may find it interesting to see how the authors from the very beginning are honest about having a limited view, inviting all denominations into the conversation about worship and evangelism. A reader with a more evangelical background may be inclined to wonder why the authors are just now raising the question about the role the church plays in evangelism. However, the more evangelical denomination has much to learn about unraveling the complications of a Sunday morning service to reveal the basic need to worship a Holy God.

Shortcomings

Because the authors invited all denominations to the table of conversation, readers from less structured liturgical backgrounds may find it difficult to relate to the authors’ choice of labels for worship formats (i.e. “Book of Common…”), therefore it is difficult to pinpoint who the authors believe their audience is besides church leadership in general.

Also, in the authors’ attempt to define contemporary worship, the authority of sources seems a bit weak. The authors lean more toward a commentary- and research-based definition rather than a scripture-based definition. However, once again the authors do not claim to be authorities, but explorers inviting readers along on the journey.

A study of the elaborations in the second half of the book reveals a connection to other interpretations and labels of worship existing in the 21st century. For example, these formats may also be categorized by Motivation, Text and Music, perhaps with a bit of a disconnect depending on many situational factors (see table below for a very general attempt).

Finally, in contrast to Sally Morgenthaler’s Worship Evangelism, there is no attempt on the authors’ part to acknowledge worship as perhaps something that should stand on its own as a priority of a contemporary congregation.

Usability, Format, Suitability and Parts vs. Whole

This book is useful for understanding a church-wide awakening of a passion for outreach, but not suitable as an authoritative textbook. The format is well organized presenting a move from theory to practice with relevant illustrations for support of the thesis. The parts are best understood as a whole to be together.

Importance, Timeliness and Value of Topic

The topic of worship versus evangelism will seemingly never lose its importance and its value is what seems to define styles of worship across the globe. The timeliness of this book reveals an “after-the-fact” attempt to process what some denominations seemed to be waking up to in the mid-nineties and what they began to prepare for in the new millennium: evangelism. If a church is truly worshiping God the next thing to listen for is His call to share His glory (according to Isaiah 6).

Holly C. Summers is a graduate student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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