“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” ~ Jaroslav Pelikan

I am grateful that I serve Wilshire Baptist Church, where our worship tradition is alive and well. Recently I have been in conversation with our pastoral and music ministry staff. We are living with this question: How do we nurture and replenish worship so that it is a thriving tradition for a vital worshipping community?

A little background: worship at Wilshire is based on a Trinitarian model.[1]

Our two traditional/liturgical worship services on Sunday morning are broadly similar with varied musical elements. We generally do a good job of creating space for a variety of music styles that co-exist without being in unfriendly competition with one another.

We are working together to lean more fully into the Trinitarian model including “Father music” (classical and traditional), “Jesus music” (gospel and folk music) and “Spirit music” (global, ethnic and jazz idioms). While each choir or  group has a natural musical affinity determined by people resources and the mission of the ensemble, a diversity of musical idioms suggested by the Trinitarian model is good for performers and worshippers alike. In turn this variety helps worship remain fresh and avoid any tendency toward sameness.

In the following sections I offer some thoughts that are inspired by the Trinitarian paradigm and raise some questions that may generate ideas to infuse energy in any local context.

Artistry and Accessibility

Is music both artistic and accessible to the worshipper? At Wilshire there is an expectation that music selected is well-crafted and performed well.  There is also an expectation that music serves the worshipping community, a community that is diverse in musical and aesthetic appreciation. We are renewing efforts to seek out congregational song materials that are creative, choral and instrumental music that is beautifully crafted and music that helps worshippers worship well. A beautiful choral example of this is the anthem “Late Have I Loved You” by Paul Carey[2]. Set to a text attributed to St. Augustine, it is theologically and poetically substantive. The music illuminates the text in ways that help worshippers toward a deeper level of prayer and praise.  This is music and text as well crafted as a Shaker chair.

Simplicity and Complexity

Are we engaging our people with a broad range of music at all times? A spectrum of simplicity and complexity is another way of thinking about music that is heard and performed. Partly this is for the sake of the worshipper, partly for the sake of the musicians. When notes are relatively simple to learn, more time can be spent on expressive features that are vital to helping music come alive. I once heard Donald Neuen, Distinguished Profess of Conducting of UCLA and music director at the Crystal Cathedral, exclaim passionately, “Almost any expression is better than no expression at all!” But music should be more challenging or complex when this makes sense liturgically. There is a time for “Jesus Loves Me” and there is a time for “O Magnum Mysterium” (O Great Mystery).

Immanence and Transcendence

Do we select a range of texts that speak to all the ways of understanding God? God is with us/among us, and God is beyond us.

Searching for and choosing a breadth of theological texts ensures there is a breadth of musical styles and expression. Two examples: “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” is a gospel classic, simple in form and straightforward in expression. Although it comes out of the black gospel tradition it has found its way by common usage into the mainstream. The colloquial idiom gently underscores a prayer that God be with us “through the storms, through the night.” And “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (first movement of Gloria) by Antonio Vivaldi is grand and energetic fitting the text “Glory to God in the highest.”

Paying attention to texts that speak to both God’s immanence and transcendence guarantees we will include in worship a range of congregational, choral and instrumental music that is artistic and accessible, that is sometimes simple and sometimes complex. The goal of renewing our legacy of traditional worship is that all who gather for worship will be “lost in wonder, love and praise.”

[1] Wilshire’s Trinitarian worship paradigm is derived from a series of four lectures entitled “Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land” by George Mason. If you would like to receive these lectures, you may email Doug Haney at dhaney@wilshirebc.org.

[2] Available directly from the composer at http://www.paulcarey.net.  To listen to the anthem: https://youtu.be/SfGjjOwMd6E


Doug Haney
Doug Haney has served as Minister of Music at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas TX since 2004. He previously served at Providence Baptist in Charlotte NC and churches in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. At Wilshire, he directs the choral program and supervises the church-wide music ministry, with major responsibilities for worship. Wilshire’s 90-voice Sanctuary Choir and 60-voice Youth Choir are renowned for their quality and innovative approach to traditional worship.

Haney coordinates a new service from CHC for churches seeking to infuse vitality, quality and vision into their worship and music ministry. The work will allow congregations to assess their current ministry and envision ways to enhance quality and foster innovation and relevance.