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August 05, 2003

Alternative Alternative Worship?

Is 'Alternative Worship' the best name for..... Alternative Worship?

I was talking to a friend last week about Jonny Bakers book Alternative Worship. As soon as I mentioned the title he began to react against it. His arms crossed, his brow became furrowed and he made a grumpy 'huff' like sound.

Over the next few minutes we began to unpack his reaction and a lot of it boiled down to the term 'Alternative Worship'. 'What's it alternative to?' 'Isn't worship....worship?' These were just some of his initial questions - and ones now I think of it that I've heard many times before. When I began to unpack what 'alt worship' actually is he was more than happy to explore it - he even agreed that its something the church needs to explore more - but he kept coming back to the validity of the term.

Its left me wondering if there is a better name? Maybe its a bit of an Aussie thing but perhaps the risk is that people will react against it and throw the baby out with the bathwater purely because of the word Alternative? Not sure what would be a better word though? 'New Worship' could have a similar critique - 'Experiential Worship', 'Creative Worship'....hmmmm

Do we even need to label it? Not sure...just wondering.... thoughts?

Posted by Darren at August 5, 2003 04:36 PM | TrackBack

this is definitely one of interest to me :-)

I agree that while those in the scene grow content with the term, it is a little hard for 'outsiders' to understand and does have some negative connotations. Plus I don't think it does the field justice always referring to it as 'alternative', which through that is always comparing it with the mainstream, when in many ways there is no reason this kind of worship couldn't be part of the mainstream.

Other things I've heard thrown around include experiential worship, interactive worship, multi-sensory worship, and so on.

The hard thing is that no label adequately explains the field, as it is so diverse and creative. Kind of thing you have to experience, so I guess the idea is a label that doesn't turn people off.

I think in the short-term a label is unavoidable. People have a strange need to box something before they can examine it. As long as it isn't confined by that box forever, all is well.

Maybe alternative worship is the kind of thing that needs a symbol rather than a word, eh? "The worship formerly known as alternative" - or that kind of thing :-)

Posted by: Eddie at August 5, 2003 05:28 PM

And think about it this way. If Alt Worship becomes what most of its practicioners hope that it does...then one day it will be so widespread that it will no longer be alternative. One day, singing hymns with an organ will be alternative...

Posted by: Jonathan at August 5, 2003 11:47 PM

Okay, it might be just me... but isn't it alternative to the mainstream? It is worship, that is different to what everyone else is doing. Like alternative music...wasn't pop music. So we could call Hills Pop-worship, Hymns Classical-worship...? Maybe not.

Posted by: Luke at August 6, 2003 12:07 AM

I don't know how many hours I've wasted because someone didn't like the term I used in a conversation. Sometimes it gets to the point where you'll offend someone regardless of the label you use.

Posted by: LT at August 6, 2003 12:09 AM

Maybe the authors should have called the book "Worship that's better then Old Fuddy Duddy Worship" and be done with it. ;^)

I'm with LT on this one. It seems that no matter what, someone in the Church (big C) is going to be offended.

Imho, the title is a good one. I am still hankering to get my hands on a copy of said book. Anyone know when it will be coming out in the US?

Posted by: Rich at August 6, 2003 12:24 AM

How 'bout That worship. :)

Posted by: Christopher at August 6, 2003 01:17 AM

Heretical Worship? Just kidding.

Good question, though. Labels... my favorite subject. What do you call it so that people know it's "not your granparents worship", but aren't scared off by it?

And isn't it strange that we even have to think about this stuff?

Posted by: Mike at August 6, 2003 02:40 AM

After thinking about it overnight, I'm a bit happier with the term 'alternative', as imperfect as it is, because by not being too descriptive, it allows for the massive diversity of the field - And it also outlines the real basis behind the form of worship - That it's created by people who aren't satisfied with existing mainstream worship, and thus find or create an 'alternative' themselves..

Posted by: Eddie at August 6, 2003 08:50 AM

I'm happy with it too - personally - just concerned with anything that might stop people considering it....hmm...still thinking on this one.

Posted by: Darren Rowse at August 6, 2003 09:12 AM

Differently-oriented worship?

Posted by: Jared at August 6, 2003 03:44 PM

I don't like the term. I think it gives too much power to what you are alternative too and I think 'alternative worship' or the emerging church is so much more.

For instance, when I started at Northern we had a congregation that said they were the alternative congregation. Basically, they defined themselves by what they didnt like in our Sunday service. Not healthy..

While I agree with LT that we need to move beyond the words, we also need to ensure we move beyond the tendency to define ourselves by what we are not and begin to define ourselves by what we are.

Posted by: phil at August 7, 2003 11:28 AM

the term needs to be set in context. it evolved through the 90's when alt.... was a fairly hip cultural prefix. eg alt.culture to describe the interaction of the web etc so was there a sense of missionality to the term - while we all sit here saying oh, im in the church and i don't like it, was it actually potentially connective for those surfing the culture!

most reform/renovation movements start in some form of reaction. just sample a range of blogs in relation to "church". if they stay there they die, if they find a more positive, missional life force, they'll grow.

Posted by: steve at August 7, 2003 05:35 PM

and another perspective from someone on the future church journey, i got told a while ago the term should be patented because it has such cohesive power for a fairly vibrant expression of church. interesting take - that alt.worship is a clear, identifiable, cohesive form of identity.

Posted by: steve at August 7, 2003 05:37 PM

I personally feel that there is no need to distinguish between the different "types" of worship. We worship the one God in the one Body of Christ. The very fact that the creation of a label can cause divisions within the church, is that a good thing?

It makes it even more difficult for other people to accept the idea of an "alternative worship" because it sounds foreign and alien and therefore wrong. Thats not the impression we want to give them. We want them to know that at the end of the day, there is no difference in how you worship..its WHO you worship that really matters!

Posted by: david at September 4, 2003 09:50 PM

I reckon we can waste a lot of time talking over semantics about words and their usage in culture. Words, particularly in a religious / faith context carry a heavy symbolic weight to them... for a time! We reinterpret words and give new meaning to words all the time. Some twenty years ago the term 'radical' was being tossed about in a similar way to talk about discipleship. Isn't discipleship just discipleship? You could say that it's all about 'branding' -trying to market an idea. Personally, I'm not sure I'm even happy about the word worship nowadays. I prefer to be more concise about what we are doing when we gather as Christians. If we gather to pray, let's call it prayer, if we gather for communion, let's call it Communion, or if you like 'eucharist' or 'The Lord's Supper', etc. If we share a meal, we might want to begin with silent reflection or prayer or a grace, but that doesn't stop it being a meal. The notion of worship suggests that this is a more sacred Christian activity than the other things we engage with and do in life. Shouldn't all of our activities be seen as sacred and thus our lives as an expression of the sacred love of God that has touched our lives. One final comment. The notion of 'worship' or a 'service' is one that is largely part of the Protestant tradition and the idea of church as congregation. I'm not convinced that this 'congregational' way of being church is going to be either helpful or sustainable late into this century.

Posted by: Paul Turton at September 9, 2003 09:27 AM

I heard an interesting question last night about semantics: semantics apparently means the meaning of words - and if we don't have the meaning of the words, what do we have?

Therefore just because we debate the proper meaning of words such as worship, doesn't make the exercise futile. We shouldn't be so quick to dump 'language' as a tool for debate, reflection or, dare I say it, worship.

For me the notion of worship is more about concentration or focus on God. We can certainly say that the ideal would be for us to live our lives as worship, but realistically, until we get there, we need to embrace those times where we focus our attention on God, just because he is God.

Posted by: Luke at September 11, 2003 02:17 PM
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