Ask a Pastor Ep. 60 - Liturgical Worship, Discernment in Worship


Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.

This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Director of Worship Arts, Dan Shields, about liturgical worship and being discerning in worship.

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Kurt Bjorklund: Hi, welcome. Today I'm joined by Dan Shields. Dan serves as our Director of Worship Arts on all of our campuses, Wexford, Butler County, the Strip District, and our chapel venue. Today we wanted to take just a few moments. This wasn't actually a question that anybody sent in, but it was one I thought with Dan here, it would be good just to talk about. And that is a little bit about trends in worship.

Kurt Bjorklund: One of the things we've done in our chapel service is we've added a service that's very different than the services that we have in our main space and then in our venues that are off site. What's different about it is that our main service, if you wanted to characterize, is kind of a rock and roll feel. It's got kind of a Chris Tomlin, passion worship, if that means anything to you.

Kurt Bjorklund: But if it doesn't mean anything to you, you walk into our worship center, it might feel, to some people, like you're going to a Coldplay concert. And then there is teaching with the words of the songs being about Jesus instead of about relationships or whatever Coldplay songs are about. So there's lights and there's things, and it's just that kind of a vibe.

Kurt Bjorklund: What we've done in our chapel is we've created a service that has some liturgy, some rhythm, some high church moments, and some contemporary moments altogether. So talk to us about why we did that and why we think it's important enough to not just say, "Everybody should go to the same exact worship style and service."

Dan Shields: Yeah. I think that's a really good question delineation. It's funny because even at our other venues, they look and feel in some ways like Orchard Hill, but I always liken them to brothers and sisters. Same DNA, but very different in personality. So somebody from the outside would be able to spot that they're all one family. But in the family, you get to really see the personalities.

Dan Shields: If you go to the Strip District or Butler, you're going to experience something that feels like Orchard Hill, but really is unique to that location and the culture that's around that location. Talking about the liturgical service though, it might be good actually just to talk about the bigger vision of the church and where we came from as a church.

Dan Shields: 20 some years ago, there was a group of people down at... I guess 30 years now, at st Stephen's down in Sewickley. Wonderful church. It was sort of a high liturgy church and just a great church. But it was a type of place where you'd show up in a suit and tie. You would hear high liturgy. It was the type of architecture and building that you would expect from church.

Dan Shields: There were a group of people, I think that... They started really wondering and asking the question, how do we pass the baton of Christianity on to the next generation? How do we pass this on to our kids and our grand-kids? How do we speak the language that they speak?

Dan Shields: They also realized that there were some friends that they could invite into the church and they would have a really good church experience, but some sort of had that, "I've been there and I've done that, and that's not my cup of tea," thing. And so they really wanted to speak into the culture and be able to speak to somebody right where they were at, and maybe a different way that the high liturgical service didn't.

Dan Shields: They had a couple of phrases that they would use back then. They said stuff like, "We want to keep the content but change the container." What they meant by that is they didn't want to veer from historical Christianity. They didn't want to veer from what the Bible said, but they wanted to present it in a new way. So, for them, what that meant is maybe they would have more contemporary music that have rock and roll guitars or drums. Maybe there'd be lights. Sometimes they would do dramas and skits that were like everyday life situations that you just wouldn't see in a high church.

Dan Shields: They did videos where they would go out on the street and ask people certain questions about hot button topics of the day. And again, those things, even though the liturgical service at the church really had some wonderful things to offer, they just weren't a part of that service. And they realized they really wanted to do some things that just opened the door to a group of people who might not darken the church doors ever in their life after they grew up. So that was really the idea.

Dan Shields: Our idea really hasn't changed at all, in that the whole idea of this church is to help people find and follow Jesus. We want to be true to the word of God. But as far as the methodologies, I think we probably see ourselves a little bit like missionaries in a culture.

Dan Shields: If we sent missionaries to Papua New Guinea, they might wear the clothes that people are wearing, there. They might sing the types of songs that they're singing there, but they're still telling people about Jesus. So when we formed our church 30 years ago, when that group formed, that's what they were really set out to do, to be able to pass the baton of Christianity.

Dan Shields: It's kind of interesting because the culture... And I think it's been really effective. We have had literally thousands and thousands of people, young families come through the doors of this church. People who maybe left the church when they were young or never really were churched and they came to find out who Jesus was and their lives were completely transformed. Families were transformed. And, in some ways, regions were touched and changed in some small ways by the power of what God was doing.

Dan Shields: One thing that was interesting though, a couple of years ago, maybe four or five years ago, we started dreaming about having a space in this space, the chapel. And part of it was we wanted to be able to have memorial services for people, not just out in our lobby, and weddings for people that... most young girls don't dream about walking down the aisle of a lobby. They want to be in a church, in a beautiful church setting. So that was part of the driver of this.

Dan Shields: But I think you and a number of people really had some real excitement about having the possibility of a new type of church service, which was really an old type of church service, a more high liturgical service that would be in a more traditional type of setting. And I think that was one of the big drivers of it.

Dan Shields: One of the things that I'd heard you say a lot, and I had read a number of times, was that... and this was interesting to me, among the youth, there was a little bit of a movement of people moving more towards liturgical, traditional services and away from what you'd call the rock and roll... the Coldplay type of service.

Dan Shields: Again, for us, thinking through how we'd like to pass the baton onto the next generation, that was a big deal for us. So I think that was some of the origins of what we did.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. I think what happens, I think, in generations in church is a lot of times what you grew up with, you want to discover something that's yours, not just your parents'. Sometimes you love going to your parents' church and other times you say, "This is mine." And what happened 20, 30 years ago is people would say, "I want my own version that is my enculturation." And so Orchard Hill became that for a generation.

Kurt Bjorklund: But now we have a generation of people who've grown up in churches like Orchard Hill, where they're saying, "This is the church I grew up in." It's in step with culture, which that phrase may rub some people wrong, but the idea of the music choices, and the presentation, and everything else. And they almost want something that feels more historical and aligned with creeds, aligned with history, aligned with some things that that make it feel more rooted.

Kurt Bjorklund: And even though it's rooted, as you pointed out so well in the word of God, regardless, so that the base content is exactly the same, that they enjoy that feeling of liturgy and worshiping with people from past centuries, not just today, and some of the more historical music that's been appreciated, rather than what is currently being written.

Kurt Bjorklund: Again, we certainly, in our main services, do that as well, but to a different degree. And so, that's been part of the driver. What we found is that it allows for diverse people in one congregation. This is nothing new or unique to Orchard Hill. Churches have done this for a long time where you say that the content's the same but the style's different. And style attracts different people. And so, that's become a positive for us as well.

Kurt Bjorklund: That takes place, if you're interested, 9:30 AM in our Wexford campus in the chapel. Beautiful space that you can partake in. So, Dan, here's a another question around worship. And this is something somebody sent in. It said, "I was just wondering, with all the controversy surrounding Hillsong and Bethel church, especially some of their teachings, do you think that by singing some of their very popular and catchy Jesus Culture, Elevation Worship, or Bethel music songs in services or our homes, that it's acceptable or generally a good idea?"

Kurt Bjorklund: If you're not familiar with this question, great question. Very discerning question. The person's saying, look, in the worship services at Orchard Hill and maybe at home, radio, different things, some of the worship music that's coming out that is most catchy, most popular comes from some churches, Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation, some different places where the theology has been suspect to many, not everybody, certainly. But many have looked at it and said there's some things those churches teach that are maybe not mainstream to Christianity.

Kurt Bjorklund: So, by singing the music, by using the songs in public worship, are we endorsing that, driving people to it, thus creating a possibility for false teaching to be digested, ingested by people? And really a great question as a parent to say, "I'm doing this with my kids. Is this wise even?"

Kurt Bjorklund: It says, "Even a particular song that has nothing in it that contradicts biblical teachings, are we endorsing, promoting, or even introducing people to some questionable teachings coming from these churches? As many people are introduced into these particular churches first by hearing the music. My particular concern is, as a parent, are we pointing children who are not able to discern to churches that we should really be cautious about pointing them toward their teachings and beliefs? Thank you so much for any insight into this issue. It's greatly appreciated."

Kurt Bjorklund: You are tasked with the job at Orchard Hill of choosing the music.

Dan Shields: That's right.

Kurt Bjorklund: You and the team that you work with, that is one of your areas. And I know you pay a lot of attention to the theology of the songs, not just to the tune, and the singability, and everything else. How do you personally reconcile this idea of sometimes you choose a song where you say, "Theologically, I've vetted it and I think this person says nothing objectionable in that particular song." But is it pointing people to churches that have some bad theology?

Kurt Bjorklund: Again, that would be a whole nother podcast to talk about what might be questionable or objectionable in these churches. So we're just going to take that on face value at the moment. Not even debate that, but just say if this person finds it objectionable, so is that introducing... And I would probably agree there are some things in those churches that we would not teach or endorse or want taught at Orchard Hill. So how do you reconcile that?

Dan Shields: Yeah. I think endorsement is really the key word there. Are we endorsing something from a group of people that we would have some fairly sharp theological disagreements with? Well, let me walk you through first, and I don't know that... The person's not asking this question, but just to give you a little bit of background on how we choose songs. We have a great team of people who works through that.

Dan Shields: But how we go about finding the songs that we find, if anybody has any interest in that, the first factor is just, do we like the song, to be honest with you. We hear a song. If we don't like a song, we're not going to do the song. But if it's a catchy song, we like the song, we think it's a good song as far as it's just a likable song...

Dan Shields: Just as a quick aside on that, we deeply realize that worship is not about what we like and don't like. It's really about worshiping God, ultimately. It's about what pleases Him-

Kurt Bjorklund: But it's easier to worship God with a song you like than a song you don't like.

Dan Shields: Correct. I don't think God's impressed with any of our songs. I think He's really impressed with a heart that's going after Him. So if there's a song that somebody really loves, they're probably going to engage more deeply in that. So we want a song that people like and we try to pick songs that people like.

Dan Shields: The second thing we have to think about is, can we pull the song off. For instance, if I listen to a song and it was heavy duty gospel, well, I know our team wouldn't be able to pull that off well. There's some things where you have to ask-

Kurt Bjorklund: You need a choir behind you in order to pull that off.

Dan Shields: Correct, or certain singers, or the band might not be able to pull it off. Or like one of the popular things right now is EDM music where it's just all electronic music. So we would have six musicians on stage just standing there doing nothing. So sometimes those songs get eliminated just by our capabilities of what we're able to do and not able to do.

Dan Shields: Then you have to ask the question, is it singable for the congregation? That actually is a more important question than you'd think. So you have to think of ranges. Are people able to sing these things? You have to think of intervals. Can untrained people sing things that some of our really highly skilled singers are able to sing? Is it rhythmically too complex for them? Because what you don't want is you don't want to perform on stage for people and not have them engage in worship.

Dan Shields: So you have to put it through that filter. But if it passes all those, then it goes into the last filter for me, which is the words of the song. So then that's when I really... Obviously, if there's something that's really disagreeable, I'm going to spot that right away and the song won't make it through any of those filters.

Kurt Bjorklund: Right. I was going to say it probably should be the first filter. But in a way it is.

Dan Shields: In a way it is.

Kurt Bjorklund: And in another way... right.

Dan Shields: Yeah. You hear something on K-LOVE and you think, "Oh, that's a good song." And then you listen through it with more discernment and then you actually print out the words and look at them and say, "Okay, what have we got here? Is a teaching anything." I think that is really, really important. The reason I say that that is so important... And some churches really don't think about that very much. But here we really do wrestle and struggle with that.

Dan Shields: The reason I say that it's so important is because I think it has a deep impact on people's souls. They're saying things that really can impact their theology. If you think about it, I deeply believe, by a long shot, that the preaching of the Word of God is the single most important thing that happens in a worship service for the long term impact on somebody's soul in life.

Dan Shields: So sitting week after week, month after month, year after year under good sound, biblical teaching is going to affect you more than anything else in a church service. But the reality is if I would ask somebody, January, 2017 what did Kurt preach about? Very few people are going to know. You wouldn't know probably. If I told a little bit about this, they might remember little bits and pieces or they might remember an illustration.

Dan Shields: But if I started singing a song from back then, they're able to just join in with me. Something with music and memory makes it very powerful. So the words that you say are deeply important and we recognize that and we're very cautious with that.

Dan Shields: What my grid was, for the longest time, is I always said that I would choose a song based on the words of the song itself. What I didn't want to do is I didn't want to have to get into the background theology of everybody who wrote the song. And there was a reason for that.

Dan Shields: One of the main reasons is sometimes you have six, seven people, five, six, seven people writing a song, like you'll see on the song credits. Well, to track down their theology is almost impossible. And even like the old hymns, my hunch is if I track down the theology of some of these great hymn writers-

Kurt Bjorklund: Some of them you would get rid of, right.

Dan Shields: I would say I've got real suspect of some of them. I mean, I can think of some off the top of my head where I strongly disagree with the writers.

Kurt Bjorklund: Give us [crosstalk 00:15:42] for instance, just so we know what you're talking about.

Dan Shields: "Come thou fount of every bless... Well that guy ended up becoming apostate. He walked away from the faith and said, "I don't believe in Jesus Christ anymore." But most churches around the country still sing that hymn because it's a great hymn that has great words. So, in that case, we're choosing the words of the song, not the theology of the person. And that's the way that we lived for a long time.

Dan Shields: But I remember a couple of years ago, you approached me and started saying like, "I've got some real red flags with some of the churches who are the publishing companies over these songs." And some of the songs that are coming out of these churches, the churches feel like in some ways they're theologically going off the rails, if they were on the rails ever. And there were some concerns of yours.

Dan Shields: One of your primary jobs is not just as a teacher, but it is as the shepherd of the flock. And you do have to watch for wolves and you do have to watch for things that are dangerous for the congregation. Theologically, that's one of the most important things that you do, is to really protect the people here. So when you say something like that, it's a big red flag to me, and it's something that I concern myself with.

Dan Shields: So we started having these discussions. I'm going to pass the ball to you to just talk a little bit about what maybe the red flags were and then how we started discussing back and forth with this.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, yeah. Before you do that, I want to not let you off the hot seat just yet.

Dan Shields: Yeah, yeah. Sure.

Kurt Bjorklund: Because you didn't actually answer the crux of the question. And what you're picking up, if this was your question especially, is this is actually something Dan and I have spent a lot of time on. We've been wrestling with the issue, so very perceptive, good question.

Kurt Bjorklund: The reason I want to just push it back to you before I speak into it is, how do you personally reconcile saying, "I'm going to let..." I get A, they're six songwriters. I can't trace it all down. But sometimes there's a clear songwriter or origin and you know that some of the stuff that's coming out of that... For example, Bethel, I'll just answer this part of it. They've taught some things about the Holy Spirit coming in gold dust in their thing and some things you're just like... You're not sure.

Kurt Bjorklund: They have some other views, again, in terms of apostles being an active agent today, meaning that their leaders speak with the same authority as the Word of God. I find that completely theologically objectionable. I believe as a leader of a local church, I am subservient to the Word of God in the same way that every other person is. And that I have no special authority.

Kurt Bjorklund: And I can't prove something from the scripture, it is no more true because I say it than anybody else says it. And I think that leads to all kinds of theological errors. So that's an example of maybe the problem here. So how do you reconcile personally having songs that point people to those churches where all of a sudden, next thing you know, they're going like...

Kurt Bjorklund: Bethel's an example, again. They have a worship school. And I know some people who have been raising money to go to the worship school, and I'm thinking, "I don't want to give you money to go to that worship school because you're going to learn things that I don't think are biblical." They started with sitting in a church somewhere singing a song from Bethel saying, "That's a great song. Where did it come from? I want all the worship music I can get." And now all of a sudden they're on a track of saying, "I'm going to go to the worship school." So how do you live with that as a song selector?

Dan Shields: Yeah. I'll say that it has been a struggle for me, to be honest with you. Again, what I didn't say in my choice of selection of songs is I do have a bigger grid for choice of selection of songs. And that's this. If something is out of the pale of Christian orthodoxy, I just simply don't do it. If it's a Mormon song or a Buddhist song, we're not going to sing that song no matter how right biblically those words might be, you know what I mean?

Kurt Bjorklund: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan Shields: So I see that center sort of bulls eye if you think of concentric circles of theology. The center one is just orthodoxy. Is it orthodox? And what I mean by that is not Russian or Greek. I mean, is it part of the historic Christian church or is it something that goes outside that would be a cult or heretical or something like that?

Dan Shields: So simple things like if you believe the creeds, that's a really important thing. If you say the Trinity is not valid, that's something that I would say we're just not going to do songs from the churches like that.

Dan Shields: But then there's a second tier of theology that I would say is core and highly important. These are things that we can have some real disagreements with churches on based on the Bible and how we interpret the Bible. And I would say, for instance, a church like Bethel. I would strongly agree that we would have some sharp theological disagreements with. I would personally have some sharp disagreements with them. So that does cause some challenges.

Dan Shields: Now, are they in that center? Some people would argue, no. They would say that Bethel and Hillsong and some other churches are heretical churches. I do think people throw around the word heresy a little bit too easily these days. I don't think they put the thought into it necessarily. And there is the possibility that you're accusing brothers and sisters who you're going to spend eternity with, of something that's really heinous. So you have to be cautious with that. But nonetheless, I think you can say we have some sharp theological disagreements.

Dan Shields: This morning, in my devotional time, just in my personal reading, I just happened to be reading Ephesians 4, and it was talking about how we should have unity in the faith. But in something like that, it also talked about that we should not be blown around by winds of doctrine, and that there are wolves in sheep's clothing in our midst and you have to be cautious.

Dan Shields: Where we've quickly landed is basically we're shying away from the songs from Bethel especially. I haven't put in any Bethel songs in a long time. So we just have basically stopped putting in new songs by them. And Hillsong, it's been a while since we've put in songs.

Dan Shields: Now, like last weekend, we did a song by Hillsong. I love this song. It's called The Creed. It's the words of the Apostle's creed basically. It's a very powerful song. I'm glad we're singing it. But what we're basically doing now is we're shying away from looking at those songs from those churches and trying to find other great songs that we can have in our church service.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. What I would say, especially to the person who wrote this question is, as a parent, teach the possibility of discernment even to your kids. Meaning it's okay to read something from a different perspective. It's okay to sing something or to hear something from a different perspective, but learn how to discern what is true.

Kurt Bjorklund: Certainly, you want to be careful how much you take on that is contrary to what you believe. But at the same time, some of that's just having a good open mind. And if you don't, what happens is your world keeps getting smaller and smaller until soon, the only people who can write songs are those who attend the church that you're at. And even then you would say, "Well, I don't believe everything they believe."

Kurt Bjorklund: And so there's a fine line there somewhere between you do have to draw some lines, and yet becoming so narrow that everything becomes just you and people who agree with you, and being able to say, "We can appreciate things that are true from people who we don't agree with everything that they have to do."

Kurt Bjorklund: And so where we've landed, as Dan said, is we didn't want to be heavily dominated by music from all of those places. But we didn't want to say we'll never do any of it. We wanted to say there can be some discernment in that. Then what we've tried to do through our teaching is highlight some of the distinctions without necessarily naming everybody, because, again, you can't name everybody you disagree with, but to highlight the idea, like I just said, that our church, we wouldn't say that I or anybody else has any special line to God. My line to God is the same as everybody else's.

Kurt Bjorklund: So by teaching that over and over, our hope is that when somebody hears somebody say, "I'm an apostle. I've been ordained by God for this place in time." They go, "Ding, ding, ding. That's not biblical and I don't buy it, and therefore I should be suspect of anything this person says."

Kurt Bjorklund: That is the argument against the music, is because you say, if they have that view, then you should be suspect of anything. But again, if you can say, "Art is a little different." Like to be honest, I probably wouldn't sit under the teaching of Bill Johnson.

Dan Shields: Same. Yeah.

Kurt Bjorklund: Simply because of his belief that he's an apostle who has this direct line. So I do get why people say you shouldn't listen to the music. But I think, as you said, sometimes there's a song like the Creed. I think one of their big songs was It Is Well With My Soul. It was a rework of the old hymn It Is Well.

Dan Shields: Yeah. It's very powerful.

Kurt Bjorklund: Which is a great song. Well done. And so to say we're not going to do a modern version of It Is Well because it's tied to that seems like we're overly reducing our circle. But at the same time saying, we don't want to just be known as a place that just consumes that exact musical style or preference.

Dan Shields: Yeah. And we want to be discerning. I mean, the word of God, it commended the Bereans for not just seeing the acts of the apostles, so what they did in their miraculous, which a lot of these churches are doing those same things. But it always weighed it against the Word of God. And it let the Word of God dictate what real truth was, not experience or not what they saw with their eyes. And that was a really important thing.

Dan Shields: And I think it's an important thing for people who belong to these churches, not to let the miraculous seem to be the endorsement of what's happening. But let the word of God really stand as the pinnacle of [crosstalk 00:25:36]-

Kurt Bjorklund: That's a whole nother podcast to talk about the, the miraculous and the validation of those things. Thank you for taking a few minutes with us. If you have questions, send them to We'll be happy to address it in the days ahead.