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Michael Miller: The war is over, but the music remains

Michael Miller

The worship wars are over, John Jost says, but the details of the truce are being worked out, with skirmishes still flaring up here and there.

The occasional worship leader for Peoria Christian Fellowship Church and a longtime classical performer and conductor in the Peoria area will lead a seminar on "The Worship Wars: What Music for Today's Church?"

The free seminar, featuring several other panelists involved in worship music, will be from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 12 at PCFC's location, 616 Abington St., Peoria. Topics will include the history of church-music conflicts, models of music in worship and entertainment versus edification. The seminar is for worship leaders, church musicians, pastors "or anyone who likes music."

Jost said he and other PCFC leaders decided last year to host seminars on issues members have expertise in. His idea was to have one on music.

"I thought it would be a timely topic," he said earlier this week. "As I researched this, I realized the worship wars are essentially over, but I think it is a topic that is still worthy of discussion."

Worthy because decisions still have to be made as churches determine which course to pursue or how to pursue both. Some congregations will have services in which both praise-and-worship choruses as well as traditional hymns are used while others will divide services in order to conquer - perhaps a contemporary service on Saturday night or late Sunday morning, with a traditional one fitted in on Sunday.

Still other churches have one style or another exclusively.

But while battles are being fought less in individual churches, leadership still often has to make decisions on direction.

For Jost, that decision boils down to quality: Are the songs good? Jost has some credentials to indicate that he would be a good person of whom to ask that question. The professor of music at Bradley University has been director of choral activities there since 1989 and still performs occasionally with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra.

But he also was director of music for 10 years at Peninsula Christian Center near San Francisco. While a hymn or two were included in services there, most of the music tended toward what the musicians knew: rock, jazz, fusion, folk, gospel.

"My wife says the motto was, 'We try to offend everyone,'" Jost said.

His operating procedure is, "I believe in quality and I believe in simplicity and I believe in acoustic."

A panel of music directors and worship leaders from a mix of churches will be at the seminar. Confirmed so far are Phillip Haworth of First United

Methodist Church, Martin Dicke of Trinity Lutheran Church and Shirley Salazar of Peoria Christian Fellowship Church.

Haworth said that when decisions are made on music, the content that's being communicated needs to be worked out before the style is addressed. Bad theology can pop up in any type of music and should be more of a worry than the style.

"Any time a church is going to put style at the top of list (of concerns), you're not going to please everybody," Haworth said. "It's not simply a matter of sitting down and saying that 'Contemporary is good because ...' I think that's a wrong place to start the conversation at all."

Different congregations develop their own voices, he said.

"Every congregation is going to have its own personality and its own type of music that has to ring true more than any other," Haworth said.

Jost agreed.

"A church should use their local resources and not just look like every other church," he said. "We look for quality in what we do. We (PCFC) have people from various traditions as well, and we do what we can to sort of combine those."

Michael Miller covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, or send e-mail to mmiller@pjstar.com. Comments may be published.