We often talk about “The Wilshire Way,” which usually means the unwritten, generally understood way things happen around here. That simple phrase covers a wide territory, though. Here are some of the most frequent questions that get raised about “The Wilshire Way” and a few observations on why they have come to be that way.
Shouldn’t Wilshire change its worship format to be more relevant to contemporary society?
This is perhaps the No. 1 question asked about Wilshire’s identity, but it most often is asked not by people who desire a change for their own tastes but rather by those who fear we are missing out by not becoming like other larger congregations with more buzz. Sometimes, this question is asked in the context of assuming if we changed our musical style or worship format we would automatically attract a younger crowd.
The short answer is that Wilshire’s lay and staff leadership have made a conscious decision not to try to become something we’re not called or equipped to become. Anyone who desires contemporary worship with choruses projected on screens, praise teams and preachers in polo shirts has ample opportunity to find such a church all over Dallas. The truth is, there are plenty of churches rocking that format better than we ever could, even if we wanted to.
Wilshire has found a niche market in Dallas as a church with a “traditional” worship format. Some churches are cowboy churches, others are gospel-music churches, some are country churches, some are high-church churches, some are blue-collar churches, some are everything-to-everybody churches. We bless and affirm all those churches as they serve God. But our calling and abilities seem to be in a different expression.
It’s not that Wilshire has refused to change with the times but that amid changing times we have chosen to offer a particular worship style with excellence. We haven’t been left behind; rather, we have planted ourselves in this place with this purpose for a reason.
We understand that our way of doing things is not everyone’s cup of tea. No other church, regardless of format, can claim to have universal attraction to all interests either. Every church appeals to some segment of the religious market, some specific demographic.
We’ve figured out what our demographic is, and we try to boldly serve Christ with that particular calling. As a result, one of the primary reasons people of all ages give when choosing Wilshire is their appreciation for our worship.
Can this Wilshire Way of worship reach young adults?
Yes, it already is reaching young adults. Does it reach all young adults? No. But neither does any other worship style. There is more handwringing and worrying about young adults in churches across America than just about any other topic. Our desire to reach and involve young adult in the church is echoed in every congregation in America.
Like every church everywhere, we want to reach more young adults. We have discovered, though, that the young adults who do come our way choose us for a reason. There are plenty of other churches they could choose that offer different worship styles or even different theologies, but they choose Wilshire because it fits them.
Because our adult Sunday School classes are somewhat age-banded, older adults often don’t see younger adults at church, and vice versa. But it’s easy to see signs of life in our young adult ministry if you look for them. Notice the number of children in our preschool classrooms. Look at the number of children who come to the chancel for the children’s moments during the 11:00 service.
Why doesn’t Wilshire have a children’s church instead of bringing elementary-age children into the Sanctuary?
Our view of church life is that it is a shared community, not a series of simultaneous silos. We want children to worship with their parents and their brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents—in the same place at the same time with a shared experience.
If we exclude children from the primary community experience of worship, how will they learn to value this fundamental part of being the church? How will they learn the hymns, learn to sing as a congregation, learn to pray together in community, learn to listen?
Anyone who is concerned about the church dying or losing its relevance should see the danger of separating children from worship.
Why won’t the pastor baptize my 5-year-old who is ready to believe in Jesus?
We are a Baptist church, and in our Baptist tradition baptism historically has been understood as an act of obedience for believers. Regardless of how smart or intelligent a younger child may be, the ability to make lifelong choices willfully does not form until somewhere beyond the first- or second-grade years. Our normative pattern is to practice baptism by immersion for those who fully understand the choice they are making and will remember that choice the rest of their lives.
In other Christian traditions that practice infant baptism, there’s a later component usually called “confirmation” that occurs at an age similar to when we normally would begin to baptize children. While different than our own normative practice—the order is reversed with baptism coming first—there remains a critical decision point that happens when a child is old enough to make a willful and deliberate decision. Thus, we welcome into membership adults who have been baptized as infants in other Christian traditions and confirmed in their faith after baptism.
Why do we expect adults to attend Sunday School? Isn’t that just for children?
In addition to believers’ baptism, one of the great gifts Baptists have given Christendom is an emphasis on small-group Bible study for all ages. We differentiate between the tasks of “preaching” and “teaching,” understanding that these communicate in unique ways. Bible churches, on the other hand, see the sermon as a teaching function; the congregation learns together with detailed exposition from the pulpit. We believe the detailed teaching and discussion of the Bible happens most effectively in small groups and thereby enriches our shared experience in worship, where the preaching of the word challenges us to action and commitment.
Is Wilshire a “liberal” church?
Perspective on that, of course, depends on where you’re standing. The Wilshire Way is to be neither “liberal” nor “conservative” but rather to be open and respectful. Politically, the membership of the church runs the gamut. We have Tea Partiers and liberal Democrats and everything in between. Theologically, we have members who listen to Charles Stanley on TV and members who pay careful attention to the most modern academic modern scholarship on the Bible. We have people who read only from the Living Bible, and we have people who read only from the original Hebrew and Greek languages.
What makes Wilshire unique is that all these people find a home here and agree to be in conversation with one another. The Wilshire Way gets challenged when anyone falls into the belief that everyone else sees the world exactly as he or she does. You’ll quickly discover that’s not true and that most of us are complex characters who bring unique worldviews to church.
Certainly there are other churches that identify themselves as more cohesively conservative or liberal than us. Those labels aren’t important here, though, because we’ve generally agreed to work together for the cause of Christ and demonstrate in so doing how the love of Christ bridges left and right.