When we gather for worship it is primarily for the purpose of responding to God for all He is with everything we are. We respond to God’s power, glory, might, mercy, awesomeness, wonder – and the list goes on. And our response is a choice, a matter of the will, expressing our worship in all the ways we are able – our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength, our silence, our laughter, our bodies – and more.
Regardless of what style or form a congregation adopts to offer their worshiping community, our goal is the same: to encounter the life-changing presence and power of God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of His Holy Spirit.
Now, if we stopped here all would be well. We’d hug, share a smile and a hearty “Amen” and be on our way.
But, sadly, far too many churches fall prey to the always-present angst of squabbles over music styles and worship formats.
Do me a favor – go back and read those first two paragraphs. When you’re done, come on back.
I call those first two paragraphs the WHO of worship. Nothing in those two paragraphs speaks of specific ways or forms or methods. The focus is simply on WHO we are gathering to worship.
Now, let’s talk about the issue that continues to raise angst in many congregations – the HOW of worship.
There is really no need to list the many, many, many (get that?), MANY ways that we believers have created turmoil and strife in our churches having forgotten the WHO while spending enormous energy on the HOW. The WHO never changes. Ever. The HOW always changes. And it should!
One of the problems is that many churches continue to force everyone into one worship service that we call “blended” which is designed to create and ensure a meaningful worship experience for all who enter since all the favorite styles will be represented.
This is not working.
And the proof of that is seen in the many churches who continue to suffer due to harsh comments and criticism from individuals with an agenda to force what they believe is the “right way” to worship. Very generally, this tends to fall along stylistic and/or age demographic lines.
Those in church leadership try to rally the troops and encourage us all to get along and be accepting of the polar worship styles of those around us.
Again – this is not working.
THE FOUR T’S
I happen to believe there are essentially four “T’s” that influence our worship. They are: Temperament, Taste, Trends and Traditions. Let’s briefly look at each.
TEMPERAMENT – this is how we FEEL with certain music styles. For some, classical music touches them deeply and stirs the emotions. For someone else, where classical music puts them to sleep, they are emotionally impacted by a rock or pop music expression. Some like country. Some like gospel. Some like urban. Some like rap. Music is an art form and, as such, will always make everyone feel something. Music emotes a wide range of emotions and, for many believers, there is a deep, spiritual connection to music that spoke to them at the time of their conversion.
Someone who was saved at a Billy Graham revival of the 50’s, for example, might have a very strong emotional and spiritual connection to the gospel music of the era. A person who met Jesus at Calvary Chapel in the 70’s will have a connection to the music of that era. Someone who finds Christ at a Matt Redman concert will be connected to that style of music. All three music styles are valid for those three groups of worshipers. None of those three styles should be forced on the other groups as “the right way” to worship. And this is, in part, where we have failed as the church.
TASTE – Similar to Temperament, everyone has unique tastes in music. I happen to enjoy just about all forms of music – from classical to country to jazz to pop. Not everyone shares that level of diversity with music styles. Some choose to only enjoy rock. Some choose to only enjoy classical. For the purpose of this discussion, some choose only to enjoy hymns in the hymnal. Others choose only to enjoy current Christian music heard on today’s Christian radio. Still others choose to only enjoy music from the Jesus Movement. And in all of these cases, that is simply their taste in music. It is not a value judgement at all. It is a simple matter of taste. I hate asparagus. My wife likes it. After 35 years of marriage, we’re still doing okay because we don’t focus on asparagus nor do we attempt to force each other to our way of thinking regarding asparagus.
TRENDS – There have always been trends in music. The popular music during the time when most of the great hymns were composed had a strong classical bent. During the 60’s, as music in our culture changed, so did the music in our churches and the trend was akin to classic rock. The 70’s and 80’s and 90’s saw such trends as disco, hip hop, fusion, etc. Some churches attempted to stay in line with all of those trends – and it was a bit of a train wreck because, as we all know, trends can change rapidly. Still, trends influence how we worship and can, if we are wise the approach, help reach those who may not feel comfortable in a church that seems out of step with the times.
TRADITIONS – Sometimes it’s easy to forget the shoulders we all stand on who have helped forge the path to where we are today. The list of bold pioneers who came before us is long and I encourage you go take a few minutes to consider how we got to where we are today – with technology, with science, with the arts and, of course, with church music.
You may not know that the word “hymn” comes from the Greek word, “hymnos” which translates “an ode or song to or about God.” It does not only refer to the songs bound in the book sitting in the pew. Technically, ALL songs that speak to or about God are – by definition – a “hymn.” Still, for many, those early songs from their youth – from when they first met Jesus – ARE the great hymns of the faith and when they are sung it’s far more than simply singing “a song from the good old days.” It is actually ministering to them in a profound way, much like a millennial singing “Speak Life” will be ministered to in today’s worship culture. We cannot ignore the traditions that brought us here and, in fact, we are called to minister to all who enter our gates.
There is one final “T” that I saved until now. As stated at the outset, our calling is to willfully respond to God for all He is with everything we are. I call that THE TRUTH.
In a perfect world the notion of gathering together in one service that allows for traditions, trends, taste and temperament (the HOW) to live together in harmony while always remaining focused on the glory and worship of God (the WHO) is wonderful and, in some churches, this actually works! I reckon that heaven will be like that!
But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen world where just about everyone has their very own idea of what is right, wrong, up, down, good, bad, etc. We are literally all over the map with our thoughts on trends, taste, traditions and temperament.
This is why I believe the best way to “do church” is to give ourselves the freedom to move away from forcing all to suffer together in one blended service – unless (and this is huge) – unless those in the congregation have chosen to truly, and simply, love one another and accept the differences in worship as led by the pastors and staff who are called to help their churches encounter, and be changed by, the power of Jesus Christ.
And, if that is your church, then praise God and celebrate!
For those churches who still struggle in this area of worship angst, I suggest you seriously consider creating worship opportunities that speak to each of those four T’s – some may have overlaps of 2 or 3 – the point here is to hear the hearts of your congregation members and then seek ways to best minister to whom God has already brought and whom God will be bringing in the future.
If we agree that our goal is those first two paragraphs (the WHO), then however we design our various worship opportunities (the HOW) will potentially result in less division, more joy and changed lives - who will change the lives of those around them...
I don’t know about you, but that excites me!