Did you get a visual image when you read the title of this article? You might think I am thinking of all of the unrest in the Middle East, but I am referring to a most unpleasant war that has paralyzed too many of our churches too long…Worship Wars. Most of us think that worship wars are an issue only of our generation. Worship music has always been changing, and always will be. I remember reading of a pastor who talked about music not being as pleasant as the established music with too much emphasis on instruments instead of lyrics, and that it made people act disorderly and indecently. That pastor was speaking of the hymns of Isaac Watts in 1723 concerning such titles as “At the Cross” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Controversy in worship music has always and is always lurking. Personal opinions about worship music can have a paralyzing, divisive effect on the church. How long will we continue to allow it to rob us of our joy in worship? How long will we continue to allow it to render His church much less effective than it should be?
The Bible tells us that we are not at war with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), yet worship wars are just that. People are not the enemy, especially those who are our family in Christ. Yet, we spend an inordinate amount of time angry, arms folded, speaking unkind words about others in our family because of worship. Can we agree that this should not be? People who attend our worship need to see something different than they find in the world. They need to see authentic worship, they need to hear music offered to the audience of one, they need to hear words of kindness, love and encouragement to one another. If our worship does not produce that atmosphere, once again, can we agree that we are not on the desirable worship path?
What is it going to take to end the worship wars once and for all? May I offer some thoughts for your prayerful consideration?
1. Worship wars are not about musical style. I truly believe that as long as we hang on to the belief that the real issue at hand is musical style, there will never be peace. Everyone…I mean EVERYONE… has an opinion about music. Because music is such a vital part of our lives and is a reflection of life’s journey, we all find music that connects with our heart. Those preferences are not likely to change. Therefore, if we make worship about our style preferences, we are at a dead end. While decisions must be made about the worship music of your church, I think much greater decisions are pressing. We must accept the fact that while worship is a command…while worship can bring incredible healing and intimacy with our Father…worship is not the greater command. The greater issue is that we become the church, that we live like, act like, love like His church. The greater issue is that we get focused once again on our commission, the one that we refer to as the Great Commission. The greater issue is that we follow the great commandment to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.” And the “love our neighbor as our self.” It is imperative that we “give preference to one another in love.” Earlier this year, I led worship for one of our nearly 1,500 great churches in Arkansas. The pastor spoke that day about restricting our rights for the sake of the gospel. One statement that is etched in my mind is “forget your rights, remember your brother.” If wars are to end, while acknowledging that style preferences exist, we must not let style be the issue. The issue is to remember our brother…to love each other…to filter the unkind words of our mouth with the perfect love of the Savior whom we worship.
2. Have worship discussions without using the pronoun “I”. I love to just listen in a crowd while people are freely sharing their thoughts and ideas. I learn much by being silent! It is amazing that almost 100% of statements pertaining to worship begin with “I”. “I don’t like that contemporary music.” “I hate those old songs…hymns.” “I can’t believe we sing those 7-11 songs.” All of those comments only reflect personal taste and often come across as very hurtful and unkind. If worship wars are to end, yes, healthy discussion MUST take place. It is the elephant in the room every time we gather that, in many places, no one is willing to officially recognize and discuss. Thus, all discussion is among ourselves…not with the ones who lead us and make the decisions of planning worship each week. Have a discussion, or many discussions in love! Seek the heart of God for your church. But let your conversations begin with phrases like: God would be honored with our worship if…Our church will be more relevant to our world if our worship…We could worship as a church more authentically if…” Apply the Galatians 2:20 effect…don’t speak from an “I” perspective. You may be surprised at the outcome.
3. Determine your contextual worship style(s). When healthy discussions take place, and people get excited about reaching the heart of God and about worship becoming a unifying force in His church, then you are ready to make choices and decisions. Many would argue that trans-generational worship is the way to go. Some refer to that as blended. Trans-generational worship DOES work in churches that are willing to make family sacrifices. By family, I am referring to the church family. Just as in your individual families, you sacrifice your rights and personal preferences for the joy of others, so you must in the church if blended worship is to be successful. Let’s face it…how many of us who are adults would choose to spend a day a Chuck E Cheese were it not for the love of our children? On the other hand, our children accompany us to Dixie Café where you enjoy a vegetable plate! (No offense or commendation intended for either restaurant!) As weak as that illustration may be, it conveys the point that we love our family and it is all about healthy compromise…about bringing joy to others. I stress that compromise, in my opinion, is done with joy; not constantly reminding everyone of your incredible sacrifice to spend the day with a huge mouse while eating pizza! There are other viable options for worship for your church. The context of your church may require two or more worship styles. Remember, the worship styles are not to please us, but to love others and reach our world for Christ…I can’t stress that enough. If we divide styles and services to please us, we have continued to make it a style issue and the war rages on. Your church may be all contemporary, but you are not free from the potential for wars. Contemporary worship is constantly changing and contemporary friends are just as opinionated as others. Prayerfully consider the context of your church, your community, and determine a plan.
4. Worship must be in constant evaluation. The effectiveness of worship must be under constant scrutiny…not about our likes and dislikes…but about how authentically we realized God’s presence. A course of contextual worship will never be settled once and for all. Be humble, be honest, and be willing to have a realistic view of what takes place as we celebrate corporate worship. Authentic worship will result in the evidence of response to God, of transformation of believer’s hearts and lives, of repentance and brokenness before God, and of an empowered journey with God as we live as light in our world. Is that what you see happening? It can be!
5. Restore the joy! The end result of our corporate worship should be incredible joy! The self-examination, the conviction may not be such a joyous experience, but when we provide an atmosphere where life-change can and does take place, we celebrate. The book of Nehemiah tells us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” My heart yearns for our churches to experience worship that infuses us with what we need to make a difference in our world!
While attending my Metro conference some years back, I will never forget a statement made by one of our speakers. “The world is not angry with the church because it is different, the world is angry with the church because it is not different enough.” When people come to my church, to your church…do they sense something different in your worship? That difference will not come because of style, but from authentic worship where people’s hearts are connecting with the heart of our Father. Then, I think, we will be the difference that our world is longing to see.
Evangelism & Church Health Team