written by: Michael Catt
I remember when I was pastoring in another state, one of the elderly deacons came to me and said, “When are we going to stop singing those little ditties?” I asked him what he was referring to. He mentioned the song and I reminded him that the song was taken directly from one of the Songs of David. He walked off mumbling. I walked off wondering how someone could become a deacon when they didn’t know their Bible any better than he did.
I remember sitting by a small river in Texas one day with a friend of mine. It was when the battle was raging among Southern Baptists’ over the Inerrancy of Scripture. My friend said, “You watch, the next battle will be over worship. Even people who say they believe in the inerrant and infallible Word will argue over what is appropriate worship. The next step in the enemies strategy is to divide people over worship who are united over the authority of Scripture.” He was right.
No subject has given cause to more distress, stress and slugfest than the subject of worship. I find it incredibly ironic that the very thing we will be doing for all eternity is such a divisive issue. I think, in my humble and accurate opinion which I highly respect, that nothing brings Satan greater joy. The one who wanted worship and was thrown out of heaven must delight in seeing believers arguing over worship.
What I find incredibly amusing is where some of these concerns are coming from. I find people my age who are uncomfortable with new songs. I find people my parents age who are uncomfortable with anything not in the hymnal. We’ve all heard praise choruses called ‘7-11’ songs (you sing seven words over and over eleven times).
I’ve watched a few folks, hold the hymnal up to the level of Scripture. I love great hymns of the faith. I love many of the songs handed down from generation to generation. We don’t need to lose these songs. Many are filled with powerful doctrine and theology. Whether we use hymnals, words on an overhead projector or on a screen, hymns have their place and should be used.
At the same time, let’s all admit, the average church only sings about fifty of the hymns in their hymnal. Sometimes worship can sound like an oldies concert, we keep playing the same old songs over and over. I’ve discovered that some people who argue for hymns don’t like it when the worship leader introduces a new hymn. They are stuck on ‘Victory in Jesus’ and can’t get beyond it.
I’ve listened to people who’ve said worship should not contain celebration. Usually it comes in the form of ‘be still and know that I am God.’ The right response is, when was the last time you were alone and still before God? Celebration can become excessive. I don’t believe God is honored by people rolling down the aisles. He never does His deepest work in the shallowest part of our being. Celebration, like anything else, needs to be balanced. Warren Wiersbe says, “Blessed are the balanced.” There’s a world of truth in that statement. The hardest job ministers have is striking a balance because no matter what you do, you can’t please everybody. The wise minister tries to bring everyone along, even if everyone doesn’t understand what he is trying to do. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. On the other hand, don’t be scared to at the right time and in the right way, introduce your people to something new. Just don’t throw it at them and cram it down their throats.
I think we would all admit that it is very easy for our services to lose the ‘Woe is me!’ of Isaiah. We’re too focused on creating a mood or a feeling instead of focusing on the Lord. Joseph Miller writes, “When people experience God’s presence, the inclination is to fall down in reverential fear, not ecstatic expressions of excitement. The ecstasy is usually noted in the Bible for victories won in walking by the power of God, not in worship before a holy God.” There’s nothing wrong with celebration, but we must walk the fine line of knowing when enough is enough. That requires of all who lead in worship a spirit filled sensitivity.
I, like others, have at times been disturbed by what people will applaud in the church. We applaud babies, reaching goals, special music and videos. But, do we ever stop and just give the Lord praise without anything to set us up? It seems the only time we applaud is after a resounding special. There are times to clap after a song and there are times, to be honest, when we need to say, Ouch, that one hit a raw nerve. I’m not talking about a poor performance. I’m referring to those songs that make you reflect and examine yourself. I don’t think the applause meter is the determining factor in the success of a song or a service. Worship should not be approached as a performance but as a divine encounter. God is the audience. I’m not saying you should never applaud after a song – just make sure you are applauding the message, not the messenger. By the way, I’ve never been in a service where they applauded the reading of the Word. We applaud songs and words written by men, but we never applaud the Word of God. Just a thought.
I’m not picking on people, I’m just trying to get us to see things as they are, not as we might want them to be. We tend to have short memories and forget some of the things we did when we weren’t as young or as wise. Please understand that and don’t misinterpret my motives here. I don’t have a hidden agenda. I can’t decide what is best for you and your church. I’m just saying, let’s be honest. Sometimes we make our points but our premise is lacking some integrity.
Need proof? I find it humorous that some who reject the new praise music call it shallow, and flippant. Some of those I’ve heard making these arguments grew up in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and remember some of those great deep theological songs that stirred our hearts back then. “Give me oil in my lamp; keep me burning, burning, burning…Give me gas in my Ford keep me trucking for the Lord, give me gas in my Ford I pray…” Let’s not forget, “Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah; Praise Ye the Lord.” Don’t forget we were supposed to divide the church up and half would sing the first part and the other half would sing “Praise Ye the Lord.” If I remember correctly, we were encouraged and exhorted to sing louder than the other section – “Let’s get on our feet. Shout it to the rooftop. The other section was louder than your section the last time. Let’s see if we can do better this time. Ready, go!” Weren’t those great worship songs? That was real worship wasn’t it? Those songs just swept you into the presence of God didn’t they?
Maybe you remember the song, “Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain; faces all aglow.” The Scriptures tell us that God inhabits the praises of His people. Moses met with God on the mountain and he came down with his face glowing. Maybe if we could get back to Sunshine Mountain, our worship would take on a deeper meaning. How about that old gospel song, “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.”
The key to a good song is theological. It’s not about style, it’s about substance. Is the song Biblically based? Is it sound theologically? Does it teach truth? Does it exalt the Lord? There are some weak hymns out there. There are some equally pathetic praise choruses. One thing history shows us, the great songs survive and the other songs will pass away over time. We just have to be patient, wise and understanding. The last thing any church needs is a worship war. That is, unless you like to make the devil happy.
Before we get self-righteous and think we’ve all got this worship thing figured out, it would be good to remember to (a) honor one another (b) remember some of the songs we enjoyed growing up were pretty shallow (c) some of the songs of the past are worth keeping and teaching to a new generation (d) some of the new songs are wonderful for worship and (e) worship is something we’ll never get totally right until we are in glory. Until then, “Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me…”
©2001 MCC This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use.
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Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.