Let’s pick up where we left off in the last issue. Right now, I can hear some of my contemporary music friends saying, “Amen.” But wait. Hold on a minute. The contemporary crowd is no better. Those who lean toward the contemporary want everything to be upbeat. They never know how to “be still and know that I am God.” It’s easy to confuse energy with passion. They want the preacher to be relational. They like “I was walking down the street one day” stuff. They want videos, drama and an abbreviated sermon. Somewhere the contemporary crowd confused worship with “What’s in it for me?”
The trouble with those who push for the contemporary way is that things are constantly changing. Today’s contemporary worship song might well be considered a sacred hymn one hundred years from now.
Let’s be careful about thinking our way is the only way. I heard Warren Wiersbe say, “Never move a fence until you know why it’s there.” That’s good advice. It’s time for the older generation to appreciate the songs of the younger generation. It’s time for the younger generation to honor the faith of our fathers.
Some of what my generation would call contemporary, my kids and your grandkids would view as traditional. Some of our songs, that we like are considered oldies by the younger generation. They were written before my kids were born. Like an aging Rock and Roll pop singer, we can get stuck in what we’ve always done. We give the crowd what they want and never try anything new. Have you ever been to an oldies concert? They sing the same old songs we listened to 30 years ago. Great music, but a lot has been written since then. It’s just that some of us like our churches to be oldies concerts. If it’s new, it’s not of God.
Boomer churches can be just as traditional, although they call themselves contemporary. Most of the worship songs Boomer churches sing were written in the 1980s. For some older Boomers, contemporary means singing those good old Bill Gaither songs. For many, the new unplugged sound is a little on the edge.
Weird isn’t it? The Senior Saints want a pipe organ. The Boomers want electric guitars. The next crowd wants it unplugged. There’s no way to make everyone happy. The styles and the times, they are a changin’. They always have. They always will.
I can remember back in the dark ages of the late 1960s when we brought guitars into the church. I also remember when we started plugging them in. Some thought Antichrist had come to church. I recall the uproar over those “hip” new youth musicals like “Good News.”
Our church just purchased a 35 year-old Hammond B3 organ with a Leslie. For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 60s, that’s a godly instrument, one every person who owned a 45 rpm record can identify with. The pipes are gone and the B3 is here. Now we can groove and get down. Oops, just revealed my age.
Think about it, guitars and drums have been around so long, they’re considered traditional by some. We’ve had them so long, they are a part of who we are and what we do. For the newer generation, it must be unplugged. For others, it has to be acapella. For some, a pipe organ is required equipment. Little do they know that when the pipe organ was introduced to the church, it was considered an instrument of the devil. See what I’m getting at? You can’t win this war. We shouldn’t even be fighting it. I am grateful our church has moved beyond it.
Here’s where I see the problem. Worship is a moving target. The church is fighting the wrong battle. Satan is rejoicing in our worship wars. This debate will never be resolved because we are more committed to style than Scripture.
Whatever you do, don’t plan your worship to make people happy. You’ll be forever frustrated. On any given Sunday, our church has people who love bluegrass, southern gospel, rap, R & B, rock and roll, Negro spirituals, classical, hip hop, contemporary, inspirational, orchestral, Broadway, jazz and a few other styles. There’s no way to please everyone every time. It’s foolish to even try.
One of my first encounters after coming to my present church was with a gentleman over clapping. I didn’t realize that the former pastor had told them that clapping was a sin. I’m not sure where he got that – it’s certainly not in the Bible. After a few questions about why he felt that way and pointing out to him verses like, “Clap your hands, all ye people,” I realized I was talking to a brick wall. This is how he ended the conversation, “Look preacher, I didn’t come here to argue the Bible with you, I know what I believe.”
Frightening isn’t it. Who cares what the Bible says. We know what we want and what we like. Sad to say, this is true of people on both sides of the worship wars. Our views are not based on Scripture, but on subjective reasoning based on past experiences and personal preferences.
This is the problem with having different styles in different services. Eventually, when the people come together, they are confused. They are agitated at best and possibly angry. Like a baby they begin to whine, “You changed my formula.” There’s a lot of whining going on in God’s church today about worship. It seems to me that whining and worship don’t go together.
Let me spend a few moments speaking to each generation. I’ll speak to my generation and those younger first. Don’t think that God is more impressed with praise choruses than He is with hymns. From our hymns we can learn great theology, something we all need a little more of in these self centered times. With God, it’s a matter of the heart. The issue is, does it bring glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? We’ve lost that in our desire to be hip, cool and relational.
What is contemporary? How do we define it? Contemporary to what? Last year? When I was growing up? Yesterday? Today? What contemporary means to one generation may not apply to another generation. Contemporary used to mean, for my generation, Leisure suits, ties four inches wide, long hair (with no hair dryer), and a lot of other stuff I’d rather forget. I’ve confessed most of that to the Lord.
Let’s go back to that clothing thing again as an example. For the younger generation, contemporary apparently means wearing your pajamas to church. For Boomers it’s khakis and a denim shirt. For the older generation, they were raised to wear their Sunday best. Is either right or wrong? I don’t know. At the time of Jesus, they didn’t have jeans or suits. They wore robes. Maybe if we were spiritual, we would all wear robes to church.
For the older generation, worship means stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. For the younger generation it means stand up, stand up, stand up. For the older generation worship means speaking to your friends before and after the service. For the younger generation it sometimes means speaking to your friends during the sermon. That’s just plain rude, but that’s another article.
We can easily get hooked into a debate over hand raising and not raising hands. Scripture makes it clear that we are to lift up holy hands. The Psalmist tells us we should have clean hands. In our fellowship people have the freedom to lift their hands or not lift their hands. We don’t try to orchestrate it. It’s a personal matter and a heart matter.
It is unfortunate that we’ve reached the point where every generation wants to make worship style the test of fellowship. The Builder generation will fight for their style. I even heard of one church where the older generation gave the Minister of Music a petition demanding that only songs in the hymnal are sung in the services. What a sad story.
Equally disgusting to me is the arrogance of those who want nothing to do with hymns. The Boomer generation in many churches have become just as traditional, defending their style and resisting the Gen X crowd. The reality is, Boomers have become the thing they rejected.
I’m concerned about the Gen X crowd that rejects anything that doesn’t move them to worship. They can be as immature and self-centered as any Builder or Buster. It’s sad that none of us have learned a thing in the past thirty years dealing with these issues. God must be grieved. Surely there is a better way.
©2002 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.