In this issue, I want to address a few issues we will never agree on. Once we realize we will never agree, we can learn to accept one another in love as Jesus commanded. We will never agree on lighting? Some want the church to be dark and reverent encouraging personal worship. Others want it to be bright where we can see the faces of everyone and make sure they are really worshiping. Some want a color wash and moving lights. Others want candles. You will not win this one, don’t try.
How about upbeat versus meditative songs. This has as much to do with personality as it does with anything spiritual. Singing songs at some snails pace isn’t a sign of spirituality. Neither is jumping a pew. Some like movement, others find movement to be distracting. We’ll never agree on this one.
Some believe that worship demands participation. They want very little in the way of special music. They want forty minutes of corporate singing. Others want to sit and listen. They don’t mind a song or two, but they came to hear the choir and the soloist. You could say one would view worship as participation. The other would see it as meditation and reflection. Both are right.
In many services you’ll find the younger generation singing with their eyes closed. The older generation will sing watching the Minister of Music for direction. There’s a statement going around the Gen X crowd, “He who sings prays twice.” The older generation could easily say, “He who doesn’t watch the Minister of Music might find himself singing a solo.”
For some, worship is sensory. For others, worship means engaging the mind. I do not believe that God does his deepest work in our emotions, but I do believe that emotions can and should be a part of our worship. Feelings are not the judge of a worship service. Yet, both sides of the worship debate talk about how they feel. The way to know if your worship is working is if your life is changing.
What will be the new wave in worship? Who knows? It could be Sitar driven and we will all contemplate our navels. One wave of the future might be roller blading for Holy rollers. Then, we could glide in and out of the service. How about a WWF worship service where the pastoral staff takes on the deacons in a tag team event. Last man standing controls the church and the worship service.
Changes in worship and what people believe are going to be with us for a long time. We need to embrace the good, tolerate that which we might not understand and test it all by Scripture. My fear is that the worship movement can be self centered instead of God centered. We can be so caught up in what we like, that we miss God.
Read the Old Testament, particularly the prophets. You’ll find God’s people busy worshiping, but it wasn’t acceptable to the Lord. They were bringing offerings but living double lives. In Amos, they were bringing every offering except the sin offering. God hates worship that is disconnected from holiness. No matter what style of worship you might like, the bottom line is, does it make you want to be more like Jesus? Does it make you want to do the things Jesus did while hear on earth? If not, it’s not worship.
Warren Wiersbe says, “I’m convinced that everything the church is supposed to do in this world is a by-product of spiritual worship, and that includes evangelism, missions, giving, works of mercy, education, and personal holiness and service. First God calls us to worship, then He sends us out to witness and work.” If your heart has been touched in worship, it will show up during the week in how you live.
To those who are of my parents’ generation (and even older) don’t throw out these new songs. Many of them are Scripture set to song. Paul tells us to worship with “song, hymns and spiritual songs.” Variety is the spice of life. It’s also good for worship.
I would also say, be patient. The younger crowd is finding their way. You once swooned over Frank Sinatra and Elvis. Embrace the kids who are swooning over Praise Bands. If a person is growing in the Lord, they will come to maturity and be able to lay aside the superficial and keep the spiritual. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I know some praise songs are cheesy, but there are some hymns with bad theology.
There is no way on this earth we can please everyone. The good news is, we don’t have to. We shouldn’t try. Worship is not about what we like, it’s about pleasing God. That’s where this whole debate has missed the boat. I recently preached the funeral for one of our Senior Adults. In his Bible, under Psalm 95 he had written, “I don’t worship my way, I worship HIS way.” We will forever be embroiled in this battle and debate as long as we are self centered. It’s one of the greatest ploys of Satan in the world today.
I remember sitting in a Jeep with a friend of mine in the late 1980’s. We were talking about the battle in our denomination over Biblical Inerrancy. He said, “Michael, after we’ve won the battle for the Bible, the next great battle will be over worship. Then, even those of us who are united on the issue of inerrancy will divide over styles of worship.” I’ve found that to be true. People who agree with our church theologically have left because they couldn’t handle changes in music. It’s sad to me. It must be sad to the Sovereign Lord of heaven who is the author of praise and worship.
Our worship must be in Spirit and Truth. That means there is to be balance. The Preaching of the Word must be central. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” If preaching is relegated to a secondary status, it’s not true worship. Worship is not about music time vs. preaching time. That’s nothing more than ego. In my opinion, worship needs to connect people with God and His Word. Songs can be inspired but the Word is Inerrant.
True worship, whether contemporary or traditional must include times of prayer, praise, and preaching. Jesus must be lifted up so all men can be drawn to Him. There are two Gods being worshiped in most churches. God as He is and God as we’ve created Him in our image. One is true worship, the other is subtle idolatry.
I like where we are right now in worship. We have a good balance of young and old, hymns and choruses, prayer and preaching. What we do may not be for everyone, but for us, it’s right. We’ve put everyone back together in one service. We have no less than eight generations represented in our church. There’s no way to please them all. We quit trying.
Again quoting Alan Cottrell, “Worship is an active response to God’s holiness from people who understand their lack of holiness. We tend to think of worship as the twenty to forty minutes of music that happens prior to the message. But that is only one aspect of worship. True worship, simply put, is obedience. It is more about your life-style than your musical style.” Well said and right on target.
But let’s go back to the worship service for a moment. We’ve made a conscious decision to make our worship services multi-cultural and multi-generational. It takes hard work. You have to think through where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Balance is a key. To be multi-cultural, you must have a cafeteria mentality. We give folks a little of this and a little of that. Not everyone has to like the same thing, but over the course of a few weeks, we hit on a lot of different styles.
To reach future generations for Christ, there has to be give and take. The young have to grow up and the older crowd can’t demand their way. Both have to move toward the center and not insist on my way or the highway.
For the last year, we’ve had young and old, rich and poor, black, Asian, Hispanic and white in the same service. One day, we’ll grow out of our new facility and need to start a second service. When we do that, we won’t go back to the traditional/ contemporary split. We are committed to being on the same page.
When the early church worshiped in Acts, it must have been interesting. You had converted Jews, saved out of orthodox religion. They were used to sacrifices every time they went to the synagogue. Now, there would be no more sacrifices. Jesus was the once for all time sacrifice. They didn’t stop being Jews, but they had to make a few adjustments. I would imagine it wasn’t easy. They no longer had to bring goats and lambs to church. Talk about a worship service that stinks!
What about those converted pagans, the Gentiles? They came from religions where prostitution was a part of worship. They were used to seeing Temple prostitutes in the worship centers of their pagan gods. Now, they were a part of a church that talked about holiness. The New Testament church honored women. Jesus treated women as equals. Who’d ever heard of such? They had to figure it out.
Let’s not forget the Samaritans. They had their own style of worship and their own place. Their mountain meant more to them than God. Now, those who were saved were being confronted with worshiping God in a new place. They had to learn, God is not interested in labels, he’s interested in spirit and truth.
Can you imagine going to the first century church and seeing a converted slave serving as an elder when his owner was a new member? What a difference conversion makes! What a difference Christ makes! Onesimus and Philemon under one roof, worshiping one God, imagine that. How refreshing. Lord, do it again.
Let’s also remember there was a court for the women in the temple. They were segregated if you will when they went to the Temple. Now they were able to sit with their husbands and worship God together. Imagine that, family worship.
So here you have it. A church full of new Christians, just learning what it means to walk with God, to live in the power of the Spirit. Blacks, whites, Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, Eunuchs, converted prostitutes and tax collectors sitting beside saved zealots. Once they hated each other and did their own thing. Now, they were in one place, in one mind and in one accord.
What a sad testimony that the church of Jesus Christ, some two thousand years later still hasn’t figured out what they figured out in a matter of days. It shows you how immature we really are in our churches. It must terribly grieve the Holy Spirit that we let so many things divide us. Although we say we are saved, yet we let trivial and subjective things divide us against each other. One day, by the grace of God, I’d like to see the walls come down and God’s people get it right. For that to happen, we’re going to have to die to self.
I’ll give you my loose paraphrase of what worship should look like, here it is. “In Christ there is no slave or free, Jew or Gentile, black or white, Asian or Hispanic, rich or poor, blue collar or white collar, truck driver or CEO, young or old, all are one in Christ. Therefore, lay aside your labels, put away your prejudices, cast off your culture and come to the cross.” You’ll discover that at the cross there is room for everyone.
The cross is big enough and wide enough to embrace us in all our differences. The throne of God is the place where all will one day gather to sing to our great and awesome God. Our God is a God of variety. He created us to be different. He didn’t just create one kind of bird, there are hundreds of birds. There are thousands of different kinds of fish in the ocean, but they all exist in the same environment.
Maybe it’s time we got back to the Bible. Might I suggest that brothers and sisters in Christ lay aside their differences and find our unity, our worship and our power in bowing before the Sovereign Lord? I’m not saying our culture and our heritage is not important. I am saying that Christ is bigger than our culture. The God we worship must be bigger than the style we prefer. Just ask the church in Acts. They were in one accord. They were in harmony because the issue was the Resurrection, not rhetoric, forms and style.
I know the early church wasn’t perfect. There were issues to address. The issue for me is they did address them. The Council of Jerusalem addressed the Jew/ Gentile issue. They hit the law vs. grace issue head on. They addressed the circumcision issue. They dealt with the food offered to idols and barbeque pork issue. On all counts, they went back to the Word. Not a bad place to land when we are talking about worship either.
We don’t know what style of music they did in the early church. Not one tune has survived from the Psalms. The words have survived, the tunes have not. Maybe, just maybe God knew that cultures, technology and instruments would change over the years and he didn’t want us to worship a style. Worship needed to be about Him.
Let’s get beyond this issue. Let’s grow up and act like saints. Then, we can bring all we do before the Lord and the Word. It’s time we put it all on the altar. Are we willing to die to what we like so we can all worship in one place, in His name? Are we willing to learn from the early church? Will we seek the Lord, and not settle for something less, like status quo, tradition or preferences? It’s just a thought.
©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.