“Last Sunday's new hymn― if you can call it that― sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this― in God's house― don't be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need.”
The words above are from a letter written in 1863.The new song the writer referred to was "Just as I Am."
Strong opinions about worship services and music are nothing new. WVC’s Worship Arts staff receives opinions and suggestions weekly from attendees: “Fantastic worship time… The music is too loud… It’s not loud enough … The look of the stage was cold... Why did they have to change that hymn?... The worship leader needs a haircut... The band wore jeans… The service was too long. … The leader wasn’t a polished performer... Can we do more new songs?”
Sometimes we treat our worship gatherings like ordering a burrito at Chipotle. We each have our favorite combination of ingredients that make us smile. Why is the weekend service such a hot and spicy source of disagreement? When you peel back the tortilla, here are a couple reasons that add heat to the debate.
Like tomatillo red chili salsa, one ingredient that brings fire to worship discussions is time. Often we have tend to minimize worship to an hour-and-a-half on Sunday, or even further to just the music time in the service. Thirty minutes-a-week for worship? That leaves 167-and-a-half hours for other good things like family, friends and Chipotle, but it leaves out a vital truth Pastor Matt shared in our worship series: Worship is our active ALL OF LIFE response to the worth of who God is and what he does.
If we really believe life revolves around the worship of God, we won’t find ourselves quite so tightly wound about hearing our favorite song on Sunday. Here’s a question to chew on: If we’re designed to worship and we sometimes limit worshipping God to weekend services, what do we worship the rest of the time?
The Main Ingredient
Steak? Chicken? Carnitas? No matter how much you enjoy guacamole and lime rice, there’s always one central ingredient that lays the flavor-foundation for your burrito. So what’s the foundation for our worship services? True worship is first and foremost about God, not us. It should be a response to Him and a proclamation of His revealed glory. Through his grace, worship should be our offering to our Holy King, not entertainment.
While he was Worship Pastor at Hillsong Church in Australia, Russell Fragar joined a conversation after a wonderful worship service. One attendee commented what a great night it was. A second worshipper added, “It was OK, but I don’t really like my worship like that.” Russell chimed in, “That’s OK, we weren’t worshipping you!”
Russell’s words highlight the important reality that worship is not for us. Sadly, this truth is not widely understood in American churches. A recent study by George Barna found that church attendees were most likely to view worship as an activity undertaken for their personal benefit. Only three out of ten saw worship as something focused primarily on God.
Sometimes we treat the service like we’re Simon on American Idol. If we become passionate participants in corporate worship directed toward God, then does the worship leader’s outfit matter? Do I really need my favorite style of music to worship Jesus?
Salad and Country Songs
Every time we go to Chipotle my daughter orders a vegetarian burrito bowl. To me, this misses the whole point. Might as well order a salad. I have my own prejudices when it comes to worship music too. For example, it’s clear to me that country music has no place in the Kingdom of God. But I think Rick Warren has a more theologically accurate and helpful perspective: “There is no style of music that God does not enjoy.” While the Bible tells us that music plays an important role in worship and fellowship, the scriptures never advocate a particular style. When we think we're debating Biblical styles and forms, aren’t we often just defending our own deeply-felt preferences? Often we guard what is nostalgic rather than what serves the church best.
John McArthur notes, “We continually are told in the Psalms that the word “song” is connected with the adjective “new”... new song, new song. In fact, more than anything new in Psalms is the new song. And it’s the song of the redeemed.” The church might not be singing the music we grew up with, but are we willing to lay our favorites aside to bless our brothers and sisters?
The Silver Torpedo
God has humbled me through worshiping with believers on four continents, in dozens of languages, and in settings ranging from an abandoned Soviet military base to an island in the Nile River. Some of the richest, most God-breathed worship services I’ve experienced have been with a handful of believers and a lone guitar. It quickly becomes apparent in these times that when we gather for worship, we’re not an audience attending a show; we’re participating in an offering of praise to our risen Lord.
Often I come to weekend services ready to order up my favorite worship like a shining silver Chipotle burrito. But Paul rips the foil off this feel-good philosophy in Phillipians 2: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In John 13, Jesus called his people to be known for one thing: Their love one another. How would our preferences be torpedoed if we each adopted an attitude of loving one another as we gathered to worship? I hope you’ll join me in praying that, as a church, our worship services would be marked by Christ’s love.