Drawing the battle lines

If you really want to bring a group of believers together, talk about Jesus.

If you really want to drive them apart, talk about worship.

It really is sad, isn’t it? We have so much to agree on in the majors, but we continually gravitate to the minors and fight viciously over stuff that barely matters.

It’s kind of like two countries that share every single value, but go to war over the cost of the toll bridge between them.

Yes, I am a veteran of the worship wars (an idiotic phrase, but one that fits all too well). In the churches I have served, the music ministry was often in a state of ‘transition.’

This is the worship pastor’s way of saying, “Our worship was something, now its something else, but we hope it will somehow morph into something completely different.”

In the church we’re constantly searching for that ancient hymn, that only sounds good with distorted guitar which causes teenagers to weep with conviction while simultaneously prompting our seniors to yell at the sounds booth, “Turn it up my man, it’s just not loud enough!”

… I can dream can’t I?

Why is worship so hard? On the continuum of musical expression we find many who desire the traditional format. Traditional worship is often mistaken for old, but thats not always the case. For something to fall into the realm of traditional worship, it just has to be “The way we’ve always done it!”

You know, the call to “Get rid of them drums and keep the pipe organ, because if the organ was good enough for the Apostle Paul, then it should be good enough for us! Amen and Praisealujah… bless God… bless God… bless God….”

I find that when most people rail on an on about keeping the faith and real worship, they aren’t trying to stay connected to the ancient church fathers, they are trying to rekindle the fires of the glory days from the 1950s.

I’ll probably be the same way in my later years demanding that the song leader dress and act the way I want it. “That young man better put on those hammer pants and beat box the way they used to, or I’m leaving this church and taking my money with me.”

The other end of the spectrum is no better, where we find the proponents of the contemporary format. Contemporary is a struggle for the church. Most churches who try to be contemporary have this weird time warp thing happening, where their version of modern is 10 to 20 years old.

So, their attempt at an up-to-date worship service comes off like a rerun of the Cosby Show. Kind of warm and entertaining, but overall… just a little sad.

By contemporary, the adherent usually means excessively loud sound systems, seizure inducing lights and ‘relevant’ music.

Now there’s a concept, relevance. To the contemporary worshipper relevant means anything they’ve heard on the radio, including songs that have absolutely nothing to with  Jesus, the church or faith. But, if they’re cool, use ‘em!

The rallying cry of the contemporary worshipper, “Come on, we’re trying to reach people here!” Applying the not so subtle implication that if you don’t agree with us, you’re trying to push people away.

Which is never the case… even though its exactly what happens.

You know your a contemporary worshipper if you’ve ever had a moment like this in church: “It was so cool they way they used that Nickleback song for the offering. It was inspired how they replaced all the curse words with ‘Hallelujah.’”

Right in the middle of the worship war battlefield is blended worship. Fitting snuggly between traditional and contemporary formats, the blended style is the covert agenda of a pastor and worship leader to do what God is leading them to do while attempting to NOT get fired.

It really is a crime.

Oh, yes, it is a crime to put pastors in that position, but what I was referring to was the crime of the music produced by the blended style.

When you fire up the tunes at a blended worship service, it feels like well all just stepped in, the doors closed, and the elevator started its 30 minute climb.

There’s something definitely wrong with taking the worship of Almighty God and reducing it comma inducing, drool provoking, mind numbing choral renditions that sound like they could be softly played over any mall’s public address system to keep the shoppers calm and sedated.

If blended is your worship style, then pull out your oversized New King James Version from its zippered “His Pain, Your Gain” Bible cover and… read anything. You must break the connection with the Matrix. Take the red one Neo. Wake up from this nightmare.

Hmmm… I guess I may have been a little hard on these different styles. You may be wondering which style I like.

And, that’s the issue!

Worship is about so much more than music. It’s about life, relationship, service, prayer, laughter, worship is about everything! But, we reduce to it to music, styles and preferences.

When we ask which style do you like we reveal what worship wars are all about: our personal preferences. They have nothing to do with reaching non-believers, keeping the real faith and especially have nothing to do with God.

The worship wars are all about us. Again, it’s very sad.

In John 4 Jesus met a woman at a well and after a display of His ability to know what your thinking (I love Jesus, but that really is creepy), she recognized He was the Messiah.

What was her first response?

  • What’s the meaning of life?
  • How can I be saved?
  • How do resolve the realty of prodigious evil in the world with my beleif in an omniscient and omnipotent God?

Nope. She asked wether her church, or that other church was worshipping right.

It’s been a long war…

John 4:19-24 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

First, look at her position. She begins with “OUR” showing that she has a set of preferences and practices she is holding to. When she says “OUR FATHERS” she shows her grip on traditions and patterns that she grew up with and probably wants to keep. Finally, she says “BUT YOU” and begins to draw lines between her church and other churches and she becomes one of the original Joan of Arcs in the millennial struggle of the worship wars!

Jesus’s response is amazing and simple.

First, He doesn’t pick either. He doesn’t give credit to her style or any other style being the right one.

Second, He says that worship is not defined by style, place, time, language or any external.

Real worship is done in SPIRIT: not in the preference of our flesh, in what might appeal to our ears or eyes. You can worship in your spirit whether or not there is ‘worship service.’

Real worship is done in TRUTH: not dictated by traditions and practices no matter how old or relevant they might seem. You need not worship the past, or the latest. Worship the One, True, Living God.

So, two things I want to encourage you to do.

One, learn to worship God as a lifestyle out of your spirit in all things you do and in the truth of who He is from Scripture.

Two, set down your hymnal and back away from the electric guitar; quit fighting the worship wars. Even if you don’t like it, you worship in spirit and truth and trust that God is leading your leaders. Follow them and God will bless you.

I guess we won’t know much more about worship until we get to heaven and hear the worship there.

I sure hope they let Stryper lead every couple thousand years.

That would rock… just a thought.

5 Replies to “Drawing the battle lines”

  1. Great Post! I am very guilty of letting the ‘worship war’ get in the way of my worship at my church. Our worship leader left recently, and our music has gone from blended, leaning more contemporary, to totally traditional and almost entirely hymns. While I don’t prefer it, and honestly don’t agree with it (in business meetings, our congregation of mostly older people once asked if we could play LOUDER music), I now realize that I need to worship God in spirit no matter how many instruments we can fit on the stage!

  2. Thank you! I sometime get upset when people judge me because I might not be singing a song or “entering into worship” the way they think I should but I have for a long time felt our whole life should be a song onto Him, how we treat people, how we conduct our affairs, ect…
    God love all forms of music(even county 🙂 ) but the music should be reflecting our live of worship all ready in practice? Don’t you think? In any form or style.

  3. Thank you for your well written article on ‘Worship Wars’. I remember about 71/2 years ago when a young man came to pastor our church and gently helped this old couple learn to appreciate contemporary Christian music. I really thought contemporary and Christian were dichotomies. You are so right that ‘its not all about me. Thank you for taking the criticism I’m sure you do in this area to make it possible to reach the really young unchurched for Jesus and thank you for being the one who helped us learn to enjoy a new genre of music.

  4. I am thinking about what you said, and wondering where our church fits. I want to say “contemporary, but with a hymn”. Does that fit in any of your groupings? i agree that it’s not the style that is important but the spirit, the attitude of the music. Is is worshipful? Is it connecting people to God? Or is it distracting? Is it interfering with people connecting with God? For example, distortion on guitar has it’s place. I love a good guitar lick in the middle of a contemporary song. But if it is a slower song, and the guitar is just a wailing, it can be distracting our minds from having a quiet moment with God. And i really love hymns that are “updated” like some CCMers have been doing. I think God likes it too… sing a new song unto the Lord, because He has already heard the old ones like a million times 🙂 Just kidding. I believe God hears the heart. So, irregardless of style, He is listening to our hearts. If we are worshipping to rap, ragae or one of Mr. Luther’s tunes, it is the heart of the worshipper that is connecting with God, not the music that accompanies it. imo Thanks for the article. Sorry to hear so much strife is caused by this.

  5. My thoughts are, hymnal music is great, for those who like it. Hymnal music has a negative affect on me personally because of my past, it has nothing to do with my worship of God. I would still go to church and worship God even if I fell asleep from the music just before the sermon, but having a choice I choose to enjoy the music.
    I believe that the music should start out faster and up beat causing emotions of a bounding dancing praise, but gradually end in a soulful vigil of reverence and a longing praise, being led into a state of readiness to listen attentively. Lets feel the need to pull out the lighters, or whatever non smokers use, and manufacture a praise that inspires; so much so, that when we go home and crash from our spiritual high that we long for and wait, only living, to go back to church.

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