August 06, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 4

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Argument #4: The music that I prefer is TRUE worship, and if I can't worship to it, then it's not TRUE worship.

What I really think is being said:
"My music is better. It is more appropriate/god-honoring/edgy/worshipful/expressive/reserved/harmonious/relevant/reverent/modern/ancient/in-your-face/anthematic/organic than that other stuff we do. It is too loud/boring/churchy/simple/complicated/edgy/expressive/reserved/modern/ancient/silly/serious/wrong for church. I can't sing along with it, so I can't worship. If I can't worship, then I don't feel like I've been to church. TRUE worship is the music that I can get on board with. If everyone were as spiritually mature as me, then they would like this music too. The problem is we're trying to reach the lowest common denominator/the churched crowd with this music."

Appropriate response: There's no way around it...this is an arrogant statement. Unfortunately, I have heard it said numerous times in the worship war arguments (or some variation of it). In churches who have made or are making the transition from traditional to modern worship music, it often comes in the form of people longing for the days when "their music" filled the worship services.

I remember the first time as a youth minister, I took our student ministry to a Christian music festival. When they wanted to see some of the heavier bands that played some hard metal rock, I remember thinking, "THAT'S not worship." I then remember suddenly feeling very old. Now, some of it probably wasn't very "worshipful". But some of it probably was for thousands of those kids.

Today, a friend told me that he worked a T. D. Jakes crusade over the weekend. When he told me about some of the craziness that ensued, I thought, "THAT'S not worship." The odd part is that my friend said the sound man running the event was playing pre-service worship music that would be much more popular in Caucasian circles. Since this was a predominantly African-American event, a gentleman finally came over and offered the sound man some different music. My friend said as soon as the new music started playing, the crowd rose to its feet and started singing and dancing. Apparently for them, the first kind of music wasn't "worshipful." For me, the second kind probably wouldn't have been very "worshipful."

I think what we sometimes mean by "worshipful" is actually "pleasing to my ear." It's easy for us to become music snobs, thinking that our music is somehow better than everyone elses. We become like those real music snobs who don't like anything played on the radio, or any music that anyone else likes. They say things like, "I only listen to Norwegian folk rock that hasn't been ruined by corporate America." And we don't like them.

Jesus was having a conversation with a woman once, and they began talking about worship in the context of "where" it could happen. Jesus told her that it wasn't about "where," but about "how." Jesus said that true worshippers worship in two ways: spirit and truth. That should be our criteria for what "good" worship music is. Does it help me connect with God through the presence of the Holy Spirit? Is it theologically truthful? The type of music is secondary, and only as important as it helps connect people of that culture to the words being sung.

I won't belabor the point, but in recent days, I've pointed out (as does the Bible) that worship goes beyond singing. As many times as I have been a worship music snob, I've also found myself worshiping at times with music I don't like and even at times without music. I've stood in Nicaragua and found myself worshiping to music when I couldn't understand the lyrics nor did I like the instruments (how many accordions and trumpets does a band need?). I once remember God coming through in an unbelievable way for me after I graduated college, and the only response I had was to dance...with no music...awkwardly. It was a moment of sheer worship.

I understand not liking some types of music. I understand it being hard to sing along, and that being a hindrance to what you want to express to God. If you find yourself in one of those positions, it may help you to stop and observe the people around you who are connecting with God. Maybe the joy they are experiencing will make it a little easier to worship the God who has changed their lives, and hopefully yours, too.

Plus, if your church isn't using music you like, there are CD's, iTunes, and other ways you can hear your music. You might even want to get some like-minded friends together and have your own time of worship.

I don't think God will mind that you're not in a "where," like a sanctuary.

1 comment:

Bethany said...

Ok I have to admit, picturing you dancing awkwardly to no music left me falling on the floor laughing.

But laughing aside, I've really enjoyed your perspective on the whole "music debate." I think you made some wonderful points and I hope one day people who start petty fights like this will realize what worship is really about.

I also have to brag a little bit. Having limited experience in church, I didn't think it was possible to be in a Baptist church where this war was not raging. But my husband (music minister) came into our church and worked very hard to gain people's trust (young and old), and I can honestly say that music is not a point of contention in our congregation. Not that there aren't other "issues," but at least music choice/genre/instruments isn't one of them! And each song is always theologically sound! :)