It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for worship leaders.
Having to walk the line between creating a high-quality worship set and turning worship into a performance can’t be an easy task. It can be a polarizing job.
Some churches wage war over worship. Everybody has different a style they prefer. Some people like full band. Some people like acoustic sets. Some want it deafening. Others can’t stand it if the volume is too high. There is no shortage of opinions on how worship should be done. I’ve known people who left a church because the worship style changed. When the musical style used wasn’t what they wanted, they left to find a church with the style that was.
The Worship Wars
Within these worship wars, there are many battles to be fought: Hymns. Choirs. Bands. Volume. Style. Quality. Presentation. Do we incorporate artistic elements like spoken word, dramatic readings of Scripture? Or just sing the songs?
Then you have the lyrics themselves. Are they theologically accurate? Are they about the right thing? Some older songs have a great message, but can be painfully boring and out of date. Some newer songs sound cool, but often lack the depth of the hymns so many grew up hearing.
How do we decide which style is right or best? Is it popular opinion? Does the pastor get to decide? How do we resolve this worship war?
It’s Not About Us
The first thing we should consider is that a large portion of this conflict is based on our personal preferences. When you walk away thinking, “Man, that worship was great,” or “That was terrible,” take a moment to ask yourself why.
What qualifications or standards are you using to measure the quality of worship? Typically the answer will be how we felt about it. We often assess the quality of worship based on how well it resonated with us. It’s about our emotional connection. A “good” worship service is one that we liked. A “bad” worship service is one that didn’t engage or fit with our style. In many cases, we assess the quality of worship by what it meant to us.
In so doing, we miss the point of worship entirely.
What Worship Isn’t
The amount of time we spend focusing on worship music styles is a strong indicator that many have little understanding of the heart of worship. If we aren’t careful, personal preferences overshadow purpose. If we get so focused on how we worship, it’s easy to forget why we worship or even, at times, who we are worshipping.
Worship is not a concert. It’s not karaoke. Worship is not about us. It’s about God.
The best way to put an end to the worship war is to better understand what worship is all about: We are all worshippers. We were made to worship. Our life is an act of worship.
In the New Testament, there are two primary words used for worship. The first word means to bow down and show reverence to. Picture walking into the throne room of the King: You kneel down before him, bowing in His presence. It’s all about recognizing and submitting to the greater authority.
There is another word for worship used in the New Testament. We get our word liturgy from this word. It is most commonly used to describe the work done by priests in the temple. It means service. As Romans 12:1 says:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
In response to the grace of God, Paul says we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. This is our spiritual worship. The word he uses here, however, is not the word for entering into the presence of the King. It’s the word for service.
The New Testament model for worship is not just about singing praises. It is living a life of service. It’s about far more than music. It’s helping your neighbor bring in the groceries, providing for the elderly, taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves, helping the poor and needy—these are all examples of biblical worship.
Lifestyles of Worship
While we shouldn’t neglect our praises to God in song, we should realize that worship is much deeper than just singing. When you serve, God you are worshipping God.
The word spiritual in Romans 12 is the word logia, which is where we get our word logic. It’s typically translated reasonable/logical. Another way to read this text would be:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
More than song, your life is worship. True worship is when we learn to live, love, and look like Jesus by following Him and serving in His Kingdom.
We are not the stars of our lives. We are the audience in the theater of God. We respond to what He has done. The only reasonable/logical response to seeing God’s mercy, to experiencing His grace, is to give everything we have and everything we are as an offering to God. The devoting of our life to God is our act of worship.
So what if the style of music isn’t our cup of tea? So what if the band plays louder than we think they should? Worship isn’t about how. It’s about who.
When we truly understand who we are praising—with our songs and our actions—then it takes the focus of worship off of us, our preferences and our opinions. Churches don’t have to be split up by styles of music, kinds of songs or types of bands: Instead, we can be united by who we are worshipping, not how we are doing it.