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Thoughts on Ecclesiastical Worship in Song

July 8, 2007

One of the toughest things for me to do over the recent years has been for me to nail down exactly what bothered me about most worship music today. It wasn’t so much a  “like vs. dislike” type of feeling as it was a “comfortable vs. uncomfortable” feeling. For awhile I thought it strictly had to do with the content of the songs. In fact, that was the popular sentiment among many in my circles and we were right to an extent. There is a lot of poor doctrine in today’s (and even yesteryear’s) worship music. So, as a youth worship leader, I made a decision to only do doctrinely sound worship music…. yet this wasn’t the root of the issue as it turns out. One reason was that I started realizing that some of this “doctrinely poor” worship music really wasn’t that poor. Now, it certainly wasn’t as rich as some of our better worship songs and hymns, but they really weren’t incorrect. And some of these poorer songs were pretty catchy, which, as a youth worship leader with a rocker itch that needed scratching, was very appealing to me. So I did them. And I had fun. So did the youth. But something still wasn’t right. I often felt weird. Once or twice I even relinquished my duties as a worship leader because of the way I felt… and took some heat for it. But the opportunity to mentor young musicians, play music, be creative, and build comraderie always brought me back.

It finally dawned on me one day what was bothering me. It was the fact that I was “leading worship” in a context outside of church. In other words, I always approached my worship leading as if I should be leading the youth into a higher spiritual experience (or at least preparing their hearts for the upcoming youth lesson). I had already been struggling with the fact that the “youth group” in most evangelical churches had become its own “church,” and here I was contributing to this – what I call – Youth Group Phenomena. But I really enjoyed playing music and seeing the youth get involved – tapping into their creativity. So I stopped leading worship and just played music – I had more fun with it, added some guitar solos, and most importantly, didn’t play to the youth’s emotions (i.e. – have them close their eyes, lift their hands, etc).

OK, so I had it figured out now. Well, not quite. I still was a little confused about worship. At this point in time I was unsure about what direction God was calling me. I was in seminary, but I didn’t know if I should pursue the pastorate, youth ministry, teaching, or worship ministry. As much as worship ministry appealed to me, I wasn’t quite sure how I should go about it. I enjoyed my church’s worship, but I knew that just about anywhere I went, I was going to have a struggle over worship style. The older crowd would want the traditional stuff, the younger crowd would want the contemporary stuff, the middle age crowd would want a perfect blend of both, and neither crowd would be happy compromising. I was vehemently opposed to a traditional service at one time slot and a contemporary service at another – so that wasn’t the answer. Also, what if I went to a church that wanted a big choir – was I prepared to do that. Many churches only go with the praise group – which would be easier… but I kinda liked the big choir. I eventually decided that it was too much work, so I scratched worship ministry off the list.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my anxiety was all for naught. The solution was simple, and right in front of me, but I missed it. You see, my desires for certain types of music were not out of line, they were just misplaced. Here I was struggling with all these different answers, and the question was wrong all along. So is it contemporary or traditional? Well, its neither. So is it big choir or praise ensemble? Again, neither. So what’s the answer? Simply… church.

 Yeah, I know… that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But that’s because the church today (at least the Western church) doesn’t differentiate between church “style” and other styles. For example, it’s funny to me to think about the traditional vs. contemporary argument. The argument is basically about preference – its about what people grew up with. Traditional sounds so righteous and true. Contemporary sounds so hip and creative. But really just boils down to the 50’s vs. the 90’s (or some variation thereof). So we have our older saints that can’t stand Matt Redmond and we got our younger saints that can’t stand Fanny Crosby. What’s a church to do? Well, you could split off into a traditional and contemporary service, like I said earlier. I mean, that way, everyone’s happy. Well, until the contemporary service argues over what type of style. But even then, you got your hip-hop services, your heavy metal services, and your pop-rock services. Oh, and the traditional service might split over style as well. But you could always have a Southern Gospel style service, and then have a pipe-organ led service. And let’s not forget about our Jesus-movement friends. They fit with the traditionalists age-wise, but all they really want it some Keith Green.

I guess you can see where I’m going with this. The worship of the church MUST be unified. The church must worship together. The baby boomers and Gen-X. The elderly and the infant. Those that rock out  and those that rock out on the porch. The point is, the church is making a terrible and self-defeating mistake when we separate worship by age, interest, culture, color, etc. Why? Because Lord’s Day worship is where we celebrate the greatest thing we have in common: redemption through our Lord, Jesus Christ. And this is what will change the world.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2007 10:46 pm

    Amen, amen, and amen.

  2. July 9, 2007 3:28 pm

    I really enjoyed that. Its funny how churches act when they don’t have any problems it seems they have to create problems that sometimes get in the way of finding true worship. I think that is how satan sneeks into our churches today. By taking something that simple and complicating it.

  3. patrick barrett permalink
    July 9, 2007 9:09 pm

    Brian,

    I have serious reservations about the separation that exists between the generations in my church, so I appreciate what you’ve written. Not to pick on my church because there are some very healthy things being initiated by leadership to bridge that gap and encourage the church (each generation) to participate together during Lord’s day worship rather than spectate.

    Anyway, I’ve got a question for you on the culture issue.

    A church will (and should) always reflect its own particular context. In other words, the Maasai church in East Africa will (and should) reflect its own culture during worship on the Lord’s Day and beyond. Can you clarify what you mean when you say worship shouldn’t be separated by culture? Are you just talking about music? If you’re not talking solely about worship as music, how is it possible for a church not to reflect its own culture during worship on the Lord’s Day?

  4. patrick barrett permalink
    July 10, 2007 7:17 am

    BTW – the reason I ask is because it sounds like what you’re saying (carried out in principle) is close to arguing that worship shouldn’t be culturally appropriate….

    much luf

  5. July 10, 2007 11:37 am

    Yoda,

    I’ve actually planned to make this a three or four part post. What you’re asking is most likely what I was planning on addressing in my next post. I do agree with you, though, but I will say this – my main focus is on worship music, which will be more evident in my next post; I will be discussing content and music style – I believe both are addressed by Scripture; and I am mostly focused on the Western Church – even American churches specifically… although I would love to diaglogue on other people groups that have very different cultures.

    Lord Slim

  6. patrick and melanie permalink
    July 10, 2007 10:27 pm

    Lord Slim,

    Sounds good. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  7. July 13, 2007 8:58 am

    Brian,

    Thoughtful post. I appreciate your comments.

    Many of the issues in the worship wars are external and are kept seperate from the internal. The matter of worship through singing is only one aspect of a life of worship to our Savior. When we take the aspect of worship through singing and make a style/preference issue God is not glorified. It is something that has to be worked on in a local church body but when we want to stroke each person it can’t be done. Just as you said when you split to contemporary and traditional the split can keep on going with country, rock, gospel, etc…

    The Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever but it is of utmost importance that the body of Christ worship together. There is great power and it is fully biblical to have the wide age range in a service glorifying God together.

    Scott

  8. July 18, 2007 1:15 pm

    Hey! Don’t know if you saw but I think Justin Taylor mentioned your friend Barry Joslin in one of his posts.

    http://theologica.blogspot.com/2007/07/sbjt-on-atonement.html

  9. July 23, 2007 3:08 pm

    Thanks for the post. My parish is blessed by the grace of God to be a full mix of every generation. It is one of the things that visitors often comment on. I have no real explanation for this blessing, other than to say that I believe it has something to do with liturgy that provides God-directed structure mixed with a spirit of freedom and openness. When you encounter generational blending, which I’m sure you must, what do you believe helps it?

  10. July 23, 2007 8:19 pm

    Thomas,

    Thanks for the comment! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog – especially your one minute reviews!
    I plan on writing another post or two on this subject, but I think a big part of it is liturgy – like you said. Another big part is doing things as the body of Christ – especially fellowship. Nowadays, most church fellowship activities are divided up into groups – youth groups, singles, married with young children. Certainly people are naturally drawn to others with the same interests and similar life situations, but I think the church should be proactive in creating activities that bring everyone together. In fact, while I think having group activities is fine, church activities should be the priority. Not only does this help “picture” the biblical view of the church to the world (as well as to the church!), but we miss out on so much when we stay within our own comfortable groups. It’s awesome to see older youth playing with the little ones, and the young mothers gleaning advice from grandmothers. Some of the older members in our church take the initiative and invite younger families to their homes for Sunday lunch quite often – which spurs others to do likewise.

  11. jeremy sexton permalink
    July 26, 2007 1:37 pm

    “They fit with the traditionalists age-wise, but all they really want it some Keith Green.”

    lol.

  12. August 7, 2007 3:25 pm

    Great post!

    In our church we have a purposefully balanced style, some contemporary some traditional, yet all Christ-centered and rich doctrinally. We employ a lot of Keith Getty’s stuff, and Sovereign Grace Ministries’ music.

    I totally agree the church should be unified in this. Looking forward to your follow up posts.

Trackbacks

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