To say that music can be a controversial subject for our churches today is to make a classic understatement. For almost two decades now, there has been a conflict in some churches over what has been called “worship wars.” Usually this centers around the subject of what kind of music will be used in the worship services.
Let me admit that I have no training in music. Others would be far better equipped to offer observations about this important part of the worship experience. However, I am a worship leader. I preach somewhere almost every Sunday, participate in the congregational singing and enjoy the other music features in the time of worship. With that perspective, allow me to make a few observations about the situation.
First, in my opinion, the whole discussion of worship styles is complicated by the fact that we have more generations worshiping together than ever before in the history of Christianity. A hundred years ago, no more than three generations were in church life. Now, we have as many as six generations seeking to worship together. That makes for an interesting chemistry in so many different ways.
This realization dawned on me during a visit I made to one of our churches. A couple in the worship service was being recognized on their 75th anniversary. They proudly stood for this time of recognition. Then the pastor asked the entire family to stand. There were four more generations of family who stood up and received the applause of the church. As an added word about the family constellation, the pastor said, “There is one more generation in the preschool this morning.” Everyone chuckled, and I sat amazed at the sight of this demonstration of generational togetherness.
Music tastes do not always follow the generational lines, as some may think. People of all ages love classical music, as well as country music and bluegrass, etc. Yet, generations do have musical lenses through which they see the world. One example is found in the possibility that the music of the Baby Boomers is coming to the senior adult tourist city of Branson, Mo. Before long, people who visit there will be singing “Yesterday” and additional songs by the Beatles, as well as other groups from that era. This is a seismic shift from the past when Perry Como and Frank Sinatra ruled.
Second and even more importantly, we need to remember that worship should never become so “me” or “we” focused that we lose sight of the real purpose of the experience. My working definition of worship is “recognizing the holiness of God, realizing our sinfulness before God and responding in willingness for the service of God.”
A definition which focuses on the Lord Himself will limit our sense of self in the arena of worship. It becomes God-centered, not we-centered. That change of perspective can be transformational in one’s outlook toward worship in general and music in particular.
A third observation I would like to offer is a call for worship leaders and church members to consider the matter of compatibility with respect to music styles. The type of music utilized in a worship service should be compatible with the church itself. Obviously, a new church plant or a congregation of mostly younger people can choose to be more contemporary in style. An established church, with a longer history, might understandably lean more toward traditional hymnody. Many churches have felt led to use a blended approach in worship or to offer more than one worship service; one might be contemporary and another traditional.
My fourth observation relates to technology. The expansive use of technology in our churches has changed the way worship is experienced. The presence of video screens, where the words of songs and hymns are featured, has in many cases replaced the use of the hymnal. Technology has always affected worship in our churches but never more than today. More than likely, we are just beginning to see the ever-changing use of technological helps and instruments in our churches. For some of us, this kind of trend is somewhat intimidating. Wise use of technology can enhance worship, but it should never be the focus. Technology is a tool to do something better, not a trend to make us feel better about ourselves.
In recent years, I have grown very fond of the music of Keith and Kristyn Getty. They were featured in a Tuesday night worship experience at our state convention when we met last in Huntsville. In my opinion, the Gettys represent a bridge between traditional hymnody and contemporary songs. Their music is worshipful and tasteful.
This brings me to my last observation. Music needs to be done well in worship, no matter what the style may be. It is to reflect the very best we can offer. After all, congregational singing, the playing of musical instruments and solos are an offering of praise to God. When we understand that truth, worship wars fade and worship peace is realized.