The term “Worship Wars” has been thrown around for a while now. In my experience, it began as the battle of The Chorus vs The Hymn. One was tradition, one was fad. One exercised the mind and heart, the other just the heart. One was theologically sound, the other was not. Of course, these categories were supposed to apply to each and every song that fell into either category. This war divided congregations into “Contemporary” and “Traditional” services and split some churches right down the middle. I’ve heard it said that a church would be more prone to split if its musical style changed than if its theology changed!
I was browsing through a very old hymnal and discovered that hymns aren’t all that great. They aren’t ALL that great: emphasis on the word “all.” I LOVE a great hymn! Some are fantastic both theologically and musically, some are just fantastic theologically. Some are not fantastic at all. The church has the ability and yes, the responsibility, to decipher which songs (hymns or choruses) are worth singing again and again. Some survive for five years and some have survived five hundred! As I write songs (or even choose songs for a church service), I have no clue what the musical vibe will be in 2511AD, but if the lyrics are true and uplift the name of Jesus, maybe a current song will still be sung, even if someone changes the music to fit a new culture. Maybe we’re singing a new song today that will be another “All Creatures Of Our God And King” and be sung for half a millennium exactly the way it was written!
In the last decade, it seems the conversation around the word worship has returned to its definition found in Romans 12:1-2. “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.” Offering our bodies, ourselves, our very lives as an offering to God, set apart and pleasing: this is true worship! I believe that. I agree with that. But for some reason I still refer to church music as worship music! When I write a song for the church to sing, I call it a worship song. Sometimes we’re open minded enough to refer to the entire Sunday service as the Worship Service, as if that hour on Sunday is our only time to worship. I know we may not believe that in our hearts, but our word choice could cause us to act that way!
I try to take little steps to help change my thinking. I’ve changed the signature at the bottom of my church email from Worship Ministry Leader to Music Ministry Leader. Instead of planning the “worship set”, we plan the “music portion.” I absolutely believe that when people truly engage in singing to our King with hearts and hands raised (or not), professing their love to their Savior, they CAN truly be worshipping our God. But, I have to remember that doing so is certainly not the ONLY way to worship Him!
I was recently told by a frustrated sibling in Christ that our church needs to do more “real praise music.” They said we don’t rejoice; that God is energetic but we are not. In truth, it was just an issue of musical preference. Their favorite style, which made engaging with God easier for them, was not currently what we’re playing. More importantly, I know that rejoicing happens. I see the tears and the smiles. I hear the sound of voices raised and see the hands lifted high. I know people’s energies are being directed to the One worthy to receive all praise.
We all have our backgrounds, don’t we? Our preferences and our dispositions whatever they may be: Traditional Hymns, Pop Choruses, Gospel Praise Funk, Classical Chorales or Gregorian Chant. I’ve seen video of secret, illegal Chinese church services, where without subwoofers or percussion (but amidst suffering and persecution) believers REJOICE in the Lord through tears as they sing. It so obviously has zero to do with song selection or style. Their lives have been rocked by the grace of God.
They don’t waste their time in worship wars.
Lord, help us worship You in spirit and in truth, singing or not.