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The Modern Worship Music Wars

The old church debates about hymns and choruses have taken on a new, more subtle tone.

Ours is a generation marked by war.

I’m not referring to a war with guns and tanks, though we have certainly seen our share of that as well. We are a generation that grew up witnessing the church fight over the very thing that was supposed to unite us: the worship of Jesus.

The Good Old Hymns vs. Modern Worship Choruses.

Organ & Piano vs. Those Demon Drums.

Few of us emerged from these consumerism driven worship wars of our younger years unscathed. Their impact has been profound, both personally and corporately.

Fast forward a decade or two and, at first glance, the worship wars that once plagued the church seem to have died down. So it might be easy to chalk it all up to a problem from a bygone era.

Until we walk out of a church service that didn’t meet our own standards.

We have become professional critics of corporate worship. We complain about everything.

The volume is either too loud, or not loud enough. The lighting is either too bright or not bright enough; too showy or too bland.

We grumble about song selection, saying things like, “They introduce too many new songs,” “Why do we keep doing the same songs over and over,” or “I hate that song.”

From key signatures to instrumentation; from the worship leader’s fashion sense to vocal tone – it’s all fair game for our consumer-driven critique.

We are the fast food slogan-slinging generation of “Have it your way.” We are American Idol’s panel of expert judges.

We don’t know how to shut up, and we don’t have to because social media gives us constant platform to speak out about anything and everything we love and hate.

we tend to assign spiritual value to our preferences.

Everything about our world tells us that we are the king (or queen) of the castle.

So as humans, it is impossible to avoid having our own personal preferences. Our distinct opinions shape the way we approach every area of life, including how we connect in corporate worship. As such, we tend to assign spiritual value to our preferences.

For example, if we gravitate toward a more stripped back, rootsy corporate worship experience, we exalt that as the most spiritually helpful, while demonizing a corporate worship experience that is more produced. We employ abstract, vague descriptors like, “That felt like a show – it just didn’t seem authentic.” All the while the person on the platform may be a genuinely godly person who has put much thought, effort, and prayer into using his or her own stylistic musical talents to lead in corporate worship as excellently and effectively as possible.

The modern church has spearheaded all new creatively contextual expressions of corporate worship. We have everything from Traditional church to Seeker church to Cowboy church, Biker church, Surfer church and everywhere in between. We have Jazz, R&B, Funk, Gospel, Pop, Rock & Roll, Country, Rap, Hair Metal, Classical, and more.

We must see the beauty in that … and the danger.

The vast variety of expressions of worship to our ever-worthy Savior is an incredible opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and express praise in new and fresh ways. But these tools ought not become the deterrents from or objects of our exaltation.

When we gather as the Church, we are not coming as critics. We are not talent judges from The Voice who get to slam a "worship button" whenever we like what we're hearing. We are not entitled to make the call on whether or not we feel like worshiping God and building up His Church. His glory does not wait for us to like the music before He becomes worthy of all our worship.

We dare not approach the throne of an objectively great, timeless, unchanging and holy God with a consumer mindset that says we can only worship Him if our subjective preferential demands are met. That mindset only robs God of the glory He is due, robs the Church of the encouragement it needs as it fights the true war of faith, and robs us of being encouraged and shaped by the truth of God’s Word as we sing it.

We gather to preach and sing the good news to ourselves, one another and those who don’t yet know that a sovereign God loved us enough to give us His only Son to rescue us and give us eternal life. We sing that Jesus came willingly as to redeem and adopt us, defeat sin and death and give us the Holy Spirit to liberate and empower us to repent, believe, forsake our comfort, take up our cross and follow Christ.

Worship is war. But it is not to be fought over our own preferences.

We gather to serve one another because we have been served by God Himself.

It shouldn’t take the perfect circumstances for us to see the beauty, glory and wonder of our great God. If we have tasted the beauty of grace, it should be easy for us to stand in awe, utterly captivated by that incredible, glorious truth that transcends all preferences of all people in all cultures for all time. But we have to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto Him.

Worship is war. But it is not to be fought over our own preferences. We must turn our energy towards killing the selective, prideful nature within us. We must fight to put to death anything in us that would hinder us from pursuing Christ with all we are. We must fight to worship Him with a joyful adoration that cannot be contained.

So the next time you go to church and the music is too loud, or the leader is singing that song you don’t like, go to war. Fight against the sin at work within yourself. Fight against consumerism and disunity. Fight for a grateful heart. Fight for the truth to captivate you in a way music never could. Fight to stand in awe of a mighty God who rescued you and graciously sings over you.

Fight the true war of worship.

66 Comments

Bill Barkus

2

Bill Barkus commented…

Attending a church that is touted s being the largest Protestant church in Atlantic Canada, for close to 40 years, I think I can speak for what has happened a few times in the past..."Loud IS too Loud"...Case in point, a 'few' years ago, a certain new worship leader had been told 'turn it down, it is too loud'..he ignored said admonishments, with a retort, 'if the old people don't like it, maybe they need to go elsewhere'...Fast forward a little bit, to a sizable group of people in the surrounding close residential neighborhood, with a larger sizable petition list, taken to said church, stating, "it IS too loud", as many in the neighborhood, could hear it LOUD even in their homes...Apparently, the architects of said new larger 'Sanctuary', had assured the powers that be, 'Oh no, this place will be sound proof, it will not be heard outside...'....Guess what, they were wrong...new hip worship leader still objects...bye bye hip worship leader...Point being, "How loud is enough"? Really? No, I am not a cranky old soul, but I am a former D.J., with professional training, that KNOWS full well, "Too loud, IS too loud"...Scripture does say, "Make a Joyful Noise unto The Lord..." I don't recall it stating we need to break any sound decibel records to achieve any notoriety...If in trying to appeal and be "Relevant" to ones under 40 or even under 30, and that is the only mandate, what does that really say for the selfishness of a single-minded out-reach for anyone OVER 30? Seriously? Turn it down...Yes...Now...Oh, and a parting Scripture..."Be still...and know that I am God..."

Christine Liu

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Christine Liu commented…

"Loudness" cannot take place of "Lively"; "Emotional" is not equal to "In Spirit". Lack of teaching on "The Biblical Truth of Worship" in churches makes worshipers turn to focus on Worship Music. For the contemporary, we need to find depth in Truth; for the traditional, we need to find "LIFE" in the heritage of church music. It is not the issue of "YOUNG" or "OLD", "FAST" or "SLOW". I won't be able to "go to War" especially when I see the reminder at the bottom of the bulletin says, "If the volume is too high for you, we provide earplugs at back of the worship center." It is very "considerate", isn't it? But, why do I feel very insulted or rejected just like that lady in hot pink? I cannot "go to war" or feel guilty about myself. I know very clearly this is not a place for me.

Pam Lewis Haddix

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Pam Lewis Haddix commented…

I really like your conclusions in the article, and many scripture come to mind that could guide people's thought processes on the topic. The Bible has plenty to say about "new songs", as well as what our heart's condition and focus should be as we enter worship. If we walk into church thinking "I hope they don't do this" or "let's see how many times we say that" (plenty of Biblical precedent for repeated words), then our minds aren't set to worship to begin with. This is the enemy's goal - to keep us focusing on ANYTHING besides our Almighty God. Yes, things happen that threaten to distract, but if I am prepared and positioned to be focused on my God - if I walk in church saying "God help me to seek and see You today - and offer You all I have in worship", then it helps us get past the things that distract. I've covered many of these issues in my new Bible study on worship, "Worship and the Word", and use LOTS of scripture to help us discover HIS plan for us as His worshipers. You can learn about it at http://pamelahaddix.com/, AND read a new book review about it at http://www.worshipministry.com/book-review-worship-and.../. One thing's for sure: the enemy's #1 goal is to prevent our worship of our God. Thanks for this article!

Jennifer Constantine

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Jennifer Constantine commented…

The most important thing to me in worship is the lyrics. I don't even like to listen to Christian radio too much anymore because so many of the songs are inspired by soulish emotion, and the character of God is maligned.I won't sing something if I know it's not biblical. Faith comes by hearing, and if you keep listening to lyrics that misrepresent God, it can damage your faith. I am a classically trained musician, and so I can hear of someone if out of tune, but I have to say, if they are making a joyful noise unto the Lord it doesn't bother me too much. I can overcome it and press into God's presence.

Greg Hall

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Greg Hall commented…

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am just now reading this article and I cannot tell you what this means to me. I am a 52 year old worship leader who has the battle scars from fighting worship wars for the past three decades. Tears are rolling down my cheeks as I read this because these are my thoughts but you have articulated them in way that I never have been able to. I will share this with many!

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