Each week in my email I receive a newsletter from Don Chapman called "WorshipIdeas." Don runs a couple of websites that have to do with issues around worship leading, providing new and creative ideas to worship leaders, and also providing new and fresh arrangements of hymns and instrumental numbers. We've used a few of his arrangements in the past, and his original instrumental band medleys are fantastic. I hope he writes more of them that we can use in our worship services.
In the WorshipIdeas newsletter, Don always links to several online articles that have to do with worship, and most of them are very interesting, even if they present a view of worship other than my own. For example, this week's issue linked to articles like "Listening to Complainers is Bad for Your Brain," and "Beware of the Stage." Very relevant stuff for those of us who participate in leading worship.
One particular article caught my eye today, however: "Rethinking Worship Wars." The term "Worship Wars" refers to the seemingly never ending battle that churches fight between stylistic preferences in the congregation. One segment of the congregation wants worship to be like this, and another segment wants it to be like that. It's a serious issue that involves my own church as well.
The author begins by saying that we've blown the issue of stylistic preferences way out of proportion, which is probably true, as the New Testament is remarkably silent on the issue of how worship should be conducted in the Christian church. As the author points out, there's 100 times more teaching in the NT (and OT for that matter) about the importance of a right attitude in the heart of the worshiper than the way worship is actually conducted. In fact, the author rightly points out, two churches can have identical worship services and one can be not worshiping in truth while the other is. Style is not the issue. The heart of the worshiper is the issue. He says, "The litmus test for a faithful church is not observing the worship leader to see if he wears a three-piece suit or if he wears skinny jeans and toms. Worship has nothing to do with music, but everything to do with the posture of the human heart."
But then the article takes somewhat of a strange twist. In the next paragraph the author states, "The correct question for church leaders to ask isn't, 'Which style do I like best?' but rather, 'Which style will help me engage non-believers with the truth of the gospel?'".
Since when did worship become reaching out to non-believers? I thought worship was... well... worship. Don't get me wrong: any non-believer should be able to enter a church and feel welcomed, and this should include our worship, and particularly our music. That is, every person should feel welcomed into a church and to participate to whatever extent he or she is spiritually able. But the purpose of worship, and particularly worship music is not to reach out to unbelievers - it is solely to exalt God and declare truth about him in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. Perhaps worship can be considered evangelistic in the sense that any unbelievers who are in a worship service will hear the truth of God and his gospel proclaimed in song, but the conversion of unbelievers is by absolutely no means the focus or point of worship. Again, the point of worship through music is to give glory to God - that's it.
He begins to wrap up the article by saying that when it comes to worship styles, a lot of people in churches are concerned only with their own desires and preferences, rather than the desires and preferences of others. To this I offer a hearty Amen once again. The difference between my view and the view of the author of this article, however, is that the "others" he is speaking of is lost people, while the "others" I am referring to are brothers and sisters in Christ. We should not alter our preferences or style of worship in order to appeal to those outside the church for the sake of making the Christian faith more attractive to them. We should alter our preferences for the sake of unity within the church.
He concludes by saying, "...by God's grace His Spirit will change the focus of the congregation away from themselves and out to a lost and dying world in need of Jesus." Again, Amen. I don't think our worship music comes into this equation though, if we're talking about preaching the gospel to the lost. Worship is for Christians - for Christians to worship God - not to evangelize the lost. Let's pray that God, by his Spirit - when it comes to how we worship - will change the focus away from ourselves and onto him.