Monday, May 03, 2010

Worship Wars

I'm a hymn guy. You know, hymns like "Blessed Assurance," "Amazing Grace," and "It is Well." I also like some of the new hymns (new to me) like "In Christ Alone" and "Before the Throne of God Above." For the record, that's not to say I only listen to hymns. I enjoy a wide array of genres from hymns to classic rock to new age/ambient to bluegrass.

Now, in recent years we've seen this battle brewing over worship in the church, more specifically, the STYLE of worship, i.e. traditional (typically hymns) versus contemporary. Contemporary covers alot of things for alot of people. To me, the contemporary label includes "praise/worship choruses" to some music that sounds more at home in a concert arena. It seems that just about every church has adopted some level of the contemporary style of worship, for numerous reasons. Some feel they can/do reach younger believers/seekers with this particular style. Some feel the hymns are out-dated and don't speak to our present culture. And I guess one could make an argument for either of those reasons, but I'm coming at this whole thing from a little different angle.

Just as there are good and bad examples of other genres, there are good and bad examples of contemporary worship/music. The thing of it is, a particular style doesn't necessarily mean "better." What I mean is this: your church may WANT to have a contemporary worship service. Your leadership may believe it's the right and/or best decision for your church but...if your church doesn't have a group of people that can pull it off and pull it off WELL, it's going to be worse than just continuing what you're already doing.

I've seen churches that have had traditionally styled worship for years all of a sudden make the quantum leap into the contemporary style and it has worked. Others have tried it and it's been a train wreck. What's the difference? The "success stories" (churches that are doing contemporary worship well) took the time to evaluate their talent/skill level(s). Just because Mrs. Shoomacker has played the piano all these years doesn't mean she is the best choice for the transition from traditional to contemporary worship. She may play a mean "Great is Thy Faithfulness," but let's face it, she ain't gonna cut it when it comes to the newer stuff.

Those same churches also refused to give in to a mindset that says: "as long as we call it worship and our desire is to worship/please God, then our good enough is good enough." Worship is a celebration of God--who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, etc. He is worthy of our VERY BEST. To me, that means, striving to play and sing to Him in a way that is the absolute best. What does that entail? Just a few things of the top of my head: First, if instrumentalists and vocalists are not of a high enough caliber, don't use them! A single piano, played well--excellently--accompanying a skilled/gifted vocalist will set the tone and move people to worship much better than a crowd on stage, cranking out the latest contemporary tune that really wasn't written to be sung as a congregation in the first place. Second, it involves preparation. You can't do a 15-minute run through right before the worship service and expect things to go well. Segues, key changes, repeated choruses or phrases, tempo changes, where the instruments play, and where they don't are all some of the things that should be worked out BEFORE the service. Third, it involves dedication. The worship team not only needs to be capable of being excellent, they need to be need devoted to being excellent. That means showing up for scheduled rehearsals--and there SHOULD be scheduled rehearsals. And fourth, realizing that more speakers and LOUD does not necessarily equate to better. Playing louder doesn't cover up sloppy playing or singing either. I just magnifies it.

I realize not every church can or does have the highest caliber of musicians or vocalists. For those that do, use them to the glory of God, whatever the style! For those who don't, it's no shame. It's wrong to think we all have to be doing the same thing, i.e. style, when it comes to worship. There is nothing unBibical about a single piano--or no instrument at all--and God's people gathered, singing the great hymns of the past...and present. We need churches like that. Some people just prefer singing from the hymnal. Not everyone knows who "Casting Crowns" I don't, and if I do, it's news to me. I've just heard others mention them. By the same token, it is NOT wrong to have a contemporary worship style in your church service, provided the focus is God, it honors God and focuses the congregation on our Heavenly Father and it is done with excellence.

We attended a church a few weeks ago that was definitely contemporary styled in worship. It wasn't my cup of tea, but I found myself singing along on a few of the songs I knew because the entire service was obviously well rehearsed, the instrumentalists were incredibly good, and the vocalists exceptionally gifted. I heard PARTS (soprano, alto, tenor and bass)!!! There were slides, lights, and some very nice camera work by the video crew, all projected on the multiple screens. I could focus my attention on worship because I wasn't distracted by how poorly the whole thing was put together or how badly the [fill in instrument or vocalist here] was.

Some people may say that I'm focusing on the wrong things, too many of the little things. The drums, guitars, keyboards, and lights don't matter...and you're right in the overall scheme of things. But you know something, if the "little things" don't matter, I've got to wonder why God spent so much time on laying out the details, the little things of worship when he gave Moses the details for constructing the tabernacle and the manner of worship that would take place there.

God deserves our BEST...regardless of the style.