When I first started into the ministry – in the early 1990’s – churches were on the threshold of what is known as ‘the worship wars.’ Far from any sort of crusade or military campaign, the worship wars pitted one style of worship against the other. It was a rough decade.
In the 1980’s, contemporary Christian music exploded, benefiting from those Christian artists in the ’60’s and ’70’s who ploughed deep ground. These were singer/songwriters like Larry Norman, Keith Green and Andre Crouch, and musical groups like Truth and the Imperials. Like secular music in those days, Christian music was searching for an identity, a style that would be widely accepted in our churches.
I can remember singing the songs of these music pioneers in our church services, though they were mostly reserved for youth choir and Sunday night service. Throw in a bass guitar and, maybe, a drum set, and your church was on the cutting edge. People talked. Worse yet, deacons talked. The line was a thin one, and it needed to walked ever-so-carefully.
Congregational music remained the same, though. Everything found its source in the hymnal and, regardless of what the choir or soloist sang, congregational music rocked along with its feet planted firmly in the hymnal. There were no choruses, no praise songs – just verses 1, 2 & 4 from the body of hymnology.
In the ’90’s though, things changed. And, they changed quickly. Hymns were replaced with praise & worship songs, and instrumentation began the gradual change to contemporary. Some choirs were replaced with worship bands, and the minister of music (or worship or adoration or magnification) was replaced by a worship leader with a guitar.
The worse part was those of us who were determined to please everyone – blend the old with the new, mix in a little contemporary to be hip enough for the younger crowd, yet retain enough of the old hymns to keep the older crowd happy. In our effort to please everyone, we pleased no one.
And, therein was the problem.
We were trying to please the wrong people. Instead of trying to offer a cafeteria-style worship service, where everyone got a little of this and that, we should have been trying to please the One we were worshipping – the Almighty, Holy God. It’s no wonder our churches were caught up in worship feuds, battles that, in many cases, damaged churches (and their witness) beyond repair.
A few years ago, my pastor, Mike Lee, and I decided that we would not focus on style and instead look to the One we worship, hoping to gain His favor, not men’s. As we plan worship, we focus, not on music style, but on three things that guide us through the process.
1. Worship God for who He is. God is thrice-holy. He is God, the Father, Almighty – maker of heaven and earth. “He is the only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection…” He is “I Am.”
2. Worship God for what He has done for us. God sent His Son – Jesus, the Christ – to be our Redeemer, our Savior. We are adopted heirs – co-heirs with Christ – because of God’s love for us. Christ became one of us to save us from the wrath and justice we deserve.
3. Celebrate the Word. God has revealed Himself – all that we know – in His Word. God tells us everything in His inerrant, infallible Scripture. We teach it. We preach it. We sing it. We work to live it.
Someone once said that if we don’t study history, we will be doomed to repeat it. My hope is that, as we worship, we will always keep our eyes focused, not on pleasing ourselves, but on honoring and glorifying God.
Soli Deo gloria!