I honestly don’t think this is as big an issue now as it was 15 years ago, but it still plagues those of us who plan and lead worship. The solutions – and, I have been associated with many of these – have been many.
1. Offer separate services that feature one musical style.
I’ve served in a church where this was the philosophy. It didn’t work. What happened was, essentially, three churches worshipping in the same facility. And, significant animosity existed.
2. Focus on one style at the expense of some members.
When this happens, you’re basically telling a group of people in the church that “you don’t matter to us.”
3. Generational worship that seeks to attract a certain age group.
See problem #2.
4. Worship that is seeker-sensitive and focuses solely on evangelism.
Can a person who is not saved worship a God they don’t know? No. But, that person can attend services where authentic worship is taking place and say that”God is surely among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). When we create a church worship service geared toward the unsaved, it’s the “tail wagging the dog.”
At our church, we use three criteria to plan worship for a church that is multigenerational in its attendance.
We celebrate who God is. This acknowledges the attributes and character of God.
We celebrate what God has done for us through Christ. This acknowledges the grace we receive through the cross and the hope we have through the resurrection.
We celebrate God’s revelation of Himself through the Word. God speaks to us through the scriptures and the preaching of His Word.
Style doesn’t dictate what we do. But, it does help us express the three criteria we have. We’ll sing grand, majestic hymns of old alongside a hymn written this year. Or, we may sing a gospel hymn followed by a spiritual song written a few years ago. We’ll use piano, drums, guitars, brass, and, occasionally, a pedal steel guitar. Sometimes, it’s a cappella.
I recently read a brief article by Mike Wittmer, professor of theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, that summed up this whole issue well, building it on a strong biblical foundation. He says,
When veteran saints try to learn a new chorus or young people sing an old hymn both are saying to the other, “This may not be my cup of tea, but I’m willing to make room for you. I will sing along for your sake, and the whole church will benefit.” Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are unwilling to do this during worship, when do we think we ever would? (Mark 12:29-31).
Bam! If we can’t express love in the church, will it get easier when we go out into the community?
Wittmer goes on to conclude,
God expects there will be variety in our worship services. He made us different, and He says that Spirit filled believers will variously sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19). Our great God deserves to be praised by the widest variety of worshipers and styles. Keep your preference, and keep it to yourself.
When we focus on style in our worship, we’re focusing – not on the God of our salvation – but on ourselves. Point your heart and your worship affections to God, and the rest will take care of itself.