Monday, May 19, 2014

{Worship: You're Doing It Wrong}

Ah, the Worship Wars.

If you've been a Christian for any length of time, you've probably noticed there are many styles of "worship" in church services here in North America. Some churches offer a conservative call and response format, interspersed with hymns and accompanied by the organ. Tradition is important here. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the ramped-up rock n' roll churches with electric guitars, drum sets, light shows, and fog machines. Loud is good in these churches.

I've attended many styles of churches over the years, and because of this, I've heard many, many comments and opinions about how worship should be done in all Christian churches, everywhere. Here are some paraphrased examples:

"Every church should get rid of the organ. Who listens to organ music outside of the church anymore? Get rid of it. It's not culturally relevant and makes visitors feel like they have to appreciate organ music in order to worship God."

"The organ is God's holy instrument. Every Christian church should have the organ playing at least part of the time during the worship service."

"Drums are from the devil. If the contemporary service insists on using drums, at least cover up the drum set during the traditional service. I don't even want to see the drums onstage. They're too distracting."

"I can't worship in a church that has a light show. Churches with light shows are more about performance than about worship."

"Wow, cool light show! Is this really church? It's not nearly as boring as I thought it would be!"

"Interpretive dance? Really? Since when are we doing this?"

"I can tell that your church is more about performance than worship by looking at your congregation. If the majority of people are watching instead of singing, then they're watching a show, not worshipping God."

{Honestly, I have heard every single one of these opinions expressed by people I personally know.}

In my discussions with people about worship, I've stumbled across seven recurring themes. These themes have helped me understand why we Christians need a more inclusive and accepting view of God-centered worship in our own churches and each other's church services.

1. Most often, a judgmental attitude comes from someone who is not on the worship team.

Many times the worship team in a church will try a new song, introduce a new instrument, or try something like interpretive dance to break the monotony and encourage people to think more deeply about what they are doing and Who they are worshipping. However, this can sometimes backfire if the congregation is not receptive. For me, it's easy to judge the worship team's efforts to lead us into worship. Unfortunately, this is when the worship service becomes a performance; not because the worship team has a narcissistic attitude - but because I do. Is this new endeavor helping me worship? Is it adequate to meet my needs? By sitting comfortably in my pew, judging the worship team's latest effort, I have turned the worship experience into a performance to be evaluated. Gone is my communion with God, not because of something the worship team is doing, but because of the attitude of my heart.

2. Is your "godly" opinion one that you would openly express to the members of the worship team?

If drums are from Satan, would you be comfortable in accusing the percussionist playing them of devil worship? If the organ has no place in the church, would you be comfortable telling the organist that her service is no longer welcome here? If these questions give you pause, perhaps you should reevaluate your opinion. How did you arrive at your worship preference? Is it something that you grew up with? What does Scripture say about it? Could others have a preference that does not contradict Scripture, yet is different than your own? Can you make room in your schema of worship to accept their differing style preferences without judging their attitudes and motivations?

3. Is singing is the only sure sign of worship? What if the congregation isn't singing? Doesn't that indicate that it's a performance?

How do we know when someone is worshipping God or just going through the motions? Is the congregation actually worshipping or just parroting back words on a screen? Or are they just standing still, watching a performance? Are they understanding the meaning of the lyrics in the hymnal? Does lip syncing count as worship? Is singing the only way to worship? How do we know if the people are worshipping?

We don't.

We can't because we're not God and we cannot see inside people's hearts.

I can sing my heart out, meaning every word. I can sing my heart out to show off to the people around me. I can stand silently, not singing, because I am praying or thinking about the lyrics to the worship song. I can stand silently because I am not engaged in the worship and am thinking about what I need to do after church. I can sing a worship song that I can relate to. I can sing one that I can't relate to. I can be a parrot. I can be a fully engaged human.

And you most likely won't be able to tell just by looking at me.

4. How weak is your relationship with God? Do you require a specific style of worship music to get you in the "mood" to worship?

I simply hate it when a Christian implies that one style of worship music is more conductive to entering God's presence than another for all people, everywhere. If this is you, let me challenge you with a few questions. Does your faith need coddling in order to coax out your reluctant praises? If the music isn't to your liking, do you automatically shift into Judgmental Christian Mode (see point #1) and therefore turn the worship into a performance with the attitudes of your own heart?

5. Would you act this way in another culture?

Imagine that you are on a mission trip, visiting another culture in another country. What if the Christians in this culture used drums, or dancing, or a didgeridoo to worship God? Would you be offended and judge their ways of worship because it is not the way you prefer to worship?


Then why do we do this to other Christians within our own culture?

Think about it. We laugh at each others' services and efforts of praising God. "I can't worship there - they have an organ. Ugh. Who does that anymore?"

"I can't worship there, they they have a fog machine. They're so over-the-top. I mean, they had a flamethrower last Christmas."

"Seriously? They're singing that song again? It must be one of the three they know."

"I simply cannot worship with that tribe. They're dancing and playing drums. I don't care if it makes me look bad as a Christian on this mission trip and is just plain rude. I'm not going to participate."

See how silly that sounds? So don't do it to others - even within in your own culture.

6. I can judge the light show or be thankful for the people who made it. 

Is the organ distracting you from worshipping because it's not your thing? Does the acoustic guitar version of the song rub you the wrong way? Try entering God's presence by praising Him for the people who are giving up their time and talents to help you seek Him. Somebody put together that light show with the hopes that it would help you worship God. Praise Him for that person. Somebody else selected that piece of music to fit the pastor's message. Praise Him for that person. And another person took guitar lessons to be able to lead the congregation in worship. Thank Jesus for that person! Oh look. You've stopped judging and started worshipping. :)

7. If I want to be distracted during worship, I will be distracted - regardless of the environment.

If I want to be distracted during worship, (usually because I have unconfessed sin that I haven't dealt with) I will find a way, regardless of the presence of an organ or a light show. Believe me, I am capable of being distracted by something as mundane as my left shoe if my heart doesn't want to worship.

Thankfully, the reverse is also true.

If my heart wants to worship my Creator and my Savior, there is no organ or light show on the planet that can stop me.


  1. This blog gave me chills. So many relevant and good points andI appreciate the time you took to write it out for us to read. There are a few items on here that I had to check myself on that I am guilty of. Thanks for the check to my gut and for the honesty that always reminds each of us it isn't about ME it is about GOD.

  2. Thanks so much, Joy! Your honesty and encouragement means a lot!

  3. I like your thoughts on this! Very intriguing. Great post!

  4. Very true that if we want to worship and be spiritually fed, we will be no matter what music is playing. Thanks for linking to Talk It Up Thursday!