It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Christians have a way of majoring in the minors. In fact, given that matters of the Church are not the area of focus for rocket scientist’s, that may not be who we would want to call when it comes to the Church.
So, let me rephrase…it doesn’t take an experienced church consultant to figure out that Christians have a way of majoring in the minors.
Think about some of the things that we Christians spend a great deal of time focusing on…
- Dancing, drinking, smoking, playing cards, tattoos, having fun in general
- Style of dress (if you dress casually that must mean you take your faith casually, right?)
- Care of the environment (if the rapture is going to take place and there is a new earth, do we really need to take care of this one? Yes, yes we do!)
- What areas of the building the children can use and the overall appropriate behavior of children (didn’t Jesus say something about having faith like a child?)
- Pews, chairs and tables (what kind and whether or not someone is in “my” spot)
- What type of coffee and donuts to serve (wait, that one is pretty important!)
- What to call “deviled eggs” at the community Thanksgiving meal
One of the more obvious ways we tend to major in the minors revolves around styles of worship. While it is not the only adventure in missing the point, it is one that just doesn’t seem to go away. We have beaten the dead horse of the “worship wars” for far too long.
Unfortunately, our focus on which style of worship is most effective has reduced “worship” to “music”. Worship is so much more than the songs we sing. Worship is holistic – it is built into the very way we live and move and have our being (thanks Acts 17). Worship is about the head and the heart connecting with God in transformational ways. Church “experts”, consultants, pastors and leaders helped create the ongoing worship wars.
For years, churches were encouraged to start “seeker sensitive” services to reach the unchurched. We should make people comfortable, remove as many “churchy” things as possible, and then do the old “bait and switch.”
Churches were encouraged to start contemporary worship services to reach young families. If there’s anything young families are looking for in a church, it’s the latest, unsingable release from Chris Tomlin.
Churches were encouraged to have an “edgier, more modern” style of worship to reach young people. I’m not even sure what this one means because I’m 45 and I’ve aged out of “modern”.
But, here’s the deal…it hasn’t worked. With the rise of the worship wars, the Church has experienced a slow, steady decline. The number of people actively engaged in the life of a faith community has been on a downward spiral, while those professing no religious affiliation (often referred to as the “nones”) have been on the rise.
Let’s be honest, we’ve done it to ourselves. We’ve focused on the next “quick fix” to compete with the church down the street, rather than on our call to love and serve our neighbors as we go and make disciples. We’ve been so focused on the latest trends and styles, we’ve put more energy into that than loving and serving God by loving and serving our neighbor.
So, we start a “seeker sensitive” service that is shallow and nothing more than a self-help seminar. It doesn’t “feel” like church because we remove every aspect of “church” as possible. Willow Creek, who led the “seeker” charge, released a study a few years ago that revealed that, while they reached amazing numbers of people, they struggled to make disciples. People just weren’t maturing in their faith. They were swept up in the “show”.
We start a contemporary service. In many churches, contemporary worship often sounds like a cheesy, soft rock rip off. Many contemporary services reflect a musical style that is 10-20 years behind the times.
Next, we begin an “edgier, more modern” service. I’m pretty sure all that means is less lighting, louder music, skinnier jeans, more hair product, and the potential use of loops, programmed drums, and a shiplap background.
Then, there are all the variations – cowboy church, hip hop church, dodgeball church and so on. Those outside the worshipping community just might see it all as another gimmick to lure them into the doors of our facility.
Of course, traditional worship folks aren’t off the hook either. We tend to be a bit elitist (“our music is better, our musicians are trained, our choir can read music, we show respect to our faith”). And, we’re just as competitive with the traditional churches around us as the contemporary churches are with one another. And, let’s be honest, some churches offering traditional worship lack passion, quality and creativity.
Now, none of the churches I’ve served have struggled with any of this. All the churches I’ve served have been perfect…at least while I was there…and according to me!
Here’s the deal, it’s all an example of majoring in the minors. Our worship style shouldn’t be the main thing. Our preference for a particular style of worship is just that…a preference. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, we should not place varying levels of superiority, effectiveness or holiness based on a style.
Churches shouldn’t worry about becoming something they are not. Churches should figure out what they have the capacity to do well and then do it well. If that’s traditional worship, be the best traditional church you can be. If that’s modern worship, be the best modern church you can be. If that’s dodgeball church, be the best dodgeball church you can be (“if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”).
We gravitate towards stylistic preferences because we happen to connect better in some environments than others. I get that.
While I have a great deal of experience leading contemporary worship, I prefer more traditional, liturgical styles of worship. I prefer hymns over praise choruses. I appreciate and connect through the liturgy. However, I try not diminish one style over another.
Worship is a matter of the heart. Music is an avenue to usher us into the presence of the holy. Hymns and praise songs have an opportunity to teach theology, to tell a story, to bridge a gap between human experience and the mystery of the holy.
If we are ready and expectant, we should be able to worship regardless of the style. When entering a place of worship, maybe we should begin with a prayer – “God, open my heart to experience You in this time and place.”
Worship style isn’t the main thing. Jesus is the main thing. If the worship style helps point others to Jesus, then it’s an acceptable style of worship! While it might not “work for me”, it might work for someone else…and I need to bless that, rather than diminish or dismiss it.
Let’s be honest, as I pointed out before, the Church is steadily losing ground. Shifts in worship style have not proven as effective as the experts would have led us to believe. There is not a quick fix.
To be honest, I don’t know many unchurched folks who even know what traditional or contemporary worship even is. Surprisingly enough, there are not many unchurched people listening to Christian radio. I don’t know many unchurched folks who are hoping we’ll sing the latest release from Hillsong United. I don’t know many unchurched folks who are hoping we’ll pull an obscure Charles Wesley hymn out of the hymnal.
Emerging generations have less and less experience with the Church. What they know about the Church might be from a wedding or a funeral (neither of which really reflect what we do on a typical Sunday – though some worship services feel like a funeral!). What they know about the Church might be from watching “7th Heaven” on Hulu because it was on the recommended list.
When someone bravely walks through the doors of the church, I’m not sure they are looking for a particular style. I’m not sure they are looking to be entertained. My guess is that they are looking for connection. They are looking for an inclusive spirit that says, “You are wanted here.” They are looking for something beyond themselves that provides a sense of purpose and direction. And, that is not dependent on they style of the songs we sing.
Maybe rather than worship style, we should focus on creating a safe, welcoming and hospitable environment for all. Do others feel safe, welcome and wanted in our congregations? If not, we need to wrestle with that more than with the style of worship.
Maybe instead of a focus on worship style, we should focus on creating an honest church, led with integrity. The latest religious headlines do not shine a positive light on Christians and the Church. Deception, dishonesty, lack of restraint and a great deal of hypocrisy seems to rule the day. How refreshing it might be if Christian leaders would be willing to admit that we could be wrong! What could happen if Christian leaders were honest, rather than put on a show to keep up appearances?
Maybe instead of a focus on worship style, we should focus outwardly – looking for those gaps in our community the Church could fill. Could the Church become a lighthouse of hope for the marginalized, outcasts and most vulnerable among us?
Maybe instead of a focus on worship style, we should be focused on our role in seeking justice for all. Could the Church play a major role in healing the woundedness, brokenness caused by the sin of racism, sexism, bigotry, and all of the phobias and isms that have infected our world?
Maybe instead of a focus on worship style, theology is much more important. There are some churches with incredible music – both contemporary and traditional – that possess lousy theology! They lure you in with amazing music, and then unveil their twisted and oppressive theological perspectives once they believe they have you hooked.
Maybe we just need to stop trying to diminish one another’s efforts. Instead, we should celebrate, support and encourage one another. It shouldn’t be a competition between congregations and styles of worship. Our enemy is not the church down the street! We should be the biggest fans of the church down the street. When they score a win for the Kingdom, we all win!
When it comes to styles of worship, can we agree that it’s a matter of perspective?
Find a church that works for you. Find a church that offers a style of worship that helps you connect with God and others. Maybe you’ll even discover that it doesn’t matter if you sing hymns, choruses, or spend 30 minutes in quiet contemplation – but, it’s the connection to the people, the stories about Jesus, and the hope that is shared that matter most.
Let’s keep the main thing, Jesus, the main thing!