Mostly I just wanted to spend some time with my friend. But he had also sent me an email that expressed frustration and anxiety. He had written me, “It felt like we were a flock of sheep, but instead of being led by the Good Shepherd, we were letting ourselves be led by trends, clichés, and market research. I think maybe I don’t know what to think about what I think.” So we decided to get together for dinner.
My friend had attended a concert of a well-known worship leader and a well-known worship band. He watched as the crowd around him raised their hands and sang along at the top of their lungs. He noted that people cheered the most when the bandleader mentioned “Nebraska” in his comments between songs. He took in the smooth production, the happy-happy enthusiasm of the artists, the way it felt like a great big club. He left with mixed feelings, because he picked up on some common currents that also give me pause. Here’s some of what we discussed.
- Worship leaders tend to look like celebrities in Christian circles. We get giddy about meeting Tim Timmons or Francesca Batistelli. We cheer them on when they take the stage, like we would a performer.
- Much of contemporary worship plays heavily on an emotional level at the expense of an intellectual level. Why is it that we tend to feel about worship songs of five years ago the way we feel about 80s music: it’s dated, old, tired, blah? Why is it that some songs have lasted decades or even centuries? I think it’s because when lyrics tell a fuller story of Christ, they strike deeper into our hearts and minds. What’s more, they shape us as believers.
- The worship wars of the past 40 years may have quieted lately, but they still wage within us. Many people have serious doubts about their faith, and about themselves, because they don’t feel like they are in with the “in” crowd. If I don’t like this style or that, am I not as much of a Christian as the next guy? If I don’t know the words, or I’m not raising my hands, am I not worshiping as well? Does God not love me as much because I don’t “get it”?
Recently I read a statement that has stuck with me and keeps coming up: Jesus came to tear down walls and destroy barriers. You see it in Galatians 3:28. He came to destroy divisions and to connect us to the Father and to each other. Worship should do the same. What does that look like?
- We need to be careful that we are placing our worship at the right altar. If we are more concerned with a style of music or a handful of artists who are “doing it right,” then we may be putting up barriers where Jesus would tear them down. Consider broadening your knowledge of worship music: look up Taize, or Keith Green, or John Wesley, or Hillsong Young & Free. Better yet, explore the depth of communion, or prayer, or baptism. Why do we place so much emphasis in worship on a handful of songs written in the past year, instead of the myriad of other worship expressions of the past two millenia?
- We need to remember that worship is as much about loving those around us as it is about loving God. Do we create a worship culture where people feel like their outside looking in?
- We need to give ourselves and others grace. God loves you perfectly, no matter what. There’s nothing you can do to end that love, so don’t worry if you feel outside a particular circle. You are in Him and He is in you. Let that thought guide your worship first, and all these worship wars will begin to fade within you.