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What I Have Learned and Am Still Learning About the Worship Wars

November 2021 Header Leaderboard Ad (HLB)

While I don’t see these issues as prominently as I did in the mid to late 2000’s I still feel a tension not only in my church but the churches I visit when it comes to worship styles. Over the 12 years i have played guitar I have heard nearly every argument and been the recipient of many verbal attacks on different styles of worship. I used to get ticked. Although ticked doesn’t accurately describe my emotions, but you get the idea. I was super ticked off.

As the years have passed I have slowly fell into this state of understanding and tolerance. The only thing I can figure is that as the years go on I get more mature. That might be a stretch though. This article will not address which side is correct in fact I don’t plan on talking much about genre’s or styles of worship at all. What I want to spur in your hearts is a passion to lead your congregations in worship.

Growing up I attended a conservative church where worship was primarily hymns. These hymns where sung by a single leader with piano and usually organ. As I moved into high-school acoustic guitar, bass and occasionally drums and electric guitar were added. The addition of these instruments lead to the formation of a “worship team”. This worship team was separate from the hymn leader, pianist and organist. There were normally 2-3 hymns and 2-3 worship team songs on any given Sunday. What I experienced is probably what a lot of musicians and worship leaders experience, which was a divider was being put up. Instead of coming together and finding a common ground we just split up the preferences. The people who liked hymns didn’t participate while the worship team played. The worship team members rarely participated when the hymns where being sung.

During this time I began searching for the “correct way” to lead worship. Initially, as many do, I took what connected with my spiritually and selfishly pushed it on everyone else. I made ultimatums and statements that acted more like gasoline on an open fire rather than water to put them out. I would make comments to worship team members about the hymns and how we are missing a generation with these songs and how they “are no longer relevant”. While I cannot specifically pin-point or quantify how my actions divided the congregation I can say that I know they never helped.

Moving forward a few years, my wife and I moved on to another church that was all contemporary and I thought to myself. Here is a church that gets it. Here is a church that is relevant. What I found out in the coming months was that I was 100% correct in that my church got it and they were relevant. What I didn’t realize is that I would later come to the conclusion that my old church was 100% correct and relevant.

Shortly after switching churches I began an internship as Assistant Director of Worship Arts, during which I was tasked with reading a book titled “The Art of Curating Worship” by: Mark Pierson. While reading this book something clicked. Through the book my outlook and world view began to change. I began to start asking the questions of, “how do I lead the people I have been entrusted to lead”, instead of “how do I get these people to worship to the music I think is important”. As I have rolled that question over in my mind the last 3 or so years it constantly makes me think in a more Christ-like way.

You see, I came from a place where I was constantly battling to get people to worship in the same ways and to the same music I did. What I have came to realize is that, while I am thankful for the experience and trials I faced at my old church, my heart was never in the correct spot while leading worship there. Again there are tons of arguments that people bring up at this point and many of them start with, “Well how are we going to reach the new generation.”

My response to all of that is “Unity”. Mark 3:25 says: If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Over the years I believe we as people have twisted the word “unity” to mean “we are in harmony together as long as you agree with me”. Now I realize this is on both sides of the fence but as a younger generation I am calling you to step out and be the change you want to see instead of blaming others for the problems in your church. Well how do I do that, you might ask?

  1. Get on the same page – I believe that for there to be unity, there cannot be different worship teams. There can be different styles reflected in one service but there can only be one team. Bring those that lead hymns and worship songs together for one practice and for team meetings. Allowing everyone to take ownership will create a much more understanding atmosphere.
  2. Always submit to others – This one can be a bit of a gray area but while you are working on improving unity I encourage you to throw your opinions aside for a while. This can be a month a year or even a couple years. The key is to be open to the Holy Spirit’s moving and not be focused on your opinions and agenda.
  3. Develop friendships and start meaningful conversations with people who worship differently than you do. Trust me you will be the one that benefits from this the most.
  4. Take an inventory of your congregation. Who are they? What do they enjoy? Are they older or younger? This will be harder for larger churches but I still encourage you to do this at-least in broad strokes. If I was doing this at my last church I quickly would have realized that I either needed to embrace singing hymns with a little variation here and there or find another church to lead at.
  5. Realize that all worship styles no matter how dated or boring are important. If you struggle with this think of what it will be like in 20 years when your children are leading worship. Do you want them to just throw the song you have connected with God in for the past couple decades out the door because it isn’t “current” anymore?
  6. If your church is in a season of transition to a more contemporary music style, do things gently and avoid huge changes. One example I have of this is, that at our current church, we did an Easter service at an alternate location a few years back. The weekend we did the alternate location we hung two new screens that video of the worship team and pastor were projected onto the following week. Additionally they made a ton of renovations to our cafe/sitting area. Needless to say people were not happy and the worship leader/worship experience took the bulk of the blame. I believe that if those things were rolled out with some space for adjustment the result would have been better.
  7. Give yourself a break. You won’t get this 100% right and likely there will still be people that leave because of musical preferences. What you want to avoid is some of the guilt and fault I feel from time to time because you acted too hastily or with selfishness.

Well that sums it up for now. As I mentioned I am still learning how to navigate the complex social issues involved with the worship wars but these tips should provide you some great building blocks to work from.

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