If you know me at all, you will know that I spent 32 years of my ministry life as a Worship Pastor. When I started worship leading, I was behind a pulpit with a hymnal in one hand and a microphone in the other. The worship team was the choir. The band was a pianist and organist. Every now and then, I threw in some brass players and occasionally a rhythm section. On big events, we would have an entire orchestra. By the mid to late 80’s, as we began to gaze at the horizon of the 21st Century, the landscape of worship began to change in the church. Songs that were not in the hymnbook were being included on the playlist for worship–songs written by the Gaithers, Andre Crouch, Dottie Rambo, and others had already made a mark in the worship music of the day. But by the end of the 80’s and moving into the 90’s, this thing called “Praise & Worship” hit big with Maranatha! Music and Integrity Hosanna Music supplying these new, moving worship songs that took our celebration of praise to another place. The use of guitars and drums were in use in church services, which challenged many who liked exclusively the strophic nature of the hymns and the sounds of the organ and piano. By the mid-90’s, the term “worship war” had been coined and was being experienced in many churches throughout the country. Now, this worship war wasn’t the kind of war you would expect. It was not a worship war over the object of our worship or who was being worshipped, it was a war that took place among the worshippers themselves … a rather odd sort of war in that the enemy–the great antagonist of God–wasn’t the one being battled; rather, the people who were on a mission to battle the enemy began to turn on each other. Why? Because of a preference of music and song used for worship. Since then, across the board, worship style (a term that I don’t really care for anymore) has changed to reflect the nature of the day in which we live, the context of our shared experiences … pointing toward reaching a new generation that grew up with computers, 9/11, and a increasingly distant awareness of any concrete sense of truth, living in a post-modern environment where there are few absolutes.
It was during this time when I found myself caught between two armies of people that I knew I needed more understanding of this thing we called “worship.”
Being referred to as a “theological idiot”–(yes, I have been called that and worse simply by being a worship leader) I leaned into that and began to study with those who were creating this “new worship paradigm” as well as diving into some of the theological greats and doing a lot of biblical study about the subject. I entered into a graduate degree program at Regent University with my worship professors being people like Don Moen, Michael Coleman, Pete Sanchez … those who were creating this new music from Integrity Hosanna Music. I desired to grow in my theology and philosophy of worship. At the same time, I got the opportunity to work with Maranatha! Music as the choir leader for their Worship Leader’s Workshops. Those were the days. Hopping from one place to another for Maranatha! events and back home late Saturday night to ready myself to lead worship at my home church was exhilarating! It was a hot time in creating new experiences for worshipers to encounter the manifest presence of God. Still … the worshippers–the ones doing battle against the enemy–continued to turn inward doing battle against each other over worship style and form. I mean, this was a head scratcher for me. Didn’t Jesus say that true worshippers would worship in spirit and truth … not through a particular style, form, or song choice?
And then I realized, what a great tactic the enemy is using to distract us from the primary activity of the universe … the worship of God.
I have seen so much division over this one topic in the church. It breaks my heart, and frankly, I wish we could just get over it. I think it is a scourge that the enemy has used to bring division to God’s people. I’m not saying that there is one right way to worship or a wrong way to worship. And I certainly respect anyone’s faith traditions. I certainly was formed by a strong, traditional, Methodist liturgy. That really isn’t the point. The point is that anytime worship becomes about us, it is the wrong way to worship. Worship is not about the song … it’s about the Son! When we worship corporately in our churches, we are literally in a grand rehearsal for what we will be doing in eternity … only then, we will be gathered around the Throne–the epicenter of the power of the universe, worshipping the Lamb who sits on that Throne.
Worship is God’s idea … not ours. He initiated the whole thing. It’s all about Him.
Dan Boone, President of Trevecca Nazarene University and former senior pastor of mine, writes, “True worship is the fellowship of the Father who sends the Son who gives the Spirit. And even as this shared life flows to us, it flows back as the Spirit empowers the sacrifice of the Son on our behalf, as a pleasing response to the Father … In worship we are not creating something new but rather stepping into a stream that began in God.” (The Worship Plot)
I don’t know about you, but I want to step into a worship experience (a stream) where God is already present. I want to be a part of a worship encounter with God where He draws me to Himself, speaks to my heart, and changes my life. Frankly, music does move me, but not nearly as much as God’s presence does. And I’m a musician. But my friends, it is not about the music. As much as I love music, corporate worship is not about music. When it is, we have missed the mark. Music is a tool for us to use to express our thoughts, desires, pain, excitement, etc. It’s not my worship. Worship has more to do with laying down my pride self and opening myself up to my Creator. My thanksgiving (thanking God for what He has already done) and my praise (praising Him for who He is) surely helps me to ready myself to encounter His presence. . .but worship is that moment that is all about Him “wooing” me toward Himself and taking the initiative to invite me to have a seat at His feet, to rest in his presence, and to encounter His glory so that I might experience life change ultimately–and then my response to that invitation.
Church … we need to surrender to each other and realize where the real battle is. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12 NLT)
As we pass our faith experience to the next generation, we must realize that what we truly pass to them is to be bathed in God’s Spirit and Truth. The package by which we wrap that gift to our kids and grandchildren may not look like it did when I started 32 years ago, but thankfully they will have the opportunity to hear the Truth and experience the Spirit in a context that is befitting them so that their lives can encounter God in worship and their lives can be transformed. Let’s surrender our personal preferences, our stylistic inclinations, and our musical penchants in order that you, me, and our children and grandchildren can experience a church that is unified in Spirit and in Truth (John 4).
Lord, help me to lay aside my agenda, my preferences, and my attitude toward those that don’t see things my way. Forgive me when I make my worship something other than what you want it to be. May the song on my heart, whether a hymn, a worship song, a gospel song, or a classical aria reflect a genuineness and a purity that pleases you. May you be touched by the words on my lips and be ministered by the praise in my spirit. Amen.