The Modern Worship Wars

The Modern Worship Wars


Ours is a generation marked by war.

I’m not referring to a war with guns and tanks, though we have certainly seen our share of that as well. We are a generation that grew up witnessing the church fight over the very thing that was supposed to unite us: the worship of Jesus.

The Good Old Hymns vs. Modern Worship Choruses.

Organ & Piano vs. Those Demon Drums.

Few of us emerged from these consumerism driven worship wars of our younger years unscathed. Their impact has been profound, both personally and corporately.

Fast forward a decade or two and, at first glance, the worship wars that once plagued the church seem to have died down. So it might be easy to chalk it all up to a problem from a bygone era.

Until we walk out of a church service that didn’t meet our own standards.
We have become professional critics of corporate worship. We complain about everything.

The volume is either too loud, or not loud enough. The lighting is either too bright or not bright enough; too showy or too bland.

We grumble about song selection, saying things like, “They introduce too many new songs,” “Why do we keep doing the same songs over and over,” or “I hate that song.”

From key signatures to instrumentation; from the worship leader’s fashion sense to vocal tone – it’s all fair game for our consumer-driven critique.
We are the fast food slogan-slinging generation of “Have it your way.” We are American Idol’s panel of expert judges.

We don’t know how to shut up, and we don’t have to because social media gives us constant platform to speak out about anything and everything we love and hate.

Everything about our world tells us that we are the king (or queen) of the castle.

So as humans, it is impossible to avoid having our own personal preferences. Our distinct opinions shape the way we approach every area of life, including how we connect in corporate worship. As such, we tend to assign spiritual value to our preferences.

For example, if we gravitate toward a more stripped back, rootsy corporate worship experience, we exalt that as the most spiritually helpful, while demonizing a corporate worship experience that is more produced. We employ abstract, vague descriptors like, “That felt like a show – it just didn’t seem authentic.” All the while the person on the platform may be a genuinely godly person who has put much thought, effort, and prayer into using his or her own stylistic musical talents to lead in corporate worship as excellently and effectively as possible.

The modern church has spearheaded all new creatively contextual expressions of corporate worship. We have everything from Traditional church to Seeker church to Cowboy church, Biker church, Surfer church and everywhere in between. We have Jazz, R&B, Funk, Gospel, Pop, Rock & Roll, Country, Rap, Hair Metal, Classical, and more.

We must see the beauty in that … and the danger.

The vast variety of expressions of worship to our ever-worthy Savior is an incredible opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and express praise in new and fresh ways. But these tools ought not become the deterrents from or objects of our exaltation.

When we gather as the Church, we are not coming as critics. We are not talent judges from The Voice who get to slam a “worship button” whenever we like what we’re hearing. We are not entitled to make the call on whether or not we feel like worshiping God and building up His Church. His glory does not wait for us to like the music before He becomes worthy of all our worship.

We dare not approach the throne of an objectively great, timeless, unchanging and holy God with a consumer mindset that says we can only worship Him if our subjective preferential demands are met. That mindset only robs God of the glory He is due, robs the Church of the encouragement it needs as it fights the true war of faith, and robs us of being encouraged and shaped by the truth of God’s Word as we sing it.

We gather to preach and sing the good news to ourselves, one another and those who don’t yet know that a sovereign God loved us enough to give us His only Son to rescue us and give us eternal life. We sing that Jesus came willingly as to redeem and adopt us, defeat sin and death and give us the Holy Spirit to liberate and empower us to repent, believe, forsake our comfort, take up our cross and follow Christ.

We gather to serve one another because we have been served by God Himself.

It shouldn’t take the perfect circumstances for us to see the beauty, glory and wonder of our great God. If we have tasted the beauty of grace, it should be easy for us to stand in awe, utterly captivated by that incredible, glorious truth that transcends all preferences of all people in all cultures for all time. But we have to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto Him.

Worship is war. But it is not to be fought over our own preferences. We must turn our energy towards killing the selective, prideful nature within us. We must fight to put to death anything in us that would hinder us from pursuing Christ with all we are. We must fight to worship Him with a joyful adoration that cannot be contained.

So the next time you go to church and the music is too loud, or the leader is singing that song you don’t like, go to war. Fight against the sin at work within yourself. Fight against consumerism and disunity. Fight for a grateful heart. Fight for the truth to captivate you in a way music never could. Fight to stand in awe of a mighty God who rescued you and graciously sings over you.

Fight the true war of worship.

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8 Comments

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  1. 1
    Paul

    This is great. Seriously great reminder and challenge to the congregant. What about the sensitivity and leadership/shepherding responsibility of the worship leader? What if you have a body that is very flexible and willing to try new things but leaders who do not take any of their input into consideration?

  2. 3
    Lindsay Baker

    Well balanced article as always Stephen, something to share with the team. If you’ve read this article and not Stephen’s book, We are Worship Leaders, not rock stars, get it. One of the best books I’ve read on this ministry.

  3. 4
    zach

    Jeremiah 6: 20 ~ What do I care about incense from Sheba
    or sweet calamus from a distant land?
    Your burnt offerings are not acceptable;
    your sacrifices do not please me.”

    It’s human sinful nature to bring a gift thats clearly more what want instead of asking God what God wants, but Jeremiah calls us to glorify God with the gift of His choosing – a heart and life that obeys him from love.

  4. 6
    David

    I remember when the term “worship wars” was coined and entered our vocabulary. Slightly tongue in cheek depending on who said it and how they used it. What was really meant was “music wars”. However, over the years the word music has been replaced by the word worship about 90% of the time when referring to music in the church. This is not good. In fact it is bad. As this article points out, those who are warring over the music are not worshiping. They are angry, contentious, indignant, stubborn and inflexible; characteristics not found on the Fruit of the Spirit lists. Let’s get away from calling music “worship”.

  5. 7
    Linda

    Well said, Stephen. Satan is alive and well, ready to deceive and devour. Those of us planning the songs for service really do put a lot of thought and energy and prayer into what happens in the platform on Sunday mornings. I always pray that God is glorified and someone is positively touched. If only those who are quick to criticize would recognize the source.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  6. 8
    Ric

    You have done a masterful job in writing what I have been thinking for some time. I would add the war is not limited to our preference in music and lighting but has rapidly spread to every facet of the church. Social media has emboldened people to voice their opinions on everything from the music to the preaching style and beyond. We are experts in criticism but failures in recognizing the beam in our own eyes.

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