What will it take to declare the worship wars over? Sign whatever truce needs to be signed, agree to disagree, raise a white flag, choose an ending, but in my opinion it needs to stop. Now.
I came into church music ministry in the mid-nineties, just as the contemporary worship wave was moving among mainline denominational churches all across the South. Seeing the success of contemporary worship in other parts of the country, especially among the burgeoning non-denominational congregations, church after church rushed to be more “culturally relevant” and begin “reaching the nominally churched, unchurched, and the nonbelievers” with CCM, lights, stages, sermon illustrations using film clips, projected lyrics, and of course, coffee. This led to the inevitable boarder battles as lines were drawn between the traditionalists, preservationists, and the agents of change. Spiritual blood was spilt, congregations were divided, and some severe pruning was seen. Yes, there was occasionally growth, but at what cost?
It’s Time to Stop Arguing and Lead Worship!
The interesting thing is that the culture we were all so desperately trying to follow and be relevant to is changing again, as culture is inevitably destined to do. A new desire is moving through our culture that is causing many to rethink how we will do ministry through worship in this new era. In interview after interview, study after study, the truth about our younger generations and their desire for practicing their faith in worship is becoming clearer: what the church is singing, and how the church is singing it, is not at the top of their list of concerns. These younger believers are more interested with how the church is actually being the church in their local community and in the world than they are with what the church is singing. The focus on authenticity is replacing cultural relevancy in importance to those seeking to find a church home.
According to recent Pew research, most younger adults who were not raised in the church are staying away. Sadly the number of these younger adults identifying themselves as “nones” when it comes to church, is increasing, even among those raised in the church. According to Barna research, those who are not coming are doing so because they find the people in the church hypocritical (85%), judgmental (87%), and insensitive to others (70%). There is absolutely nothing in those numbers that suggests any one style or other of worship will produce a groundswell of church attendance among these younger adults. In fact, only 8% say they are not coming because they feel like the church is “out of date.” More concerning is that 20% feel like God is actually missing from church.
So how can we say that we will exhibit and exercise Christian love in our communities when we cannot do so in our own church family? How can we display an authentic expression of Christian faith and love if we prolong this period of tearing each other down over worship style? Discussions, and yes disagreements about style in worship will happen. However, as long as we continue to value a love of style above a love and acceptance of our Christian brothers and sisters who may think differently than we do, we will continue to fall short. Even more, we especially must show love toward those outside the walls of the church who may think really differently than we do. Until we do so in a manner that is authentic to Christ’s teachings, then I believe we will continue to decline in our ability to reach those who want to see us live like we love God and love others, not just watch us arguing about how to sing about it.