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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Anybody for a Worship War?

WorshipwarsWhat do you think of this quote from Church Consultant Ken Johnson? (via Church Central)...

"This may sound harsh, but church members who don’t like the worship style, need to find another church that uses the style they prefer. It doesn’t matter whether they have gone to a church their whole life; if the congregation has approved a pastor and his or her leadership, then members need to either go along or leave. There is nothing wrong with finding another church, but there is something wrong with starting a fight over worship style."

It seems hard to believe that there are worship wars going on... still.  But there are.   I do think that 'worship warfare' has changed in the past ten years.  Ten years ago, everyone was fighting to change.  Today many churches have made it through the style change from traditional to 'blended' to contemporary worship.  Most people today have either embraced the change and love it; tolerate the change, or at the very least are ambivilant to it.  There are, however, a few holdouts... a small, but vocal group of people in many churches, that are still trying to fight the 'worship war'.  These are the people who still write the nasty notes; who still pull the elders aside to complain; who will blatently put their hands over their ears during worship time (you know, just to show that the music is too loud.)

Does your church have a small but vocal group of people like this?

If so, then read the quote at the top of the page again.

Now the quote seems to make a lot more sense.

Sometimes people have to either give in or give up.  I really think this is the case when it comes to worship style.

I often wonder why people stay in a church that they are so miserable in.  One of the things that make people miserable is worship style.

I've watched people every week that are visibly ticked at the songs we are singing.  (They're pulling a Chuck Colson week after week).

Why do they stay?

And why do we put up with their complaining?  We hear the comments they make to other people.  They're very public about this disdain for the worship style.  They writes notes and comments; talk to others; and even complain to the right people (the leadership).  And yet, we allow this cancer to grow and fester.  They get more and more upset, and we get more and more frustrated at their frustration.

Maybe it's time for them to leave.


There are many fine churches in town that use an organ in worship and preach the Word of God.  Wouldn't they fit in more there?  I, personally, think they would.  And I would have no problem suggesting this to them.

You see, there has to come a time where either they get on board (or at least stop complaining) or go somewhere that they can get on board.

But it seems too often that we'd rather keep people in the church who complain and don't like what we're doing, than lose them from the church.  By doing so, we only allow the problem to continue.

How has your church dealt with the remnants of the worship wars?  Do you still have holdouts?  Do they constantly complain?  How have you dealth with them (or why haven't you dealth with them?)

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May 17, 2006 in Worship | Permalink

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["This may sound harsh, but church members who don’t like the worship style, need to find another church that uses the style they prefer. It doesn’t matter whether they have gone to a church their whole life; if the congregation has approved a pastor and his or her leadership, then members need to either go along or leave. There is nothing wrong with finding another church, but there is something wrong with starting a fight over worship style."]

I wonder what page of the servant leadership handbook that came from ;)

Posted by: BeHim | May 17, 2006 9:50:33 AM

The town church is no longer the only thing happening on Sunday morning. It is not even the only church happening. We have become accustomed to the idea that churches come in many consumer flavors...well some of us have anyway...

I tend to believe that people should lead, follow, or get out of the way. Remember Paul and Barnabas? Sometimes its better to go separate ways than to jeopardize the mission with stupid fighting.

Servant leadership is not about being wishy-washy, tiptoeing around the 'problem people', hoping not to upset their fragile egos. I can't think of an example of Jesus treating anybody with kid gloves.

Posted by: Billy Cox | May 17, 2006 10:09:49 AM

Hey Billy... well said... I think you kind of hit on the thing that really bothers me... and that's the 'kid gloves' we use.

Many churches use 'kid gloves' when it comes to dealing with people's complaints on worship style. Sadly, many churches also use 'kid gloves' when confronting people about sinful lifestyles, gossip, and other things that need to be confronted and dealt with.

It seems that we hate confrontation so much, we'd rather let sin and cancer spread throughout the body. After all, we don't want anyone to get really ticked and leave the church.


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | May 17, 2006 10:13:56 AM

Why War?
I'd like to make the case for a balanced meal. My wife has cooked wonderful meals for me and our five children. She works hard to provide variety, nutrition, and meals that appeal to those of us who sit down to eat together. She does not fix separate meals for one who may not like what she has prepared that particular meal. Nor does she tell them to go eat at the neighbor's. The local church is a body, some might even say a family. The family should be taught by careful pastors and worship leaders that sometime we all need to eat our vegtables.
Balanced meals, I submit, are the way to go. If you don't like what is being served for a particular meal - careful leadership will see to it that pizza get's served next week. Some just don't like pizza for every meal. Balanced meals are the way to go.
Consider Eph 3:21 - Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Posted by: Big Dog | May 17, 2006 10:16:41 AM

This reminds me of the old Christmas movie Miracle on 32nd Street (I think) where the Santa Claus starts directing people who can’t find what they’re looking for to other stores where they have it. It turns into a PR bonanza for them, the store that puts people before profits.

Why shouldn’t churches be like this? We should encourage people to connect with our churches, but if someone isn’t comfortable with the worship style we should try to ascertain what style they might respond to and connect them with a church of that style. It’s not about how many people “we” save, it’s about how many people Jesus saves.

I might decline to recommend some churches, like “First Church of the Gooey Death and Discount House of Worship”, but I’m confident there’s a church in our area with a style for everyone. If we’re too contemporary there’s always the Tabernacle down the street with the organ and choir.

Posted by: DanielR | May 17, 2006 10:20:12 AM

In regards to the meal analogy, I definately see where you are coming from. However, I liken it more to showing up to a restaurant that has decided to serve mexican food, and then demanding they serve italian, because that is what you like. There is balance in the idea that there is a church in that community that has chosen to serve a more traditional style. There is balance in the church if you look outside one specific one to all the churches in an area.

Did that make much sense? Sorry, I'm relatively new to commenting here.

Posted by: Jason H | May 17, 2006 10:53:29 AM

You can't keep everyone happy. Period. Why squander hours with people who are stagnant when we have our towns to reach? Fear is the answer. We fear losing people. Losing their money. Losing the bottom line. We fear being wrong. We fear being a judge of other people's behavior. It takes courage to be missional. It takes courage to fight for those who have no voice in your church which ends up being the younger folks who assume church is a place for those already going.

Posted by: Rich | May 17, 2006 10:54:24 AM

Rich Said:

"You can't keep everyone happy. Period. Why squander hours with people who are stagnant when we have our towns to reach?"


Just because some of our brothers and sisters in Christ don’t see Contemporary music in a way you or I might does not mean we can judge them as “Stagnant.” This is where the problem is on both sides of this issue, blanket name calling across the Isle instead of sitting down and adults and figuring a way to meet the needs of both groups.

When a Pastor enters an established church he has a responsibility to honor the past and still reach for the future. This is a tough assignment to be sure, but one he can manage if he is leader and not a dictator and if the congregation is mature and not infants. If he is surrounded by infants he must first grow them up in Christ before he can move them forward in a new direction.

I speak from experience here. I have learned this lesson and have better “success” in ministry because of it.

Posted by: Pastor Al | May 17, 2006 11:05:47 AM

While I don't choose the songs we sing at services I do lead the congregational singing. I sometimes cringe when I see some of the songs to be sung. But then God reminds me that it's not about me. Worship is all about what is pleasing to God, not me nor anyone else.
When I look at the congregation while singing and see some with frowns on their faces and others truely worshiping from their hearts it makes me wonder what God thinks of all this. Isn't He the one we are singing to?

Posted by: JPK | May 17, 2006 11:08:29 AM

Would we ever say to people who do not like what the pastor is teaching to just leave?

Would we ever tell people who are interested in God but not sure if what we say is true to find somewhere else?

I think this presents a challenge for the worship leader to be more open minded. I have served as a Worship Leader for over ten years. Our congregation is a racially diverse group, approximately 50/50 black and white.

The cultures are sometimes very different but we have worked to create a worship environment where everyone "hears" their own voice within it.

The responsibility lies on the Leader to lead the worship of the people, including all relevant cultures and styles.

As worship leaders we are often guilty of trying to use the "latest and greatest". However, your first responsibility is to care for the congregation. Everyone should have a voice within your congregational worhship.

Posted by: John Darnell | May 17, 2006 11:15:41 AM

Hmm. I think enough is enough, and we need to say get over it. We are not going to go back to singing all hymns. We can have one or two a service etc, but guys those days are over. I will say this, I would rather sing a hymn again and again than some of these old contemporary songs. Like "Lord I lift you name on High," come one lets move on, we are running the song into the ground. Sorry if you love the song.
I do think each church should offer a traditional service some time in the week. we do that on Wed. nights.

Posted by: Jade | May 17, 2006 11:16:44 AM

If the church isn't concerned with numbers, head count, tithe revenue, etc - why would this be a problem?

Let them know they are loved as a sister/brother in Christ and recommend a church in the area which mets their prefered music style (or whatever the issue is - green carpet as opposed to blue, whatever). If they aren't getting spiritual instruction and/or fulfillment because of the issues, then the shepherd of the flock should see to it that they get to a flock where they will get their spiritual needs met. Let them know they are welcome to remain at the current congregation, provided they accept the issue without complaint.

As long as they are in a place they can get closer to God and will be in heaven, why worry if they are under your flock or not.

Posted by: Paul Davis | May 17, 2006 11:43:35 AM

Wow! The Worship Wars continue!

BeHim says "I wonder what page of the servant leadership handbook that came from ;)" Good question. I think it's from page 1, chapter 1 that says "Keep the vision white hot!" For instance, we do contemporary music and few (usually no) hymns. We explain why in our membership class. If someone complains... first question "Have you been to that class" Second question "If yes, then you know why we do these things, if no, then I'd suggest you check it out so you understand why." It works very well.

Paul Davis writes "If they aren't getting spiritual instruction and/or fulfillment because of the issues, then the shepherd of the flock should see to it that they get to a flock where they will get their spiritual needs met." But too often, in my experience, someone says "I'm not being fed" who's not serving. John 4:34. "My food is to do the will of the One who sent me." A lot of Christians who complain about not being fed (not all of them mind you) have an eating disorder I think.

Let people know why yo do what you do, get them to be part of the process, and if they forget... Remind them! Often!

In our church, we unabashedly cater to the lost. We have made church accessible for them, in language and in music, without watering down the Gospel. In doing that we have made church accessible for believers/disciples, too. How? We have given them a serving opportunity, which is where we truly grow. We make disciples by empowering them and equipping them to work together to reach the lost, who become believers, who become disciples, who then work together... You see where this is going...

Posted by: Peter Hamm | May 17, 2006 1:16:23 PM

Todd said, "I often wonder why people stay in a church that they are so miserable in." The most common response I've heard is, "It's my church"; a corollary is (and I have heard this in a church board meeting), "Senior Pastors come and go, but I was here for __ years before the SP and will be here long after he's gone." That has to be one of the most selfish, sinful attitudes I have heard proudly proclaimed. It's got to go.

As for the worship wars specifically, we need to remember - and remind - that worship is not for us, it's for God. When we complain about "worship styles", we make worship about us

We also display a gross lack of understanding of what worship is. Worship is not singing, praying, kneeling, clapping, raising hands, etc. It is responding to God. I think it's a theological tragedy that we have so strongly equated "music" and "worship"; in so doing, we have elevated music (and musical style) to a level far above what it should be, and we have severely limited worship.

Only as we study and teach true worship will we ever be able to get beyond the "worship wars".

Posted by: Randy Ehle | May 17, 2006 1:57:16 PM

I see this problem as two fold issue. Number One, worship is so personal to each of us that as leaders we have a tendency to draw towards what has personally moved us. The end result is a selfish approach towards the music we've chosen. Because that song moved "me" then it should move everyone in the same way. Secondly, music is based on perception. Why are we quiet on slow songs and loud on fast songs? The reason is because we perceive that's what we should do. Same goes with music styles. We associate "our" musical preference to be the style that is truly spiritual. Because this variable at its core is what we call unmeasureable, we must appeal to what we think people will find as the "correct" style. Translation, a repetitious cycle with negative results. In an attempt to appeal to one groups preference we have radically hurt another group's perception of that particular style. Obviously, we cannot remove a person's stylistical preference but we can encourage/teach/train them to view "our" style in a different way. How do we do that? By not devaluing their musical choice. Total Compliance or submission may look like the right outcome but it doesn't teach people to appreciate the style of music that we find as worshipful. Besides, what are we teaching our believers by simply replacing styles we don't like? I'm all for relevance when it comes to the Gospel but lets face it. The worship music made popular today is relevant because churches everywhere have said that its relevant. We should be careful lest we forget that there is nothing "new" under the sun. Look at it this way, if what we listen to today was placed in churches twenty or thirty years back the same thing could be said about our music. Moving forwards doesn't always mean progress. After all, chances are our "style" or something similar has already been done in another generation.

Posted by: Pete King | May 17, 2006 2:03:09 PM

Just a question...

Will anyone argue or defend my opinion that the contemporary church is about a mile wide and and an inch deep? This is the reason that so many people who love Christ are walking away from the contemporary church. It's quite invigorating for an introduction and a brief affair, but it's not producing maturing Christian people. It's really not about worship wars. It's about the mindset that says attraction is God and that style is substance. These things lead no one to repentance and life. Believe it or not, many of the people who express opposition are the people who care about the end result, not merely the means in between.

Posted by: Dean | May 17, 2006 2:08:34 PM


I fear that you are more right on then we would like to admit. The church in America has been doing it the way they like for so long, I am afraid we wouldn't know a real move of the Spirit if it hit us between the eyes. Of course I am not speaking of every church here, just seems like the majority. :-(

Posted by: Pastor Al | May 17, 2006 2:34:54 PM

Dean, I will argue that your description of the "contemporary church" is an overgeneralization that fails to recognize that a great many "maturing Christian people" really are being "produced." Is there shallowness? Absolutely. Certainly the "worship wars" are indicative of a me-first mindset, but they are also indicative of a faulty understanding of worship (as I said earlier).

Unfortunately, broad-brushing the "contemporary church" as shallow does nothing to address the real issue of how we worship, which is the topic of this post.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | May 17, 2006 3:03:35 PM

As a covenant partner in a church which has very diverse worship styles, and which would qualify in most people's books as 'contemporary' (though the music ranges from CCM to gospel to latin to folk!), I take issue with the 'mile-wide, inch-deep' assessment. Case in point: our senior pastor preached a sermon series on nationalism and Christian faith (which was the basis for his book 'Myth of a Christian Nation'--look it up on Amazon) a year or so ago and we lost over 1000 people. The rest of us stuck around, and are better Christians for it. The gospel is challenging, but churches big and small are engaging with it.
Personally, the 'less contemporary' churches I've been to (hymns, suits, complementarianism... you get the idea) have been dead (rather than vice-versa). Personal experience shapes how we think of the American church I guess...
Walter Brueggemann makes an interesting point about worship: he says God's people praise God for who God is and what God has done (since the two are inseparable). And so we need to sing about the beauty and wonder of creation. But because we live in a war zone creation (it is 'fallen'), we must also proclaim God's rescue operation (through Abraham to Jesus). Praise then, is ascribing worth to God for what he has done, in the expectation that he will continue to save us. The main criterion for musical worship then, is not one of musical style, but rather of speaking faithfully about our Lord and our God.
Do I agree that many contemporary Christian songs lack theological depth? Absolutely.
My two (ok, so more like, five) cents.

Posted by: Daniel | May 17, 2006 3:22:12 PM

I think you're all missing the boat on this one. You have all basically said that worship is all about ME and what I want and if YOU don't like it, you should leave. Find the kind of restaurant that serves your favorite food.

Come on, you guys, church is not about my wants or desires, it's about learning what the Bible has to say about life. It's about putting into practice what it has to say. It's about becoming more like Christ. Do we do this by demanding our favorite style of music? Do we do this by putting down everyone who disagress with us. Who cares what WE want! It's not about me and what I want. It's about God and what HE wants.

He has made it very clear in Scripture that we are to grow up and quit behaving like children. We are to be kind. We are to submit to each other. We are to come together because we are a family. Where are the pastor's in all of this? Why aren't they teaching these basic principles of Scripture? Instead, they insist on fighting with these people instead of teaching. Maybe it's because these people only seem to want to fight, but the Bible also says we can "win by losing".

Maybe it's time for everyone to take a breath, step back, listen to each other, find room for compromise, give in on the unimportant things. Both sides have made this an issue about "ME" and neither side seems willing to behave in a Biblical way.

Posted by: Katy | May 17, 2006 3:35:13 PM

Dean says

"Will anyone argue or defend my opinion that the contemporary church is about a mile wide and and an inch deep?"

Some of our people are, but the ones who serve the most, the volunteer leaders, volunteer youth workers, volunteer Children's Church workers, et cetera, are a mile wide and six miles deep!

The ones who serve are deep, the ones who don't are not. Get 'em to serve. Make it your job as a pastor, your main focus. Equip!

Posted by: Peter Hamm | May 17, 2006 3:36:15 PM

Randy said,

"Worship is not singing, praying, kneeling, clapping, raising hands, etc. It is responding to God."

Randy I must disagree with you on this comment. Worship is all of the above things mentioned in your statement. In fact, doing those things "is" an act of responding to God. I agree that the word "worship" needs a clear definition. However, to argue that such actions isn't worship seems to be more of a contradiction here. Honestly, how else can we respond to God other than using the things he has given us. So the question isn't whether or not those things are forms of worship but rather how does the individual perceive those things to be. Worship is more complicated than simply labeling it a response to God. It does involve feeling and emotions. To argue that worship is simply a mechanical action without an emotional response is to erase God's intricate design of man. What other living thing is moved through emotions to say, forgive or have compassion on the sinner bound for Hell. Worship entails all of this and yes you are right that we are not guided by how we feel or what we prefer to hear tickle our ears but emotions drive us to listen, sing, praise, cry, weep, and mourn. Without the emotional component we are no different than the grasshopper who gives glory to God through its existance. Man kind however has so much more. We can choose to worship or not worship God and to express that in many different ways. However, worship becomes meaningless when we label it as merely a feeling associated with something we desire for ourselves. Like a musical preference for example. Still, worship involves emotions and as long as it does we must address it. And as long as we are beings compelled by emotion we must teach our followers to yield those emotions and to use them in Godly ways.

Posted by: Pete King | May 17, 2006 4:11:09 PM

Well, well, well. Will it ever cease? I read somewhere that when Satan fell out of Heaven, he landed in the choir loft. Hmmmm.

I find only one place where Jesus sang (Mark 14:26). He mostly taught and His great commission was a call to make disciples. Discipleship should take priority and done well will alleviate some of the issues mentioned. Part of the issue is selfishness on the part of some people, part of it is a spiritual battle as the Devil loves to keep us embattled so much that souls perish and go to hell, and part of it may be in the way some leaders implement change - too fast, without proper aculturalization.

A pastor called to an existing church has to honor the past, he needs to consider the present, and then move with the congregation to the future focused on the Great Commission.

Maybe if we kept music to a minimum and maximized teaching, there would be fewer wars. Just a thought.

Posted by: Dan Moore | May 17, 2006 6:17:15 PM

Pete King, I was probably not clear enough when I said that "Worship is not singing, praying, kneeling, clapping, raising hands, etc." I agree with you wholeheartedly that those are acts of responding to God. (In fact, I think I agree with everything you wrote.) Perhaps an analogy will clarify my intent: You can't simply say that automobiles are Fords...but you can say that Fords are automobiles. In a similar way, worship is not (merely) singing, but singing is one expression of worship.

My point is that we have reduced our understanding of worship to singing and prayer, when in reality those are merely expressions of worship. They are certainly valid expressions, but they are not the only valid expressions. Gary Thomas' book, Sacred Pathways, is a great read on this topic.

I don't agree with Dan Moore that "Maybe if we kept music to a minimum and maximized teaching, there would be fewer wars." Being the argumentative, me-focused creatures we are, we would argue about whether the teaching should be expository or principle-driven or story-based!

Posted by: Randy Ehle | May 17, 2006 6:36:12 PM

Thanks for the reasoned responses to my post. It gives me more to think about.

Yes, I did broad brush stroke and I intended to do so. There are persons who are deeply committed to Christ and the Christian way of life in every group. It might be my perception, but I've mixed it up in about every size and style of congregational existence so my perceptions are rooted in some measure of objectivity. I find devoted Christians in all of them, but the overwhelming sense I have in the contemporary mix is that it's mostly about creating a mood, a happy emotional experience.

Now it's not that I'm against happiness, but is that really the primary goal of the Kingdom life? I think many of us are seeking something deeper than that in our relationship with God. Again, this is my perception, so maybe it is me. But if stats and stories are to be taken seriously, for all the contemporization that has taken place, the overall numbers of committed Christian participants in congregational life across the culture is simply declining. Is there a willingness to see cause and effect here at all?

I think worship disagreements are symptomatic of something much more unhealthy in the psyche of the Americanized church. Yes, there have always been conflicts and bickering over the smallest of reasons. And almost always those tips on the surface indicate a very ill soul. Are some of you suggesting that we should just assume the contemporary advocates are right and other concerned Kingdom citizens are simply wrong? That is just a little hard for me to go along with.

My pastoral heart sees a culture sold into the slavery of image projection, performance and celebrity. Perhaps it would do the Church good to put a little distance between our values and those who are living like there's no eternal destiny.

Posted by: Dean | May 17, 2006 9:29:47 PM

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