How do we keep worship styles from getting in the way of unity?
Here is a repost of a blog I wrote for the Jesus Loves Kzoo page back in 2014. Wanted to share some of my thoughts on worship styles here as well. Hope you enjoy:
Before I respond to the above question, I wanted to share a little background about myself. Since I first began leading worship in 2000, I’ve had the opportunity to lead worship for a variety of denominations: Assemblies of God, Missouri Synod Lutheran, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Pentecostal (Poland), independent Charismatic, Christian Reformed….as well as for congregations that were primarily caucasian, multi-cultural, and primarily African American. I was recently asked to come on staff as the music director at an inner city church on Kalamazoo’s north side. My husband John and I also serve at the Kalamazoo House of Prayer, a ministry that seeks to worship and intercede 24/7 – 365.
I think that the above question is applicable in our Western world only because we have the time to actually be offended by others’ worship styles. I wonder if the persecuted church in other areas of the world even have this option. If your goal for meeting together is distilled down to the simple hope of making it home before you are arrested, stoned, or mauled before, during or after your gathering…. I’m not sure how often you would discuss this topic.
In America, this seems to be a question with which many a local church has wrestled, not to mention the larger body of Christ.
First off, I need to acknowledge that “my” favorite style of worship – the one with which I am most comfortable and feel God’s presence is not necessarily God’s favorite style of worship. I love leading worship with my “rock” band (keys, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, drums, violin), accompanied by my amazing singer friends, doing songs by Misty Edwards, Jesus Culture, Bethel, etc. Love it! Feel Jesus all over it…
However, I know a generation of older believers that love singing their favorite Bill & Gloria Gaither songs accompanied by a southern gospel style pianist. They love it! Feel Jesus all over it….
And then, I have friends who love singing Tye Tribbett or Tasha Cobbs songs accompanied by gospel keys, a kickin’ bass, and drums. They love it! Feel Jesus all over it….
I have friends and family that love the reverence of the scripture infused Lutheran liturgy and a classic hymn like Mighty Fortress is Our God or For All The Saints. They love it! Feel Jesus all over it….
I also have friends that love Taizé worship songs, accompanied by piano and melody instruments like the flute or violin. This meditative style catapults them into the secret place like nothing else. They love it! Feel Jesus all over it…
This is our dilemma – all of these styles can bring people to a point of connection with our God. Which one is God’s favorite? Hmmm…
Remember the dialog between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4? She wanted to know where we are supposed to worship God – on a special mountain or in Jerusalem. Jesus made a profound statement to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
What was He saying? Through my study of this passage, I believe Jesus was announcing an incredible paradigm shift for the people of that day: New covenant worship happens when an individual bows or prostrates their spirit (in the Greek, literally kissing the ground) before God’s Spirit through divine revelation of Who He is. Jews were required to worship God at a specific location, the temple. We learn from Paul that each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Wherever we go, God’s presence goes with us. Wherever we praise Him, His presence will overflow.
So how does that affect worship styles? Can a person who is deaf worship God? How about someone that is mute? We would all say, “Of course!” But wait, there is no music involved. Exaaaaactly. New Covenant worship happens when a heart responds through divine revelation of who He is and our spirit worships His.
Perhaps it’s time to look at worship styles as a vehicle for connecting people to God. When we try to canonize our beloved style, we may end up worshiping the method and not the God who inspired the method.
Style is the vehicle – prostrating ourselves before our beautiful Father is the goal. If we acknowledge that principal, we can worship God anywhere, with anyone.
Are we still allowed to have our favorite style? Yes! And so can our Christian brothers and sisters. Unity is not the absence of diversity, it’s the culture of honor that celebrates it.
One more thought, if we are waiting to “get our worship on” just on Sunday mornings, then we are missing out on what Jesus described. Invite God to fill your spontaneous praises all throughout your week (Psalm 22:3) and your life will change. Mine did.