Apr 30, 2012 5
I used to fight for contemporary worship songs at the various churches I attended.
It was a stupid fight because it was also an unnecessary fight.
Incorporating new worship songs was a no-brainer. There were plenty of people who supported a mix of old and new songs in church.
But I encountered some resistance, and therefore I resolved to fight against the traditionalists. We needed fresh expressions of God alongside the tried and true hymns of yesterday, and I carried my guitar off to war.
I believed the church should look a certain way. I had allies affirming me, patting me on the back as I retreated each Sunday after launching a rhythmic salvo. Some even told me I needed to start a new service that left the hymn crooners with their dusty, yellowing hymnals.
Others believed the service looked just fine as is. They had their supporters too.
One side wanted to preserve the church’s worship style. The other wanted to change it.
Both were fighting for a personal preference rooted in culture. The 1800’s and the late 1900’s were engaged in a church-rocking struggle.
Once, I met a young pastor in the midst of a particularly intense worship war. Suddenly, when I saw a worship war from the outside, the black and white lines of my own struggle evaporated. As he talked about the combat his worship leader waged against certain members of the congregation, the futility of it all struck me.
I’d been wrong to fight, even if the church really did need to freshen up its song selection.
At the climax of his story, the young pastor recounted a conversation with his worship leader. He told the worship leader, “You are the leader, you’re in charge, you need to make them follow you.”
I said very little in reply. My heart broke. Who are we fighting against?
The irony of worship music and worship in general is that we all bring personal preference and past experience into a mix that is tough to join together each Sunday morning so that we can all sing to God with one voice. We are members of the same body, worshipping the same Lord, and yet it’s so easy to become defensive, fighting for what we want the church to look like.
In the midst of fighting for a certain feel in the church, we lose sight of one another. I know I certainly painted some people with broad brush strokes, writing off their perspectives, and they did the same to me.
One thing a lot of people didn’t realize about me back in the days of the worship wars is that I actually really like hymns. My problem as a worship leader was my lack of musical ability. I couldn’t play them. When I did try to play them, I often messed up or lost my way around the third or fourth verse.
Why didn’t we have that conversation?
I knew I was one of the only people pushing to bring in the new worship songs at that time. If I admitted that I’m not quite cut out for leading worship, which I wasn’t, who would carry the flag for my side?
Mixed up in the worship wars, we all faced a far deadlier enemy, our selfish desires for control. As I witnessed one side holding tightly to its way of doing church, I chose to wage a frontal assault. In the end, we ended up fighting one another instead of our perceptions about what church needs to look like.
So far as I can tell, there is a truce in many of the worship wars. A treaty has been brokered. However, there were casualties. I know I caused a few of them.
Whenever I feel tempted to exert an opinion about the way a church handles worship music these days, I stop myself. Such things are not worthy of my breath or brain waves. My guitar has long since been disarmed, hidden in the peace and quiet of my bedroom.
Whatever we end up singing, I’m done fighting worship wars. I’m a worship pacifist. I can just say thank you for the people around me. I need the people around me far more than I need my favorite songs, and that has been one of the greatest lessons I could have ever learned about belonging to a community.