One of the most popular posts on this blog is “Upgrading a Worship Service Without Buying a Guitar.” I received the following email earlier today about that post, and I thought I might reply to it here, so that others with similar concerns could see both sides of the issue.
Let me add this: if you are unhappy with something I’ve written, I’d really prefer that you post it as a public comment. I know that good people generally prefer to make their criticisms privately — and I appreciate that spirit — but this is a discussion blog. If no one disagrees with me publicly, well, it just doesn’t work.
And I’ve been at this for a while. I can take it. In fact, I’ve developed kind of a taste for it — because disagreement is a chance to either learn or teach or both. It’s all good.
I get emails —
Your proposals are strongly predicated on making the worship-particularly the music-appealing to young people. For example:
—-You state that most unchurched people and most young people do not like much enforced quiet-especially not every week. (The worship service has always been a good place to learn! This is a normal part of growing up and learning to behave.)
—-You mention that many of our children have never heard acappella singing except at church; so we therefore need to get out of our rut and be a little artistic to sound halfway decent to their ears. (While they’re still teachable, let’s add beautiful congregational singing to the repertoire of music in their lives, just as church members have been doing for twenty centuries.)
—-You said that we live in a world where college students, young married, and most of the lost think of music as being a concert rather than congregational singing. (Why would that influence anything having to do with the church?)
—-You say that it’s wrong to deny people the joy of expressing themselves by clapping, and that modern worshipers are just used to having a rhythm section on upbeat tunes. (It’s hard to believe you would defend such an open-ended principle.)
—-You were particularly forceful in saying Stamps-Baxter (which started to be introduced into our song books in the 40s after arriving on the country music scene in the 30s) has to go. You stated that many young people consider it so bad as to be hilarious. You said you’d seen visiting college students struggle to avoid laughing out loud at it. (If college students laugh at it, it needs to be eliminated? Wow. I’m not politicking for Stamps-Baxter; it’s just that your rationale is terribly hollow.)
I think it’s critically important that the older members set an example of Christ-like service.
(John 13:14-16) Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
I’m 55 and I’ve paid my dues. I’m an elder. And I figure that I’ve earned nothing. My role is to set an example of service by washing the feet of others — especially those considered the least worthy. To be like Jesus is to serve “the least of these.”
None of the above is a scriptural reason for determining what is or isn’t done in the worship. Our worship is not to please us, or make us feel uplifted. Nor is it to be patterned in a way to please the unchurched, nor people who are uncomfortable being silent, nor children, nor young people, nor college students, nor young marrieds. And your taking the position that it’s wrong to deny people the joy of expressing themselves in the way they choose during the worship is utterly astonishing.
I agree that the scriptures are the sole test of what to do in worship. But I observe that we act as though the preferences of the older members and big donors are what make that determination. I mean, the worship wars are largely over musical style — not instrumentation or such. We often doctrinalize our tastes, but most of the fights are about taste. People get upset when the song leader picks contemporary songs, not because they are unscriptural, but because they don’t suit the preferences of the person complaining.
(Rom 14:17-18) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
Helping the members express joy in worship to God is scriptural at the deepest levels.
God commanded that our worship be pleasing to him, and to him alone.
I don’t have to quote the examples in the OT and the NT where God punished those who altered their worship to fit their own preferences instead of his commands. I’m sure you’re as well acquainted with them as I am.
Uh, no. God made no such command. It’s just not there. Consider,
(1 Cor 14:2-3) For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
When Paul was confronted with the question of whether to allow tongues and prophecy in the assembly, Paul didn’t respond by saying they aren’t among the five and only five authorized acts of worship. Paul asked whether they edify, strengthen, encourage, or comfort the people present. I figure Paul knew what he was talking about.
Then, we also read,
(Heb 10:24-25) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews quite plainly teaches that the assembly is about encouraging one another toward love and good works. We are to encourage others. And if I can encourage my younger brothers and sisters by singing a contemporary tune, I’ll sing a contemporary tune. After all, the verb is active, not passive. I go to encourage, not to be encouraged.
Regarding the unchurched, Paul writes,
(1 Cor 14:24-25) But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
The assembly should lead unbelievers to exclaim, “God is really among you!” and so worship God. Stamps-Baxter won’t do that in most towns. Bad music of any kind won’t do that.
Now, notice that I’m not saying the worship should suit my own preferences. Quite the contrary. I should give up my preferences for the sake of others — and I do. Our song leader has no idea what kind of music I like. I don’t tell him because my job is to serve others, not to be served.
While advocating changes to please young people, you’ve taken a really cheap shot at the older members with your cynical “nostalgia Sunday (once a year, maybe)” dissertation. It reminds me of the dialog of a couple of very loose young women at my office who were making crude jokes and snickering about how hilariously corny the private life (not the term they used, of course) must be of a couple who had been faithful to each other through fifty years of marriage. Your idea seems to be that you could condescend to the older members’ tastes once a year and then not have to mess up other services by catering to them any other time. That paragraph really, really, really doesn’t speak well for you.
You have to realize that I’m one of the older members. I grew up on Stamps-Baxter. I’ve been to the Diana singing many times. I was raised on fa-sol-la shaped notes. I’d love to have an annual old-fashioned singing. But I wouldn’t presume to impose my nostalgia on others more often than that. And I’ve not pushed for even this.
Once again, the role of congregational leaders is to wash the feet of the saints. We are to be humble servants. And, yes, while I still enjoy the music I grew up with, I know quite well that insisting on the music of my childhood would be to insist that others serve me. If someone has to sing music they dislike, it has to be me.
Do you recall what God’s NT commands are about interaction between young members and older members?
I think so. Is this what you have in mind?
(Titus 2:2-5) Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. 3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
As an older man, how can I be worthy of respect if I fail to be a servant like Jesus? How can my wife teach younger women to be reverent if she insists on being catered to — rather than washing the saints’ feet? Isn’t “what is good” living like Jesus?
If you believe that the church’s worship service should be revamped and restyled to please the younger generation now, then what about the next generation after them, and all the succeeding generations? What is there about this younger generation that warrants pleasing them-rather than God-that was not present in the Roaring Twenties generation? They didn’t demand that we inject the sounds of the Charleston into our song service. Nor jazz in the 30s, nor swing in the 40s, nor surfing music in the 50s.
Actually, the hymns we have are in the styles of the times when they were written. It’s just that musical styles changed very rapidly in the 20th Century. Stamps-Baxter music, for example, is gospel quartet music from the 1930s and 40s — in the South — where quartets often traveled from church to church to entertain and even sang on the radio. They still do around here. I drove by a church the other day that advertised a concert by a gospel quartet (it was a church of about 25 members). That’s right: Stamps-Baxter music was Southern entertainment in its day.
What I want the young people today to do is submit to those younger than they are when they reach my age. I want them to follow my example. I don’t want them to follow the example of many older church members, who insist on having their way with musical styles and use their influence and money to get their way. That’s sin. Rather, I hope they see me submit my tastes for the sake of those less mature and follow my example.
I have four children. When they were quite young, I sang to them at bedtime. And I sang the songs they liked. That’s what parents do. That’s what the mature do for the less mature.
Now, I also shared with them the music I like, but I never forced it on them. You can’t command taste from on high. I exposed them to what I enjoy, and they largely have seen the wisdom of my musical tastes. But half or more of musical collection is from my kids — who are much older now — and who share with me their favorite music. And they have pretty good taste. There’s a great joy and beauty in sharing and submitting.
The young people today have more opportunities to hear the fad music they like when they’re not inside a church building than any generation in all of the history of mankind. And you want to make the worship service into another medium to please them with what they like to hear!
Why? To attract larger attendance? If the gospel is palatable to people only when the music in the worship service is altered to what makes them feel good, what value are they to the church?
The gospel is only palatable to people when those preaching the gospel live the gospel.
(Phil 2:1-7) If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
To live the gospel is to follow the example of Jesus by refusing to be selfish — even a little — by considering others better than yourself, to look after the interests of others, and to give up power, influence, and control in order to be a servant. Do that, and people will flock to hear the gospel.