424094_10151190598817167_484475476_nAwhile back, I let the band and singers have a weekend off while I led worship for five of my church’s services – just me at the piano. This is very different from our usual full-blown production. But I chose simplicity for a reason; I saw an opportunity, at the beginning of a new year, to articulate something that’s been on my mind for some time.

So, straight from my heart, I shared the following:

We have to stop thinking that we should be entertained at church. Few of us would ever say that’s what we expect from our services, but in fact we approach our selection of a church with the same criteria we approach everything else: does it meet my needs?

It seems like a reasonable metric, right? After all, if a restaurant doesn’t offer food to your taste, you don’t go back. If you can’t find the clothes you like at a particular store, you won’t shop there again. So it’s not a stretch for us – as consumers – to expect our church to provide programming that clicks for us. A preacher that we agree with – and whose teaching style appeals to us. Music that we like. We expect our church to conform to our preferences.

If we only participate when we like the songs, what does that say about us? If we tell our worship leaders “worship was great this week” – is there a message embedded in the compliment? Something like, “You chose the songs I like! Keep it up!”

I’m here to gently suggest that we cut it out.

As a worship pastor, I want to make this clear: I’m not an entertainer. My church has articulated what we are all about with these four words: REACH, TEACH, EQUIP and SEND. Note the glaring omission of the word ENTERTAIN . . .

Our congregation is a big family, and like most families we have a wide range of musical tastes represented. We have people who listen to folk music and others who love upbeat dance music. Then there’s country and bluegrass, loud rock and praise choruses (do you prefer those of the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s?). A lot of people love the ancient hymns – and then there are the rousing camp-meeting songs from the last 100 years or so. After making a joke about polka I heard from several people (from Wisconsin, of course). But the point is this: in any large group you will find a variety of different preferences.

Can you imagine any way to incorporate all of these preferences into a single worship service? If I select one style, will I alienate everyone who doesn’t care for that style? This is what I wrestle with all the time.

Here’s the burning question: do you have to have everything your way in order to worship God? Your honest answer to that question tells you a great deal about your relationship to the church – and, I think, about your spiritual maturity.

Can you still offer your worship to God when you don’t care for the songs or the music style? Can you still worship when the environment isn’t the way you like it (too quiet, too loud, too dark, too bright). What if you don’t like the worship leader’s voice? Or his cutting edge fashion sense (or even worse: his uncool fashion sense)? Or the way the words are projected onscreen?

Your preferences are all legitimate; it’s perfectly natural to have individual likes and dislikes.

But too often we spiritualize our preferences and become convinced that “my way is the right way.” When conditions have to be just right in order for me to worship God . . .  When my ability to praise Him is limited to my personal musical preference . . . When I’m unable to participate in corporate worship because I don’t like the leader’s song choices or his fashion sense rubs me the wrong way . . .

When my worship of God is so fragile and precarious, I think the real problem becomes crystal clear.

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  1. Leah Johnston says:

    I read this article from Bob Kauflin over on John Piper’s blog, and I think it dovetails really well with what you’ve written above.

    He writes “our greatest problem when it comes to worshiping God doesn’t lie outside us, but within our own hearts. It’s the problem of idolatry.”

  2. Sue says:

    For me if a song is off tempo from how I normally sing it (which is usually the radio produced version) I have a hard time changing rhythm during service and instead of trying to change pace to match something unfamiliar I simply utilize that time praising God in prayer. I don’t have to be in church to sing my praises to God. (Although when all the pieces fall together it is an amazing experience)

  3. Marty Burns says:

    I usually skip the worship time because it’s just not good. We have a great preacher, but the music time seems to be all for the kids. Now I like modern worship music. I think Awesome God and Shout to the Lord are wonderful. But our music leader has us singing repetitive songs that dont’ say anything (the Oceans song comes to mind) and he’s always wearing stupid skinny jeans.

  4. Georgia Richards says:

    It does get hard to put up with music that I don’t care for week after week. I know the praise team at our little church is doing their best, and I try to be supportive. But some of the songs just sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to me (and my husband) and even our kids don’t really care for it. I don’t need to always have it my way, but I think contemporary music is harder to pull off than simple piano hymns and choruses. I’d even be happy with modern praise songs if it was just a guitar player and a singer rather than a full band that never sounds good. That said, I agree with what you’ve written above, and I try to be supportive.

  5. Sharon Collins says:

    As an older Church-goer I’ve grown really tired of everyone telling me that my preference for hymns is “selfish.” Those songs mean the world to me, and it seems like most of the “modern” choruses are shallow and repetitive. They are more like children’s songs. Why should I set aside what I love (which is clearly superior) for songs that are mostly vapid and tiresome? It seems both unwise and unfair. If I ever have to hear “I could sing of your love forever” I’ll throw up.

  6. Dewey Roth says:

    May I publish a link to this in my blog? (

  7. Kathleen says:

    My family loves the services, just the way they are! When you all sing up there and you bring a fellow Christian to tears, closer to our Lord Jesus, it touches everone. I sang in the worship team at my past church. It is not easy to sing 3, 4 or even 5 services. I commend all of you. Jesus would be filled with much Love or Joy. Job well done, faithful servant!

  8. Harold says:

    “Your preferences are all legitimate; it’s perfectly natural to have individual likes and dislikes. But too often we spiritualize our preferences and become convinced that “my way is the right way.” ”

    I liked this a lot. I don’t care for hymns or modern worship very much. My personal taste runs to classic rock and some country. I go to a church that does both hymns and modern stuff – but not very well. It’s clear that they’re trying their best, but it’s pretty amateur. That said, I don’t find it hard to worship most of the time.

  9. Jim says:

    I’m sure I’m one of the only ones who think this, but I’d prefer no music at all. I read the Bible and pray every day, and it works well for me without music. The difference between what I do at home on my own time, and church, and that a well trained pastor can bring up issues and points of view that I had never thought of, and help me to focus on them. In that regard, I find music of any type to be a distraction. Either I like it a lot, or it irritates me, but either way it distracts me from learning more about God’s word and his plan for me.

    In any event, you are certainly correct that in this world, you’ll never have a music program that pleases all tastes week in/week out. Please do not get the impression that I am suggesting music has no place in church or is ungodly or anything like that. The question is entirely subjective, and my opinion is meant to apply only to my own personal tastes. Also, I do like music, but not in a worship setting.

  10. Karen says:

    As sincere as the leadership at Eagle Christian is, there is a strong element of being entertained in services. And I am left wanting something more as an observer of a performance, intended or not. I love the music, but especially the sincerity of the worship leaders. There is nothing wrong with outstanding music–in fact, even in ancient Israel they had paid singers and musicians. And, where would we be without Bach, another church-paid musician? There is no one right way to do worship, other than sincere and worshipful music and teaching. I always appreciate an acoustic and simple approach as a break from the usual Sunday program.

  11. Lori says:

    Going to church should never be about us, it should be about God. No matter what.

    • Frank Schmitt says:

      My spirit man hungers to proclaim the glory of God. I can do that with all form of Godly music! And I have often wondered if the stage music and singers abruptly stopped, who whould be singing? I pray it would still be a room filling choir!

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