Awhile 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.