It was 9:30 on a Wednesday night and I happened to be making a late-night milk run as I passed by a church where several of my friends worship. I was amazed that the parking lot was full. Wow! Something amazing must be going on. Revival? Extended prayer? Spiritual awakening? I rolled into the parking lot. My curiosity overwhelmed me.
As I got out of my car, I saw a high school student exiting alone. I had to inquire. “What’s a Baptist church doing at this time of night?” The answer was disappointing: a business meeting. The church was struggling through the crucible of worship change and things had come to a head.
They weren’t the first church to struggle with change in their Sunday morning worship and they certainly won’t be the last. Remember, the first murder in the history of man occurred over worship. Cain’s rage is still present today. If you’re a church leader, I know you’ve already heard many complaints about worship. It comes with the territory. How do you react to change and engage with fellow members about worship change? Consider these six challenges all healthy leaders must embrace in the midst of worship transition.
- Remember that change equals life.
My dad loved to spin a yarn about a time in the 1950s when he led music in a large Baptist church. The deacons were all on the front row and one of them suddenly died. With a twinkle in his eye he said, “But they had to shake five or six of them before they figured out which one!” This funny anecdote does have a subtle truth: if everything is frozen, something is dead. Change is inevitable. The Dakota Indian proverb works here: “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”
In the 1600s the radical controversy of worship was the use of an instrument used in pubs. It was the organ. In the 1900s, it was the use of quartets and harmony that was considered anathema. In fact, every century has had its worship conundrum. Change happens. My 26-year-old son invited me to join him for worship when I visited him in Chattanooga. I thought I might need to wear earplugs because I’d heard lots of subterranean bass beats shaking the windowpanes in his room as a teenager. I was surprised to see that the ministers wore robes and the only instrumentation was a piano and a guitar. I didn’t see that one coming! Is your church changing? That’s a good thing. Change is a practical indication of life.
- Acknowledge the balancing act.
Realize that one of the key tensions in every church is finding the right balance so that all generations can worship. This is the greatest challenge any worship leader will face. Frank Lewis, a pastor friend of mine, said something I’ll never forget – so funny, but so true. I asked him about the term “blended worship” and he said, “Blended worship is where everybody gets some music in the service they don’t like.” Seriously though, every worship service needs to have handles for every worshiper. There will be some types of music you don’t like in worship, which brings us to Challenge #3.
- Remember the focus.
The focus of worship is not musical style, volume, lighting or time limit. It’s not about making you feel good. It’s not to have a cathartic experience simply for the sake of catharsis. The primary focus in corporate worship is to give God glory and express our love for Him. It’s so easy for me to forget that. And after 33 years in the ministry, I know it’s hard for most believers. If we come to every worship experience ready to hear from God and refusing to get in connoisseur mode, we win. When we analyze our leaders and platform people, we all lose. We’re contributing to a revival of American Idol.
- Remembering the focus means realizing that worship is serious stuff.
- Remembering the focus means arriving with a sense of expectation rather than a paralysis of analysis.
- Remembering the focus means that you are so focused on your performance in the congregation that you won’t waste a second in the critic’s box.
This is difficult for me. I have to consciously shift my neck out of swivel mode and have a laser focus on God with my mouth, mind, heart and hands.
- Avoid the sidebars.
One of the worst things you can do to your pastor and worship leaders is to leave church on Sunday to rehearse a personal critique of the experience with leaders or members. If we’re concerned about the direction of worship and if we have ideas on how we can make our services glorify God more, we have a responsibility to share our thoughts with the correct people. So many floundering churches and struggling ministers have been hurt by subversive factions of opposition that only come to light in embarrassing public forums or through the stealth triangulation. Having a caustic attitude about church worship could contaminate the growth of the next generation in your church.
Social media has evolved into another dangerous sidebar. Many Christians in the church use Facebook and Twitter to post lateral critiques about worship. These binary jabs can do tremendous damage to your church. Think about every post and ask these three questions:
- Is it helpful?
- Is it true?
- Is it God-honoring?
A “no” answer on any of these questions delegitimizes your contribution to the conversation.
- Surprise yourself.
If worship changes, and I hope it does (remember Challenge #1), embrace the change even if it is uncomfortable at first. You might surprise yourself and, even more, you might surprise your pastor! Being engaged in Sunday worship from the opening song to the benediction is perhaps the greatest gift you can give God, yourself and your pastor. Even greater, worship may take on a life of its own in your soul.
- Worship elsewhere.
This final two-word challenge may sound surprising to you, but keep reading. I’m not suggesting you join the steeplechase and find another church that caters to your taste and needs. Challenge yourself to worship God outside the worship center. Worship Him every morning. Worship Him in your car on the way to work. Worship Him every time He reveals Himself to you. Worship everywhere and worship elsewhere. See what happens when you do. It turns the Sunday experience into a climatic celebration of what you’ve been doing all week long.