This weekend my wife Terese and I got to spend time with Dan and Tami, two new friends from our church. As we rode together in the car, Dan told me about a church they sometimes attended in their ‘other’ home state when they’re not in Florida. He said that tensions were so high within that church over divergent tastes in music that the church created two separate services to satisfy both groups. Sounds like a good solution, right?  While this has somewhat worked on a surface level, Dan told me that a great divide remains within the church, and there is little or no interaction or communication between the two sides.  I have seen or heard of many similar cases of deep divisions in the church over the issue of music in worship. These deeply sadden me, and more importantly, I believe The Holy Spirit is grieved over this.  Church standoffs like this point to significant spiritual issues that we need to address within our own hearts as well as in the church.  Here are a few points to ponder:

1. The insistence on any music style as a precondition to worshipping God can be symptomatic of a dangerous spiritual heart disease.   It’s time for a heart check when any of us care more about what I get out of worship more than sacrificially encountering God and surrendering everything, including personal preferences, to Him.  In my book, The Isaiah Encounter, I wrote about this:

“Worship among believers requires a measure of sacrifice, especially among the more mature in their faith, so that God is supremely honored above our desires and expectations. This requires mature faith in God and a steadfast focus on His kingdom plans… The dictionary defines sacrifice as “the surrender or destruction of something prized for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” Baseball players know about sacrifice. They are often asked to give up a chance to get on base so that another runner can advance or score. They do this because the greater reward―winning the game―is more important than their personal achievement. Imagine how powerful the church would be if more Christians were willing to sacrifice personal preferences in the context of worship for the greater good of God’s kingdom. I am convinced worship would even more greatly filled with His presence.
“We bring the sacrifice of praise unto the house of the Lord” is an old song that has been a standard in many churches. I remember hearing and singing this song when I was young. One day, as I sang it, this thought occurred to me: “Do we really understand what we are singing?” Are we prepared to put to death our preferences and expectations for sacrificial worship that puts God first? Are we ready to give God sacrificial worship that demands a personal cost from us?

The primary question as we enter worship is this: “Who are we really here to please when we come to worship?” If the answer to this question is me, then any sacrifice is too much. If the answer to this question is God, then personal sacrifice in worship becomes our joyful gift to Him.”

(From “The Isaiah Encounter: Living An Everyday Life of Worship. Morgan James Publishing)

2. The church would also do well to keep in mind there is a constant temptation that people will worship the worship experience above actually worshiping God.  This happened in the Old Testament and still happens today.  Worship is an encounter with the living God, not a drug.  The need to always feel good after worship neglects the facet of worship that brings promptings to confess sin, make peace with others, change the course of our life, and more. Don’t get me wrong, we all long for God’s presence to rule in our worship and fill our hearts with joy and peace. However, worship often leads us to brokenness and repentance and the need to follow Christ where He leads—even when it’s hard. Jesus Christ instructed many people to do difficult things after encountering Him. Here are a few examples:

  • Sell all you have and give to the poor (Mark 10:21)
  • Go now and leave your life of sin (John 8:11)
  • Go out to the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19)
  • Forgive [your brother or sister] seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22)
  • Make peace with your brother or sister before offering your gift at the altar (Matthew 5:24)

    Worship requires hard decisions and actions as much or more than the words we say and sing. The good feelings of obedient worship will follow, but not always immediately.

    3. Finally, unity is a hallmark and end result of authentic worship. I’m not referring to “cake frosting “ unity that glosses over segments and divisions underneath, but a deep, abiding oneness that requires believers to defer to one another in love.

It begins with leaders who love, listen to, and pastorally care for the people they serve. It branches out to church members who love, listen to, and pastorally care for each other and the leaders God has placed in their midst.  Winning the battle of any music style deadlock at the expense of the unity of the church is no victory. The only solution I know that works is prayer—for and with each other— followed by unselfish surrendering of entrenched positions and the unconditional submission to the Lord’s plans for the individual church. When this happens, worship will be sweet and powerful, regardless of the style of music used!  Unity is the fruit of authentic worship and the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for the church (see John 17). Unity also brings the oil or unction of God’s presence (see Psalm 133).  Disunity sours the church and is distasteful to people who are searching for God. Deep, real unity draws people who don’t know about Jesus Christ to stop and consider Him for who He really is: The Messiah.

Jesus put it this way:

“My prayer is not for [the church] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” John 17:20-21

Whether or not your church has one, two, or more different music styles and worship services is not nearly as important as being a church that is united, of one heart and mind, in Christ Jesus. Deep, unselfish, and abiding unity in Christ will bridge and overcome any potential divide in human understanding or preference.

God bless you!

Chris Atkins