Is Your Worship Music Overrated?
Myth or Truth?
Is the music in our churches overrated? What about the actual worship in our churches? When it comes to style, it seems that some (not all) people are still divided. This may or may not be the case at your church.
You may have heard this before: those who do not prefer contemporary worship, find traditional music to be more worshipful and vice versa. Is this a myth or is it true? It’s different for every church; but in my case, I was about to find out just how different it could be.
Recently, I received a call from a church to invite me to their services. Normally, we provide workshops for worship ministries, but this church wanted an evaluation of their services. They wanted me compare their two gatherings to find out which one had better participation: traditional or contemporary.
Like most of us, this church had its fair share of struggles over music styles. However, the war in this church was so intense that each side from the contemporary and traditional camps would not speak to each other. This indeed was a sad situation. It also made my task interesting and uneasy all at the same time. After weighing the odds, I decided to perform a test; and what I later found was shocking.
Before this weekend, I was told by others that each of the camps prided themselves on their music. My objective was to observe the congregation’s response and see how they were participating and following the leadership. I know this sounds a little edgy or taboo, but I wanted to get a clearer picture of what the people (not the music teams) were actually doing.
As worship leaders, we don’t have much time to look around and determine who is worshiping and who isn’t. Our main job is to be focused on the Lord, while leading people into His presence. In my case, I had the rare opportunity to be a fly on the wall.
The 9.30am traditional worship was the first service. A small orchestra, pipe organ, piano, and a full choir began the music. I stood off-center, about mid-way to the front of the auditorium. We were going into the third song and what I noticed looked familiar, yet amazing.
Less than 40% of the people in the room were singing. Out of the 40%, the participation ranged from loosely engaged to fully engaged. Some were mumbling words, while others were singing loudly. The other 60%? Half were standing up, mouths closed and were looking around at those singing. The other half was seated and staring at the ceiling tiles, bulletins and checking their watches.
What amazed me the most was the music. It was excellently done by the worship leader, musicians and singers. They led tried-and-true standards like “How Great Thou Art,” “It Is Well” and “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” You would think that everyone in the room would be lifting up their voices, rather than lifting up sighs. I was perplexed.
Later, the 11am contemporary service began. They had seven very professional band members, much like the first service. Four vocalists, plus the worship leader were spaced out across the stage. Again, the music was spot on. The people? I was even more in shock. This time, it was nearly the same ratio of those engaged versus those who weren’t.
Taking a Snapshot
If you were to take a photo of each service, you would see the differences in age and apparel, but you would not see any differences in their facial expressions. There was no change of participation, both services were equally stagnant. I had no words.
It became clear to me that the people were right. They prided themselves on their music, but they gave little attention to the worship of God. Most churches would give anything to have outstanding musicians and singers; but would they trade that for underrated worship?
Style versus Substance
This experiment reminded me something: we don’t serve a God of style, but a God of substance. God is no more interested in an electric guitar than He is in a pipe organ. He desires a heart of mercy, rather than a sacrifice of the setlist. If the people are not moved by the Spirit to worship, the problem is not solved by what a piece of music can do. It can only be fixed by what God can do through the heart of a person.
No matter what style your church prefers, or how much people talk-it-up, the true worship of God is incomparable and irreplaceable.
No matter what music styles we use in a service, the challenge to engage people is always present. Traditional music is no more worshipful than contemporary; and contemporary music is no more glorified than traditional.
Worship is not about music, but it is an authentic response to God, according to who He is through Scripture. Worship is neither traditional nor contemporary. When it comes to worship, God only hears one sound: the song of the redeemed. He is not a God of partiality.
These things are spiritually discerned by the heart, in the heart of Christ, in full view of Scripture. May our worship never be based, nor determined, by our music. May our worship and obedience be determined by Christ and by His precepts to bring glory and honor to the Father. Therefore, it is Jesus, not our music, that makes our worship acceptable to God.