From the earliest days of the organized church we have had controversies about worship styles, especially when it comes to the music. Music has a unique capacity to touch the soul. It can move us as mere words cannot. It is no wonder that we feel strongly about such a personal part of the worship experience.
Music styles tend to change with each new generation of worshipers. That is especially true today.
Many of our churches, struggling with aging, shrinking congregations, are choosing to update their worship styles to attract today’s seekers and younger worshipers.
While an admirable goal, it is one with an inherent danger that we need to guard against.
Let me illustrate with a little story.
There was once an ancient city. All the most important people in the city were carried about on palanquins by their many supporters. These supporters were happy to carry their VIP about the city because with so many, it wasn’t difficult and they were well cared for. They were proud to carry such an important person in such a beautiful litter. The children of the palanquin bearers were eager to join their parents in the work when they became old enough and to be known as belonging to their particular VIP. The VIP’s, or dominators, became known eventually as “dominations”.
Newcomers to the city were happy to join one group of supporters or another as a way of being accepted as part of the community.
One day a new generation of dominations moved into the city. They were born about the streets, not in old-fashioned palanquins, but in chariots pulled by teams of strong horses.
Many of the young people began to follow behind the chariots. Gradually those left to carry the palanquins grew older and the burden became heavier as they no longer had the younger ones to help. The domination began to complain of their slowness and the bumpy ride.
He decided that the answer was to make his palanquin into a chariot.
Wheels and horses were expensive, though, so it was necessary to raise money. Lots of money.
A fund was set up and the bearers were asked to put a share of their wages into the fund. They were happy to give because this would be good for the domination they loved. However, they no longer had the money they needed for maintenance and repair of the palanquin.
The domination stopped buying food for his bearers and, instead, bought oats and hay for the horses he hoped to have one day. His unhappy bearers, no longer being nourished and cared for, drifted away. Soon the faithful few who remained could no longer move the palanquin forward. Since he was no longer lifted up, the domination stepped away and became a follower of one of the chariots. The palanquin was abandoned to dust and decay.
The moral of this story is that we must not stop caring for the ones who are supporting us before we have our wheels and horses, or we will never keep up with the chariots.
At a recent conference our sessions began with music from a variety of worship teams. Our gathering was multi-cultural, with people from all walks of life, the majority middle-aged and above. The worship teams were beautiful young people on the cutting edge of the modern worship music movement.
It was lovely to see them so willing to give up their time on a weekend to participate in the conference. As entertainment, they were delightful. As aids to my worship…not so much.
I looked around to see whether I was the only one struggling to “get with it” and I saw a room full of people who had only kind thoughts for these young Christian singers, and who were bravely trying to sing along, but most of whom were failing, just like me, to connect to the style of music in a meaningful way.
It was ironic that one of the themes of our gathering was respect for and sensitivity to all people’s unique communication styles. The context was evangelism and outreach, but the concept applies equally to congregational worship.
Let’s be sensitive to the people in our congregations who have been carrying the load all these years and not only supply spiritual nourishment for the newcomers we are seeking to attract.
Introduce the new worship styles and music, yes, but also allow us our hymns that lift us up and the praise choruses that touch our hearts.