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Leading Beyond the Style Wars (Part One)
By Elia King

My family and I worship with a beautifully diverse group of people. Our church has two main services, each with their own flavor: one is more traditional and the other more contemporary. In both services, we use social media to communicate about what we’re doing throughout the week and during our weekend services.

We recently posted a photo of the worship band with a caption based on the lyrics of the song we were singing: “Worthy is your name.”

We got a response that surprised me a bit. Although the comment has since been removed, it was something along the lines of:
“Worthy of more honor than rock music can provide.”

I’ll admit that I struggled not to take that comment personally. It felt not only like an attack on the validity of my personal style preference, but also on the sincerity of my worship.

But the more I thought about that statement, the more I agreed with my critic. Sort of.

I started to ask myself, what style of music can fully encapsulate the glory of God and the fullness of worship? Rock? Gospel? Folk? R&B? Jazz? Classical? Polka? The conclusion that I came to was that my critic was correct, because in fact no singular style of music can fully achieve the complexity that is necessary for really genuine worship.

If that were possible, then we could apply the same logic to other areas of life as well. We might suggest (however unreasonable or unhealthy) that macaroni and cheese is the most fulfilling of foods and therefore all others substitutes are invalid. But for some reason, we think it’s ok to apply such exclusive logic to our worship, something arguably of much more consequence than what’s for dinner.

One of the realities that we face as worship leaders and crafters of worship services is that the tools we employ (including musical style, key, tempo, lighting, order of service, etc.) are, in many cases, giving our congregations the vocabulary to express the innermost feelings of their hearts to God. With that in mind, it shouldn’t catch us by surprise that people feel so passionately about these things. In theory, they’re just elements of a service. But in practice, when they have such strong connections to the heart, they take on much more significance — sometimes beyond rational explanation.

Without proper perspective, our discussions about the details can take precedence over the purpose of our worship, and we can find ourselves entrenched in debates over how we worship rather than why, or more important, whom we worship. History has shown that we can become so focused on the “how” that the practice of our worship itself becomes idolatry (see Amos 5:21).

In part two of this series, we’ll explore a few practical suggestions for leading your congregation beyond the worship style wars. Stay tuned…