I recently came across the comments of an American pastor objecting to new trends in worship music:
“There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it’s too new. Two, it’s often worldly. … The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style. Because there are so many new songs you can’t learn them all. It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it. It’s a money making scheme, and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.”
Perhaps you’ve encountered this kind of comment before? Yet, strikingly, this is not a recent outburst, aimed at the modern worship movement. Not our own one at least. Instead it comes from a pastor in 1723 attacking Isaac Watts, regarded now by many to be the father of North American hymnody.
Open for Critique
History tells us that the area of worship music is no stranger to controversy. On this occasion, the critic was seeking to question both the integrity and the style of the musical worship ushered in by Watts and his contemporaries. Although this was clearly misjudged, and offered in far too acidic a tone, perhaps with a more gentle and humble approach it does us no harm to examine our own expressions of musical worship and ask some probing questions. Do our styles of worship conform to the pattern of Scripture, or do they merely copy the pattern of this world? Are they relevant enough to be in the world without becoming of it? Similarly are the worship leadership models, offered both on a local and wider scale, reflective of the values that should characterize ministry in the kingdom of God? These questions are essential if we’re to be ruthless about shaping our gathered worship expressions in a God honoring way. We put our worship leadership under the microscope not because we have a religious or legalistic desire to be correct. But instead, because we have a burning desire to please the heart of our heavenly Father with our offerings. As Ephesians 5:10 puts it, “…find out what pleases the Lord” (NIV). That, after all, is the heart of worship.
Today’s worship leader faces some big issues. One of the greatest is the call to stay connected to the local church and see that as enough. I meet many worship leaders who are starting to get involved in ministry at their local congregations. And yet some of them have already begun to set their sights on dizzier heights—as if local ministry is merely a stepping stone to a further ambition and wider ministry. That is not to say a local worship leader shouldn’t make a CD or work hard forming and growing a musical team. These can be fantastic pursuits and a wonderful tool in the hands of our God. But as we do so, we must all constantly and ruthlessly check the motives of our hearts.
Worship Leader magazine contains many commercials connecting us with the works of many worship leaders ministering beyond the local church scene—and there is, of course, nothing wrong with that. The danger though would be if we perceived that to be how we truly “make it” in worship leading. When, actually, through the lens of the kingdom of God, to “make it” might simply mean we serve wholeheartedly on the local church worship team for a decade or two. Amidst a celebrity obsessed culture, there is a call to build servanthood and a passion for local church into our worship leading models.
The question we must ask is this: What should worship music ministry and leadership look like in the kingdom of God? That question must always be our foundation. Everything else—styles and sounds, lyrics, cultural relevance, building teams and recording CDs—must be built upon those underlying values. As the late John Wimber commented, “The real test in these days will not be in the writing and producing of new and great worship music. The real rest will be in the godliness and character of those who deliver it.”
By what do you measure your success?
Prayerfully, evaluate your worship ambitions.
Meditate on Ephesians 5:10—“…find out what pleases the Lord”—before writing your next worship song.