Chris sent me this question:
My church, since its inception, has had a mostly traditional service. We sing hymns primarily with a spiritual song or two mixed in, and almost exclusively use a piano (we do sometimes have an acoustic guitar or violin play along with it). My pastor would like to integrate a number of instruments, including an electric guitar and percussion as people learn how to play them. But a number of families have strong convictions against anything that resembles rock n roll. I believe these families would leave which, in my mind, is a travesty since it is over instruments and style. Personally, I don’t mind worshiping in a traditional or contemporary setting as long as the lyrics are Biblical and glorify God. I just desire to approach this situation that keeps the gospel the main thing. Any counsel is welcome.
I’ve talked to a number of worship leaders recently about this topic. I’m grateful for Chris’ attitude in the situation. He’s concerned about the folks in the church, wants to keep the Gospel the main thing, and is seeking to serve his pastor. Here are a few thoughts I suggest when someone asks me about making musical changes in their church.
Make sure your leaders are in agreement. If a pastor, worship leader, and other leaders don’t see eye to eye in this area, an unhelpful comparison can take place and the tension will be apparent. Most people will be aware of the disagreements. A worship leader shouldn’t try to “balance out” his pastor nor should a pastor feel like he’s contradicting his worship leader. In Chris’s case, I’d have as many conversations as was necessary to fully understand where my pastor was coming from, express my concerns, and come to an agreement. Leading a church through changes is ultimately the pastor’s responsibility.
Lead theologically. Don’t make changes simply for pragmatic reasons (it will attract more people), out of personal preference, or as an attempt to appease differing factions in the church. Lead from biblical convictions. If you’re introducing a new style of music, use it as an opportunity to teach that God’s glory can’t be expressed in only one music style and that one kind of music is insufficient to communicate the broad range of responses to God. If you want to start repeating parts of songs, let the church know of your desire to be more dependent on the Spirit and responsive to his leadings (for more reasons, see my post on repetition ). Every time we make a change, it’s an opportunity to ground people in biblical principles that will serve them in other contexts as well.
Teach and re-teach the church what biblical worship is. It doesn’t matter how mature a church is, they’ll need to be reminded how to worship biblically. Each week they’re tempted by idols and deceived by indwelling sin. Also, we have guests and new Christians attending who come with various misconceptions about what we’re doing. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we all at times forget what we already know. What was once a faith-filled encounter with the living God becomes a dull, same-as-every-week experience that leaves us cold. We need to be reminded what an life-altering, awe-inspiring event worshiping God together really is.
We can teach the church on worship in different ways. Some churches have done a series on worship, either on a Sunday morning or a weeknight. At least once a year we’ll give a message on worship on a Sunday, to make sure everyone hears it. I’ll regularly share a brief comment while I’m leading on some aspect of how we should understand what we’re doing. I’ll say something like, “One of the reasons we gather is to remember God’s mercy to us in Christ.” or, “We’re using a smaller band this morning to remind ourselves that the real ‘worship team’ is everyone in the congregation.” You can also spell out your philosophy of worship on your website. (Irvine Presbyterian Church has one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen.) In cases like Chris mentions, it would be wise to meet with individuals who have expressed concerns or raised questions.
Lead humbly but confidently. Once you’ve prayed, done your homework, and prepared, don’t second-guess your decision if you receive negative feedback. God frequently sends critics not only to test our hearts, but to tweak what we’re doing. Humble confidence means we’re open to questions but won’t change course just because someone disagrees with us. We’ve had families leave the church because they didn’t agree with our choice of music, but we’ve had many more stay because they have a more biblical understanding of how music works in corporate worship.
The most helpful book I’ve found on the topic of music in worship is Harold Best’s Music Through the Eyes of Faith . It’s a thick read at times, but worth the investment.
I am so glad that I am not the only one going through this. I think that there are a lot of us out here who would like to add percussion or bass players, but because of a few in the church who have strong feelings about not having them in worship, we don’t. I’m not so sure that I would use the word conviction for the way they feel, though. Just this past Easter we entered a new building using drums, bass, guitars, and keyboards – a “band”. We promoted it very carefully, letting everyone know what was coming. Because of the negative comments made to my band members I have lost 2 drummers and a bass player. My guitar player is back to not coming, and I had him coming on a regular basis. If you don’t lose one group, you might just lose the other group. What we all have to remember is that we are in the KINGDOM business and our attitude should be “whatever it takes to lead someone to Jesus”. My pastor and I have talked and this will be our approach (delicately) when we feel that we are ready. We’ll also go to using electric drums to give us more control. We know that eventually God will bring us to the point of using drums and bass again – they added so much to our worship experience.
Ron Allen’s (Dallas) book, “The Wonder of Worship”, focused for pastors and worship leaders, contains a wealth of perspective on a very diverse set of issues, including the challenges in leading a church in transition. Well written, with several chapters contributed by his son Craig (a worship leader himself). Not a light read, but my copy is now thoroughly highlighted and marked up.
Regarding the initial concern point, I always go straight to Psalm 150 (there are others with “introductions” describing “recommended instrumentation” that are also very helplful) to show the need to use every instrument imaginable, played with great enthusiasm and volume, to direct praise to God. I like to pose the question: “Of all the range of musical styles available today, which style does the Psalm 150 description most closely match? Solo keyboard? Keyboard and organ, played ‘contemplatively’? Orchestra? (perhaps — Tchaikovsky, etc.) or … perhaps contemporary rock-style praise & worship music!!??!!”
It’s so important for the leaders to be in unity. There are going to be some people who don’t agree with the other leaders but that’s what submitting to our leaders is all about. They bear the responsibility. If they are not being biblical, then that’s an issue that needs to be brought up.
In our church, we’ve already dealt with the huge issue of traditional versus contemporary in musical worship, but our pastors and elders are in the beginning stages of leading our people to embrace a different paradigm for ministry. Most of our people currently operate in a traditional, institutional paradigm of “successful church is more people in the seats and than we had last month.” However, our leadership is embracing the goal of making better disciples while eliminating busyness in our peoples’ lives.
One primary resource I’m using to teach our people is through our monthly newsletter. Rather than use that space to ‘chat’ about all the happenings in our church, I’m attempting to cast a vision toward a biblical view of church. It is a slow process, but I’m hopeful that God will plant seeds in the hearts of our people that will allow them to think differently about who they are as the Church.
I always think the written word is a good means to communicate and challenge people in their thinking, primarily because the author can fully think through what he desires to communicate, and the reader can read the author’s thoughts over and over until he fully understands what is written. In oral communication, this luxury is not true for the hearer.
When we decided to expand our worship to include a variety of styles within each of our services, we then spent a very long time trying to keep everyone happy. The Holy Spirit revealed to us that we had become enmeshed in idolatry on two fronts: many of our people had made an idol of their musical preferences, and leadership had succumbed to the idol of trying to please the people. It was only as we began to stress what worship was and wasn’t from a Biblical perspective that things began to turn around.
Working through musical changes has been a slow process for our church. The first step was to build a strong relationship and trust with those who really did not want a change. Being upfront about where we want to go and bringing them along as part of the process is sometimes not the easiest path to follow but for our church family, it has allowed a major shift in musical style with losing any families who before had “convictions” about musical styles. Shepherding a church through change takes time, patience, and an incredible amount of love.
Great response to Chris’ question. I especially appreciate your paragraph “Teach and re-teach the church what biblical worship is”. I routinely incorporate the reading of God’s Word and exhorting on biblical worship as part of our corporate worship. I have found on many occasions that the congregation is deeply engaged in worshiping together before a guitar is ever strummed.
We engage in full-blown contemporary worship using electric guitar, electric bass, synth, piano, and drums. We must be careful to remember that we are worshiping, not performing. I would much rather make some musical mistakes while keeping the congregation on track in our expression of biblical worship than to have a mistake-free “set” but lose even part of our sense of where we are with the Lord.
David S. Spaggiari
Thank you for speaking on the topic of worship at RYE and then leading worship at the end. I benefited greatly from your second sermon especially on how our whole life is an act of worship to God. I loved it when you went through the Gospel, tearfully and passionately. It shows your love for and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Again thanks for setting aside the time and effort to help parents and teens of Sovereign Grace Ministries worship God and love His glorious Gospel more.
Grace to you,
Our church has just come through a two-year process of adjusting our musical approach from a traditional style to a contemporary one. It has been difficult, especially with some of our veteran members, to get everyone to see the necessity of this re-adjustment. The only thing that has kept all of this going is the unwavering and constant support for the pastor. About twice a month, the pastor would spend some time on Sunday evenings reminding everyone why this shift was being made.
Now, we are finally starting to see positive results, and it is really exciting! Not everyone is thrilled with this style of music, but they are, by and large, committed to the change, and it is thrilling. For those of you out there who feel that this is a losing battle with your church, know that if God is behind your change in styles, He will provide the congregational maturity necessary to make the shift.
bob… great stuff. thanks for being so thorough and meaty and yet so concise. and thanks for the chordsheet for “God Over All”. we had a great time of worship in song at friday’s caregroup.
It is always refreshing to hear and receive, via the miracle of the world wide web, such wise and cogent counsel regarding authentic worship and an unwavering commitment to scriptural integrity. Your last main point pertaining to leading in confidence and humility particularly struck a chord (no pun intended) with me – – as “lead worshippers” we have a Christ ordained duty and honor to present our bodies as a living sacrifice.
I really enjoyed your thoughts and perspective on this. It is so important that the entire leadership team at the church is in agreement. It does no good for everyone to be working against each other, after all we are all working for the common goal. I also really like how you stated that it is so important that we lead theologically. Our culture often gets so wrapped up in numbers and making things a huge production that we loose purpose and vision. We need to be worshiping God as we are called to. Worship is something that is to encompass our entire lives, and many Christians do not know what that even means. I think it is a great idea to have a lesson on worship. It seems so basic but is something that I have never really seen before.