I thought the “worship wars” were over. Modern styles of worship had won, traditional music had been relegated to staunchly denominational churches.
I recently joined a Facebook group for worship leaders and quickly learned that I was very wrong. I watched with keen interest as two sides quickly formed in the comments when a recently hired worship pastor relayed this story: He was told to suspend the “modernization plan” that he was hired to implement when the complaints were given teeth with a dramatic drop in giving.
While most of my experience has been in churches that sway modern, I’ve also been a part of a church were “modern” = “1960/70s Jesus Movement/Maranatha Music”. Introducing anything newer than that was met with criticism. Even though it wasn’t hymns with an organ, it was the same battle.
Most of the arguments I hear are in favor of letting the past go, but here’s things to consider when changing worship styles.
It’s Hard to Feel Obsolete…
Now that I’m in my mid 30’s, Animojis remind me that I’m not Apple’s target demographic anymore. Age comes at the cost of relevance. Deep down everyone wants to feel like they’ve not been overlooked or forgotten, and that someone cares about who they are and what’s important to them.
The reactions to change from people that feel left behind are mixed; usually acceptance, indifference, or dissention. Most people focus on the dissenters because they make the most noise. Honestly, they may be too locked into their viewpoint to ever consider another and if they choose to move on, that’s their prerogative.
The middle reaction is the one to pay attention to. Keep your eye on the people that, when faced with a differing worship style, try to fade into the background. Make an effort to reach out to these people and keep them engaged. Make sure they know they are loved and valued.
Have a Defensible Reason for Your Choices
The choices you make in your song selection and style is on you and/or your leadership. Defining this reasoning is your responsibility. I’m not going to do your work for you, but please don’t just settle for the non-reason that current music or traditional music should be chosen “because that’s what we do”.
Think about it; work through it. Know why you do what you do.
Working this reasoning out will deeply reveal your heart towards those you’re called to serve.
Meet in the Middle
There’s rich theology in hymns; current songs are engaging and memorable. There’s merit to both. A set can, in fact, include both. I love the modern arrangement of hymns, and typically try to include one in each set I lead.
One of the older saints in our congregation made a point to stop me after every set to let me know how much she appreciated the hymn and liked the new arrangements of them that I was introducing. While she had a preference toward older styles of worship, she and I met in the middle, found common ground, and appreciate each other for it. If you have people in your fellowship that appreciate older styles of worship, there are ways to acknowledge that they still have worth without coddling.
Spend some time talking to your critics; learn about their perspective. It’s a lot harder to blow someone off when you’ve put in the work to get to know them. Also, when you’ve put the work into reaching out to them, you are in a much better place to explain your position.
When when you can’t agree, keep this in mind: Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father… 1 Tim 5:1
You’re not going to Please Everyone
You’re really not.
After every set he lead on electric guitar, a buddy of mine received a complaint that his amp was too loud. As an experiment, one Sunday he didn’t even turn his amp on. You guessed it; it wasn’t in the mix at all, but it was still “too loud”.
No matter what you do there’s a good chance someone’s going to have a problem with it. Have thick skin. Appreciate the people that engage; love the people that don’t.
Ultimately, what matters more than the styles of the songs that we play is how we loved each other while we did it. Keep that in the forefront of your mind through these transitions.