Worship Wars Erupt When We Put Style Over Substance

By Guest Writer: Alexandra Armstrong

This article was featured in the Saturday (9/5) edition of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.  The author is a featured writer for the Religion column.  I say, “Kudos Alexandra!”.  She graciously provided permission to post this here.

Have the worship wars come to your church? My husband and I don’t have to go to church to disagree about music — we can argue about it at home.

Gary and I are six years apart in age but a generation apart in our musical tastes. There’s not a Gaither Homecoming CD Gary doesn’t own, a Homecoming friend he doesn’t love or a Gaither song he doesn’t know. Saturday nights are a Gaither-fest at our house since they come on three channels consecutively. When Gary drives us to church, there’s no discussion about what we’ll be listening to in his car. It’s all Gaither, all the time.

I think of Bill Gaither as Christianity’s Lawrence Welk. I like more contemporary Christian music. I listen to Travis Cottrell for taking walks and Mandisa for driving. I can clean my whole house in 30 minutes listening to Toby Mac because his music hits my happy-mood button. Gary says Toby Mac hits his headache button after 30 seconds.

The one thing Gary and I agree on is that neither of us expects our style preferences to play a role in the congregational worship music of our church. We have 167 hours each week to listen to the music we’re partial to. For one hour a week we can manage to forget ourselves. Church worship wars exist when God’s people refuse to do that.

Worship is about focus. Our singular focus as a gathering of God’s people is to magnify him and bless his heart. Period. The moment we institute a policy of catering to the style preferences of a particular generation (whether young or old) or we use worship music to lure potential converts, we’ve put our worship focus on the creature rather than the Creator.

That’s the very definition of idolatry. Good intentions are no defense for idolatry.

I fear the evangelical church has missed the point of worship by focusing on style over substance. One generation builds a doctrine that drums are tossed up to Earth from hell. Another generation deludes itself that God is honored when their elder’s sensitivities are dishonored. Neither generation is tripping over themselves to prefer one another in Christ as Scripture commands.

I used to believe the solution to the generational worship divide was to have a separate service for each style. Now I believe this only reinforces a burger mentality in God’s people — who expect to have worship their way. It might give God the impression we don’t think the unity he thinks so much of is worth our effort.

We need to move the discussion past the style of worship music and on to the substance of it. Has anyone noticed how self-exulting our songs have gotten? We’ve moved from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” to “I Am a Friend of God” and from “I Know Whom I Have Believed” to “I Know Who I Am.” Yikes.

Worship is to be selfless. Ditto for marriage — which is why I’ll be with Gary at the Gaither concert at Five Flags next Saturday.

You can contact Armstrong at armstrong@bridesmaidministries.com .