America. Land of fads. We are a country that, potentially more than any other, is obsessed with trends. We are the trend-makers of the world in many ways (apart from maybe fashion centers like Paris, France). Just go anywhere else in the world and you’ll find people of other cultures imitating the current crazes of America.
But how do those who call themselves the church, being people who love, honor and obey Jesus Christ, respond to this strange, ever-changing reality?
One response would be to reject it altogether and label it as “worldly”. I’ve seen churches that become this way. Their battle-cry becomes “uphold the traditions of our elders!” Church becomes a rote-religion filled with old hymns, fire and brimstone preaching, only one kind of scripture translation, etc.
But these churches fail in that they don’t care for those who don’t yet know Jesus. Any significant movement of God has happened where the church engages culture on it’s territory, and translates the gospel into that culture. Anyone who is part of a movement like this will be criticized by the “religionists” that we mentioned above. They will condemn it like the Pharisees condemned Jesus, who although never sinned, was called a ‘glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Matt. 11:19)
Yet then there is the other reaction to America’s faddish tendencies. This reaction is to become obsessed with keeping up with the latest. Music trends come and go. Worship trends come and go. Styles of clothes come and go. Visual arts come and go. One generation will desire to have a smoke machine and colored lighting, making worship like a rock concert. The next generation will reject this consumerism for a return to simplicity and anti-materialism. It’s impossible to keep up with the Joneses, but many churches, particularly mega ones, can fall into the trap of being “faddish”.
So what is a solution to all of this? How can we drop the truth of the gospel like a fragrant explosion of conviction and joy in a package that is understandable to the culture we’re trying to reach, and yet still be willing to offend with the truth?
The solution I believe is simple. We need to see to it that no one takes us captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Col. 2:8)
Now I’m taking this verse out of context, because the apostle Paul was originally writing it to the Colossians about their involvement in a syncretism of pagan and Jewish mystic beliefs. But it applies to the silly, vain pursuit of worship fads that we find ourselves in today.
The real solution to creating truly mature, spiritual worshippers is to force them out of being taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy. Let’s think of this in the context of worship. The philosophy of our age screams at us to “market to the up and coming generation!” But the up and coming generation is saturated with marketing. If they would set foot in a church they are looking for something that transcends this shallow overkill, with which they are bombarded by daily.
Who makes up the people of your church? Do you have Baby Boomers who enjoyed synthesizers and 80’s music? Then get someone to play synthesizer who plays in the style of the 80’s. Do you have older people in their 70’s and 80’s that enjoy hymns? Then have someone who plays a traditional style of hymn play in your worship band once and a while. Do you have Gen-Xers and ex-grunge rockers who like rock and metal? Get a guitarist in their 30’s that plays killer guitar riffs. Do you have young punk rocker kids? Then invite a high schooler to come and play bass with a flat pick. Are there black people in the congregation? Then please, throw some funk and gospel in there! Are there people from India? From the Middle East? From Eastern Europe? From China? From Japan? You get what I mean! Throw it all together!
And here’s the part you won’t want to swallow- have them all play in the same band… at the same time…
I’m not fooling here. This sounds like a foolish marketing trick, right? You’re thinking, “This will never work!”
But the reality is, all of these people I’ve mentioned above represent the few of many different styles of worship which have existed within our very own nation. If we were to combine the styles and languages of worship music that exist in the world, THAT would be impossible. But we live in America, we all speak English, we can get along.
I’m proposing a new blended worship. One that reflects the text of Revelation 15:4, which states “Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
This kind of blended worship in America will bring unity to everyone. Music style means nothing. 14 year old punk rocker kids should be worshipping hand in hand with 72 year old women, and both should enjoy an old hymn followed by a morose rock worship tune by “the Wrecking”. The same goes for black and white people, Asian and European, Caribbean and Siberian. But here’s the real catch- when we have people from all different backgrounds, preferences and ages clumped together in a worship band, they will all be forced to learn from each other. All the people in the group will have to learn from the other people’s styles and find a middle ground that will unify their sound. It will be messy at first, though after time it will be beautiful. It will be something that people in our culture don’t see- seemingly different people who may never get along outside of Christ learning to love and honor each other because of Christ.
And many of you will say- “sure Ben, but it will never work in MY congregation!” My only question is, have you ever tried it? It’s prideful for Christians to think that their preference in music is better than others, and this type of thinking will only be stamped out, and younger will be mentored by older and older will be fired up by the younger, if we annihilate cultural niches altogether.
However, as an aside, I have to honestly admit that this bizarre set of ideals won’t necessarily work in congregations that are large, and can have specialized subgroups and subcultures under the umbrella of the overarching church. In the case of those types of churches, I would encourage specialized styles and worship cultures, but also creating avenues for people of different generations and backgrounds to get together. What I’ve often seen in churches like this is young, Christ-following people in their twenties hanging out together, smoking, drinking and swearing, while criticizing how “uncool” most Christians are. Then, you have the group of senior citizens who have been members at the church for decades getting together in fundamentalist niches, calling the younger people heathens. Amongst the spiritually mature this ought not to be.
So with congregations where it is possible, unity between opposing forces ought to be sought out with constant, strategic intentionality. It should NEVER be something that is ignored, or the church of God could potentially drown in a sea of legalism, or burn up in a fire of hedonism.
- The Fight for Joy (Not Criticism) in Worship (veritasmizzou.wordpress.com)
- What is Corporate Worship For? (liveeternally.wordpress.com)