When the Style Rubs You the Wrong Way

February 23, 2012 — 1 Comment

[This post is part of the Revamping Christian Worship series]

In continuing the discussion that started with How to Worship When You Think the Songs Suck, we’ve now come to another issue. Last week, we looked at the difference between objective quality and subjective appeal. I though we were ready to distinguish between the quality of a song’s composition and the quality of a song’s performance, but I think there’s another clarification in order.

This is building on the distinction made last week between subjective preference and objective quality. In some cases, you may not personally like the way the worship band plays a certain song, even though its a fine song, and they play it reasonably well.

Consider this cover of a hymn you should recognize:

I’m going to assume the majority (though not all) of you reading this are not fans of death metal and so won’t particularly like this version of the song. Vocals notwithstanding, the musicianship of this performance of How Great Thou Art is exemplary. But, that doesn’t mean it should become the new standard way of playing this song. I like it, but I’m not advocating for our church to incorporate it into a worship set anytime soon (keyword: soon).

I say that last part tongue in cheek, but in reality, I would prefer it if the standard worship band setup was two electric guitars, bass, drums, and keyboard and the amps were turned to 11. Ok, maybe not 11, but the heavier the music the better. I think progressive jazz metal is especially worshipful, but that’s my preference, and most people don’t share it. If I made it a criteria for which church I attended, I would probably still be looking.

When talking about the typical worship wars, many times it is a matter of subjective preference when it comes to the music’s style. Though I realize some of the arguments are related to how to employ the regulative principle (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is), for the most part, worship wars are style wars. One group wants the songs to be in a certain style (say, traditional) and another group wants the songs to be in a different style (say, modern).

So, to make the post title a question, what do you do when the style of worship at your church rubs you the wrong way?

As I see it, you’ve really got two options:

  • Deal with it
  • Leave

I suppose a third option could be (3) stay and complain, but a bit of consideration should lead you to see that is not exactly the best approach to take. A little more consideration should push you to reconsider leaving as a viable option. Though it is often elevated to a height it doesn’t deserve, the musical style of a church’s worship band really has little to do with the overall value of attending said church.

The deeper issue might be having a consumer mentality toward attending church rather than a missional mentality. This was part of the discussion in the membership class at our church last Sunday and I think fits into this discussion as well. When it comes to worship style, are you coming to church to consume the music? If that’s the case, you’ll be particularly bothered when the music set out for your “consumption” isn’t to your taste.

However, if you’re coming to church looking for an opportunity to worship that is focused on who you’re worshiping, it might not bother you quite as much if the music isn’t to your liking. Another way of looking at this is that the melody and lyrics to a given song do not particularly fluctuate style to style. I realize the above video is an exception to this since the melody has been converted to rhythmic shouting (a nice way of saying “screaming”) but a traditional version of Amazing Grace sung with a choir and organ has the same lyrical content as a contemporary version sung with a praise band featuring drums and electric guitars. In both cases, the worship itself is identical, but the mode of expression is different.

So this brings us full circle to the other option: deal with it.

I realize that this particular advice is not particularly helpful. I can sketch out a “how-to” but I think that it will vary from situation to situation. In all situations though, it is an opportunity to examine the heart you are bringing to the worship. Focusing too much on the stylistic issue can be a kind of red herring that shifts the discussion away from our own selfish tendencies and onto the problems that other people have. We probably should ask whether we’re guilty of pointing out the speck of dust in the musical style on stage and ignoring the log impaled in our heart.

I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but part of “dealing with it” may come down to dealing with where you may be approaching worship selfishly or expecting the church to serve you in the choice of song instead of the choice of song being a way for you to serve and worship God. In some ways, wanting the songs to “be about us” could be our way or dodging the fact that the songs will never really “be about us.” When the lyrical content is clearly not about us, the only thing we can make center around ourselves is the choice of musical style.

In the end, I would venture to say that if you can’t enter into genuine worship at church when the songs are well written and God glorifying, that’s a problem. If the reason you can’t enter into worship is because you don’t like the musical style, that’s a sign of a deeper problem, and something that is worth exploring in your own life. This doesn’t mean anything goes in musical style (since I can’t certainly understand you not worship to the above video), but it does mean that the issues over musical style can often be a way of avoiding a heart that secretly wants worship to be about us.

And if that’s the case, it is certainly something that needs to be dealt with.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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  1. Theological Interpretation, Justification, Lent, and Death Metal | Marturo - March 4, 2012

    […] When the Style Rubs You the Wrong Way The deeper issue might be having a consumer mentality toward attending church rather than a missional mentality. This was part of the discussion in the membership class at our church last Sunday and I think fits into this discussion as well. When it comes to worship style, are you coming to church to consume the music? If that’s the case, you’ll be particularly bothered when the music set out for your “consumption” isn’t to your taste. […]

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