For those who know me personally, there is no surprise. I’m a worship leader for my church but also, by vocation, a risk manager. And recently, I’ve been considering how common the subject of “style” in our worship services has become in church conversations. Though the Worship Wars have ended for the most part, each church still wrestles uniquely with how now to worship together as a congregation…regardless of who won the war.
And just like the aftermath of a real war, when peace is achieved it comes with a cost. The victors typically gain the most while paying a bitter price. In the same way, the vanquished often lose a great deal more but agree to peace so as to avoid total devastation. Nonetheless, as a result of peace, both the victors and the vanquished must attempt to live together from that point forward.
Having begun leading worship in early 2000, I was oblivious to much of the “battle” that had occurred within churches regarding worship styles. I remember reading about and learning about the large-scale disagreements over worship, but everywhere I went as a bi-vocational worship leader – I was sought after without argument. For me, this implies that I was brought onboard at a church after the battle was over. Luckily for me...I had somehow avoided the battle-field.
Now, after volunteering and working in churches for the past fifteen years, I’ve experienced enough dissatisfaction from congregants over my style of leading music to know that living under the rule of peace isn’t without struggles. And after some of my recent circumstances and conversations, I wanted to understand why this was (is) so important. Why have we fought over the style of music in church worship services? And so naturally, as a risk manager, I opened a spreadsheet and started thinking about the numbers. There must be a practical explanation for why the style of worship is so important...right? Imagine the next few paragraphs as a conversation between you and me…
For simplicity, let us evaluate worship in its two primary components: content and style. Described in another way, the “what, why, when and who” are the content. And the “how” is the style. Without much trouble, if each of these five descriptors represents a piece of the pie, then the style of our worship only contributes 20% to the total experience of worship. I find that pies make things easier to understand, don’t you?
OK, if we stopped here then it would make sense for at least 20% of our conversations about worship to be centered on the style (the “how”). And though small, 20% does represent a meaningful amount of consideration. But I was still unsettled…
Let’s think about the style of music in worship from the context of our lives. Our congregational “worship services” typically last about an hour. And most churches are only singing or worshipping through music for around thirty minutes. That means we are really only talking about thirty minutes of the week (let’s face it, most people don’t go to morning and evening services). This amount of time in congregational worship represents a minuscule 0.5% of most people’s waking hours for the week. Notice the position of the decimal…this is a really small amount.
Then, if you consider the importance of style in worship being 20%, times the 0.5% of waking hours for most people…the result is less than one tenth of one percent (0.08928571428571430% for anyone whose actually performing the calculations with me).
What does this figure represent? If we were talking dollars and cents, it wouldn’t even constitute a penny. It wouldn’t even represent one-tenth of a penny. That’s pretty small, no? I think I’m satisfied now. When we consider our spiritual act of worship, an extremely minuscule amount should be dedicated to the consideration of style. I, personally, needed this perspective.
As a worship leader, I honestly think that what I’m doing for thirty minutes on Sunday morning is having too much value placed upon it…it is over-valued and overly relied-upon (if not also overly criticized). If each person was living a fully satisfied life of worship, then our satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with the musical style employed on Sunday morning would be a very small component in the overall worship equation.
Please don’t mistake my introspective point as disdain for the role of worship leaders. The point I’m making is that the style of worship is relatively unimportant. The content of worship, on the converse, is vitally important – both toward the effectiveness of the congregational worship service and toward the pursuit of being a worshipper of God in all aspects of life. The value I find in being a worship leader is not that I get to establish the style of music played on Sunday mornings, but that I get to challenge congregants “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1)