I recently attended my denomination’s General Assembly (the gathering of pastors and elders from every church in the country) at Hope Church in Memphis, TN. For such a little denomination, we are quite diverse in our worship-expression. Some churches feel like high Anglican services. Others are very much full-blown charismatic. And we have everything in between.
At every General Assembly, the host church has the opportunity to “showcase” their church and ministries, particularly their ministries of worship. I would describe Hope as “multimedia contemporary worship.” They have two “informational” screens (for lyrics, texts, etc.) and three “atmospheric” screens (for textures, colors, or scenes). They’ve got state-of-the-art cameras throughout, projecting what’s happening on stage to make its 5,000-person auditorium more intimate, and their lights and haze really do dramatically affect the mood and atmosphere of the moment.
I don’t have to rehearse the positives and negatives of such an arrangement. There have been many books and posts written to do just that. My own opinion has arrived at a rather “relativistic” resting place (I put the word in quotes, because I don’t believe it’s truly relativistic, just highly nuanced and ultimately governed by love). There are blessings and liabilities with any arrangement. Each style, each expression, has its own hopes and hazards, ideals and idolatries, sacredness and syncretism.
I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that when I’m so wrapped up in critique that I can’t engage in worship the living God with my other brothers and sisters, I’ve missed something…perhaps the most important thing. I’ve missed the rule of love.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
This is quite an astounding admonition for critical folks like myself. Applied to the present discussion, I might paraphrase the verse as: “In moments of critique, err on the side of love rather than judgment.” Here are my hopes (or even resolutions) of how the rule of love applies to me being in worship contexts that I’m prone to critique:
- I will attempt to be abhorred by less things than I think I need to.
- I will, in moments of questioning the motives of people (especially musicians and worship leaders), believe their motives are good until I am proven wrong. (“Love hopes all things.” [1 Cor 13:7])
- I will seek to see the best in elements I might naturally be inclined to critique (e.g. I might say about color splashes on the walls, “They are modern versions of stained-glass, art and color intended to excite my praise of the beauty of God,” rather than, “This is just one big rock show.”)
- I will ask God to turn distractions away from me.
- I will ask God to give me a generous spirit toward my brothers and sisters.
- I will mentally say “no” when my mind begins to be fixated on something that would potentially bother me.
- I will remember that when I gather with the people of God, He has a summons on my life, at that very moment, to worship Him with all that I am.
- I will make the most of superficial lyrics, pondering the deep Scriptural truths or theological implications that could possibly be behind them or have motivated their creation.
- I will let my countenance, at times, lead my heart: I WILL NOT furrow my brow, cross my arms, frown, glare; I WILL lift my eyes, raise my voice, lift my hands, clap, and smile.
- I will allow myself to defy my own sense of “cheesiness.”
- I will remind myself that Christ is my one true Worship Leader—not any band, person, or pastor.
- I will remember the times I had wished others had been more generous with me, or thought more highly of my motives and intent.
- I will worship in the moment (I will set my affections upon Christ), and if I must critique, I will table it until after the service.
Notice that last one. Critique is not bad. In fact, it is necessary for growth. It is a part of honoring God and growing in wisdom. The Bereans were praised for a healthy critique of teaching, evaluating what was taught through the grid of Scripture (Acts 17).
However, it is a very dangerous thing to let one’s critique spoil God’s call. If God says, “Hey, come here,” and, because you see rocks, thorny overgrowth, and potholes along the path from “here” to “there,” you fold your arms and furrow your brow…well, you see what you have chosen.
Whenever the people of God—that broken and tainted Bride that they are—gather for worship, God says, “Come, worship me.”
“No, thank you, God. I hate haze and lights” (pothole).
“No, thank you, God. I hate singing seven words eleven times” (jagged rocks).
“No, thank you, God. That leader looks like she’s so into herself and not focused on You” (thorny bush).
Scripture indicates that one of the enemy’s chief desires is to rob God of the worship He is due (Matthew 4:8-9). Do you see what’s going on?
The flip side of all this is that if people know your heart…if people know your convictions and high standards for worship, and THEN, in a less than ideal context, they STILL see you engaging, they have seen a tangible model of what it means, in one small way, to die to self, to live out sacrifice, and to let Love govern. And then, after that, you can say, “Oh, and don’t forget to check my blog in a couple of days. I’ll have a post reflecting on all this.”
O God of love and grace, make these two attributes of Yours more true of me. Amen.
Hey, Zac. I appreciate your honesty. It is difficult to stay away from engaging in a "this is how I would do it" or "that was definitely NOT how I would have done it" critique. I would say that in some of your "I Wills" the critique still comes through. Giving a critique and not elevating "how I think it should have been done" is really difficult. The difficulty is making sure that in critiquing we are moving toward the glory of God and as far away as possible from man…especially my own deceitful heart. I love reading your blog and think you do a great job of this. I just found it interesting that in trying to join in to worship with a different leader in a different space, it takes letting go of what we think is better. In letting it go, we can still be critiquing by saying "oh well – I guess I can't have the best. I'll just have to take this." rather than fully embracing God in the moment.
Well put, Thomas. That's a good challenge. I still have MUCH room to grow. Thank you.
Thanks so much for your thoughts Zac. They are really helpful. It's one thing for me as a leader involved in putting together the worship services at our church to say, "This is how I think worship is best done to the glory of God at our church." It is yet another thing to focus on critiquing the worship style of some other church that I happen to be visiting when God has not called me their to be a critic, but a worshiper.
I especially appreciate the primacy you give to the rule of love. Did you see Kevin DeYoung's posts this week on music in worship? I referenced them at my blog today. He, like you, starts with the fact that "Love is indispensable to church singing that pleases God."
Keep up the good work. Wish I could have been at GA to see you.
I can definitely relate. At times I am too into the music and not Christ. I think, what can I take away from this musician's playing ability that I can apply to my playing? Or I may focus on how I could play something more fitting for the music and not as distracting rather than actually worshipping. Thanks for the reminder that we must ignore these distractions the devil puts in our heads.