My paths once crossed with a guitarist who was music leader for a pastor’s conference I was attending in Tennessee. He discovered that I had once pastored Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, GA. After he asked me about the music ministry there, I explained to him that the organ was still central to the church’s worship but while I was there the church slowly embraced a more blended style of worship, incorporating praise songs, the use of screens, and occasionally making use of strings and percussion instruments. He was shocked. He said, “When I led a revival there 25 years ago, they wouldn’t let me get my guitar out of the case.”
I remember the transitioning moment at Trinity. John Grobe, the church’s minister of music, led the Chancel Choir in presenting “Experiencing God – The Musical.” For the first time the congregation experienced projection video. Words were projected when the congregation was invited to sing and movement was encouraged. We worshiped in a different way. God’s Spirit was felt through different mediums.
Please understand, no one was ready to put our organ up for sale. Ken
Collier, the church’s organist, arranges many of his own offertories! I’ve yet to experience anything that prepares me to preach like listening to Ken play those offertories. Yet we knew after John Grobe and the Chancel Choir presented that musical that we had been introduced to some new ways of experiencing God in our church.
Sadly, some people never understand that there is more than one way to worship God. Instead they are threatened by alternative worship styles and see anyone who experiences God in different ways as a threat to their church.
Understandably, agreement has to be reached about the type of service a church has and a spirit of cooperation must exist. However, a church can still be united under the same mission, strive to reach the same vision, and have the same values, while having multiple services of worship that help everyone experience God in meaningful ways.
Once I was worshipping in a Liberian church and the congregation began by singing from a Baptist hymnal. As we sang I thought, “This is the worst hymn singing I have ever heard.” It was slow. No one sang with emotion or joy. It was not African. After about three hymns, they put away the hymnals and brought out the shakers and the tambourines. Someone went to the keyboard. Someone else went to the drums. The church erupted with movement, clapping, joy, praises, and heartfelt singing. I thought, “Now this is more like it.” It must have been tradition to sing from the hymnal taught by a Baptist missionary, but their joy was in their indigenous music.
For many of our Baptists, joy has always been in the hymns. Hymns speak to a more still part of our Spirit. It’s organ music. It’s head music. It causes us to contemplate our relationship with God. We don’t feel a hymn in our body but we process a hymn in our minds and think about living it out in our lives.
What we call “contemporary” isn’t really contemporary at all. We can trace the beat across the ocean to our African neighbors who show us that another way of worshipping God is done through the movement of the entire body. This is not worship that aims for the head as much as it aims for the heart, the seat of our emotions. Here, the organ does not set the tone, but rather the drums do. The beat of the drums gets the head nodding, as if one is agreeing with what is happening.
The recipient of both kinds of worship is God. God loves it all when either is offered to Him sincerely.
God is far too big for us to believe that He can only be experienced in one way or two or ten. Churches should embrace the fact that we are not all made the same way and that we have different needs when it comes to encountering God in worship. Instead of seeing this as a threat, churches should have more open dialogue as to how the needs of people can be met.
No church can provide an avenue of worship that fits everyone’s need. Some churches can provide more than one style of worship that helps people experience God in meaningful ways. Few churches have the resources or make the effort to do multiple services well. Therefore, some churches have opted to establish a single identity around a specific kind of worship. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s important to acknowledge that you will never reach some people this way, regardless of how friendly you are, how good a staff you have, or what kind of programs you offer. Some people just need to experience God in a different way and that’s okay, because God made us all different.