Hymn-Lovers and Hand-Lifters: How to Heal Worship Wars
A well-dressed, blue-haired lady sauntered over to the church tech booth to give the pimply-faced “sound man” a piece of her mind.
“Turn that sound down, young man!!!! Don’t you know we can’t worship God with this type of music?”
She spoke with such passion and vehemence that the veins in her neck popped out and she turned an apoplectic shade of purple. The poor adolescent was bowled over by his critic and fled the booth for the safety of the parking lot.
Pastor Wilmer noticed the debacle and quickly made his way to Mrs. Mooney, his angry parishioner. Like many of his colleagues, past and present, Wilmer was waging a worship war. The graying of America’s population is a well-known fact. Moneyed long-time senior members threaten to withdraw their financial support and young families slink out the back door in search of a church that speaks their language.
Multi-site, multi-service venues have achieved moderate success in mending fences. However, change is painful and church leaders seldom see the root problem. The key to healing worship wars does not lie in notes, instrumentation, or even sound decibel levels.
King David provides us with the clearest, simplest insight into the conflict. Psalm says “Bless the Lord, O my Soul, and all THAT IS WITHIN ME, bless His Holy Name.” Psalm 103:1 KJV
People come to church with full emotional cups. If your “cup” is filled with bitterness, anger, grief or frustration, “blessing the Lord” is impossible.
THE KEY TO POWERFUL WORSHIP BEGINS WITH EMPTYING ONE’S EMOTIONAL CUP.
Mrs. Mooney was mourning a number of profound losses in her life. She came to church filled with grief and pain. What were some of those issues?
- As we age, we lose the upper partials of our hearing. When she listened to the worship band, Mooney couldn’t hear the voices or distinguish the words, she only heard the pounding bass and drums. She also can’t see the screens displaying the lyrics. They are too far away. She could always adjust a hymnal to her tri-focals.
- Older adults struggle with “interference learning.” They are disoriented, confused by multiple stimuli coming at them from every direction. Lights, sounds, video, dance-any concurrent events can be distracting and disturbing for them.
- Sociologists tell us that the music we cherish is often the music we heard when we first became a believer or first fell in love. Such “heart-songs” are unique to every generation.
- The greatest pain for an older adult is the loss of a support system. Mrs. Mooney used to be surrounded by her Sunday School buddies and her choir singers. Now all of her friends are either dead or are living in nursing homes. One of those people was probably her spouse. She feels those losses keenly every time she walks through the church door.
- Finally, she mourns the loss of leadership and control. She was on the music committee who selected the music for the service, and now no one is listening to her. She used a chunk of her retirement money to donate the beautiful church pulpit in honor of her husband. Now the pastor preaches from a music stand.
Mrs. Mooney is hurt and angry, so she fights back the only way she can. She takes away her financial support and criticizes the leadership at the top of her lungs. Or she leaves in a huff, losing the church family she loves.
If Pastor Wilmer is wise, he will recognize that Alice needs comfort for all the losses she has experienced. She needs to feel affirmed, appreciated and respected. She needs someone to come alongside of her and to help her feel less alone. Pastor Wilmer needs to navigate the waters of change carefully, and to include her in a role of reaching the next generation for Christ. Eventually, with the grace of God and a lot of prayer, Alice will become a supporter and not just a consumer.
CONVERSELY, THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE SITTING IN THE PEW.
Sixteen-year-old Caleb slinks into a back seat to attend a traditional church with his Granny. The piano and organ drone on, lulling him into a stupor. The only time Caleb has heard an organ was at Grandad’s funeral or a ball game. He flips the dusty hymnal pages and reads words like Ebeneezer, propitiation, sanctification, salvation and a bunch of other “ation” words. He might as well be reading jibberish.
Caleb, a latch-key kid, grew up in a single-parent home. Dad had ditched them when he was seven, and he came home to an empty house every school day. The pain of aloneness and rejection filled his heart with hurt. So Caleb cranked up his favorite tunes on his iPod and played them as loud as he could to drown out the emptiness of his life. The quiet, anemic songs in the church service didn’t make a dent in his lonely life.
But Caleb won’t go talk to the sound man. He just won’t come back.
AND THEY ARE NOT COMING BACK BY THE MILLIONS.
I don’t care how your church worships. You may attend a head-banging, hard-rocking Biker church. ( I know of one.) You may sit ins reflective solitude in a darkened room filled with candles and acoustic guitars. You may spend your Sunday morning attending a “high-tech” mega-church filled with video, concert lighting and professional musicians.
ENDING WORSHIP WARS BEGINS WITH EMPTYING THE “EMOTIONAL CUPS” OF YOUR WORSHIPPERS.
Start by identifying and healing hurts. Help your members feel less alone when they leave than when they came. Teach worship faithfully from the Word of God. After all, biblical worship took many forms. The key was whether or not the Holy Spirit had free reign to do God’s work and to pour balm on their wounded souls. “Love on” your hurting people, no matter who they are.