Thursday, June 16, 2005


Worship in a Variety of Music Styles

Some churches decide what music to use in worship by asking unchurched people what radio stations they listen to, and then copying their music style. Other churches allow the most influential attenders or the largest bloc of attenders to decide. A few might use whatever style the pastor or music director likes best.

These solutions miss the whole point of music in worship. The choice should not be a matter of personal preferences or of whose preferences are more important. The choice should not be an attempt to draw outsiders with their favorite style or to pacify insiders with compromise.

The choice of music style for worship should be, “What kind of music does God want to hear?” After all, worship is for the benefit of God, not people. The Bible doesn’t specifically say what God’s favorite style is, but it gives principles that point to using many styles, instead of one.

Musical style is so much an expression of a specific culture. Nearly everyone responds the same way when hearing the music of another culture: “That is not music.” Each culture’s music expresses its unique worldview and values. People from outside the culture don’t instinctively understand or appreciate the music. But, we can learn it and maybe even come to enjoy it.

God cares about every nationality and culture in the world. No single culture can adequately express what God is worth. Because of sin, every culture has developed elements that are false and wrong. We need to be careful to keep those elements out of our worship. But, every culture also includes elements that reflect the image of God. It would be good for people of every culture to gain those insights, even if they are not obviously lovely to our ears.

God made the church to be a unity of diverse elements. This blend does not occur naturally in the world, only supernaturally. The New Testament talks of the Gospel bringing Jew and Gentile together as equals, breaking down the dividing cultural wall. In today's world, and certainly in America, this mixing of people from many different cultures is possible in many churches. We ought to mix cultural insights and music styles on purpose, to celebrate spiritual unity across cultural lines.

Eternity’s worship will represent every culture and tongue. Scenes from the book of Revelation emphasize the presence of people from every nation and language and tribe and people. They sing praise to the Lamb with one voice. We can practice for heaven’s perfect music in our worship services now, if we are willing to draw from the insights of a variety of cultures, not just the one we grew up with.

The church worship service should provide tools for the congregation to use in responding to God’s revelation of Himself. We are better worshipers when we grow through variety.

The insights of different styles can enrich our focus on God. We can learn from each other’s favorites. Rather than argue over music style, rather than make derrogatory comments about other believers’ favorites, it would be good to discuss the reasons we enjoy certain styles—and listen to the other person’s explanation. It is understandable that each person may continue to “feel worshipful” when hearing or singing the music of their heart-culture. But nothing in Scripture encourages us to continue on a mono-cultural island when it comes to music.

Maturing disciples care about the interests of others. We could be blissfully oblivious to the worship available through new kinds of music. In fact, that is what most of us prefer. But Scripture wants us to look not only on our own interests but also on the interests of others. By forbearance, we take our eyes off ourselves, which is often the first step to growth. Our best worship expresses obedience to Jesus’ new commandment to love one another.

We can grow by stretching our comfort zones. Smooth waters do not make a strong sailor, nor calm winds a strong tree. If we seek above all else to grow into Christlikeness, we should do a little exploring outside of what we already know. Worship through new outlooks can be part of that growth.

Therefore, the best way to choose music for worship is to select good music from a variety of musical styles and cultures. This is the best offering we can make to God and the best strategy for helping each other become like Jesus.

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