Worship Wars

Recently I was asked to lead worship for a large church in the Dallas metroplex. Four other Christian musicians generously agreed to join me despite the fact that we weren’t getting paid. I know these guys well, however, and they just want to help the Kingdom of God in any way that they can.
Three weeks before we played I chose an appropriate song list (consisting of a couple of hymns and a couple of contemporary worship songs) and emailed it to the other guys, along with MP3s of the songs. The Friday before we were to lead I spent all day (over eight hours) setting up a sound system, preparing PowerPoint slides for the service, organizing our gear, etc. The night before we were to lead out, the five of us met at the church and practiced for almost five hours, trying very hard to get the music right. It’s important to us for the sound to be of high quality for two reasons:

1. Everything we do for the Lord, we want to be of the highest quality.

2. We don’t want musical mistakes such as wrong notes or flat harmonies to distract someone during worship. Between Friday and Sunday I easily spent 35 hours working hard on the music service for worship because I take it very seriously.

Sunday morning came and the band arrived at church an hour before Sunday School in order to do some last minute polish and then get the sound volume set for worship. We prayed together and began practicing again, excited at the opportunity to lead worship for God’s people and excited to do it in an excellent manner.

Thirty minutes through practice an older gentleman, who also happened to be the head usher, stormed down the center aisle, walked onto the stage, and cut us off in the middle of a song. He looked at me angrily and said, “We are TRYING to have Sunday School here (Sunday school didn’t start for another thirty minutes). You need to turn it down about…about…fo…four notches!”

This man’s anger and venomous approach to dealing with the situation threw us off big time. We were all for turning the volume down, we just hadn’t adjusted the volume for worship yet. When our practice was over I went to the staff Audio/Visual Technician and was told that the drum shield we were going to use that day to bring the volume down had been lent out for the weekend. That was a big blow to us because we wouldn’t be able to control the drum level now and the vocals in the house volume would have to be loud enough to override the drums or it would just be one loud clanging mess.

We turned our monitor mix almost completely off so that our stage volume was virtually non-existent. This made it difficult on me and the other vocalist because we couldn’t hear the mix onstage very well to sing, but we were desperately trying to get the house volume as low as possible and still hear it over the drums.

After adjusting the volume for almost an hour we had it as low as we could get it and still be heard over the drums. Was it louder than normal? Absolutely. Was it ear-splittingly loud? Certainly not. Was it too loud for this particular church? Sure, but there wasn’t much we could do about it that we hadn’t already tried, save for cutting the drums and electric player, and those guys had already put in hours of work, paid for hotel rooms with their own money, and were really looking forward to leading worship.

Sunday morning the overall response seemed to be pretty good. A lot of people sang with us, and several came up to me afterwards and thanked us for playing that day. They told us they enjoyed it and they thought God was really using us. However, those words of encouragement were quickly overshadowed by others who chose not to be so kind.

A few people walked out during the worship service. Even more complained about us behind our backs, rather it be over volume, song selection, or even the instruments we chose to use. Some came up to me and said rude things to my face. And here’s my question: after hours upon hours of work and a true effort to do the best we could for this church and for God, why is this the treatment we get from our fellow Christians?

That night was even worse. My brother and I have led worship for several hundred churches in our lives, and this was easily the worst crowd we’ve ever led for; less than 15% of the crowd even participated. While we played and sang on stage, the same head usher from the morning incident stood in the foyer at the back of the sanctuary with several of his friends cutting up, laughing, and talking through the entire worship set. When the set was finished, those same men came forward to take the offering as if they were reverent men of God.

The next Sunday at the same church I had several people come to me and make degrading remarks. I was feeling pretty down, so I went backstage to sit alone with my thoughts and pray. While sitting there I heard no less than four people griping about the previous Sunday’s music. They never found out I was there, but their comments continue to sting weeks later.

This kind of behavior is not indicative of a deep-rooted problem with worship styles, volume, or even music. It’s indicative of a dreadful heart condition in our churches today. And it seems as if the older adult who should be the most spiritually mature among us often are the ones acting like children (I am certainly not stereotyping all senior adult Christians here; many are faithfully serving the Lord).

There is a serious heart condition in our churches today. We have disagreements over what music to worship with, what volume to play that music at, and what age group should get their way. We call it “Worship Wars,” and we kind of chuckle over our cute name for it. We act as if it’s not a big deal, and all the while there are people outside of the four walls of our church who won’t get to hear about Christ because we’re too busy bickering over what instruments we’ll allow on stage on Sunday mornings.

Instead of being excited when our young people work hard to use their musical talents for the Lord, we criticize them and shame them. We make them feel like we have no use for them, then we wonder why they’ve stopped coming to church and started playing music in a “secular band.” When a group of junior high students get up to lead worship and it’s the most awful, loudest thing we’ve ever heard, we should be their biggest fans. Praise God that they chose to use that loud awful mess for HIS glory and not someone else’s!

There are times when I am ashamed to admit to people what denomination I represent because it seems that in the last ten years our denomination has become much more well-known for in-fighting amongst ourselves than for spreading the message of Christ to a world that desperately needs Him.

Think “Worship Wars” are to be taken lightly? I think that Satan is gleeful over the fact that he’s gotten people who at least agree on Who to worship, to act satanically over how to do it.

Is that harsh? Yes. Too bad it’s also true.

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