Chris sent me this question:
My church, since its inception, has had a mostly traditional service. We sing hymns primarily with a spiritual song or two mixed in, and almost exclusively use a piano (we do sometimes have an acoustic guitar or violin play along with it). My pastor would like to integrate a number of instruments, including an electric guitar and percussion as people learn how to play them. But a number of families have strong convictions against anything that resembles rock n roll. I believe these families would leave which, in my mind, is a travesty since it is over instruments and style. Personally, I don’t mind worshiping in a traditional or contemporary setting as long as the lyrics are Biblical and glorify God. I just desire to approach this situation that keeps the gospel the main thing. Any counsel is welcome.
I’ve talked to a number of worship leaders recently about this topic. I’m grateful for Chris’ attitude in the situation. He’s concerned about the folks in the church, wants to keep the Gospel the main thing, and is seeking to serve his pastor. Here are a few thoughts I suggest when someone asks me about making musical changes in their church.
Make sure your leaders are in agreement. If a pastor, worship leader, and other leaders don’t see eye to eye in this area, an unhelpful comparison can take place and the tension will be apparent. Most people will be aware of the disagreements. A worship leader shouldn’t try to “balance out” his pastor nor should a pastor feel like he’s contradicting his worship leader. In Chris’s case, I’d have as many conversations as was necessary to fully understand where my pastor was coming from, express my concerns, and come to an agreement. Leading a church through changes is ultimately the pastor’s responsibility.
Lead theologically. Don’t make changes simply for pragmatic reasons (it will attract more people), out of personal preference, or as an attempt to appease differing factions in the church. Lead from biblical convictions. If you’re introducing a new style of music, use it as an opportunity to teach that God’s glory can’t be expressed in only one music style and that one kind of music is insufficient to communicate the broad range of responses to God. If you want to start repeating parts of songs, let the church know of your desire to be more dependent on the Spirit and responsive to his leadings (for more reasons, see my post on repetition ). Every time we make a change, it’s an opportunity to ground people in biblical principles that will serve them in other contexts as well.
Teach and re-teach the church what biblical worship is. It doesn’t matter how mature a church is, they’ll need to be reminded how to worship biblically. Each week they’re tempted by idols and deceived by indwelling sin. Also, we have guests and new Christians attending who come with various misconceptions about what we’re doing. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we all at times forget what we already know. What was once a faith-filled encounter with the living God becomes a dull, same-as-every-week experience that leaves us cold. We need to be reminded what an life-altering, awe-inspiring event worshiping God together really is.
We can teach the church on worship in different ways. Some churches have done a series on worship, either on a Sunday morning or a weeknight. At least once a year we’ll give a message on worship on a Sunday, to make sure everyone hears it. I’ll regularly share a brief comment while I’m leading on some aspect of how we should understand what we’re doing. I’ll say something like, “One of the reasons we gather is to remember God’s mercy to us in Christ.” or, “We’re using a smaller band this morning to remind ourselves that the real ‘worship team’ is everyone in the congregation.” You can also spell out your philosophy of worship on your website. (Irvine Presbyterian Church has one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen.) In cases like Chris mentions, it would be wise to meet with individuals who have expressed concerns or raised questions.
Lead humbly but confidently. Once you’ve prayed, done your homework, and prepared, don’t second-guess your decision if you receive negative feedback. God frequently sends critics not only to test our hearts, but to tweak what we’re doing. Humble confidence means we’re open to questions but won’t change course just because someone disagrees with us. We’ve had families leave the church because they didn’t agree with our choice of music, but we’ve had many more stay because they have a more biblical understanding of how music works in corporate worship.
The most helpful book I’ve found on the topic of music in worship is Harold Best’s Music Through the Eyes of Faith . It’s a thick read at times, but worth the investment.