The Tyranny of Style

Designing worship around style, however, can sometimes lead to an obsession with the present to the neglect of the past—or to only one particular past with little regard for the broader history of the church. We can easily forget those who have gone before us, even those who are worshiping earlier in the day than we are; this dishonors them and is unhealthy for us.

—Debra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry, 177

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Heart Worship 12

You see, I love the use of music in church worship, and I have a special appreciation for the classic hymns of the historic church—I love the beautiful harmonies, the wonderful sound of the organ, the poetry of the lyrics. Unfortunately, the church I attend makes frequent use of two songbooks: one excellent hymnal that contains all of my beloved hymns of the faith, and another (a paperback!) that contains what I considered shallow, musically simplistic, “politically correct” (whatever that means), more modern (post-1960s) worship songs. It wasn’t that the songs in that dread paperback songbook were theologically incorrect or somehow inappropriate for a worship service; I just really didn’t like ‘em.

For a long time, I would cringe each time during the Sunday worship service that I had to haul out the Modern Praise Book; I’d roll my eyes at each repetitive chorus, and I’d ruthlessly document how much worse it was than my favorite hymns. I’d subject my wife to rambling diatribes about Modern Worship Music on the car ride home from church.

But at some point in the last year, I realized that I was spending more time snootily picking apart the songs than I was actually singing. And I realized that my overly critical attitude was completely distracting me from the act of worship. It’s hard to get much out of a Sunday sermon when you’re mentally agitated over the praise song used earlier in the service. That was a problem, and I knew deep inside that the problem was more with me than it was with the church’s choice of Sunday music.

Since that moment of realization, it’s been as if a weight were lifted off my shoulders—I still prefer good old-fashioned hymns, but I’m finding that it’s much more pleasant to just participate in worship than it is to sit back and continually critique it. My wife still has to put up with the occasional music-themed rant from me, but over the last few months I’ve even caught myself starting to appreciate some of the Modern Praise Songs I used to complain about. Who cares if the lyrics aren’t quite as clever or poetic as I would’ve preferred? I don’t think St. Peter is standing at the Pearly Gates handing out awards to the snarkiest church music critics.

All this to say: sometimes you just have to shut up and worship.

Andy Rau, “Shut Up and Worship: Confessions of a Church Music Snob”

Spirit-Directed Freedom

I believe that God intends to leave the matter of form and style and content to the judgement of our spiritual wisdom—not to our whim or our tradition, but to prayerful, thoughtful, culturally alert, self-critical, Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting reflection driven by a passion to be filled with all the fullness of God. I assume this will be ongoing process, not a one-time effort.

—John Piper, “The Missional Impulse toward Incarnational Worship in the New Testament” in Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook, 102