Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves . . .” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth . . .. There the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Genesis 11:4–9, NIV
This biblical story is commonly referred to as the Tower of Babel. Here are men who decided to try to transcend God by building a monument to their own power and their own ingenuity. Do situations like that ever occur in churches today?
The young worship leader came to his new church assignment with excitement. But he encountered a congregation there that had worshiped basically the same way for the past 30 years. Most of the members were very happy worshiping that way. Nevertheless, they also agreed it might be time to freshen up their song choices with some newer expressions of faith. So they looked forward to the arrival of their new worship leader with guarded anticipation. But what they got was a full frontal assault. He changed everything: the songs, accompaniment, order of worship, volume levels, and everything else that was possibly changeable. A few younger members applauded his assault on the status quo. But the majority of the congregation was shocked and saddened to have their worship turned upside down. Some got angry. Relationships between the worship leader and the people became awkward and forced. Church members reacted with cool nods as they passed him in the church hallways and grocery store aisles. The beleaguered young worship leader sought advice from a pastor who took his own church through such a major change of worship style. The changes this pastor had instigated in his church had come at a high cost, as many had left that church. But the pastor firmly believed that his church was better off without those tired old traditionalists holding them back. He noted that the remnant left behind was worshiping with real feeling, and he was sure many more would be attracted soon to join the church. His attractional rationale, of course, was to win the world for Christ by getting people to come to church. He expected that the remaining remnant would soon see numerical growth since worship was “so much better now”. So when the young worship leader sought out the pastor’s advice it was given authoritatively: “You are the leader; you are in charge; you must make them follow you. And if they fire you, you can always go start a church somewhere else. Don’t let them intimidate you. God is in this.”
Now, please allow me to ask some tough questions:
1.) How is this young worship leader’s approach any different from the missionary who forces his home culture on the native people he is called to serve?
2.) How can this pastor be so misled as to think that the way to grow the body of Christ in spiritual maturity is to run off a large percentage of the membership?
3.) How can either of these men think that their personal preference of worship style is superior to those faithful members who have been there for years?
Our calling as worship leaders – like a missionary – is to discover the worship heart language of those we are called to, use it to grow them as disciples, and lead them on mission to their community. Like those in Babel, we cannot expect to escape the judgment of God if we are instead building memorials to our own stylistic tastes. The answers seem obvious to me; yet I encounter this situation constantly in my work with churches. I know that a church member who cannot support the stated mission of the pastor is right to find another church. But the notion that we must purify the church of longtime members by forcing a foreign worship culture on them seems ridiculous to me. And I find this especially aggravating if the rationale behind that strategy is: “We’ll win the world by getting the world to come to church.” NO! The Bible says we will win the world by getting the church to GO to the world.
Disguised in our worship wars is often a far deadlier enemy than stylistic change for the sake of attracting the world. The hidden enemy in many worship wars is our selfish desire to have our own way and be in control. Think about it!
— Mark Powers
Please post your feedback and comments so we can work through this issue together! Thanks.