The Worship Wars Are Hurting the Church

Focusing on how we worship can make us lose sight of who we worship.

April 23, 2015

Tyler Edwards is the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back into the Body of Christ and the Discipleship Pastor at Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach.

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for worship leaders.

Having to walk the line between creating a high-quality worship set and turning worship into a performance can’t be an easy task. It can be a polarizing job.

Some churches wage war over worship. Everybody has different a style they prefer. Some people like full band. Some people like acoustic sets. Some want it deafening. Others can’t stand it if the volume is too high. There is no shortage of opinions on how worship should be done. I’ve known people who left a church because the worship style changed. When the musical style used wasn’t what they wanted, they left to find a church with the style that was.

The Worship Wars

Within these worship wars, there are many battles to be fought: Hymns. Choirs. Bands. Volume. Style. Quality. Presentation. Do we incorporate artistic elements like spoken word, dramatic readings of Scripture, or just sing the songs?

Then you have the lyrics themselves. Are they theologically accurate? Are they about the right thing? Some older songs have a great message, but can be painfully boring and out of date. Some newer songs sound cool, but often lack the depth of the hymns so many grew up hearing.

Worship is not a concert. It’s not karaoke. Worship is not about us. It’s about God.

How do we decide which style is right or best? Is it popular opinion? Does the pastor get to decide? How do we resolve this worship war?

It’s Not About Us

The first thing we should consider is that a large portion of this conflict is based on our personal preferences. When you walk away thinking: “man that worship was great,” or “that was terrible,” take a moment to ask yourself why.

What qualifications or standards are you using to measure the quality of worship? Typically the answer will be how we felt about it. We often assess the quality of worship based on how well we resonated with it. It’s about our emotional connection. A “good” worship service is one that we liked. A “bad” worship service is one that didn’t engage or fit with our style. In many cases, we assess the quality of worship by what it meant to us.

In so doing, we miss the point of worship entirely.

What Worship Isn’t

The amount of time we spend focusing on worship music styles is a strong indicator that many have little understanding of the heart of worship. If we aren’t careful, personal preferences overshadow purpose. If we get so focused on how we worship, it’s easy to forget why we worship or even, at times, who we are worshipping.

Worship is not a concert. It’s not karaoke. Worship is not about us. It’s about God.

The best way to put an end to the worship war is to better understand what worship is all about: We are all worshipers. We were made to worship. Our life is an act of worship.

Redefining Worship

In the New Testament, there are two primary words used for worship. The first word means to bow down and show reverence to. Picture walking into the throne room of the King: You kneel down before him, bowing in His presence. It’s all about recognizing and submitting to the greater authority.

There is another word for worship used in the New Testament. We get our word liturgy from this word. It is most commonly used to describe the work done by priests in the temple. It means service. As Romans 12:1 says:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

In response to the grace of God, Paul says we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. This is our spiritual worship. The word he uses here, however, is not the word for entering into the presence of the King. It’s the word for service.

The New Testament model for worship is not just about singing praises. It is living a life of service. It’s about far more than music. It’s helping your neighbor bring in the groceries, providing for the elderly, taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves, helping the poor and needy—these are all examples of Biblical worship.

Lifestyles of Worship

While we shouldn’t neglect our praises to God in song, we should realize that worship is much deeper than just singing. When you serve, God you are worshipping God.

Worship isn’t about how. It’s about who.

The word spiritual in Romans 12 is the word logia, which is where we get our word logic. It’s typically translated reasonable/logical. Another way to read this text would be:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

More than song, your life is worship. True worship is when we learn to live, love, and look like Jesus by following Him and serving in His Kingdom.

We are not the stars of our lives. We are the audience in the theatre of God. We respond to what He has done. The only reasonable/ logical response to seeing God’s mercy, to experiencing His grace, is to give everything we have and everything we are as an offering to God. The devoting of our life to God is our act of worship.

So what if the style of music isn’t our cup of tea? So what if the band plays louder than we think they should? Worship isn’t about how. It’s about who.

When we truly understand who we are praising—with our songs and our actions—then it takes the focus of worship off of us, our preferences and our opinions. Churches don’t have to be split up by styles of music, kinds of songs or types of bands: Instead, we can be united by who we are worshiping, not how we are doing it.


A resource for Advent

St John’s Advent Book 2013
A series of readings covering the Advent and Christmas period, written by staff and students at St John’s College.  Every day we make hundreds of decisions, big and small, and face many different circumstances. In a rapidly changing, fast paced world, we can find ourselves rushing through life in constant pursuit of things that, once obtained, will be as obsolete as all those things we’ve sought before.
These daily reflections for the Christmas season seek to bring us to a place of recognising there is one truth we need to hold on to as we consider the road ahead:
Not one of us can know what our future may hold, but we know the one who holds the future.
As we spend time reflecting on lines from Hymns for Advent, Christmas and the New Year, join the St John’s College family in rediscovering the duty and joy of worshipping God in all times and in every circumstance.

£4.99 per copy please see the web site


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‘We need to be a risk taking church” – Nicky Gumbel speaks to Justin Welby

In conversation with Rev. Nicky Gumbel, the Archbishop said he is “more optimistic about the church now than I have ever been in my life”.
Archbishop Justin has prayed for Christian unity and told church leaders that “we need to be a risk-taking church”.
The Archbishop was speaking this morning before an audience of more than 5,000 Christians on the first day of HTB’s annual leadership conference.
“We need to be a risk-taking Church. There is no safety in Christ – there is absolute security, but there is no safety,” he said during a question and answer session with the Rev Nicky Gumbel, vicar of HTB.
Archbishop Justin said he was more hopeful than ever for the future of the church as it “fills in” the gaps left by the state following the global financial crisis.
Referring to the food banks being run by the Diocese of Durham he said: “It is a great opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ. I am more optimistic about the Church now than I have ever been in my life.”
For the first time in 70 years, he added, people are realising that “Christ meets the needs of the world”.
But he warned the audience, composed of leaders from Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches, against the dangers of fighting each other.
“We cannot live for our cause to win, we have to live for His cause to win,” he said, adding that “very often the biggest wounds we experience will come from other Christians”.