There is a story of two men coming out of a Sunday morning worship service. One man looks at the other as they walk out of the church and says, “I really didn’t like that service this morning.” Unmoved by the man’s comment, the other man says, “That’s fine. We weren’t worshiping you anyway.” Which led me to ask the question, “Has worship become a popularity contest?”.
On my social media account I subscribe to a blog called Patheos, which is a stream of authors from varying viewpoints of faith (Christian, evangelical, Catholic, Muslim, conservative, and progressive) and many authors who are practicing atheists and agnostics. This blog is a great host of conversations about faith and what it means to live a life of faith. Recently, I read an article by a Christian theologian and worship leader about the “popularity contest” that worship has become. He began his article with a simple statement: “worship is not about making you happy, it’s not about making me happy, and it’s not about what makes the world happy-it’s about God!”
As I read on, I was struck by an example he gave of a church that had passed out a survey to the congregation on their worship service-you heard me a survey! This survey was given to rate how satisfied they were with the worship on Sunday morning. They were to say if they were very satisfied, just satisfied, or not satisfied with the service, then to write any comments they had that could improve or would improve their experience. I was appalled! First, it has been my experience that if you pass out a survey in church, you are only asking for trouble, and second, the first question we should be asking is “is God satisfied with our worship?”. Thankfully, the “worship wars” are over (this was fought in churches in the 80's and 90’s when contemporary praise and worship music was beginning to thrive) and unfortunately for music ministers populism has won out.
When I was in seminary, my conducting professor and mentor used to tell us to do a variety of music to show the breadth and depth of worship possible in the church-and jokingly he added offend as many people as possible! What this allows is for the music minister to pick the best of the best music out there, and the freedom to do so, without being tied down to a certain style demanded by the congregation or staff. This is what I have done for the past 17 years in my music ministry and what I will continue to do until the day I retire.
So, what is the criteria for congregational music? How about choral music for children, youth, and adults? What about handbells and instrumentalists? What is the yardstick that I’m using to shape the worship and music ministry at First Baptist? This has become more and more of a question that I have been hearing through the grapevine of our church, so I am taking some time to answer those questions in order to educate people about worship and church music. Hopefully the answers to these questions will invite dialogue and conversation about worship and enhance our overall experience as a family of faith on Sunday morning.
Before I dive into specifics about the corporate worship of the church, let me pull back the curtain on what goes into planning a service. There are four main components of worship that I think about in my planning; first, there needs to be congregational singing. I’ll get into music specifics later, but this is a must. Worship is not a concert, it’s not a time when the congregation sits and only listens to pretty music, there must be congregational singing. Singing stirs the soul, it focuses us on the message of Christ and his redemption and resurrection. Congregational singing allows for freedom of expression of a great God and it creates community within the family of faith.
Second, worship must be responsive. In other words, the congregation needs to be involved. This comes in the form of singing, responsive prayers and readings, scripture, giving an offering, and most of all, communion. Third, worship must have a flow. Our worship here is thematic, meaning that music, scriptures, readings, prayers, and sermons are all based on a theme. Right now, we are working our way through The Story which is lectionary based-meaning we are working our way through the whole Bible. Thankfully, nowadays we have an abundant amount of resources for worship planning. There has been a flood of new songs and hymns out there that congregations can use. Unfortunately, this has also invited a lot of poorly written music too which has penetrated our churches. Because we are moving through the Bible in a lectionary fashion, I have had to use a lectionary based hymnal which contains MANY new hymns that will fit our service. This has allowed for more variety in the songs we sing and given me an opportunity to stretch myself, our musicians, and the congregation musically.
Finally, and most importantly, worship must honor God. It’s not about what hymns or songs you like to sing, it’s not about whether or not a song or style gets you to raise your hands. It’s not about whether or not we sing with drums, a praise team, an organ or choir. It’s not about what you grew up with or sang at your “mama’s knee”; it’s about honoring God. If there is one thing that I can say for certain about our worship at Clemmons First Baptist is that it honors God and I will always strive to make sure that it does.
Our worship is not based on a style or what’s on the radio-worship never should be. Our worship is not based upon the 50 hymns that everyone knows and has sung since the Hoover administration-worship never should be. Our worship is based upon what honors God, what fits the theme of the service and what creates a moment in time when we as a people of God can open our mouths and give him praise. That is what our at First Baptist worship does. If you are seeking something that is more popular and driven by what people want, then you will not find that here on Sunday morning, and I can give you churches that do just that. However, if you are looking for worship that honors a living God, then I’ll see you at 10:30 Sunday morning in the Sanctuary.
Living a Life Like Christ
Jeremy Poplin is the Minister of Music at Clemmons First Baptist Church. He lives in Mocksville with his wife Holly. He loves music, books, and learning more about what it means to live a life like Christ. Jeremy has a passion for worship and ministry that sees people transformed by the love and grace of Christ.