Worship: Reverence vs Relevance

The following video isn’t so much a debate as friendly banter between two people passionate about the church (in the sense of the people). Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship and Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research sit down and answer only 5 of 600 questions they’d received on the topic of worship in the church.

I took some notes, giving up toward the end as both Stetzer and Harland speak very fast. Here’s what I wrote down:

[Note: This is not a transcript! I freely admit to paraphrasing and summarising.]

Q: Why does it have to be one or the other? Can’t we have both reverence and relevance?

A: Relevance and reverence are tools. In 2 Samuel 6, David danced; in Revelation 1, John fell ‘as dead’. Both were external expressions of reverence. Most people crying for reverence,whatever their denominational affiliation, want to return to past expressions of worship. But reverence should be tied to worshipping God, and it looks different from one culture to another.

Worship is a response to God and what He’s done. The core of worship is God’s revelation, not the style.

Q: Will the music debate ever go away?

A: It’s been going on since the days of the Gregorian Chant. It has been present all through church history: one way the enemy divides God’s people. The problem is that we’re fighting over cultural forms instead of being concerned about biblical intentions.

Short answer: no.

Q: Is blended worship a real option or a sad compromise?

A: Being blended is a tool, not a goal. The concept of blended worship begins with a faulty premise of trying to find what works for opposing groups. The question should be, What is the most culturally appropriate way of giving glory to God and focusing on Him alone?

Music is a dividing factor—witness discussions on which radio station to listen to in the car. Worship should be a unifying factor. If worship isn’t a unifying factor, there are underlying issues that have nothing to do with music that need to be addressed.

If we are demanding things in worship that cannot be demanded in every culture of the world, we’re demanding cultural elements and not biblical elements.

Q: To what degree, if any, should we be concerned about reaching people with our styles of music?

A: The problem here is using a marker (musical style) that isn’t biblical. If worship is for God, then by definition a n unbeliever can’t worship. We should ask how our worship in this time and culture can make people focus on God and give Him praise, glory and honour. Could an unbeliever come into your church, see people similar to him/herself, hear the gospel presented and come to faith in Christ? Our church services need to be seeker-comprehensible: 1 Corinthians 14 talks of unbelievers being in the service. They should be able to understand what’s going on.

Worship, in a biblical sense, tells the story of Messiah. That goes back to what was said earlier about worship being a response to God’s revelation.

Q: What is your take on having multiple services with multiple styles in one church?

A: You need to be cautious with pandering to consumer needs. Pastors and those in leadership need to preach and teach that people should attend another service and worship there in spirit and truth, or else there is a risk of dividing the church.

[They went on, but I’d have had to write everything they said, since it was all good. And they spoke too fast.]

My summary:

Worship is more than just music. Most of the current dialogue concerning worship in church approaches things from the wrong angle. Worship should primarily be God-oriented, and then oriented horizontally to others in the congregation and finally to those outside. They should be able to come in a church and see us relating to our God and our brothers and sisters in Christ, and leave in awe of God.