If the articles and blog posts I’ve seen lately are any indication, what I call the “worship wars” between contemporary and traditional churches aren’t going away anytime soon. If you’re not familiar with this concept, I’ll sum it up: many traditionalists hold that contemporary worship is lightweight and focuses on the “performers” (I disagree wholeheartedly), while proponents of more contemporary styles often believe that traditional worship is outdated and resistant to change (I don’t necessarily concur).
Of course, the truth is that there’s plenty of room for different worship styles in our churches today, and one style isn’t better than the other. In my book Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter to the South, I wrote a bit about the “worship wars,” and I concluded that we’ll always have difference of opinions when it comes to worship styles. If there’s an upside to these battles, it’s the diversity among churches today.
The nice thing about so many different styles of worship is that there’s a church for everyone’s tastes. If you’re into contemporary worship, there are plenty of terrific churches that fit that need, and the same goes for wonderful churches who worship in a more traditional way. But believers need to look deeper when choosing or evaluating a church.
A church that truly follows God is more than just a style or worship or a pastor’s personality. It’s more than a building; it’s the heartbeat of God’s people. The Lord told the priest and prophet Samuel when he was looking for Israel’s king:
Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the lord looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)
There are so many important things to look for in a church other than whether the worship is traditional or contemporary. Here are just a few of those factors.
A church should promote a lifestyle of worship rather than a style of worship.
Worship is more than just a musical style—it’s a way of life. A lifestyle of worship extends well beyond a Sunday morning service and does not limit itself to a hymn or praise song. When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, He expressed to her the notion that worship isn’t confined to a set of songs.
Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem… But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
John 4:21, 23-24 (NLT)
The apostle Paul told the Roman church that a fully devoted lifestyle of worship is the only way to truly live for God.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
Romans 12:1 (NLT)
While writing this post, I stumbled on a quote from Casting Crowns lead singer and worship leader Mark Hall that sums my point up beautifully:
Worship is so much more than the songs I sing. Instead, worship is in the heart that lifts the song. If you think about it, worship began when I woke up this morning. My life purpose is to give God glory through everything I do.
If a church is not promoting the truth that worship is about every part of our lives, the Sunday morning services will be in vain, regardless of musical style.
A church should only teach truth from God’s Word.
Another far more important factor than style of worship is a church’s doctrine. What a church teaches and believes should line up with the Bible. If it does not, the church is teaching false doctrine.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against false teachers:
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.
Matthew 7:15-17 (NLT)
Paul exhorted the young pastor Titus to be careful what he taught.
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.
Examine what pastors and teachers teach. Compare a church’s core beliefs and values with the truths of Scripture. If the teaching and values of a church do not line up with God’s Word, stay away!
A church should make disciples, not mere churchgoers.
Disciples make disciples. We as Christians should want to see our friends and loved ones not just come to faith in Jesus but to grow and mature in that faith as well. To this point, Jesus gave His followers pretty specific instructions:
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)
A vibrant church must be about making disciples, not just mere churchgoers. Don’t get me wrong: some people will never move beyond the basics of faith, but churches and their members shouldn’t be content seeing people merely come to church and sit in the congregation.
Churches that are truly living out their faith will see their members meeting together outside the walls of the church, traveling to other countries to share the Gospel, serving the “least of these,” and, yes, worshiping on Sundays. Look for a church body that knows that believers don’t go to church—they are the church.
There’s enough diversity in churches that Christians can find congregations that suit their styles with minimal effort. But if believers look even deeper than worship styles, we’ll see more people coming to faith and becoming disciples. And we’ll see churches grow beyond our wildest dreams.
Image courtesy of the author.