During the 1950s and 1960s worship styles varied little from one church to the next. For the most part, churches sang from the same hymnals accompanied by pianos and organs. This proved an effective worship style for that era, as it connected to the heart language of the time.
But as time and culture change, so does heart language and communication style.
“We have to ask, how do we communicate the unchanging gospel in a vastly changing world, while helping people connect with God in worship? It’s a big question,” said Kenny Lamm, senior consultant for worship and music for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. “We have to realize there are new forms of communication. People don’t communicate the same way as they did 50 years ago.”
Lamm spoke March 9 during the Worship Summit at Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell. The event was the first in a series of Worship Summits scheduled for 2013. Future events are scheduled for Aug. 24 in Charlotte and Oct. 26 in Lumberton.
During the summit, pastors and worship leaders learned how to recognize when to change the worship style and how to implement the change in a healthy, God-honoring, people-loving manner, with biblical integrity and musical excellence.
The swift change in culture has brought about a variety of worshipful expressions in today’s church, ranging from traditional hymns to contemporary rock music, and everything in between – sometimes within the same church.
Neither style is wrong, Lamm said, provided personal preferences are kept in proper perspective.
“Our tendency is to presume that people who have different preferences than us are either inferior or wrong and when it comes to religious ways and practices we often tend to equate our personal preferences with God’s preferences,” he said. “When personal preferences lord over biblical priorities, the worship of God is vain and meaningless.”
Personal preferences rise to the surface most often when a church transitions from one style of worship to another. If the transition is not handled with care, a congregation might fall into a divisive “worship war.”
“Worship wars are when people clash over expressions of worship,” Lamm said. "They may have the same essence of worship in their heart, but their expressions are different and they clash over that. Worship should be the most unifying thing of the church, but it’s not in so many cases.
“Many churches today realize there is a need to transform their times of corporate worship. Once a church decides to make a change, your next steps can really help or hurt the process.”
Worship wars often happen when a church alters its worship style for the wrong reasons, such as mimicking the style of another church, or when they go about it the wrong way, such as failing to prepare the congregation or making changes too quickly.
“There are ways that you need to love your congregation, ways you need to help them see the vision for change and ways that you can help them see the biblical reason for why the change is necessary,” Lamm said.
The ultimate goal of worship is to unify the body of Christ, and unity only comes when believers understand that the object of their worship transcends all generational, cultural and personal preferences toward worship. A successful transition to a new worship style requires time and a step-by-step approach that includes communicating the biblical, missional, social and cultural reasons behind the change.
The first step begins with the biblical foundation for worship. Lamm said church leaders must teach the importance of personal worship and lead by example prior to implementing change.
“Personal worship is a prerequisite for corporate worship,” he said. “We can’t whip people into a frenzy to worship God. You should come worshipping to church, not come to church to worship.”
Worship is more than coming to church and singing a few songs. It involves giving one’s self totally to God. In that sense, worship leaders must lead people to engage their entire being in worship.
“Worship is the act and attitude of wholeheartedly giving yourself to God – heart, soul, mind and body,” Lamm said. “The big reason that people are not being transformed in many of our worship services is because we are only offering a small portion of worship rather than the full range of experiences that Jesus set forth for us in the Great Commandment.”
Christ-followers who worship God personally and completely are better equipped to let go of personal preferences that often hinder a transition to unified worship.
“Christ’s plan for the church is not uniformity, not unanimity, but unity. Unity is the state of being united or joined as a whole,” Lamm said. “Unity will only be achieved as your congregation is willing to make sacrifices and love one another and to focus your efforts on God and not yourselves.”