Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Personal Preference and Public Worship

I have the blessing of leading a multi-generational church. In these days where many churches are focusing on one particular age group or generation, we are pretty excited to be multi-generational. But with the blessing of being multi-generational comes some challenges, particularly in the area of music.

While I cannot say that our church is renewing the “Worship Wars” of the past, people do have strong opinions and those opinions tend to differ along generational lines. I hear all the opinions. More hymns. More choruses. More contemporary. More traditional. Less drums. More drums. Faster songs. Slower songs. You get the picture. And while as a church we are committed to a blend of hymns and choruses and tend to lean more contemporary than traditional, there is still always some tension.

Where I struggle is finding the place of personal opinion and personal preference in worship music. All of us have personal preferences. For example, I grew up listening to rock and roll. I listen to a wide variety of contemporary Christian music, but my personal preference skews toward the harder edged end of that genre. And though I love the old hymns as much as the next person, if I were to apply purely my personal preferences, we would have a rock and roll worship show on Sunday morning. (And some of you would cheer, others are grimacing.) I know there are others in our congregation whose personal preference would be all traditional hymns in a traditional style. Others want everything upbeat, still others would prefer it all quiet and contemplative As a pastor of a multi-generational church, I believe all of those styles – contemporary and traditional, upbeat and contemplative - can be possible in the worship music of our church, even though all may not be present every Sunday.

What gives me pause is thinking about the place of personal preference in worship music and the fact that worship is meant to be directed at God. After all, we don't worship corporately to please people. The songs are not there is impress outsiders with our talent or impress the congregation with our musical choices or styles. Rather our worship, while it has a corporate, horizontal component, is meant to be directed vertically, to God. If it is not, it isn't worship; it's just a concert of spiritual songs.

I wonder what would happen in our churches if every person put their personal preferences about worship music on the shelf before walking into church? What would happen if each of us made it a priority to seek God's face in corporate worship every Sunday, regardless of the song style or selection? Would God be glorified? I think so. Would we be unified? Yes again. And last time I checked, those were very good things.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Turns Intention into Action?

This morning one of my elders and I met with the superintendent of the local school. We had a great conversation about how our church can get involved serving the kids in the school and expressing our appreciation of the school's teachers. This discussion came as a result of our church's commitment to be more intentional about serving our community. Over the next months, we will be looking to motivate our church members to get involved with some aspect of service to our community. The challenge is this - how will we change the focus of folks in our church to get involved in serving more actively in the community?

This afternoon I sat down to finish reading a book entitled The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson. In the concluding chapter, the authors told the story of a study done at Yale University where a professor tried to persuade students to get tetanus shots. The study was composed of two focus groups – one group was given a booklet which graphically illustrated the dangers of tetanus, the other group was given a booklet with language that was toned down and had no pictures. Both booklets announced that the university was offering free tetanus shots at the health center. The results were predictable – the students who were given the more dramatic information were much more likely to admit they needed an inoculation But one month later, only 3 percent of those students had actually gone to the health center to get the shot.

The professor conducted the study a second time, but with one key change, In the booklets given to both control groups, he included a map of the campus with the health center circled and listed the times shots were available. One month after that study 28 percent of students were inoculated, an equal amount from each control group. The variable that made a difference was not urgency or gravity of the information, it was the map and schedule.

The conclusion for the church is rather obvious – when we try to recruit volunteers, either for in church ministry or community service outreach, we need to give people practical information about how they can be involved. In some ways, this principle applies much more broadly than that. Sometimes I catch myself muttering bland spiritual platitudes from the pulpit, rather than giving people concrete or practical information about spiritual growth or service opportunities. There are many people in churches who want to serve and grow, but lack that mechanism to turn desire into action. Let's give it to them.

Now, you might be thinking – isn't there a spiritual aspect at work here as well? Absolutely – God's Spirit draws us into and empowers us for growth and service. No denying that. Let's just make sure that we provide the practical information the Holy Spirit can use to truly motivate that person from intention to action.