Yesterday a friend of mine shared with me about a conflict he’s been facing as a worship leader. Seems that certain members of his church have been quite vocal in their disapproval of his choice of music, instrumentation, level of musicianship, and so on. Recently they took it to the point of actually mocking some of the young musicians in the midst of praise. It was tremendously injurious. As my friend described how he had wept over the hurt one of the kids had expressed to him, my heart ached and my anger rose.
As I understand it, the critical faction in this church is concerned that the kind and quality of musicianship isn’t going to draw younger people to the church. I don’t know that there’s any formula that will draw young people, or people of any age, to a church, but that kind of attitude will most certainly drive them away. I know this story has been duplicated for years in churches all across the country, but it still amazes me—and disgusts me—that it’s even an issue. So-called Christians tearing down other Christians over music and musicianship: there is something so wrong about it that I want to puke.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me point out the obvious: God is a whole lot more interested in what comes out of our hearts than what comes out of our church’s sound system. As a jazz saxophonist with over forty-five years’ experience, I’ve played with a lot of truly superb musicians, the kind most churches only wish they could have on their praise teams. I’ve played in black churches and white churches, keyboard-led praise teams and guitar-led praise teams. I’ve played in jazz combos, blues bands, variety bands, polka bands, big bands, all kinds of bands in all kinds of settings ranging from clubs to concert stages to recording studios to private parties to wedding receptions, and, yes, to churches. I love musical excellence, and I strive for it in my own playing.
But in the church, it’s not my first concern. My first concern is, do people love God and do they love each other? If not—if there are people who bite and devour others over music—then those individuals have missed the point entirely, and their hearts are inclined toward idolatry, not worship. They’ve made a god out of their preferences and opinions, and they sacrifice other hearts that Jesus died for on the altar of their idol.
There’s nothing wrong with preferring some kinds of music and not caring for other kinds. Find a church that has the kind you like if you’re not happy with what you’ve got. What you shouldn’t do is criticize and attack others because the way they’re handling the worship doesn’t suit you. Don’t go bashing young teens and twenty-somethings who may not be Nashville material but whose hearts are filled with genuine worship and passion for God. They just may have a gift to impart to your own heart if you look beyond the surface to what really counts.
You want real worship in your church? You want to draw young people who are searching for God, or who are at least open to the idea that God might be real? Then don’t look to the music. That’s the wrong place to start.
Start here: “Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it” (Eph. 4:29 AMP).
And start here: “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15 ESV).
And finally, here: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jesus in John 13:35 ESV).
Don’t kid yourself that worship is about the music. It’s about your heart. And what is in it will show in the way you treat your brothers and sisters.