There are few issues which I believe modern evangelicals have gotten wrong more, than the issue of worship. It does not matter if it is a mega church with a rock band playing the Doobie Brother’s “Taking it to the Streets” or a small town church’s choir singing an anthem accompanied by organ. Somewhere along the way, we have come to believe worship is about our experience, taste, preferences and feelings. Worship has never occurred and never will occur, because of externals. Worship depends upon the state of the human heart.
If I had a dollar for every time, when I was pastoring, I was asked if I preferred “contemporary worship” or “traditional worship” I would be a wealthy man. One of the reasons I kept being asked the question is because the answer I gave failed to satisfy the fleshly desires of those who asked. My response was short and sweet. “I could care less because neither have very much to do with whether worship occurs or not and both, more often than not, get in the way.” In fact, if someone was asking the question with the intent behind it being that they would get the style which they preferred, it told me that they were more interested in having their personal taste fulfilled than they were encountering the living God in a transcendent manner.
Perhaps, the most profound encounter I have had of worship within a church, (more and more of my worship and encounters with God sadly are occurring outside of church services) occurred after a service was over, and people were leaving. But God was there, I encountered him, and his Spirit leapt within me.
One of the oldest members of our church family was a man by the name of Bob Florence. Bob was a southern boy at heart who had moved north to Baltimore after World War II so he could work at the local steel meal. Bob preferred southern preaching and southern gospel music. If he could not have southern gospel, then he was fine with a few good hymns. What he did not enjoy, or understand much of, was the contemporary music we sang and played. Often, I would notice Bob turning his hearing aid down when “the young people’s music” began. But he never complained, and he never asked or demanded that his personal taste be fulfilled.
On this particular Sunday, we had intentionally focused on people under 30. We had a guest band who were loud and liked to push the envelope. After the service, as Bob was leaving, he shook my hand and said, “That was the best worship we have had here in a long time. Thank you Pastor.” I was speechless for a moment before responding, “Bob; I didn’t think you liked that type of music.” “Oh, I don’t,” he said, “I can’t stand it. But when I don’t like the music, I just watch the young people, and I’m able to worship God with what I see in their eyes.” Bob knew what worship is, and it had nothing to do with his, mine or anyone else’s preference in music. It had nothing to do with technology, lighting, projection screens, smoke or instrumentation.
So, if you like modern worship – with the full smorgasbord of all that contains, I dare you to search out a body this week who is more traditional and encounter God while the organ plays or the choir sings. I dare you to see God in those stained glass windows and hear him as the chimes ring. On the other hand, if you are like Bob and can’t stand modern bands and their loud instruments, I challenge you to find the biggest, most cutting edge mega church near you. As you enter the doors and face the crowds I dare you to look for Jesus. If you do, I promise you will find him. However, whether you accept my challenge or not, please stop thinking that worship has something to do with what you feel, experience or prefer and start looking at your heart. I dare you.