Wednesday, October 17, 2007

(BUMP) Discussion #2: Personal Preferences?

I'm bumping this one more time because I would love some more input.

A hint at my personality.

So, some who know me (especially in the internet world) know that I have been trying to avoid debates and even lengthy discussions about just about anything lately because I'm beginning to understand how little most of these debates and opinionated discussions actually mean to the BIG PICTURE of what my life is really supposed to be all about.

BUT, there are still a few discussions going on among worship/church leaders that tend to spark my interest. One of the most "popular" of these discussions is focused on how much sway our personal preferences should play in how we worship God, especially relating to musical worship. And, it seems that 9 out of 10 worship leaders agree that our personal preferences should not play much if any role in how we worship God, and some even go as far to argue that it is sin to allow any personal preferences enter our worship experience.

I (and I know I’m not alone, because I see others like me get beat down when they dare speak up) am not a part of those 9…I actually believe that our personal preferences do and should play an important role in how we worship God. So, here’s my attempt to explain why I feel this way…it’s NOT an attempt to either add to the debate (which is why I’m posting this on my blog) or get a pointless discussion going here. I WOULD like to hear what others have to say about this topic and about what I think, but again, only if we can keep the purpose of this blog in mind.

(Before I say anything about personal preferences in worship, let me just make sure I’m clear about a few things. First, I absolutely believe that the bottom line of true, Biblical worship is to bring honor, glory, attention, etc. to God and God alone. To worship God with any other motive is not worship at all. God is a jealous God, and He deserves all of our worship because He is God and we are not. Also, so we can all be on the same page and because this is an important part of my philosophy of worship, I’m going to be talking specifically about musical worship here since that seems to be the focus of most of the discussions concerning this topic, but this conversation could easily be carried over to other expressions of worship.)

”Personality” as defined by

It is undeniable that God created each of us with a personality uniquely our own. Yes, our personalities are, in some way, shaped by our families, our culture, our experiences, etc., but it’s simple science that says each of us come out of the womb with unique personality traits, and I believe that it was God who made us the way we are. Psalm 139 describes how the God of the universe knows everything about us…that He literally made us to be who we are before we ever saw our first day on earth. I have to believe that it wasn’t just my physical features that He was working on, but also my personality. I also believe that God has been directly involved in using my family, culture and other aspects of my unique life to continue to help form my personality into what it is today, and that the same holds true for every beleiver.

If I believe that God has and is still playing an active role in shaping my personality, I must also believe that He has a purpose for doing so, and that this purpose must involve moving me toward becoming more like Him. There are certainly things about my personality that I do not like and/or know are not what God has intended for me. I tend to be impatient, overly-critical, selfish and sometimes lazy…these are things that I consider to be sinful and unwanted by God for any believer. There are also things about my personality that I see as good and God-honoring…these are traits that I believe God desires to see in every believer, things that I can only attribute to the fact that I was created in His image and am being transformed by His Spirit. I would identify these good and bad personality traits as also being a part of my character.

And, there are things about my personality that I consider to be neutral…the things that are unique to me that are not in and of themselves good or bad. I would also identify these things as my personal preferences. These neutral traits are things like my favorite/preferred color, clothing style, food, learning style, music style, etc. These are the things that really make my personality unique from anyone else…the things that set me apart from everyone else. I believe that God played a part in forming these things as well, and that His desire is to see me use these traits to worship Him.

So, I have to believe that, if God helped and is helping to shape my personality (at least the good and neutral aspects of it), He also must take delight in me when I allow these traits to be expressed in my life. Throughout the Bible, we see God expressing to His followers that we bring Him pleasure when we reflect His creation and His nature back to Him. Ephesians 1:5 says, “Because of His love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ He would make us His children – this was His pleasure and purpose.” God delights in us, gets pleasure from us, rejoices in us, enjoys us, and even laughs at and with us! Anything we do that brings pleasure to God is an act of worship, and I truly believe that He loves to see the personalities that He has shaped in us being expressed through our lives.

I can picture God grabbing one of His angels and pointing at me on a Sunday morning and saying something like, “Take a look at Nate and that crazy Hawaiian shirt…I helped him pick that shirt out!” or, “Do you see Nathan showing compassion to that person…like Me, like son!” He enjoys watching my personality reflect Himself.

So, why is it that some believe that expressing a personal preference for a particular musical style in worship is a bad thing? Again, worship is all about God, but why does that mean that it’s wrong of me to prefer to worship with one specific style over another…why do these two things have to conflict with each other?

I don’t believe that they have to conflict…I don’t even believe that we have to find the middle ground or balance. I believe that we can have worship that is all about God while expressing our personalities to Him. In fact, I believe that this may be the worship in which God is most glorified…worship that comes from individuals expressing their love to God through their unique personalities, experiences, stories, etc., joining together with one heart and one voice.

When we tell each other that worship has nothing to do with our preferences or favorites, we’re limiting our expressions and stealing joy from our God. Can you imagine a 6 member band being forced to all play the acoustic guitar with the same pattern and voicing? It might sound cool for a little while, but it ultimately takes away the beauty of each individual being able to play their own instrument in their own special way and adding their unique personality to the bigger picture. To say that our personal preferences should not enter into our worship is to create a cookie-cutter style of worship, which I believe is a poor reflection of God’s desire for us.

I love to hear a well-rehearsed, top-notch choir singing songs to God. But even more, I love to see a group of believers coming together and being given the freedom to express personal worship in a corporate setting…worship that comes from unique lives being lived out fully for Him. There is nothing more beautiful, in my opinion.

Now, I am NOT saying that it is a church’s responsibility to cater to the personal worship preferences of every person who enters into corporate worship on a given Sunday. Just as each person has their own style of worship, so does every church. Our church is very open about the musical “style(s)” that we prefer, and we’ve taken a lot of time and consideration to choose our style (that’s another discussion). We couldn’t possibly appeal to everyone’s preferences during our corporate worship times, so we don’t even try.

We understand that we have been called to worship God with and reach out to a very specific culture (if you’ve ever spent much time on the OBX, you’ll understand), and we make no apologies for that. We also understand that there are dozens of churches in our area who also have their own unique style of worship, and we encourage anyone who enters our door to either be comfortable with and experience freedom in our style or find the church in which they can be comfortable and free.

The bottom line for us is this:

We believe that God is pleased by our worship when it is focused on Him.
We believe that music, in so many different styles can be an expression of our worship.
We believe that God is pleased when we express our preferences in worship because it reflects His creation and nature.
We believe that seeking to express preferences in worship style that reflect our desire to allow freedom in worship for the people we are worshipping with can be an expression of worship in and of itself.
We believe that all of these aspects of our worship of God are important, and that it is our responsibility to allow them to flow in a beautiful harmony of worship to Him.


(Read more about this topic by reading through my Worship: It's That Important series)


travis ham said...

Amen Nate. God has wired us uniquely and it makes sense that we would express adoration for Him uniquely - that we would glorify Him uniquely.

The one issue that I find to be tough with this issue musically is when there is the necessity for change for the sake of one or more groups of people. For instance, I know of churches that do 3-4 services all of which focus on roughly the same demographic of people (25-45), and so it's not overly difficult to find a "sound" that will nail the cultural preference of that age group. At our church we have a much broader demographic of ages: Lots of kids, some singles, a whole slew of younger marrieds, and also quite a large group of senior citizen. Granted, it would be an impossible and undesirable goal task to cater to everyone's taste, but what we have sought to do is to craft the music in our two services such that the early one creates an atmosphere of instrumentation and song selection that an older generation can better relate to, and craft the first one in such a way that a younger generation can relate to. The potential and huge problem with this is the separation of the two generations, thus potentially robbing the younger generation of the interaction of the folks who have been walking with Christ and living in His faithfulness for years... and robbing the older generation of the spark and excitement that is amazing to watch newly born faith (not to mention the opportunities for discipleship). This is by no means a perfect solution, but for us it seems to be best way to create an environment for multi-generational worship. Plus, problematic as the two service thing can be, I would rather have folks coming to different services to corporately worship, and then fellowshipping together in other parts of the morning/week, and growing together in the community of small groups throughout than punting our local church for the sake of an electric guitar.

You mentioned that you guys feel called to reach out to a very specific culture. Out of curiosity, what does the demographic of that culture look your church look like and how does it compare of the general demographic of your town? Outside of music, what do you guys to relate specifically to that culture? What practical things do you guys do to reach people that may exist outside of that culture? Thanks Nate.


MilePost13 said...

Hey Travis!

I won't really respond to your discussion about how your church functions because you're already pointed out some of the pitfalls of having two different services with two different styles. We decided about 5 years ago that we were going to go completely "contemporary" because of some of the things you mentioned. We decided that we either needed to plant a 50+ generational church, or go completely contemporary.

You ask some good questions.

To start off, surprisingly enough, we lost very few people when we dropped our traditional service, and in fact have seen increasing growth, even among the 50+ generations. We have two older (I think both 75+) people in our church who are the only ones left from the 20+ member church that our pastor came to about 15 years ago, and they both LOVE what we're doing.

We've identified the median demographics of our area to be a blue-collared married couple in their mid-30's with 2.5 kids. The culture down here is very unique. We are in a resort community, and we have a lot of retirees, a lot of working families, and a lot of young adults who drop out of or graduated from high school or college to come and make money and just live on the beach. Our church is very reflective of our community. The good thing about our community's culture is that it attracts a lot of like-minded people, regardless of age...people who are into the beach culture.

Outside of music, we relate to our culture with an outstanding youth and children's ministry, a modern "un-churchy" building, a growing emphasis on community missions, a big emphasis on small groups, etc.

Again, our main target is the 30-something family, and our music especially reflects that. But, we've found that, perhaps because we've stuck to our guns and followed the vision God's given us, we're attracting the older and younger groups as well.

Some practical things that we do to reach outside of our target culture:

An "emerging" style young adult service on Monday NIghts.
Youth and Adult Surf and Kayak Camps during the summer.
Missional small groups.

Like I said, we're in the unique position that we seem to be attracting a lot of people outside of our target.


jscottkill said...

This is an outstanding post. I like your application of God's creation of our personality to worship.

Personal preferences, whether we admit it or not, allow us to be more or less closed to worship, and I think that you've pointed that out very well.

MilePost13 said...

Thanks, Jeremy!


TheOldATrain said...

Another point in this discussion is one that travis briefly alluded to once in his blog, which is that when it comes to Christian music, all that is contemporary is really not contemporary; and beneath the umbrella of "contemporary" Christian worship music there is a pretty broad spectrum of personal preferences.

In the praise team in which I have served for the past nine years some of the preferences include folk/bluegrass, classic rock, piano pop, celtic music, and southern gospel (among others), so the question of different preference is not necessarily "traditional" vs. "contemporary".

I completely agree with the statement that God is pleased when we express ourselves to Him in musical worship in a way that reflects our personalities and preferences, and I would also submit that God is no less pleased when we serve Him humbly in a way that might not reflect our own preferences but might allow someone else to express his own preference(s) and thereby draw the body of Christ closer together in worship.

Excellent discussions so far.
Keep 'em coming...


MilePost13 said...

Good thoughts, Alex...I completely agree.

I may have posted this somewhere else on here, but it won't kill to post again...the following is basically what I tell our church members who come to me to complain about our Sunday morning worship style (again, the complaints are usually aimed at our music, and again, I rarely get complaints at this church, which is so nice)...

“You know what, some of the music we do on Sunday mornings is not my absolute favorite either. But, I’ve come to the place in my walk with Christ where I understand that it’s not about me. I’ve got to lay aside my personal preferences, and daily die to my own selfishness as the Apostle Paul did so that I can truly worship God and be a blessing to those around me. And, I know that you are willing and mature enough to do the same.”

I've yet to have anyone come to complain to me a second time...


MilePost13 said...

I should add to the end of my post...

"We also believe that God is honored when we seek to worship him even when the music we're worshipping with is not our favorite."


MilePost13 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Puckett said...


This discussion is a whopper because there are really several issues - and while they are different - they end up being interconnected.

My gut for years on this issue is that the first thing that has to be looked at is the passion level. Regardless of what type of music - is it passionate - is it "alive". I interviewed for my new position by coming for a guest weekend with the church. They aleady had established a traditional service and a contemporary service. As best I can tell, the traditional service had been approached as kind of a "formal" traditional service. I did a service with 4 hymns - 4 HYMNS - but the choir was passionate, I gave it 150% as the leader and if I had shot a video of the crowd with no sound - you would have thought you were at a Passion Band concert (white hair excepted). My point is that it was amazing worship. As a worship leader when I saw that it was working - my thought was not to "bring them along" to something newer or more enlightened - but rather to stay the course doing things that really unlock the hearts of these people to express their love to God.

In the second service - the music was more Brewster, Tomlin, and Black Gospel - and the worship was again amazing.

I think the venue thing can work - at least it is working here (and that was in place before I came). If we know that we have diverse groups it seems like offering one style with a take it or leave it says that we don't care if you worship or not (sidebar: this is assuming that you have already tried to unify in one style and that the reasons for the style difference are totally self centered complainers!).

Similarly, when we used to try to hit everyone in one blended service - it was like giving everyone a baskin Robbins taste spoon of something that worked for them - but never really setting them free to worship, Everybody got something - but nobody got an entire service that worked for them.

I think that unity in a local church may actually be more possible when everyone is involved in effective worship.

We are starting a 3rd service this fall targeted at 18-25ish. The service will be on Sundays at 9pm and be what you would probably expect for that age bracket. The time the service is offered is also a "cultural issue" for some age groups.

Make it passionate - it will be contagious - and sometimes even if people don't LIKE what you're doing the passion itself will be contagious.

Check out this quote from Rick Muchow:

"When you consider that worship requires you to take the focus off of yourself and aim it toward God, then you begin to see why loving others is foundational to a life of biblical worship. Authentic worship calls us to be others-centered instead of self-centered; we're to remove ourselves from the throne of our lives and put God there, where he's always belonged. In a sense, we are practicing for worship when we take our focus off of ourselves and begin to truly love the people around us. Further, how can we successfully abandon self-centeredness and focus on God if we remain self-centered in our relationship with others?"

MilePost13 said...

Good stuff, Jim. I really like your latest post on your blog. I've been thinking a lot over the past year about how loving God and loving people are completely can't have one without the other, and how that's then connected with our worship.

Rob Bell had a great Nooma that really illustrated this well...I'll see if I can find which one it is and let you know.

Few churches are both called and gifted to have two completely diferent style services like you, especially the Traditional/Contemporary. We are currently running two different stylistic services as well, but one is what some might label as "seeker sensitive" and is a Sunday morning contemporary service, while the other could be labeled as "seeker driven" and is aimed at reaching the "emerging generation" (20-somethings) and is decidedly "out-of-the-box".

We chose this second service because nobody else in our area is reaching this demographic. Every other generation is being reached by somebody except for this one.

And, feel free to quote Rick Muchow anytime you'd like. :)


riverflow said...

Nate and all...great stuff! I just want to speak to your point about how some argue "worship has nothing to do with our preferences.." that "our personal preferences should not enter into our worship."

Really, doesn't that kind of argument take worship "leading" out of the equation? In fact, it is almost saying just the opposite: that the congregation dictates what is acceptable, and if you follow that, you'll be fine. It's a warped view of servanthood that may "keep the peace" but it is also the tail wagging the dog. My question would be: why would churches that believe such a thing think they need/want a worship leader anyway? Are they really interested/longing to grow in worship, to experientially "know" Christ in both song and deed? If not, perhaps they would be better off sticking with a music director who is paid to do a job the way the church wants it.

Assuming a church does want to grow in worship and is not hiring a worship leader just to keep up with current trends, then our personality--who we are, what we like--needs to come out in some degree so that we are authentic as we lead. Someone spoke about the importance of passion, and how what styles of music, etc. that make us tick can fuel that passion. Amen. That needs to be expressed. Hunger for knowing God in worship, as they say, is more often "caught than taught." Authentic, substantive modeling can be contagious.

There's always going to be the occasional square peg in a round hole situation, but you also have to believe that if God has prompted the leadership and you to serve as worship leader at a particular church, He has you there because you are you--not some kind of robot. If the interviewing processes have been thorough, there should be no surprises about "who I am and what makes me tick." The church knows who they're getting.

So be a servant, yes, but real.


MilePost13 said...

Any thoughts about this subject beyond musical worship?

travis ham said...

Absolutely. The way that we preach, the way that we put together programs, the way that we live outside of the walls of our local gatherings, and the way that we share our faith should all be shaped by how God has wired each of us if we are to be authentic and most effective for Christ.

I remember my senior pastor once saying that it took him a good few years outside of seminary before he could preach like himself. He had been taught for so long to emulate others (which can admittedly be a great thing up to a certain point), that it took him quite a while to let his own unique personality shine through. Incidentally, his preaching apparently got quite a bit better and was much more efficacious from that point on.

MilePost13 said...

Shared by another person on one of the worship leader forums:

"We have been going thru getting the congregation to realize the power of individual worship throughout the week, and bringing that with you to a corporate worship service, and realizing how much power is revealed in the body all worshipping together in a group setting. All of us know about being part of the body of Christ, but putting that into action is hard, and in worship if the arm doesn't let the elbow move, clapping is difficult, if the hip doesn't let the legs move, how can you dance. The person who is the arm or the hip must worship for the legs and arms to worship. They may worship without the hip or arm, but with them the worship is so much greater. Being part of the body is so much deeper than just belonging, it is a responsibility to the rest of the body."

Dan said...

c'mon, dude. Larry Norman. Give me a tough one. . .

Dan said...

p.s. What if I'm not really a Mercy Me fan? Will I still like the Christmas album?