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