Of Hymns, Drums, and True Worship

Music is something very near and dear to my heart.  As a musician, music worship is one of the single greatest ways I connect with God.  I love and crave the times when I get to sing songs of praise to the Great Lover of my soul, and I’ve experienced the whole gamut of music worship types.

Before getting married and moving to Arkansas, I attended a Conservative Southern Baptist church with my family.  We still sang mostly hymns, the choir still wore big, shoulder-padded choir robes, and quarterly business meeting/potluck were known to last for hours. 

I played my violin and sang in the choir almost every Sunday.  I even accompanied the choir on the piano for some of our bigger performances.  The music was traditional, beautiful, and very much like a performance. 
I’ve also been at churches where the music was all contemporary, loud, and emotion-driven.  I appreciate aspects of both.  I like both.

However, in the past few years, my view of what worship should be like has been shifting.  I’ve come to realize that, in truth, music worship is not about what we like or what makes us feel good or comfortable.  Music worship is about worshiping God.  Plain and simple.

Those that lead us in this area should be focused on worshiping God themselves and leading everyone else into true genuine worship.  It’s not about how great the choir is, or how well the musicians play.  All too easily, “good” music can turn into a show instead of a time of worship.  While it’s important that music be pleasant and sound good (otherwise it’s distracting in and of itself), that’s not the most important thing.  The real question should be, “Am I truly worshiping?” 

I’ve been in many “traditional” services where the hymn singing is rote and completely unemotional.  No one is truly worshiping…they are merely going through the motions and enjoying music the way it “should” be. 
Conversely, I’ve been in many “contemporary” services where the music worship is nothing more than an emotional high.  There is no true substance…no true, genuine worship.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Thankfully, I’ve also had the privilege of seeing this first hand.  I’ve watched a congregation of mostly senior adults, moved by the spirit while singing “How Great Thou Art”, stand to their feet, one older woman with her hands raised high.  You could just feel God there.  I’ve also watched as 40,000 college students worshiped honestly and genuinely to the tune of loud, beat-heavy music. 

I believe that we can worship anywhere, in any place.  We don’t have to have “contemporary” music or “traditional” hymns.  We don’t have to have a choir or select instruments.  We don’t even have to have the type of music we prefer.  All we have to have is a pure, open heart that is focused on worshiping our God, simply and fully.     

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you worship:

Where is my heart?  Is it on adoring and thanking my King, or is it on the girl wearing the mini skirt in front of me?  Am I having a moment with just God and me, or am I thinking about how off-key someone in the choir is?

Am I listening to the words and truly meaning them? When I’m singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”, am I thinking about every word and truly standing in awe of my God?  When I’m singing “with arms lifted high”, are my arms actually lifted high?  Am I just going through the motions, singing familiar songs?

Does this music make me say, “Wow, that was awesome!” or “Wow, God is awesome!”?  Is the music so showy or polished that it distracts me from the meaning?  Is this music a performance or a worship experience?

Does this music speak to my head, my emotions, or my heart?  Is this music a mere emotional experience?  Is this music pure rote memory and nothing more?  Am I actually worshiping from my heart?

While you can learn to worship anywhere, to any music, sometimes (okay, many times, sadly), you will find yourself in a church where the music is either all for show or all about tradition.  These factors may simply be too distracting to your worship experience.  I would encourage you to pray fervently about where God would have you.  While we need to follow God’s leading regardless of our personal preferences, I don’t believe that God would put you in a church where you can’t truly worship Him.  Sometimes distractions are a sign that God is leading you elsewhere.

Whatever the case, remember that the style, setting, and volume level of the music is not important.  What matters is that you can worship there.  Personally, I would rather be in a church where the music is boring, simple, and flawed with a worship leader whose goal is to lead us into worship, than in a church that’s missing the point of worship.  True music worship is not a performance…it’s a time of praising, adoring, and thanking God together with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. 

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