An attitude of worship

Eventually I was going to have to adapt to the modern worship style so common now among evangelical Christian churches. At the church we have joined, as in so many other evangelical churches, there’s a band on stage, with guitars, bass, piano, and drums. We sing contemporary Christian songs. The overall expression is energetic and positive.

Hazelwood Christian Church cornerstone

I will always prefer the worship style of the Church of Christ when I was there many years ago: sober, orderly, with all of the old hymns. The icing on the cake was that we sang in four-part harmony, a cappella, and it was truly wonderful. I don’t prefer the legalism I experienced there, so I’m not going back. But I miss the worship, and probably always will.

Singing in church always puts me in a worshipful state. I love to sing. I can carry a tune and I have a strong voice. I liked singing the old hymns because they were familiar, and I could really get into singing them. I remember learning them. They were generally easy to learn due to being choral in nature, repeating several verses across the same melody. Most of them had meaningful lyrics. These songs activated both my mind and my emotions.

I seldom sing in church now. I know next to none of the contemporary worship songs. They’re not as easy to learn as hymns, but they’re all basically pop songs, and with enough repetition I’ll pick them up. I can sing the first verse and chorus of hundreds, maybe thousands, of 1970s and 1980s radio hits because the radio played them over and over!

St. John Lutheran Church

Trouble is, songs don’t repeat frequently enough in church for me to learn them. My wife tells me that I’d learn these songs if I listened to K-Love, a radio station that plays them. But I don’t want to do that. To be blunt, I feel emotionally manipulated by the music, and I find the lyrics to lack depth of meaning. The music on K-Love repels me.

I’m going to briefly gripe about how loud the worship band is. It hurts my ears. I go to heavy-metal concerts and those don’t hurt, but the worship band sure does! I bought noise-reducing earplugs to cope.

In short, nothing about the current style of worship music works for me. Yet I’m not deluded that there’s any way to go back to the old hymns. That ship has sailed in evangelical churches.

Not singing makes it challenging for me to enter a worshipful state of mind. My time in the Church of Christ imprinted it deeply: we are meant to participate in singing, praying, giving (tithing), and taking the Lord’s Supper (communion), four of the five elements of worship. The fifth element is hearing the Word preached, the only element where we’re not active, except to actively listen.

Brazil, IN

But 25 years after my baptism I should be — I am — a mature Christian. I shouldn’t expect the church to provide the perfect circumstances for me. They are rightly focusing on attracting and retaining new and growing Christians. I don’t believe that our style of worship music is as effective in that as they appear to think it is, but that’s not my issue to own.

I can choose my attitude. I wish I learned that a lot earlier in my life, but at least I know it now. My attitude is a choice of both my mind and my heart. For me, the mind leads, as it is where I make the choice. But my heart must follow or I can’t sustain it.

I choose to let go of the hostility I often feel toward the music and its volume. I choose to remember that this worship style isn’t for me, a mature Christian, but for someone new to the faith. I support doing things that attract and retain new Christians, especially in a time when our numbers are shrinking so dramatically. I choose to enter the building Sunday morning fully intending to give the best I have to God even if the way I prefer to do it is more challenging for me to participate in. I choose to fully participate in all of the other elements of worship. I choose to remember that a church service isn’t about me.

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26 responses to “An attitude of worship”

  1. musing75 Avatar

    Not sure that a perfect church exists – but certainly some are easier to worship in than others. I know it shouldn’t make a difference where you are, but somehow it does …

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is harder to worship when the flow and music aren’t to your preference. There’s no doubt about it.

  2. Greg Clawson Avatar
    Greg Clawson

    Jim, well said! Our church has a 9 and 11 am service schedule and 9 am are mostly mature Christians, most of us would prefer to have traditional hymns not played at death metal volume.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A lot of mainline Protestant churches I gather have separate traditional and contemporary services. While I’d enjoy a traditional service, I wouldn’t like very much that it would tend to separate the congregation by age.

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Take a page from the Catholic Church and an old altar boy, we went through all that guitar mass hoo-doo in the late 60’s and early 70’s…some of that still exists, but not at all services. There usually a few masses on a Sunday, many “Coke Classic”, and generally only one with “religion-tainment” …the masses held daily, are all “old school”. It was pure, bold faced calculation to resort to this to try and stop the hemorrhaging of people from the services, and get the “kids” interested. Unfortunately, there’s nothing more sad and silly than an adult, and a religious adult no less, trying to “hip stuff up” for the kids. Glad that eras over. There are still people who enjoy the Latin version, and it’s still available le, especially in the barrio, where the constituents like their mass old school.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I know people who were thrilled when the hymns went away in evangelical churches. Goodbye to stodgy old worship! I just wasn’t among them.

  4. Russ Ray Avatar

    Our church in the suburbs is similar in that there are lots of lights (with a fog machine) and sound during worship. They say that these don’t make worship a performance, but then I wonder why they have them if they don’t.

    While I’m not in the camp of liking hymns so much, I don’t really like K-Love either because it’s too much pop/electronic for my taste. I much prefer the stadium (not sure how else to define that but when I see it online it’s always being performed in stadiums and big arenas) worship that Passion, Hillsong and Elevation produces.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The church my wife attended when we met was very much doing a performance on stage every week. I couldn’t take it.

  5. brineb58 Avatar

    We were raised Catholic and I remember in the early 70s they had “folk” masses where instead of the organ and choir, they had a few people with acoustic guitars playing … as a teen, I liked it better than the choir. As the years went on, that fad passed and my Sister moved to Florida and joined one of those multimedia Evangelical Churches. When I visit, I will go with her and I honestly don’t feel it’s a religious experience, way to loud and flashy for me, but she loves it. I don’t judge people, whatever works for you is fine!!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I started as a Methodist and the high-ceremony worship didn’t resonate with me. The simple, plain service in the Church of Christ was perfect for me. The modern evangelical experience isn’t terrific for me but at this point I’ve been a Christian for a long time so I’m just going to try to figure out how to be in a good spirit no matter what the worship is like.

  6. fotosharp3820ea7ebf Avatar

    I doubt that the music/entertainment practices in so many churches today has anything (or at least not much) to do with declining attendance. Busier schedules, non-belief, etc. are the main drivers. I suspect the biggest reason to attend for most people is for the social connections, followed by “true” belief and habit.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Agreed. I think the more modern music is probably attractive to seekers, but it’s not enough to keep them.

  7. Jane Safford Herr Avatar
    Jane Safford Herr

    I find it somewhat bizarre that my church (Episcopalian), one of the most liberal around has the old hymns and an organ where these ultra conservative places have a rock band set up where the altar should be.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is odd, isn’t it. I haven’t attended a church that has an actual altar in 20 years.

  8. brandib1977 Avatar

    Have you been there long enough to discreetly suggest to the pastor the music is too loud? You can be diplomatic and compliment something else about the service as well. Some of these modern churches seem so fixated on providing entertainment that the actual worship appears to get lost in the mix.

    And yes, I do know how I’m old I sound when I say that.

    1. Russ Ray Avatar

      Speaking as someone who serves on our church tech team, I can tell you that those concerns get a good laugh behind the scenes and then end up in the trash. The worship pastor has likely heard it before and will politely tell you that maybe their church isn’t for you.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        That’s certainly their right. Every church isn’t for everyone, especially if they are laughing at the concerns of their flock.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      I will say that this church isn’t trying to provide a show. I know of local churches that essentially are all about the performance.

      I don’t see anyone else in the congregation needing to step out because it’s too loud, as I have had to do. So this is a me problem, as the kids say today.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Lol. At least you’re self aware, my friend!! Honestly, If we had something like it around here, I would prefer a traditional Quaker service where it’s quiet and respectful. But I’m certainly in the minority these days.

  9. Douglas De Gelder Avatar
    Douglas De Gelder

    Some good points here. In our family 3/4 of us play an instrument in church, I try to keep in mind that it’s not about me, we’re leading worship not performing, and I have to give the song what it needs. As a guitar player, sometimes what the song needs from me is nothing, and I’ll just sit back and sing, and let the piano handle it. Our son is away on a work term in a different city, and he’s playing bass in a local church. They’re a lot more performance oriented, which isn’t really his thing but he does the job.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      All of this is why I miss the a cappella singing in the Church of Christ! None of this to wrangle with.

  10. J P Avatar

    Hoo boy but this resonates with me. I grew up in a Lutheran church, and few did majestic hymns powered by a massive pipe organ like the Lutherans. The Catholic music I have experienced as an adult is usually a let-down. We sing hymns, but most of them are bad hymns written in the 70s and 80s with boomer-pop melodies and suspect theology. I find it a struggle to overcome the attitude these songs encourage, and I am more successful some weeks than others. But every now and then I am swept away by the beauty of some worship music and the bad stuff is forgotten, if only temporarily.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I went to Mass a handful of times in 2017-18 with Margaret and her parents, and was surprised by the music for much the same reason you cite.

      1. J P Avatar

        Catholic liturgies usually have their parts set to music. I have never been the same since someone pointed out that Gloria in one commonly used modern Mass setting mimics the theme song for “My Little Pony”. Thankfully my parish doesn’t use that one, because I don’t think I can overcome the association. The antidote is listening to Mass settings written by Palestrina in the 16th century. Ever so rarely I have attended a modern Mass where some of Palestrina’s music has been used. It is Heaven on earth.

  11. Rick Bell Avatar
    Rick Bell

    Hi, Jim
    I was just reading in the scriptures about King David’s orchestra and was thinking about the time in the new world when I’ll be able to meet him as an ordinary person and hopefully will be able to participate. I love music and was privileged to play in a small orchestra as a young man. The songs we sing now are different from the Psalms King David sang but we are told in the bible that it is an important part of our worship.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Indeed, we are commanded to sing to our Lord!

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