By Ben Rush
If you were alive in 1986 and owned an Atari, you know that after a couple hours of Qbert, it was time to turn the volume down. Our parents couldn’t survive the sound of Qbert jumping onto one more cube. 8-bit music drives us crazy for the same reason any music can. Worship music can be awfully similar. Here are a few reasons why worship music can be annoying.
WHEN WORSHIP MUSIC IS STYLISTICALLY LIMITED.
It bugs me when someone defines what “acceptable” worship is. The only one capable of defining worship is the one receiving it (God). Last year someone emailed me, “Ben, do you have something against (insert well known worship artist’s name)?” The artist she referenced is possibly one of the most loved worship writers of our day. We sing plenty of songs he’s written. But apparently not enough.
When we assign parameters for worship and limit it to one worship artist or style, we do so in ignorance. Local Christian radio stations don’t define worship either. There is nothing wrong with the “CCLI Top 50”, but there are more than 50 great songs out there! These commonly loved songs unify the body of Christ across denominational, ethnic, and cultural constraints. However, diversity is beautiful because we are different. So be different.
If every church in town sang the same songs, the same way, it would be very dull. I don’t think that’s God’s heart for our churches. That’s not unity, that’s boring. Find your thumbprint. You have your own sound and your own style that no one else on earth can reproduce. God loves it when we walk in the identity He created for us. The Father longs for worshippers who worship Him in spirit and in truth, not worshippers who only sing a certain style or a certain way or a certain song.
WHEN WORSHIP MUSIC STOPS GROWING.
I can’t imagine what would happen if a new game designer for a Playstation 4 game loaded in an 8-bit music bed. Thank God for improvements in the music industry! If you’re still using antiquated gear and have the money to do something about it, please stop. We all loved the bossa nova switch on Grandma’s organ, but it’s time to move on. We live in the most amazing time ever. Guitarists like James Duke, Jeffrey Kunde, and Matt Kidd post their pedal boards on Instagram. Bethel Music started an online worship school called WorshipU. Ian McIntosh has online training for keyboardists in Ableton and Reason. These are just a few resources that are available now because of technology. Branch out, read blogs, ask questions, and keep learning!
WHEN WORSHIP MUSIC PLAYS THE COPYCAT.
On the other hand, guys that spend $3000 on an old amp because they saw some worship guitarist playing one are foolish. It’s especially foolish when they don’t know how to use it. They could have spent one third of what they did on something else resulting in the same sound. Why does every guitarist need to run with 1600 klon pedals? Why does every worship leader need to have a kick drum while they’re leading from guitar? Why do I want a Collings guitar? Why ad-lib over every available open space? Incessantly lusting to be just like someone else is fruitless. Be you.
WHEN WORSHIP MUSIC LACKS LOVE.
We can have the most unique musical talents imaginable, but without love, it’s a waste of time (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). As lead worshippers, the primary focus should always be love. You may be in a church that’s stuck on “Celebrate Jesus”. Here’s the deal: love them. If you are annoyed at your congregation, you’re missing it. They are probably annoyed at you too!
A few years ago I noticed a disconnect with a couple people in my church. When I first noticed it, I said to myself, “Don’t they know how good this is? Duh people!” After talking with a friend, he reminded me to love them. Some of our biggest supporters in our congregation are people I loved through transition. I haven’t changed my style. It’s not manipulation. In the process, God changed my heart and their heart. That’s what God’s love does. If I’m leading worship music for my benefit or personal praise, I’m in the wrong job anyway. So love your people. Hang out with them. Talk to them. Pray for them. Ask God to change your attitude.
When worship music becomes all about the performance – even if I’m praying with the band – and I’m not loving the congregation, “I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate” (1 Corinthians 13:1 MSG).
WHEN WORSHIP MUSIC LACKS AUTHENTICITY.
The Psalms are intriguing because they verbalize emotion. The short list includes feelings like: joy, amazement, sorrow, loss, regret, hardship, loneliness, gladness, peace, anger, fear, pain, confidence, and hope. Songs void of these emotions, or songs that only focus on joy, don’t represent the word of God. To go further, they don’t represent who we are inside. They’re dishonest. It’s equally bothersome when worship songs don’t result in surrender to God. Have your emotion, but have the full range of emotion like David in Psalm 22: 1-3, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry day by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy…” God created us with emotions. I’m not talking about bubble gum lyrics or syrupy nonsense that exploits response. On the other hand, giving people handlebars to wrestle with the loss of a loved one, the reality of finding out they have cancer, or the hope that can be found after divorce is part of the job of a songwriter or worship leader.
God is the consumer of worship, not us. The main person we don’t want to annoy is Him. God spoke through Isaiah about worship and said, “These people think they can draw near to Me by saying the right things, by honoring Me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from Me. Their worship of Me consists of man-made traditions learned by rote; it is a meaningless sham” (Isaiah 29:13, The Voice Translation). I don’t want to annoy God with worship music. I want Him to be pleased with it like a sweet, sweet sound in His ear. Our challenge is to worship with all our hearts, and lead people into meaningful worship.