Often times, people can treat worship leaders as being like juke boxes giving their opinions as to whether or not the music you choose is too new, too old, too simple, too complicated, too loud, too quiet, too fast, too slow, etc…
Music is of course subjective so our preferences are certainly a factor, but what if I was to tell you that the “grey areas” aren’t nearly as grey as many people might think? What if there are some objective measures by which you can use as a worship leader as guides for song selection, style choices, and other decisions?
The Bible says nothing about what music styles are to be used for corporate worship. But it DOES say a lot about what worship is and who God is. It also defines how we should live. So within this context we have wide boundaries and virtually no stylistic boundaries. I say virtually because certain styles do evoke certain emotions and stir imaginations in a direction that arguably may or may NOT be conducive to worship. So within these bounds, and I would add the practical boundaries of the music being congregationally singable, we are left with the freedom to choose music based upon who we are trying to reach.
I believe lots of churches make the mistake of thinking that they should try to reach EVERYONE. Make no mistake about it, THE CHURCH, defined scripturally as the aggregate of Christ loving bodies now spanning all across the earth, might be designed to reach EVERYONE, but not your church and not mine. Our churches are the arms, legs and feet in the greater body of Christ.
Think about this. Even your church’s size likely limits who you can reach. If you belong to a small to medium sized church, you’ll never reach people who insist on a mega church. And mega churches are not as likely to reach people who insist upon the smaller church experience. And that’s just looking at church sizes as inherent limitations. How do denominations (or lack of them), theology, geography and ethnicity limit your church’s ministry reach?
Rick Warren has noted that light, when scattered, is weak compared to focused light which can cut through a steel beam. Just as one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, what one person sees only as a limit, I see as an opportunity for specialization.
So who has God called your church to reach? How does your church even determine such a thing? The answer to this question needs to come through prayer but it can also come through some basic observations. Where has God placed your church? How has God gifted your church and what limitations/challenges does it face? The answers to these questions can help your church to capitalize on its strengths and compensate for its weaknesses.
The serenity prayer reads in part: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Some of your church’s limitations are opportunities for growth and change, while others are the guardrails to show you where the road is.
Once you determine who you are trying to reach (and this does not suggest excluding those you are not ‘aiming’ for), you have a sort of ‘litmus test’ to make decisions regarding worship styles. For instance, you’re generally not going to reach an upper-class erudite elite demographic with bluegrass and Southern Gospel music. Exceptions exist of course but their existence does not make them the norm. We are limited to generalities. For many churches trying to reach the 20s and 30s age demographics, there is research that indicates that you are more likely to reach them with contemporary music than with traditional music. Again exceptions exist… And I grant that contemporary could mean a variety of things but again, there are ways of whittling this down if you just understand who your target is. To do this, we have to learn to listen. Often times churches are better at talking than listening.
Apple knows its target audience and does everything they can to reach them. That target audience has an attitude more than anything. That zeitgeist is one that wishes to be nonconformists, individualistic, leading and not following, suspicious of institutions. In 1984, Apple launched its Macintosh computer, with a commercial based upon the dystopian George Orwell novel 1984. In it, they depict a heroine who frees a civilization that has been mind-numbed into a group think conformity by “big brother”. Apple styles everything in their communications with this mindset. Knowing their target audience gives them a focus for success.
Knowing who you are called to reach can be a game changer. It gives you a buffer of protection against the madness of being the congregation’s juke box, giving you the clarity to make decisions to equip your ministry in achieving its Divine calling.
And what better example do we have of this principle than with Christ? Being divine, He could have revealed Himself via any physical form. He could have taken on the flesh of an alien, or a beam of light, an animal, or perhaps a centaur.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14