AGREEMENT IS AT THE HEART OF WORSHIP
At the heart of worship is agreement. That may sound wildly out of sync for those who have been fighting over music styles, environments, etc. for a long time, or worse yet, have been released or demoted from your worship ministry position because of disagreements having to do with worship. In fact, I sometimes quip that in consulting with churches I often feel that I need a black and white striped shirt and a whistle, so I can referee some of the disagreements that characterize talk about worship in churches. Way too often, these “discussions” uncover underlying frailties that have become high hurdles too big to climb for worship minister, pastor, other staff personnel, other musicians, or church members. Well, as they say, there’s a song about that. It is now an “old” contemporary song….is that possible? Oxymoron? If it is an old song, what is it? A traditional song? Or has it risen to the level of hymn? But I digress. The song is The Heart of Worship. It is surely not fleshed out much theologically, but the motivation behind it and the core of its lyrical meaning seems to clearly apply. The heart of worship really is Jesus. Back to the agreement thing in a minute. We have gotten so comfortable with our me-worship that we have fooled ourselves to thinking it is about Him, especially if we feel good about it. So why am I writing about this?
There are several reasons. One is that it pains me to see you hurt! So many fine ministers have been and/or are being tossed to the trash heep of so-called irrelevancy. Dismissals, ongoing turmoil, relegation to lesser value, and/or little input into decision-making – these are disturbing trends. Another reason is that many youth and children’s choirs have been halted due to shortsightedness on the part of leaders who have had their vision of worship confiscated by the tyranny of falling attendance and collection figures, popular misperceptions of what worship looks and feels like, and childish congregants, who use straw-man arguments about what millennials want in worship in order to get their own way. Just hearing the words, “youth” and “choirs” in the same sentence causes eyes to roll for many. Please do not mis-hear me. There are issues within these situations that desperately need to be wrestled to the ground. Any of us can become stale in our ministry skills or need an upgrade in our musical skillset. Updates and adjustments within our developmental ministries through music are an ongoing reality. Leader decisions about all things of the church need to be made that are biblically and theologically sound, and that truly benefit (edify and strengthen) the church over the long term. But none of this progress is likely in adversarial environments where the theme of worship that should be the highest uniter has been allowed to become the primary divider.
It seems to me that in the best situations the leaders find a way to come to agreement. Often this means give and take on all parts. Unfair fighters have all kinds of fraudulent tools at their disposal: positional power, popularity, passive aggressive behavior, gossip, secrecy and withholding information, etc., etc. Sadly, many are more adept at using these hellish techniques than have the patience and determination to pray through decisions such that harmony can demonstrate gospel effect. The spirit of genuine agreement provides a great model for how believers treat one another (Romans 12, John 17, Ephesians 4, Philippians 2 and 4).
What’s more – back to my first statement. Agreement is at the heart of worship. Here is what I mean. Worship rehearses our relationship with God, which is rooted in covenant agreement. Consider the roots of Worship, our relationship with Holy God:
God’s Covenant with Israel – I will be your God, you will be my people
God’s Covenant with the Church – Jesus does for us what we could not and cannot do for ourselves forgiveness of sin. We are to be faithful believers.
In every situation God has been faithful. He has kept His covenant. The story of Israel and of the Church is a story of breaking the agreement through disobedience and disbelief. Worship in our own power always falls short. Worship in God’s power rehearses the story of God. It is the Gospel, all about Jesus. In an ongoing manner we renew our relationship with Him. He is God, we are His people because of the satisfying finished work of Jesus! As Robert Webber reminds us “through worship our relationship with God is maintained, repaired, and transformed.”
Worship that renews our agreement with Jesus places in that position afresh to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) What joyful refreshment of soul and spirit to live in peace with God through Christ by the Spirit!
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 Robert Webber, Learning to Worship with All Your Heart: A Study in the Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship (Hendrickson Publishers, 1996) 18.