Jesus himself couldn't win the people-pleasing game. He told one group of people, in effect: "To what shall I compare this generation? You are like children playing in the marketplace. I played wedding music, and you wouldn't dance. I played funeral music, and you wouldn't mourn." Many worship leaders are trying to win a game that Jesus wouldn't even play. A large group of their people wants a jig, and another powerful group wants a dirge. Perhaps the disagreement is more substantial: Some want stirring songs of testimony while others want informative songs of tradition, while still others want passionate songs of praise, prayer, and waiting on God. With these competitive and hopelessly varied demands, corporate praise and worship stagger along like a double-minded man--fast then slow, old then new, shouting then weeping, all compiled around a checklist of old songs for the old folks and new songs for the young folks. Behold the crippling power of disagreement!
It is time to agree. Public worship isn't a wedding or a funeral and it certainly isn't a game. It is its own event, different from every other public ceremony. The role of leadership is to standardize the goals of the service and reduce the competing demands of the congregation to one agreed-upon goal. To many this goal is evangelism. Worship services have become presentational events, focused on the un-churched. To others the goal is discipleship, the building up of the saints. To still others worship itself is the goal; services are intended to be an encounter with the Living God. Where can we get an idea of the Lord's priorities, so we can make those priorities our own? What does the Bible say?
To me, the most complete biblical statement of the goals of public worship is Heb. 14:15-16: "Let us continually offer to the Lord the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name and do not forget to do good and to share with others for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
This passage speaks volumes to me. The three-fold mission of the Church is obvious here: Worship ("the sacrifice of praise"), Discipleship ("to do good"); and Evangelism ("share with others"). It is this totality of mission that pleases the Lord. If we sacrifice any of the three in favor of the one or two, we do not please Him. In more detail, those three essential dimensions are: (1) Worship--loving the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength, (2) Discipleship--letting all things be done to the building up of the Church until we all come into the fullness of the character of God, and (3) Evangelism--loving your neighbor as yourself. It is time to embrace the priorities of the Holy Spirit.
How does this work itself out in the selection of worship methods? I see three worship service goals upon which we can all agree: (1) Worship must celebrate our heritage; (2) Worship must be an encounter with the Living Lord Jesus; and (3) Worship must take the Church a step closer to her future. In other words, our worship needs to be biblically based and connected to those who have gone before us. It must be contemporary, speaking to those who stand before us, and it must be prophetic, showing the way to those who will follow after us.
"Do not forget," says the writer to the Hebrews. The presence of the Lord is so exciting that we can easily forget our heritage and the lost people outside our circle. Let me paraphrase three verses into a biblical vision for worship that can unite the Church as never before, if we all agree. "I implore you to present yourselves as living sacrifices of praise to the Lord. This is your reasonable service of worship. Let one generation declare His works to another and do not forget to do good and to share with others. With such sacrifices God is well pleased."
Can we agree? If so, worship wars can cease, and we can focus all of our energies on fulfilling our mission.