Recently I did something so horrible that I was afraid to admit it to my friends and loved ones. Hidden in shame I would relish in my dirty little secret when I was alone in the car and no one would know. I had accidentally liked a new song on the radio and then to my horror I learned that it was the new Justin Bieber song “Love Yourself”. You might think that after finding out this fact I would have scrubbed out my ears and vowed to never allow it to play in my car again but I was hooked. The catchy beat and earworm lyrics had already embedded themselves in my consciousness and they weren’t going anywhere.
After a few days I was able to steady my resolve and admit my secret to my wife. Who rightly laughed at me and began the much needed shaming of one who usually listens to indie and folk music and criticizes her love of Top 40 pop. I protested claiming that I thought it was an Ed Sheeran song and therefore much more acceptable, but she would not relent. I finally accepted the truth: I had become of fan of a Bieber song.
This experience taught me about how many of us approach music. It exposed how my prejudices and preconceived notions about music influence my opinion of the music before I even hear it. Before “Love Yourself” if you asked me what I thought about Justin Bieber’s music I would have said that it was all pop trash manufactured to sell albums and sell out tours. I wouldn’t have been open to listening to any of his song and any that I did hear I would automatically write off as bad. However, since I heard “Love Yourself” before I knew who was singing I was able to experience the music for what it was: a catchy song with some clever lyrics. Since I wasn’t prejudiced against the song before I heard it I was able to make up my mind about the song based on its own merits. I am not planning to go back and listen to Bieber’s back albums or download his latest album but I can honestly say I like one of his songs and that was a surprise to me.
How does this apply to worship styles? Like with music, most people approach worship styles with a preconceived notion of what they like and don’t like. People might dismiss contemporary and modern worship as surface level, emotionally driven (or manipulated) services filled with “happy-clappy” music with simple “7/11” lyrics (seven words sung eleven times). They might picture stadium style seating with rock concert themed lighting and smoke with the people dependent on projection to sing along and see the worship leaders and preacher. Others might view traditional worship as stuffy and emotionless worship filled with people who are simply going through the motions of a lifeless liturgy that they don’t even understand. They might dismiss the preachers as old and out of touch leaders who are hidden behind their robes and stoles preaching sermons that are predetermined by some mysterious lectionary.
If either of these two groups of people were forced to go to a service different from their preferred style they might already judge it before the service even started. Like my prejudice against Justin Bieber we can be blinded to what’s really happening in these services and if we can move beyond our opinions we might actually enjoy something that is outside our normal Sunday morning experience. As a pastor I have been blessed by modern worship that helped me to connect with God in a relational way. Sometimes there is power in singing simple lyrics giving these truths time to permeate my spirit. I have also seen my faith deepened as I have experienced traditional worship that ties me into the deep history of the church and uniting the passages of Scripture used with churches around the world. Each style contains aspects that are needed in our faith development and when we complete shut one out our own faith is lacking. Recently, modern worship leaders have been using traditional hymns and liturgies to create new worship songs. Traditional worship leaders have brought in some of the contemplative and artistic elements of modern worship. In doing so both styles, and those who attend the services, have been blessed.
I’m not expecting or asking people to start attending a style of worship different from the one that helps them grow, but I am asking that we keep an open mind to where the Spirit of God might be leading others in the church in different ways. Instead of judging them or declaring that our preference is the best maybe we should listen with an open ear and mind. I was surprised to learn that I liked a Justin Bieber song but I am glad that I heard it. I will still mostly listen to my preferred styles but every now and then I just might check out what the Biebs is doing. Who knows I might like something else he has done. I will also continue to experience different forms of worship and as I do I believe that my own faith will benefit as I see the beautiful and varied worship of all of God’s people.