The Subject of Subjective Worship

You don’t have to have spent too long on a worship team or more broadly, a church, to start realising that people have a lot of opinions when it comes to music in worship.

Either the songs are too new or too old; too quiet or too loud; too simple or too complicated; too guitar driven or too piano heavy. Some find it frustrating to hear specific parts from various instruments played incorrectly, others struggle with doing a set arrangement. Some people desperately prefer set structures, others want it to be as loose as it can possibly be. People have opinions as to whether during a prayerful moment the keyboard player should play ambient, spacious pads, a hymn in a chorale style or nothing at all. Then, of course, there are different opinions on dress code, lighting, transitions between songs, endings, whether or not the band should play to a metronome, whether chord charts should be set or using the Nashville number system, what key the song should be in, what the ceiling should be for upper vocal range and what the floor should be for lower vocal range. That’s all before we get to the actual technology itself – which keyboards, amps, pedals, cables, laptops, software, guitars or microphones are best or how the upper register of the trumpet or violin should be EQ’d versus certain vocal EQ’s and whether to add any effects before reaching the desk or after. Oh, and we haven’t even started on the most important part yet: the lyrics!

Corporate worship is an incredibly subjective experience. Is it surprising? Well, yes and no.

The chances are that no one you know will have the exact same music collection as you. We are all wired slightly differently when it comes to our musical interests. Consequently, it stands to reason that in a church of vastly differing ages, nationalities and backgrounds, people will not share the same tastes in music. Inevitably, the style of the song will probably not be to every single person’s liking 100% of the time. Musically, it’s not surprising that corporate worship is so subjective.

But it’s not just musical, is it?

In fact, it’s not really about the music at all. It’s about giving honour and glory to God. Of course, music is a fantastic accompaniment but that’s all it is. An accompaniment. If you take a look at that list again, you might notice that much of the subjectivity of worship is focussed around the musical accompaniment part. That’s the surprising part. It’s fantastic to have discussions about these kinds of topics – it is great to be passionate about the way in which we worship our God. However, we must remember that the focus first and foremost is honouring and giving glory to God. We should be able to do that whether in silence or in a stadium full of screaming people. At times, we can often let our subjective tastes in music hinder our time with God and that’s worrying. There is nothing wrong with having particular tastes in worship music – but we mustn’t let our tastes dictate our level of worship to God. He is far too great for that!

So if we ever hear the phrase “was the worship good?” – we should catch it and snuff it out quickly. We really shouldn’t be asking whether musically it was good. That’s largely irrelevant. We should be asking whether God was glorified. John Piper sums it up well: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”. More than anything else, it’s an issue of the heart, and we can’t possibly judge the hearts of the congregation. Instead, we can keep ours wholeheartedly focused on Him.

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