An “American Idol” Generation of Worship

“Sing to Him; yes, sing His praises!” (1 Chronicles 16:9)

In just a few days, American Idol will crown the winner of its 13th season.  The trend-setting TV show has given hundreds of aspiring vocalists the spotlight, while music-industry celebrity “judges” rate their performances.  Public opinion reigns as TV viewers vote for their favorite performers and share personal critiques through online forums.

As each season of Idol progresses, the production values of performances increase dramatically.  Simple vocal auditions at the start of the competition evolve into full-blown stage spectacles.  The show moves into larger venues and contestants are gradually made-over with celebrity stylings.  Judges become more critical of every detail – image, skill, and presentation.

This whole formula may make for great TV ratings, but are some Christians adopting an “American Idol” mentality towards worship services these days?

Worship music has become a major focus in many of our churches.  Studies show that a great music program is even more important to many church-goers than the sermon.  But as churches promote more slick and theatrical production styles, are we guilty of critiquing performances rather than worshipping?  Some of us have become expert “judges” during our worship services.  We judge almost everything:  the song selections, the volume, the lighting, the visual backgrounds.  If the music is not up to our personal standards of excellence, we’re unhappy.  But if the band is over-the-top or too polished, we can accuse them of being “performance oriented” or “inauthentic.”  We judge the musicians and vocalists:  the clothes they wear, the facial expressions they make, the tone of their voices, and their musical preferences.

Perhaps this critical attitude comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of why our church services incorporate music and singing.  Is this simply an entertaining way to get the service going?  An interesting format to break up the church hour?  A time when late-comers can arrive without much distraction, or a good way to draw the younger generation in?

Maybe some believers have forgotten (or simply never understood) what corporate worship is all about, so let’s start with a good definition of worship:

Worship is acknowledging who God is, and what God does, to God Himself, with an attitude of praise.

Have you ever been part of a discussion after a church service that goes something like this:  “I didn’t really enjoy the worship time this morning,” or “the praise band didn’t do much for me today”?

If we plug that mentality into our definition of worship, we’re essentially saying:  “I didn’t enjoy acknowledging who God is this morning.”  Or, “My poor attitude of praise didn’t do much for me today.”   Yikes!  That’s probably not what we really meant to say, is it?  But in reality, comments like that imply that we’re more concerned with how worship affects us, rather than how it affects the One we’re worshipping.  Is our personal enjoyment of the music more important than what we offer to the Lord?  Are we simply seeking an enjoyable “concert-experience” on Sunday mornings?  If so, what are some points to remember that will help us move towards true worship?

1.  Worship is not consumed.  Worship is offered.

Music is a multifaceted art form, and different musical styles are used for distinct scenarios like parties, movie soundtracks, weddings, etc.  But worship music is in a category all its own becauseworship music is directed to God, not man!  Our own entertainment is not the ultimate goal on Sunday morning.  In fact, it’s not about us at all.  It's all about Him!  We’re like waiters at a restaurant.  It doesn’t matter if we personally like the way the food is seasoned.  What matters is the attitude with which we present it to the One we’re serving.

Some of us have the idea that the musicians / worship teams are “serving” us on Sunday mornings.  Whether it’s a contemporary or a traditional service, we blame others if we don’t achieve a worshipful state of mind – as if the worship leaders haven’t done their job.  But in reality, we’re all in this together!  We are the band on Sunday mornings – all of us – and God is our audience.  If the musicians or congregation make personal enjoyment a top priority, then God is no longer the main focus, and the objective of worship is lost.

“Everything on earth will worship You; they will sing Your praises, shouting Your name in glorious songs.” [emphasis added]  (Psalm 66:4)

2.  Prepare yourself for worship.

Many Christians go to church without preparation – much in the same way they turn on the TV without much thought as to what might be on.  They wait to see what someone else has prepared and hope they might be emotionally moved.  But worship isn’t something we can just turn on and off like a switch.  We can’t instantly transform our busy minds into a worshipful attitude, and we shouldn’t expect the worship leaders to do it for us either.

We must be intentional about preparing our hearts for worshipping the Lord before we arrive.  This may be done through prayer, meditation, reading Scripture, or whatever way you personally initiate the awe and respect with which we should approach the God of the universe.

“May the words of my mouth
 and the meditation of my heart 
be pleasing to You,
 O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

3.  Seek unity in worship.

“May God… give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and one mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”   (Romans 15:5-6)

It’s been said that we should practice “deference over preference” as we take part in corporate worship.  A worshipful attitude and a spirit of unity can be challenging if your preferred musical style is not featured on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes we can feel equally put off by the distinct mannerisms of our fellow worshippers.  However, it’s essential that we sacrificially put aside personal preferences for the sake of unity.  We must make a personal choice to look past the music and the mannerisms, and focus on what (and Who) we’re really singing about.

As an illustration, think of the huge crowd at a post-election rally.  Their focus is not on what band is playing, or the songs that are chosen, or even who delivers the various speeches.  They’ve come to celebrate – together, in unity – that the victory has been won.  They’re applauding and praising the one they chose to be their leader, and showing their faith in that person.

How much more should believers be excited when we gather to worship our Lord – to praise the God who loved us enough to give us His only Son so that we might be saved?  Let’s prepare ourselves for a unified celebration of victory in the presence of the Almighty!

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, remembering that as members of the same body you are called to live in harmony, and never forget to be thankful for what God has done for you.  Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.  And whatever you may have to do, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, thanking God the Father through him.”  (Colossians 3:15-17)

– Ron Reid

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