I was raised in a very traditional church. I cut my teeth on the Praise and Worship hymnal. "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" is on page 63 - I don’t have to look it up - we sang it every Wednesday night. My dad loved the Chuck Wagon Gang - had all their albums. I remember going to an early Gaither concert (with Hank and Hazel Slaughter) and coming away thinking it was the best worship service I had ever experienced. I stayed awake through several "All Night Sings" at the Flint IMA auditorium. Thrilled to the tenor reaches of Jake Hess and chilled by the deep, deep bass of J. D. Sumner. I even sang in a traveling Southern Gospel group - a career of exactly one Sunday. I said all that to say this...(classic, traditional preacher line) ... I have deep roots in traditional the (revivalist 1940 to 1965) worship style.
Somewhere along the line, I left the traditional worship camp and became a contemporary worshiper. I didn’t set out to do it. There was no plan. Nor was I taken hostage by Stryper or Petra and forced to listen to drums and guitar in the 110 db + range until I succumbed and let go of my polyester suit jacket and Wildroot hair tonic.
I can, however, point to one watershed moment at our denominational general conference in 2000. Each plenary session included a time of worship in varying styles. One featured our current District Superintendent, Mark Gorveatte on the piano doing a traditional, but very entertaining set. Later there was a group from Australia that was (for its day) very contemporary. I didn’t know the tune. I couldn’t keep up with the words. I didn’t identify with the style. Therefore, I couldn’t worship.
Or, could I? A few rows up and half a section over was a small group of teens and twenties having the time of their lives. Clapping, singing, swaying, hands raised and faces radiant. I worshiped watching them worship.
I’ve shared that story several times over the last seven years as an example of how we can worship even if it isn’t "our style" or more correctly, the way we connect with and experience God. Some discussions this past week have given me an opportunity to ponder that moment and the subsequent changes in my heart and worship once again. And I have made a few new discoveries.
I realized that....
I had to appreciate a different kind of worshiper
Before I could appreciate another kind of worship.
Once I came to love them, I came to love their means of worship.
What is dividing our church is not the style of worship,
But our refusal to love those whose means of encountering Christ
is different than ours.