When I was in my teens, I played guitar for my youth group’s worship team. There were five or six of us on the team, and none of us were particularly good at playing an instrument or singing, but we were the best the group had to offer. We played every Sunday night for the youth group and practiced about once a week. Our biggest moment was when the youth group had a special event one Sunday afternoon. All the youths were going to be there and some adults would show up too. We planed this event for weeks, working on special songs and covers, like DC Talk’s “What if I stumble.” But what we were most interested in was how to make the worship set different. This was going to be our last hur-rah as a group, since some were leaving for college, so it had to be really special.
During one practice session, a member brought the soundtrack to Indiana Jones and played the theme song. When the youth worship leader heard the song, he was struck with the perfect way to make the set special. He happened to own an Indiana Jones hat, and so he suggested that we play the theme song as our entrance music. We would turn down the lights, play the theme song on CD, and right as the swelling and famous melody begins (dun-dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun), we all rush through the doors of the sanctuary and head to the stage. We all thought the idea was hillarious and brilliant and so we agreed to do it.
I wish I could say that this story ends with a youth leader or parent or even another youth telling us that the idea was foolish, attention getting, and a complete distraction from worship, but no, we went through with our plan and felt, mostly, stupid for running into the sanctuary to the theme of Indiana Jones. But no one, to my knowledge, ever said anything to us afterward about our entrance. As far as we knew it had been a brilliant entrance to a great worship set. So why didn’t anyone say anything to us? While I think there were quite a few factors which prevented anyone from challenging our decision to make a theatrical and absurdly incongruous entrance, I think the main reason was that we were “worshiping God.” Only, in reality we were doing a very poor and insincere job of worshiping God.
There is a stigma in the Church about being critical of objects, people, events, that are made for the glory of God. And to some extent this stigma is a good thing. After all, Paul does tell us not to grumble and complain. But this desire to get along can be taken too far. And when we are unable (unwilling) to thoughtfully and lovingly criticize what ourselves and other believers make and do for God, then we resign ourselves to mediocrity, or even worse.
We seem to treat each other like children coming home from Sunday school with a passionately made, but horribly bad drawing of Moses. Even though we know the drawing is painfully awful, we praise the kid and stick it on the refrigerator. Only, instead of kids who have poor motor skills and little-to-no understanding of coloring inside lines, we praise each other for the “effort” (however bad and half-hearted) and stick our works to the fridge.
This fear of criticizing is dangerous to the Church and fundamentally unbiblical. We need to recall the plea of the writer of Hebrews to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (10:24). Notice that this verse does not ask us to stir each other up to love and works made with good effort, or good intentions, or works which praise God, but good works (the Greek word for “good” here, kalos, can also be translated “beautiful”). Whether it is a worship song, a Christian movie, a band, a photograph, a skit, a choir, a painting, whatever we make for God’s glory, we should be working to make it good and beautiful. And when we find that our brothers and sister’s in Christ are struggling to make works of excellence, we should feel comfortable, lovingly stirring them up to mature in their works. This is important to the Church as a whole, to individuals, and to our relationships.
Unfortunately, for us to be loving and helpful critics of each other, we need to do some homework. Here are some practical things we can do:
- Spend time studying the medium and genre of the creation. Sometimes when we first react to something critically, we do so out of ignorance. Perhaps the song we dislike is actually well-written or sung, and we simply don’t understand the style. Or maybe a painting that we see as chaotic and childish is actually a wonderfully made work of abstract art. My point is that ignorant criticism is foolishness. In order for us to properly stir up one another, we need to sacrifice a little time and educate ourselves.
- Don’t confuse aesthetics with taste. I don’t like metal music. I find it draining to listen to and far too angry. I also dislike almost all classical music. Whenever I hear a classical song I can find myself accurately anticipating the movements to such an extent that there is no joy in hearing the song unfold. Both my dislike for metal and classical music are matters of taste. I think both genres can have great and beautiful works, I simply don’t enjoy listening to them. When we criticize works made by fellow believers we need to be able to separate our tastes from what is actually good. Just because it’s not our “taste” to sing contemporary worship doesn’t mean that there are no good contemporary worship songs.
- Remember that the goal is to lovingly encourage good, beautiful works. It is easy to avoid a balance when it comes to interacting with people. In many ways, it would be nicer to simply praise every bumper sticker and tacky tee-shirt with a Scripture reference, or to unsympathetically attack anything we deem to be sub-par, but we have a call to both sharpen other believers and love them. This requires us to be devoted to maturing each other while remaining humble.
It is not easy, popular, or comfortable to tell someone who sung a song praising Christ that they were off key, or that the song need to be improved, but when we are willing to stir each other up to good (beautiful) works, then maybe we can prevent some other youth group worship team from rushing into a sanctuary to the theme of Indiana Jones.