Let me say it again, in case you think you must have misunderstood me. Sometimes it’s okay to leave a church over worship style.
Hear me out. I’m not saying you must leave, or even that you should leave in any of these situations. For any number of reasons, you might not feel you have much of a choice. But worship is so important to the life and mission of the church, and there are certainly times when you may need to just get out. Here is a list of such occasions when I think a holy fight-or-flight response may be appropriate.
When worship is called a secondary issue.
The fact of the matter is that worship is not a peripheral issue. It is the lifeblood of the missional church. A church that understands worship as its sacred work will worship with intentionality, conviction, and urgency.
When the issue of worship style is discussed in terms of preference or taste.
Issues of worship style are inherently issues of meaning, not preference. When a church holds two services with different musical “styles,” the intention is to cater to various personal tastes in the congregation, but the inescapable reality is that they are also offering different theological meaning. Whether those meanings are right or wrong is perhaps up for discussion, but it is time we moved past framing the “worship wars” as merely a difference of taste, as if we were choosing a flavor at Baskin-Robbins.
We need to start being honest with ourselves. When this happens, you probably have two (or three or four) separate churches with as many separate theologies.
When it’s obviously about entertainment instead of liturgy.
Is it for work, or is it for show?
When demonstrative emotionalism is purported to be true worship.
Emotions are good, and a wide range of emotions should be discerned in our worship at times. But suggesting that emotions are indicative of true worship is more pagan than Christian.
When the language used is consistently careless, inelegant, or stupid.
When the Eucharist is disregarded.
The Table – not music or preaching – is the natural culmination of Christian worship.
When it falls victim to chronological snobbery.
As Christians, we are participants in the long, beautiful story of God’s redeeming love. We also have the benefit of a historic pattern of worship, rooted in the history of Israel, that has been refined and passed down through generations of worshipers. We must not dare think we know better. Worship isn’t recreated in each generation’s image. How arrogant we would be to defiantly stand on our own, ignoring the great cloud of witnesses that have come before us.
When the worship style is tweaked to attract outsiders, non-believers, or so-called “seekers.”
While the liturgy as a whole is intrinsically and overtly evangelistic, many of the things we do should seem strange, weird, and silly to those outsiders.
When voices calling the church to think more deeply about worship are ignored, dismissed, or vilified.
If this is happening to you, the culture is ripe for abuse. Because worship is so important, these conversations should be welcomed by leadership. You aren’t just causing dissension. You aren’t just sowing discord. You aren’t just making something out of nothing. You aren’t a modern-day Pharisee. By boldly questioning a worship culture that has clearly lost its way, you are doing important, redemptive work.
And sometimes, when it’s clear your concerns are hitting a brick wall, it’s okay to leave. It’s okay to go and not look back. It’s okay to step aside without feeling guilty.
Don’t let some Elmo, not even an Elmo with a Doctor of Ministry degree, tell you any different.