End Your Worship Wars: Hymn-Lovers and Hand-Lifters!

by Julie Barrier

Worship wars? They’ve existed for eons. In the Middle Ages, Catholic priests flayed innovative composers who added extra turns to their “tried and true” plainchant. Denominations have divided over worship styles. (Some have banned instrumental worship altogether!) 

You may worship in a darkened room filled with candles, incense and the sound of acoustic guitars. You may attend a high-powered, high-tech service and sing with a Starbucks in your hand. Biker Churches thrive on heavy metal worship. Cowboy churches croon away accompanied by drums and steel guitars. Pentecostals may worship God with lifted hands and dancing feet. You may be part of a church start-up with limited resources. You may have a soprano and a flute. It really doesn’t matter.

God doesn’t care how we exalt Him as long as we focus our worship solely upon Him and do not deify our personal tastes and traditions.

God longs for His people to worship Him in unity and humility.


Everyone comes to church with “baggage”-pain, expectations, anger and fear. So how do we empty the “cup” of our worshippers so we can join together before the throne?

Here’s a war story from the past:

A well-dressed, blue-haired lady sauntered over to the church tech booth to give the pimply-faced “sound man” a piece of her mind. 

“Turn that sound down, young man!!!! Don’t you know we can’t worship God with this type of music?”

She spoke with such passion and vehemence that the veins in her neck popped out and she turned an apoplectic shade of purple. The poor adolescent sound tech was bowled over by his critic. He fled the sound booth and escaped to the safety of the parking lot.

The flummoxed pastor noticed the debacle and quickly made his way to his angry parishioner. Like many of his colleagues, past and present, this church leader was in the midst of a worship war. The graying of America’s population is a well-known fact. Moneyed long-time senior members threatened to withdraw their financial support and young families slinked out the back door in search of a church that could speak their emotional language. 

Multi-site, multi-service venues have achieved moderate success in mending fences. Several musical options are provided for the worshipper. However, change is painful and church leaders seldom see the root problem. The key to healing worship wars does not lie in notes, instrumentation, or even sound decibel levels. 

King David provides us with the clearest, simplest insight into the conflict. Psalm says “Bless the Lord, O my Soul, and all THAT IS WITHIN ME, bless His Holy Name.” Psalm 103:1 KJV

People come to church with full emotional cups. If your “cup” is filled with bitterness, anger, grief or frustration, “blessing the Lord” is impossible.



The elderly woman was mourning a number of profound losses in her life. She came to church filled with grief and pain. What were some of her issues?

  1. As we age, we lose the upper partials of our hearing. When she listened to the worship band, Mooney couldn’t hear the voices or distinguish the words, she only heard the pounding bass and drums. She also can’t see the screens displaying the lyrics. They are too far away. She could always adjust a hymnal to her tri-focals.
  2. Older adults struggle with “interference learning.” They are disoriented, confused by multiple stimuli coming at them from every direction. Lights, sounds, video, dance-any concurrent events can be distracting and disturbing for them.
  3. Sociologists tell us that the music we cherish is often the music we heard when we first became a believer or first fell in love. Such “heart-songs” are unique to every generation.
  4. The greatest pain for an older adult is the loss of a support system. This older saint used to be surrounded by her Sunday School buddies and her choir singers. Now all of her friends are either dead or are living in nursing homes. One of those people was probably her spouse. She feels those losses keenly every time she walks through the church door.
  5.  Finally, she mourns the loss of leadership and control. She was on the music committee who selected the music for the service, and now no one is listening to her. She used a chunk of her retirement money to donate the beautiful church pulpit in honor of her husband. Now the pastor preaches from a music stand. 

This older Christian is hurt and angry, so she fights back the only way she can. She takes away her financial support and criticizes the leadership at the top of her lungs. Or she leaves in a huff, losing the church family she loves. 

If her pastor is wise, he will recognize that she needs comfort for all the losses she has experienced. She needs to feel affirmed, appreciated and respected. She needs someone to come alongside of her and to help her feel less alone. Her church leader needs to navigate the waters of change carefully, and to include her in a role of reaching the next generation for Christ. Eventually, with the grace of God and a lot of prayer, Alice will become a supporter and not just a consumer. 

Conversely, someone else was sitting in a pew at the “traditional” church down the street.  

Sixteen-year-old Caleb reluctantly slipped into a back pew to attend a traditional church with his Granny. The piano and organ droned on, lulling him into a stupor. The only time Caleb has heard an organ was at Grandad’s funeral or a ball game. He flipped the dusty hymnal pages and read words like Ebeneezer, propitiation, sanctification, salvation and a bunch of other “ation” words. He might as well be reading jibberish. 

Caleb, grew up in a single-parent home. Dad ditched his family when he was seven, and he returned from school to an empty house every day. The pain of aloneness and rejection filled his heart with hurt. So Caleb cranked up his favorite tunes in his headphones as loud as he could to drown out the emptiness of his life. The quiet, anemic songs in the church service didn’t make a dent in his lonely existence. 

But Caleb won’t go talk to the sound man about changing the service. He just won’t come back. 


Ending worship wars begins with emptying the “emotional cups” of your worshippers. 

Start by identifying and healing hurts. Help your members feel less alone when they leave than when they came. Teach worship faithfully from the Word of God. After all, biblical worship took many forms. The key was whether or not the Holy Spirit had free reign to do God’s work and to pour balm on their wounded souls. “Love on” your hurting people, no matter who they are.

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