“These days, I frequently hear a word applied to churches that never would have been associated with houses of worship a generation ago: cool.” This was written by Lexington Herald-Leaders culture columnist Rich Copley. I thoroughly enjoy Copley’s writing, especially because he often writes about issues of faith and society.
This particular article was about worship styles. There has been a revolution in the past few decades that has transformed our understanding of what happens on Sunday morning. Before this revolution, Copley notes, “most churches were still dressing their ministers and choirs in heavy, dark robes, singing centuries-old songs from decades-old hymnals and, of course, getting their instruction from a book well over a century old.”
In churches these days, that would be decidedly uncool.
Should “cool” be one of the core values churches strive for in their worship services? This question opens up the debate about the relationship between the church and the culture in which it is embedded. Do we embrace cultural values and seek to incorporate them into our corporate worship, or do we shun them and hold to our traditions, which set us apart from the mainstream?
I believe the answer is “yes,” depending on your church. Some churches’ identities are rooted in the traditional, liturgical style of worship. The robes, the candles, the “oldies but goodies” hymns all speak to a rhythm of worship that resonates deeply with worshippers. Other churches have crafted a worship service that includes audio-visuals, upbeat praise or rock music and a casual, “come as you are” atmosphere that attracts people looking for a place that doesn’t fit their “uncool” definition of church.
Neither way of worshipping is right or wrong. But both styles are susceptible to becoming so much of a church’s focus that the lose sight of the larger picture. Copley makes the point that each generation often re-interprets worship for its own context, but we can become so preoccupied with championing a certain style of worship experience that we forget the actual mission of our worship and our ministry.
My goal at Crestwood is to present the most excellent worship possible each Sunday. That doesn’t mean the most perfect worship; there’s a big difference between the two. By “excellent” I mean that each of us should bring to Sunday morning the best we have to offer God: in our prayers, our singing, our listening abilities and our hearts. God deserves nothing less than our best, but that is a comment about our substance, not our style.
Striving for excellence also leaves room for error. Copley quotes a 30-year-old congregant who wrote, “I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants, and…brace yourself…painfully amateur ‘special music’ now and then.” Why? Because it’s a reminder that we are all human and God can work through the imperfect to make God’s presence known.
Copley closed his article with this poignant statement: “The point is not to elevate or degrade any of our worship styles. If there were not a variety of ways to worship, we would all just go to the closest church. We just have to watch that we don’t get hung up on the trappings and forget the message. In the grand scheme of things, the trappings are what God cares about the least.”
To that, I say “Amen!” At Crestwood, I hope we can provide a worship services that speaks to all of our spiritualities. Not every service will do that. Some will be too somber or not reverent enough or lacking focus or celebration. That’s OK. There’s always next week. All I ask is that you come to Sunday morning with a worshipful heart. We will all give God the best we have to offer and trust our worship will be received by God as a faithful gift and expression of thanks.