by Charles Phelps
The past 40 years are marked by major worship wars. Music is now a primary battlefield within America’s evangelical congregations. In his book, Worship in Spirit and in Truth, John Frame states the obvious, “Worship in music is a large topic, fraught with controversy today” (p. 111). In times past, many warned that “the ministry will follow the music.” Sadly, their warnings are often unheard. But the warnings are right! Let’s take a moment and explore why.
As Christians choose to worship according to personal tastes, they forget that biblical worship is about pleasing God not self. Michael Hamilton notes that, “American churchgoers no longer sort themselves out by denomination so much as by musical preference. … For better or for worse, the kind of music a church offers increasingly defines the kind of person who will attend, because for this generation music is at the very center of understanding” (Christianity Today, July 1999, p. 29-30). “As goes the music – so goes the ministry” is true because when a church is filled with those who gather in order to get rather than to give, worship is egocentric rather than theocentric. “Egocentric worship” is a contradiction of term and is not worship at all — it is entertainment (Ps. 96:1-8).
“As goes the music – so goes the ministry” is true because the music is often selected to attract an un-churched audience or even an unsaved audience. “There are pragmatists, especially in American neo-evangelicalism, to whom questions of … suitable style are irrelevant when compared to the more important matters of evangelism and church growth. Whatever music brings people into the church and keeps them there is all that is important. In practice, overt secular musical styles are those that are thought to achieve this” (Allister McGrath, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought, p. 393). Contemporary ministries argue that the community wants a certain style of music and will not attend a church where such music is unavailable.
As churches fill with those who ask, “Do I like it?” rather than, “Does God like it?” and are led by those who set aside principle and theological purpose for pragmatism it becomes increasingly true that “As goes the music – so goes the ministry!” “Worship becomes an orgy of self-indulgence” (Calvin Johansson, The Journal of the Church Music National Conference, p. 9). When leaders set pragmatism over principle attracting goats rather than sheep and worshippers seek to satisfy their tastes without regard for God’s truths, a ministry is destined to move in a dangerous direction. So it is that “as goes the music, so goes the ministry.”
Dr. Charles Phelps is the pastor of Colonial Hills Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.