A cross-fitter, a vegan, and a person who doesn’t like contemporary worship walk into a bar. I know because they told everyone within two minutes.
I’d say that on average, every two or three weeks I see a new post making the rounds on social media decrying nontraditional worship as too emotional, too consumeristic, too theologically vapid. This is in contrast, of course, with the intellectually superior, mind-engaging, definitely-isn’t-just-based-on-my-own-preferences hymns of traditional worship.
It doesn’t matter how far nontraditional styles have come from that first wave in the 70s and 80s, either. Somebody could set a Walter Brueggemann book to guitar chords and people would still complain.
Arguments against nontraditional worship often paint the bullseye around the arrow, though nobody would ever admit it. I have yet to hear a story about how someone unfamiliar with worship walked into a sanctuary and was immediately taken by the theological rigor of the hymns. And if the Millennial generation, as some argue, vastly prefers traditional forms of worship to nontraditional, I’m sure the great resurgence of mainline denominations will happen any day now.
But there’s one primary thing I have yet to hear from the mouths or keyboards of anyone sharing one of these confirmation bias-filled screeds against non-traditional worship.
Not everyone likes hymns. Period.
No, they won’t come around to your way of thinking eventually. No, they won’t one day wake up and finally realize they love songs played on the organ. No, they won’t forsake their preferences even for an hour a week just because someone has dictated a certain musical style is the only valid form of church music. No, they won’t suddenly become impressed by the carefully crafted argument set forth over the six verses of your most treasured hymn.
It’s never going to happen.
Emotion plays a role in every worship style. Consider that music isn’t primarily an intellectual medium; it sets a tone and a mood, whether majestic or somber or joyful. Consider why worship leaders bother with decorating the sanctuary for certain times of the year or why they meticulously choose poetic words for prayers or turns of phrase for sermons. It’s about feeling as much as about thinking. And that’s okay.
It’s time to break through the bubble of article-swapping among those who already agree with you and talk to those who find no connection to hymns. What do they prefer and why? It’s different from one person to the next. Maybe even set up a “listening party” where you bring your favorite stuff and they theirs, and tell each other why you each like what you like.
Be you. Love your hymns. Play and sing them to the best of your ability.
Bring the quality you treasure to the style you’re passionate about. I bet you the people at that “other” service you refuse to attend, where they’re singing that music you’ll never understand, are just as passionate about their music—and God—too.
Jeff Nelson is a pastor, spiritual director, and writer. He is author of the book Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday. He lives with his wife and two children in Uniontown, Ohio, where he serves in ministry at Grace United Church of Christ. In his free time, he enjoys playing music, reading, and keeping up with Michigan sports teams. He regularly blogs about ministry, spirituality, and pop culture athttp://www.coffeehousecontemplative.com.