by Tim Studstill on November 21, 2013 in music and worship
No peas, and never canned green peas. That is the one menu request I made of my soon-to-be-wife some three decades ago. She has never served them to me, thank you very much!
My aversion to this spherical, colorful starchy vegetable began in elementary school. Something about the aroma and texture of the drab green veggie on my plastic lunch tray turned my stomach. I decided one of the privileges of adulthood would be the choice never to eat another canned green pea.
However, my mother occasionally brought home a brand of canned peas packaged in a silver label with a fancy French name. Those were tolerable. I also discovered a wonderful English pub that served up mushy peas that were right tasty. I was first lured in with incredible fish and chips, then they sprang the peas on me!
So perhaps my problem is not with the flavor or texture of all peas, just most of them. Maybe I prefer specific brands, a specific serving or a specific preparation. I do enjoy a serving of frozen peas, perhaps with a few pearl onions or diced carrots. The point being, as an adult, whether or not I eat peas is totally up to me! It is my preference.
How many of our conversations each day are built around preferences? Discussions about restaurants, cars, clothing styles, books, movies, politics and even worship? I’ve heard debates over hymns or choruses, hymnals or screens, organ or guitar, praise band or orchestra and praise team or choir. I have even heard the debate of all preaching and no music or all music and no preaching! If you are in a position of leadership in a church, I have no doubt you, like myself, have been dragged into countless preferential one-on-ones.
To what extent should we allow our preferences to impact worship? Maybe only as far as it affects our communication with and before God? Does the language we use in worship matter? I prefer to worship in English. I have participated meaningfully in worship services presented in Spanish, German, Portuguese, Russian and even Latin, but my heart resonates most in my mother tongue of English. What about the language of God’s written word? Does version or translation matter? Do we speak and hear best through the model of KJV, NIV, HCSB or The Message? And what about music that communicates? Which musical language is most effective in worship? Should we sing the songs of Zion styled after Tomlin, Gaither, Crosby or Watts? Text is obviously significant, but should style be a concern?
I confess I feel strongly about my musical preferences, but my musical tent is very large. I prefer to experience corporate worship in an eclectic and diverse manner. Multiple styles afford me a corporate time to be challenged spiritually and to simply worship God. A time to respond passionately to emotional tugs and intellectual prompting, all to the goal of being renewed, becoming more like Christ.
There is no sin in having and voicing preferences . In the words of Will Rogers, “A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries.” In fact, in most situations, having no opinion is perceived as uncaring or apathetic. Definitely not the attitude we want to present regarding worship, especially given the “lukewarm“ admonition in Revelation 3. What concerns me about preferences in worship is the aggressive way we assert them as right or wrong. I do not find biblical precedent for personal preferences determining Christ-centered worship. However, I do find definitive statements about what God expects from authentic worship and worshippers, and it’s so much more than the songs we sing or the sermons we preach.
And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… Love your neighbor as yourself… (Mark 12:29-31 NIV)
If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. (Romans 14:15 NIV)
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall… So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves… Everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:19-23 NIV)
Worship is loving God and serving people. A lifestyle of true praise and worship is affected very little by a style of praise and worship.
What happens if I come to your house and you serve canned green peas? I eat them. I set my personal preferences aside in order to honor you and celebrate a feast around the table with my friends and family. I do not prefer to eat peas on my own, but if given a choice between eating peas with you or not eating with you, I will happily eat the peas. And you will never be aware that I don’t like peas.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1
Lord, may we worship you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, now and forevermore!