Substance over style

Substance over style

A couple times a week, I will pull up to my favorite coffee stand in the harbor and order myself an iced decaf latte. Iced, because I run warm. Decaf, because I’m naturally caffeinated. And a latte because I’m not a “real” coffee drinker…I just like my milk with ice and a couple shots of coffee in it.

 But one of the questions I invariably get from one of the baristas at the stand is… “So, what do you do?” I always struggle to answer that. How would I begin to explain what a “pastor of worship arts” is? In any given week, I might visit someone in the hospital, coordinate musicians, mentor a young leader, officiate a memorial service, plan for Christmas services (that’s right, we start in June!) Let’s just say, the job keeps me on my toes! 

But there is one thing about my job and our church that is particularly difficult to explain, even to life-long believers: that we have two styles of worship in our one church.

And I love them both! 

 I love the great hymns of the faith. I love our organ (and, especially, the gifted organist who plays it!). I love four-part harmonies, liturgy, and a variety of well-orchestrated instrumentations.   

But I also love singing a new song to the Lord. I love the electric guitar (and, again, the gifted guitarist who plays it!). I love the driving beat of the drums, the simplicity of the band, and the diverse musical genres. 

 It’s a good thing that we have these two distinctive styles. Because different people resonate with different expressions of worship. But while we can delight in our differences, I believe that we must heed an important caution as a two-style worshipping community.

On one occasion, Jesus had a strong word about how the Pharisees approached worship:  

“For the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:6-9)  

 The Lord’s warning, applied to our context, is simple: We shouldn’t focus on our traditions more than God’s word. We shouldn’t make what we say or sing in worship more important than our heart posture before God. And we shouldn’t elevate our own preferences to the level of what God has prescribed. In short, substance should be our focus, not style.  

 I’ve always found it fascinating that we have extraordinarily little record of how the early church worshipped. We know they didn’t have electric guitars, organs, hymnals, or even church buildings. But what we do know is extremely limited. And that is likely for good reason. Because if we knew more than the basics, that would become our focus, instead of what truly matters.  

So, what does truly matter in worship? Jesus taught us: “True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. For the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).   

Spirit. Our worship should be heartfelt, Spirit-directed, from the soul. Truth. Worship should be honest, saturated in God’s Word, true to his nature and character.  

 This is the substance of our worship. And when we have that, we can worship! According to Jesus, we don’t need anything else. We just need to worship the Father through the Son by the Spirit according to the Word. That is what true worship is all about. 

It may surprise you to hear that, over the last several years, our worship styles have become more distinct in their expression. For example, not too many years ago, our 9:00 am service was called “blended” in its style. We didn’t have organ accompaniment every week. We didn’t sing the Gloria or Doxology every Sunday. We didn’t make it a practice to say the Lord’s Prayer together regularly. In these ways, what we now call our “classic” service has become more classic. 

 But with the developments of these styles, we want to “excel still more” to emphasize substance over style in our services: We want both of our services to be Spirit-led and Scripture-saturated. We want to be unified as often as we can, which is why you may see many of our musicians leading us in both services. We are, after all, one church seeking to worship one God in spirit and in truth! We want our congregants to be participants, not spectators.  

One way we want to include more of you in this calling is for you to participate in the musical leadership of our service. We will be holding two choir interest meetings, both of which will be held in the Prayer Chapel just off the narthex. The first meeting will be for our 9:00 am classic choir on Tuesday, June 27, at 5:30 pm. The second meeting will be for our 10:30 am modern choir on Thursday, June 29, at 6:00 pm. If you love to worship and you have a background in singing, please email me for more information about these opportunities. We are looking forward to engaging our choirs more starting this coming fall.

And if your gifting is playing an instrument, please reach out to me about how you might offer that gift in service to the Lord and his church. We would be happy to connect with you about next steps. 

 Whether you are in the pews or on the chancel or even worshipping online this Sunday, the encouragement is simple: we are called to choose substance over style in our worship. Yes, we can enjoy our preferences. But let us delight in God himself infinitely more. Because he alone is worthy of that kind of worship. 


Soli Deo Gloria,  

Pastor Gunnar