The word worship comes from the Old English weorthscipe which indicates worthiness or “worth-ship”. This is where I have personally derived my philosophy of musical worship, and worship in general, which I define as “ascribing a high degree of value or worth to someone or something.” In the context of worship related to God, my philosophy is summed up in one scripture verse:
For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! Deuteronomy 32:3 (NASB)
All of us, to one degree or another, tend to allow the world’s temptations and distractions to steal our focus. We too easily forget who God is and what He has done. We allow His image in our hearts and minds to wane, to pale in comparison to the “realities” of our daily lives. This is described so well in the first verse of the song “Be Magnified” by Lynn DeSchazo:
I have made You too small in my eyes
O Lord forgive me
And I have believed in a lie
That You were unable to help me
But now O Lord I see my wrong
Heal my heart and show Yourself strong
And in my eyes and with my song
O Lord be magnified
I’ve said all this in order to answer the question of our basic needs for worship. I believe that all we need to do as worship leaders and pastors is to allow God, and God alone, to be magnified in the eyes of the congregation. If their hearts are at all open to God, their lives can be changed and renewed simply by being reminded of God’s greatness and sufficiency and by being confronted by His holiness.
In light of this, our goal as leaders of worship music should most often be to convey, through the vehicle of music, a message that exalts God for who He is (worship) and for what He has done (praise). Revelation and response is one approach to use, that being if the character and person of God is revealed, the congregation will be moved to respond to His presence.
The message is the important thing, and the music we choose must first and foremost serve that message. Style will most certainly make a difference here for a couple of reasons. First, we must recognize that the melody and harmony, indeed the entire worship environment, must be employed in a way that supports the message. A minor-mode dirge is no more suitable to carry a message of joyful praise in a worship service, than a hearse is to transporting clowns to a birthday party. (Have you heard “Happy Birthday” sung to the phrygian-mode tune “Volga Boatmen?”)
The music must have the ability to transport the message to its intended recipients. This involves reasonably choosing style elements that will draw the congregation in and not distract or alienate them. These choices should take into account, among other things, the congregation’s age and its culture in regional, local and even neighborhood-level idioms. We can’t always find a solution that reaches everyone equally. That’s where we need to be flexible and bear with one another, but that’s a different topic for another post.
Until then …