Many churches struggle, fight, and (often) even split over musical style and preferences. This is a sad reality, because music is a gift to build the church, not a weapon to destroy it. In this month’s episode I talk with Mike Harland, the Director Lifeway Worship about what caused the “Worship Wars” of the 80’s and 90’s, how the fallout is still affecting us today, and how we can move beyond it to shepherd our people with music that transcends genre and points people to Christ. If you’re struggling with fighting, dissension, and critical comments from your congregants, or if you’re just wondering how musical style fits into the grand scheme of worship, this episode is for you.
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Alex Enfiedjian 00:09 Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the worship ministry training podcast. This is Alex Enfiedjian. Your host. This is a monthly podcast for worship leaders and worship team members we cover topical issues that are relevant to your life in ministry just want to be as helpful and to the point as possible. So if you have a specific topic that you are wrestling with, I would encourage you to dig through the archive list and just see what’s in the podcast app and what we’ve covered already. If you have a topic that you think we should still cover, I would encourage you to email me Alex at worship ministry training calm and let me know what topics you’d like me to cover still. Today we’re talking with Mike Harland from LifeWay worship. And we’re discussing the worship wars of the 80s and 90s. And even today, I still get emails from people who say I’m really struggling with my congregations preference over style. Some people want hymns some people want modern, some people want dance pop, you know, and how do we take all these people’s preferences and weave it together into something that’s going to serve them and point them to Christ. And so if your church is struggling over style, or if there’s fighting or dissension, this episode is going to be very helpful to you. Before we get into the interview, I want to tell you about our recommended product this month. And that is core sound pads, their pads live app, they have an app for your iPhone, or for your iPad, and I believe even now for Android, and you can just select the keys of the pads to play behind your band and to fill in the space and to smooth out the transitions and to create a seamless worship experience. And really fill out the sound of your team. So checkout pads live with the links that are in the show notes. And if you decide to purchase a pads bundle, you can use the promo code WTF podcast at checkout and save 20% off any purchase. alright with that, let’s jump into our episode with Mike Carlin. Hey everybody, I am here with Mike Harland who is the director of LifeWay worship, which is a branch of LifeWay publishing, Mike, I think I understand that you guys put out resources and music to help worship ministries thrive. Is that correct?
Mike Harland 02:22 Pretty much I mean, the Ministry of life way global is to resource the church, we always say Our mission is to help the church in her mission of making disciples. And the joy that I have is in the discipline of worship. And so all things that are related to worship and music that comes through LifeWay, that’s what our team does. So it’s a great privilege to do that.
Alex Enfiedjian 02:42 Yeah, awesome. And you also have a podcast, which we’ll talk about at the end and a new book, which you just put out, and you’re interacting often with worship leaders of all shades, types and sizes, right? I mean, you’ve got all denominations coming to you guys and stuff. So you’re familiar with the pulse of many churches. And it seems like this book that you recently released, which is called worship essentials was prompted by a lot of troubled pastors or worship leaders writing to you and asking for advice, help help or having worship wars in our church. And I feel like this book was in part a response to those pastors. Is that correct?
Mike Harland 03:19 No question. Our president, the president of LifeWay, Dr. Tom Rayner, he has one of the most listened to podcast of that pastors listened to that’s called Rainer on leadership. And so this actually all started a couple years ago, maybe three, when Dr. Rainer asked me to be a guest on his podcast, and his audience is almost entirely senior pastors of churches. And so he wanted to do a podcast about worship. So it was just a conversation between me and him talking about the common issues that churches face. And well, a couple of days after it published, his producer called me and said, it’s the biggest and most downloaded podcast he’s ever done. And he’s had some that have like, hundreds of 1000s of downloads, and I just can’t believe it. And they he said, he wants to have you back on and talk about it some more. Well, one thing led to another led to another and it seemed like we had found a rhythm of talking about issues around worship, that was resonating with pastors in ways that that neither one of us really expected and, and so then he said, Well, you got to write the book. And I said, Yeah, I think I’ve got to write the book. And so the book actually, is based on those podcasts that Dr. Rainer and I did, and the kinds of subjects that we chased in those conversations. And I’m just so blessed to be part of a company that saw the need for a book like this and gave me the opportunity to write it.
Alex Enfiedjian 04:43 Yeah, that’s awesome. Now, for the listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with the term worship war, it’s basically often two generations fighting over stylistic preference of music. So it’s usually the traditionalists and the hymns and the Oregon and the piano and the strings and then the young contemporary It doesn’t have to be age specific, but it’s these preferences and they’re clashing over style. And it’s causing division and dissension in churches, from what I understand all over America, and maybe even all over the world. What percentage Mike would you say of churches are actually still in the trenches fighting over stylistic preference?
Mike Harland 05:19 A well fighting would be this too strong a word to use with every church. But I would be willing to say that virtually 100% of churches have questions and concerns about preferences in worship. Even in healthy worship cultures, I think the nature of the activity itself and certainly music, it has its own subjectivity. And artistically, there going to be preferences on every turn. So I think the genre and the language and the medium that we use in music lends itself to lots of conversation. And very often disagreement, where it turns into a war is where lines begin to be drawn, and relationships begin to be broken, and the impact of a church and the health of the entire church affected by choices made around music and worship. And there’s no question in my mind that this conflict in worship dates all the way back to heaven itself, you know, Lucifer, a desire to be worshipped as if he was God. And you can even say, not trying to spiritualize the story at all. But you could actually say that worship wars go all the way back to the halls of eternity. And virtually every generation of believer from the very beginning of time, and certainly in the since the New Testament and the Christian church, every generation has had its own version of the same story. So it’s a real issue that churches face of how divisive the music and worship discipline in a church can be, if there aren’t a few essentials, that become the real rallying point behind what we’re doing in worship. And that’s what the book is trying to address. What can we focus on that isn’t so subjective and divisive? What are the values that transcend that that actually call together a unity and a unified approach to worship as a body of believers?
Alex Enfiedjian 07:13 Yeah, we’ll definitely talk about what those core essentials are. Um, because I think you outline it pretty clearly, in your book, you said that this is something that has been kind of going on since the beginning of the church, which is sad, right. But I also feel like around the 60s and 70s, when technology started to gain traction, and you know, amplification and lights, and then, you know, the hippie movement, the Jesus movement started to bring guitars into church services, I feel like things started to heat up a lot around that period of time. Is that true?
Mike Harland 07:46 Yeah, absolutely. And I actually there are a couple of places in the book where I give a little bit of a history lesson from my own perspective of it. My own experience of that. I graduated from high school in the late 70s, my first church that I was serving in a in a worship leadership role was 1980. And so I was, you know, I was right in the middle of all of those changes, I would say exactly what you said, the rise of the Jesus movement, the vineyard movement, Maranatha, then you begin to see integrity Hosanna, they’re sending out cassettes with new songs to churches and charts of those songs, and churches begin to find ways to bring newer music and more contemporary music into worship, and the rise of ccli. When ccli came along, and provided a legal way, for churches to reproduce lyric, and to make it available, suddenly, the church no longer had a single source of music, which would have been the hymnals we used to hold. Now we could, virtually any song could be done, and used in a public forum. And we had a way to engage the congregation and in the use of those songs, and then the portability of the guitar, as opposed to piano and organ where songs begin to be more guitar oriented and band oriented. You mentioned the technologies that came along that where you begin to use things, and that’s still happening to this very day. So no question all of that together. And then I would, I would add one more factor that maybe some of us haven’t thought about very much. And that is the church growth movement. And I’ll explain what I mean by that. We actually have an era in the western church where church growth became a real focal point of congregations, you say, why hasn’t the church always been interested in growth? And for, for sure, the church capital C was about growth, but it’s really been in our lifetimes, that the church became consumed and focused on growth, and began to look for an employee strategies to grow numerically and to expand their ministry. numerically, the church of yesterday really didn’t think like that they wanted to win people to Christ for sure. But they weren’t thinking necessarily of how do we grow our organs. And how do we create a user experience almost the way a corporation would. And so in the church growth era, pastors began to look at the ministries of their church, if they were happened to be in one that wasn’t growing. And they begin to say, Well, we’ve got to change some things. Well, if you want to change the personality of a church, or the kind of the branding of a church, if you will, and I use that word is the best since I can, one of the first ways to do that is to change the way you do music. And churches begin to use music. And this is a scary thing, really, as I say it, churches begin to think of music as a strategy, instead of a discipline of response, as the Bible talks about singing to the Lord from a heart of worship, so, so music kind of became a strategy and churches begin to employ strategies around style, in an effort to attract a demographic. So there was an attraction model to our music, not just an engagement model, but an attraction model. And church growth was associated with newer, contemporary modern approaches. And churches began to run two strategies around music, believing that would get them in the game of growing their church. And I’m speaking in real practical ways about a much more complicated question than that. But I think that’s part of the factor is that we had an era where churches began to reach for things to try to grow in a observable way. And music became one of those strategies, and sometimes to the church’s detriment, I’m afraid.
Alex Enfiedjian 11:32 and say what you ended up having was, you have like, the older generation going, wait, this used to just be about us singing songs that we knew and love to serve the Lord to worship the Lord to bless the Lord’s heart. And now it’s it feels like we’re being performed at by these rock bands. And that’s where you could see maybe, dissonance starting to happen between the two groups. They’re like this is supposed to be worship, you’re taking our beautiful, sweet corporate times of singing, and you’re turning it into an attractional. concert to try to bring new people to church. And that is a scary thought.
Mike Harland 12:04 Yeah. And here’s another thought. And this is a thought a lot about this one, too. And I go into this in the book to some level, part of the dilemma for the church, or part of the contributing factor of this church is the demise of the economy of Christian music itself, with the rise of digital music, the loss of CD sales, and all of that. And we all know that in the streaming world, the economy of music is not what it was. And back in the day, and the rise of the golden era of Christian music, which would have been the 80s and the 90s. And artists could live quite comfortably on the royalties and the sales of their physical product. That’s no longer true. And so what you begin to see is artists who couldn’t sustain themselves financially, with CD sales, or even radio play, or all the other things that that had generated income for artists in the previous decade, those artists begin to find a way to be their families, on the platforms of our churches, the whole personality type that begin to lead worship in our churches, rather than being a trained musician, with a college degree or seminary degree, who knew how to lead choirs, who knew who had a command of a repertoire. Now all of a sudden churches, for all the reasons we’ve already mentioned, they’ve got this large number of artists who now need a place to live, they landed on the stages of our churches. Now, there’s some great things about that, that I would call out to say Thank the Lord, we brought an excellence we brought up artistic expression. And there’s some wonderful benefits to some of the artists that found their way into the stages of our churches. But these artists weren’t necessarily shepherds. And so artists, the thing, the difference between an artist and a shepherd artist will sing for the sheep, but a shepherd will lead the sheep to sing. And it’s an entirely different approach to congregational singing, even the way we build our rooms, we built our worship spaces in this era, we turn them into much more theater experiences, much more light lit and lighted and serve technologically for a audience experience rather than a congregational experience. So the rooms lend themselves to that the people leading lended themselves to that the music itself lend itself to that. And before very long, we had this, as you’ve already pointed out, this real chasm developed between what we used to do and what older generations, you know, lived in their Christian experience. And now suddenly, the modern worship expression is nothing like that and not engaging them at all. So, so it creates quite a quite a challenge for churches, no doubt about it.
Alex Enfiedjian 14:47 Yeah, even just putting myself in the shoes of that generation and going, man, like I wouldn’t be able to resonate with what’s happening now. You know, and so it gives me more sympathy and kind of just a heart have empathy towards them to say, Man, it must be hard for them to say, this is just very different than what we’re used to. And you can see to like, the older generation is also often the largest giving population of a church. So they have the pastor’s ear, and they’re saying, Pastor, we don’t like these young artists that are stepping on our stage, they are ruining our church, and he listens to them, you know, he’s not supposed to listen to them just because they give more financially. But he does. And I wonder if that is a factor as well,
Mike Harland 15:35 it’s got to be a factor. I mean, we’ve got a, we’ve got to think practically about this the way a pastor would have to think about it. And, and you know, what, there are people that are right on all sides of this, and have brought a healthy, mature perspective to this a spiritually mature perspective. But there are people on every side of this that have brought immaturity to it is well, and we have an enemy, he doesn’t want the church to be unified. And, and yet, you know, that’s what Jesus prayed for his disciples, He prayed that we would be unified, it makes total sense that the enemy of the church would step into a space like this and bring the vision over something worship in the Scripture, when it happens in community is something that brings the body together. And yet the enemy comes into these subtle changes, and the preferences and all of the stylistic concerns that people can have, and who’s giving and who’s not giving and all of those things. And the enemy gets in there and creates real division and confusion in the church. And then the church is weakened from something rather than it building up the church and even equipping the church to be more faithful, what God’s called us to do, it actually becomes something that now is divisive and hurtful and, and creating real damage in the church. And so that was the motive behind the book, just to call out some of these issues, and maybe bring some language to the conversation that we can talk about, that can unify us around some real biblical principles about worship, instead of the stylistic things that make us divide so easily.
Alex Enfiedjian 17:03 Yeah. And as you said, this has been happening since the beginning of the church just in terms of stylistic changes, like what we do now looks nothing like we did 100 years ago. And what they did 100 years ago, looks nothing like what was happening 200 years ago, and so on and so forth. And I think it’s actually a good thing, Mike, that like each new movement of God births a new song and a new sound and a new style of expressing our hearts in worship. You know, each generation really does have its own sound. And so what that means to me is that this will probably unfortunately, happen again, in the future, it might look different, since the technology factor has already been added to the equation, it might look different in the future, but it’ll probably happened again. Now, if we’re going to look at this holistically and say, What is the core issue or the root cause or causes of this division over style? in the church? What would you say are the core causes of this problem?
Mike Harland 18:01 I think I mean, there’s several ways to kind of go without that question. One of the dividing points, I believe, is caused by a lack of perspective of where music fits into this equation to begin with, the tool of music. I believe I you know, and I’ve been in church music all my life, love to sing love to write love to do all of those things. But I’m convinced that musics one of the most powerful discipleship tools God has given us parents know this, parents teach their children the alphabet with a melody. I give the example off. And my daughter who’s 30 years old, and a mother, she can sing the 50 states in alphabetical order because of a song she learned in seventh grade, this connection between truth and melody. And it’s beautiful to see it even in the Scripture, and even the example of how the Psalms of ascent that had a specific purpose in the families they learn these prayers and these songs together, and how they knew them, and they shared them back and forth, and they sing about God and share these truths back and forth. And then my own experience, even like looking into the New Testament, you see how Paul in his writing use song. I mean, some of the most powerful passages and all of the Pauline writings of the New Testament are written in song form like First Corinthians 13, or Romans 1133 36, or Philippians, two or Colossians. One I think that’s one of the most important songs ever written. And Paul puts those in song form, and even instructs later in Colossians. To let the word dwell in you richly and sing to one another teaching and admonishing one another through songs. So God’s given us this amazing tool in music to use to disciple people with but there’s the distinction is a tool. It is not the point. And I think that’s where the delineation can happen, where where the art begins to serve itself and exists around itself for its own reasons, we all know how satisfying music can be to sing and to participate in and even to experience. That’s why concert halls are filled all over the world every night. But in the church setting in the worship setting, we got to have a discipleship perspective of what this tool is. It is not the point. God didn’t call us to make music, he called us to make disciples. And the leader of this ministry has got to be think like, he’s got to be artistic for sure. But he’s got to be artistic with a shepherding focus with with a mission focus with a discipleship focus. And I think that’s where the danger can come. And what will what makes us prone to these kinds of debates and deliberations is, we take our eye off the point of making disciples of telling people who Jesus is, and using music as a tool to grow disciples in their faith, rather than an art to be performed and enjoyed by people that are there to watch it. If we can keep our eye on the main focus of why the church exists at all, and see music as a tool instead of a point, then we’re well on our way to avoiding some of the conflict that can happen.
Alex Enfiedjian 21:14 So that’s one of the core causes is when the leader starts to view music as the point rather than the medium by which to make disciples. Are there other central causes that you see as fueling the worship wars?
Mike Harland 21:27 Well, I love to talk about the instruction Paul gives us in Romans 14 in First Corinthians 11. There are other passages, where he begins to talk about a mark of spiritual maturity is when we are patient and deferential to the weaker or more immature in our faith. I think it’s interesting you were talking about how the generational divide around worship can certainly show itself and you’ve already referenced that that’s not always chronological age is there’s a pattern there. But it does, it’s not always just the age of a person that gives them whatever perspective they have. But the principle that Paul talks about in Romans 14 is, the one with mature faith is going to be very patient with those that are younger or weaker in their faith. There are two worship issues in Romans 14, neither one of them happened to be musical. One of them is about what day of the week should be the day of ceremony and observance. The other is about whether or not meat should be eaten. You know, those are the two questions Romans 14. But the principle Paul gives is, you know, instead of fighting for your preference, the mature among us should defer and be patient and pursue unity and community in the body of Christ, rather than trying to win an argument. And the point is, do you want to win an argument? Or do you want to win your brother. And so the other calls I would point to is a general spiritual immaturity among the many of the people that are in our church. The reason they would default to the preferences over style, is they don’t have a mature view of how the body of Christ is supposed to work together. And often, some of the people should have the most mature view, sometimes with the very people that have the least patience and the lack of willingness to differ. Truth matter is, and you said it a minute ago, every generations had their own approach to music. As a matter of fact, I made the observation several years ago that several of the Psalms have superscription, that had two names associated with the Psalms. And it begs a question, if you think about that, if God preserved the text of those songs, why didn’t he preserve the tunes? And I’m convinced the reason he didn’t preserve the tunes is it so that every generation would have the joy of collaborating with him about their own expression, the truth of what those songs say has never changed. But the way that we say them has changed constantly. And I think that’s part of the joy that we get to experience as creative people made in His image to be creative. We get to join him creatively, and expressing this truth in something that’s unique to us in the generation that we live in. Well, that’s going to be the case. Hopefully, as generations mature, they will have more and more patience and willingness to allow emerging generations to find their own voice, just like their generation had that privilege to, but it hasn’t always happened. And I think the reason it doesn’t always happen is we haven’t grown our people up spiritually, very well, and our churches may have in our pews, a lot of folks that just don’t bring a spiritual maturity to the question.
Alex Enfiedjian 24:39 So So those are some of the issues that are causing the worship wars. What are some of the cures like, what is the cure for the illness, and this is kind of really what your book is all about. And we’ve kind of peppered some of those answers already in, but just maybe kind of hit some of these core principles found in your book about what we can focus on in our ministries to lead us away from fighting and towards unity and health.
Mike Harland 25:02 Well, the whole point, the starting place for worship, there is a single starting place for worship, that I just believe is so clear in Scripture. And it will sound so simple when I say it, that people will call me Captain Obvious. But really the starting place is Jesus. It really is all about the revelation of Christ and the way people will respond to him. Our worship is a response, I’m convinced that the pattern that we see in the Scripture is that worship is not something we do to get God to respond to us to give us what we’ve asked for to be who we want him to be and need him to be. Our worship is actually a response to him, when he reveals himself when we see his glory, his infinite character, and righteousness and holiness, and we worship in response to him. So the starting place of worship is always a clear revelation of Jesus who Jesus is. And that’s expressed perfectly in His Word, and perfectly in the person of Christ, as we look at him and listen to him, and the Holy Spirit within us, bears witness to those truths. And when we begin to focus on Him and who he is, and what he’s done, and what he’s ready to do, and the righteousness that He has given to us because of his own sacrifice on our behalf, our worship becomes the response to that. So that’s one of the cures, I would tell any church, man, our worship is grown cold, if people don’t respond, I would go right back to the very core of what we’re doing in worship, and make sure that the revelation of who Jesus is in His Word, and in his person, is the centerpiece of the worship that we do. We have to make sure that our worship is not just the emoting of how we feel about God. But our worship is actually containing the essence of who God is, as we begin to sing those things over each other, and focus and center on who Jesus is, and not just the Jesus the world tries to define for us, but the Jesus that the Bible clearly reveals to us. And if we will focus, we start right there of telling that story of who he is, and what he has done in our lives. And as we sing that, and share that back and forth and worship, we’re well on our way to growing a healthy worship culture, because the centerpiece of it is not our art, not our musicality, not our technology, not how cool and snick everything is the centerpiece of it is the person of Jesus, there is a obsession with presenting Jesus and focusing completely on him and worship. And that’s where I help the worship culture starts. And believe it or not, this is obvious as that sounds, there are many churches that don’t always live right there, it becomes about all kinds of other things. I mean, churches are very prone to make their worship times to be times of encouragement, times of affirming of each other. And even what we focus on in worship, from a teaching standpoint can be about many, many good things. But if they’re not completely crystal centric, and focus on Jesus, it will foster an unhealthy environment in worship, where divisions are prone to happen. So starts right there. It’s all about Jesus.
Alex Enfiedjian 28:15 It’s all about Jesus. Yeah. And you know, I haven’t had a ton of experience with fighting and backbiting regarding style in the various churches that I’ve served in. And I don’t want to sound like I’m doing it all right, because I know for sure that I’m not I know myself. But I think one of the things I did get right, in my worship leading is to make it not about style, but about Jesus, and bringing in different styles to uphold the person and the work of Jesus. And I feel like because I did that, I didn’t really experience a lot of the fighting and the complaining. And the I mean, of course, you get the occasional email, hey, it was kinda loud. Today, my ears hurt, you know. But I think because I was able to pull in like hymns and new songs and weave them all together into this beautiful experience that pointed people to Jesus, I didn’t get a lot of the
Mike Harland 29:07 no doubt, no doubt about it, and he is the point of it all. And that’s why the worship wars are so unfortunate because it distracts from him. And we begin to focus on all those other things that takes the attention away from him. And, and you know, what I would also say, part of that remedy is the people that are leading this ministry, whether it’s a pastor or volunteer, or whoever might be leading that ministry, that they bring a shepherding mentality to it, where they’re leading their people to respond or the focus is completely on Christ. But I’m not just focused on my response to Christ as a leader. I’m focused on the body’s response to Christ. And that’s one of the points we talked about in the book, that there’s a focus on congregational engagement. And the choices that I’m making as a worship planner, as a musician are built around the win for the congregation. Not the wind, for me as an artist, not the key that I sound the best in, not the vocal licks that display my versatility as a singer. All of those things can be contributors to a worship experience for the church. But the wind has the one focus is him and the engagement of his people in worship. And so the choices I make, I don’t choose things that would attract the people that I wish was there actually plan the worship for who I know is there with a very just almost an obsession, on engaging the people in a corporate experience of responding to who Jesus is. And that sounds like just hearing you talk about your ministry focused on Christ, but also the beauty and the variety of ways to bring in opportunity for the congregation to respond that that’s when you’re on your way to seeing something happening in worship that can be so beneficial to the body. Hmm.
Alex Enfiedjian 30:56 Yeah, I think if I were going to pull out a couple of thoughts from what you just shared, like artful variety, using different styles to illuminate different aspects of Christ, you know, work and his character. And then I think what you really hit on, which is that Jesus is central way to say that would be that the war over style is one with substance, you know, so when you have the right substance, people aren’t even worried about the style. Sure.
Mike Harland 31:23 That’s right. And you know, what followers of Christ will respond to him when he’s presented, and is the focal point, they will respond to him. And, you know, I’m not a big fan of of a term that you hear sometimes. And you didn’t use it a minute ago. And I’m really glad you did admit it, the term blended, people talk about their worship is blended, I’m afraid that word suggests that we approach our worship with some kind of template that says, I’m going to do two hymns. So those people will be happy. And I’m going to do two modern songs. So those people will be happy, etc, etc. And it becomes kind of a buffet approach to a congregational worship experience. And to me, that’s, that’s not the healthiest approach, I think you said, the artistic variety of it, I think that’s a far healthier way to approach it. Which is to say, we’re not serving a style, we’re going to be authentically who we are, with the musicians we have, we’re going to be our very best. But we’re going to use whatever song is the right song for the moment, the copyright date of it is not going to be what determines that it’s going to be what the song is saying. It’s biblical authority that it contains. Its focus on Christ, the musicality of it, our ability to lead it in a way where there’s no distraction, musically. And then come what may in terms of which style that is, I mean, it can, the style can be all over, it can be within a narrow parameter of the comfort of your own musicians. Or it can be stretched out to all of the expressions that your particular body may have within your community of musicians. But it’s not it’s not this blended approach or this template, an approach that’s trying to placate preferences. It’s like, Who cares what style it is, this is the right song for this moment. And I think variety is important in anything that we do. I think, even in our preaching and our teaching, we need variety. So some songs are fast, some songs are loud, we’ll go full band will go piano only will go acapella will sing with a choir will sing with a small team will do. I mean, just all of the variety, because I think that makes the message even a stand up even more about who Jesus is. So it’s not so much a blended approach to satisfy everybody, but a variety approach of authentic expression, artistically based on who you have as leaders in your own church.
Alex Enfiedjian 33:48 Yeah, that’s a beautiful and compelling picture you just painted and I feel like even a couple weeks ago, what you said about not caring when the copyright date of the song is we had the Jesus paid at all him, which has the new arrangement to it, but it’s that’s like a couple 100 year old song. And then we followed that with Believe it or not my Jesus, my savior with my daughter, Darlene check, which was like, I don’t know, 1994. And then we went into Oh, praise the name, you know, by Hillsong, which is like 2015 16. So it’s like you can weave all that in. And the variety actually ministers to different people in the congregation too. So I love that
Mike Harland 34:30 the thread that holds that all together is Jesus, and bringing the best artistic excellence, you can do all of those styles. And when you put them all together and bring the very best offering you have musically that can get out of the way of the person of Jesus expressing all those songs. We’ve kind of stumbled into one of my favorite things to talk about in this. I think it’s something that the modern worship leader needs to be really mindful of, is that we are living in an era where The velocity of new songs in our churches actually present a challenge to our congregation, instead of equipping them to respond and engage, we actually challenge them. Because we’re throwing so many new songs at our churches, it’s scary. I think back 20 years ago, if a song was top 10, on ccli, it would be top 10 for five years. Now a song might be top 10 for five weeks, we kind of have a song does your I have several theories about why that’s true? I think one of the reasons we have that is we’re in an era where songs are being written in such a narrow stylistic palette, that they’re not memorable enough to live longer than that. I mean, that’s, that’s probably another podcast. But we are inundating our churches where, whereas back in the day, my church might have sung 70 or 80 different songs over the course of a year. Now in many churches, that number might be 200. And constantly introducing new songs, to the point that our church no longer owns the songs in terms of knowing them really, really well. And they don’t sing them and that is engaged in them. Because they just don’t know him that well. And you mentioned I bet when you went to shop to the ward and that Medley you were talking about a minute ago, I bet your folks went Oh, yeah, I love that song we haven’t sung in so long. And Jesus paid it all. I mean, how people will engage in something like that, because they can release their spirit and worship, when they’re not obsessing over how well they know it or don’t know it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do new songs, I’m just saying that, that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, because our our velocity of songs has gotten so fast in our churches.
Alex Enfiedjian 36:42 This has been very helpful so far. I recently got a few emails from different worship leaders around the country, expressing their concern, and their utter dismay over what they should do, because their churches fighting over style. You know, like I said, I don’t personally have a lot of experience with it. So I didn’t think it was actually a thing, but it is a thing. And these people email me asking for help and advice, and they use phrases like this. I’m walking on eggshells, it feels like I’m walking on eggshells. And they said, You know, I have no idea where to start. How do I start any help? So Mike, what would be your encouragement to these, you know, weary leaders who are in this war torn environment?
Mike Harland 37:22 Well, the first thing you’ve got to do, I believe, you certainly you want to understand the vision and the heart of your own pastor. And if you’re in a situation where you guys are not on the same page, you’re going to have a very difficult time ever moving past that. So it would be pastor, let’s sit down together. And let’s visualize and try to articulate what a healthy worship culture in our church, what does that look like? What are we aiming for? And then you begin to walk through that and you know, someday we’re going to have it here. What will it be when we have it, and then identify those values that are really matter to you that transcend the moment, or just this year, or just next Sunday. But then the second thing, I would tell anyone out there, and I go back to that imagery, I talked about artists and shepherds, if you’re in a change environment, where our church is changing, and maybe it needs to change, and you know, it ought to change, and you’ve got a pastor with a different vision, and you want to, maybe you’re in a community that’s changing and you need, you need to approach it differently, musically than maybe what they’ve done in the past. A change environment requires a shepherd and a shepherd. I call it our cue relational quotient instead of IQ. I call it our IQ. I want to say a leader like that. What’s your IQ? In other words, how relational Have you been? And what kind of equity, spiritual leadership equity Have you been able to build up in the body, and that happens over cups of coffee, and visits in people’s homes and being on the other end of the facility in where the senior adult classes meet? It’s serving potatoes in the family night meal. It’s ministering to people and connecting with people on a personal shepherding level. I’ve got a story sometimes I’ll tell that gives an example of this I was in one church had been hadn’t been there very long as the leader and and I did something in a worship service, that senior adult followed me out to the parking lot. You know, we’ve all had those experiences. And I don’t like what you’re doing at our church. And I’ll never forget this guy’s name was Doug. And I said, well, Doug, I said, if you can’t believe in what I’m doing, I want you to believe in what I’m trying to do. And if you’ll let me I’m going to come to your office in the morning, and what kind of coffee Do you like, and he gave me a Starbucks order. And I was at his office the next morning at 10 o’clock with his favorite coffee from Starbucks. And I sat down with for about an hour with this guy. And I said, let me tell you what I’m trying to do. And what the pastor and I’ve talked about, and I’m sorry that that hasn’t connected with Do you Yeah, but this is what I’m trying to do. Could you help me know how I can do what I’m trying to do and Doug begin to get engaged. And well, Mike Have you thought about and then we go back and forth. Long story short, when I left that church several years later to come to LifeWay, Doug was the last guy in the land to hug my neck, he went from a phone, to a advocate in one cup of coffee. And I want to say to church leaders out there, that journey is probably shorter than you think it is, with most of the people that you think are your enemy. our human nature is when we feel like somebody is against us or doesn’t like what we’re doing. This is the artist side of us, the musician side of us, we don’t usually walk toward people like that we usually kind of pull back from them, we usually kind of avoid them, we don’t really want to see them, we don’t really want to talk to them. And I will tell later, if you want to be there for the long haul and effect, a transition where music is changing, and people are struggling, perhaps with some of those changes, is learned to build those bridges and to tear down those walls and do it relationally. And one of the ways I used to do that in one church as serve a large church and had a large senior adult population, I would go to the senior adult events and request time with those leaders. And I would say, hey, I want to teach y’all a new song. today. In two weeks, we’re going to sing this song on a Sunday in worship, but I want y’all to learn it today. And I will take my guitar and it would be some new thing, you know, some new song, it would sound totally different Two weeks later when the band was playing, but but I would say and here’s the chorus. And this is the part I want you guys. And I would teach that song and I say okay, in two weeks, we do this in worship, I want to see you guys singing it because just something that simple. Turn them from people that were suspicious, not sure we didn’t like where this is going to people that started owning it. And there’s some pastoral skill and some shepherding skill. And I’ve got to say, Alex, honestly, I didn’t know how to do that my first three churches I didn’t. And I probably left some casualties by the side of the road, my own maturity. But as I grew up myself, I began to realize that those people that I thought were my problems, were actually my prize. And I began to go after those people and develop a personal credibility with them, so that I could engage them in deep conversations about what I was trying to do. And then they actually became people that helped me make the changes that the church needed me to make. So it can be done. But it takes a whole lot of prayer and a whole lot of effort and a whole lot of pastoral willingness to do that.
Alex Enfiedjian 42:36 Yeah, that’s amazing. You just took steps towards them. And you made a little bit of effort. And you were thoughtful and strategic. So I think that’s an extremely helpful answer. For the listeners who are like, how do I start, that’s a great place to start. And
Mike Harland 42:50 I would say this too, if you’re new in a ministry, you start where they are, I think the tendency for us would be to go into a new setting, and unpack our bag of tricks, the songs that we love to sing what our strengths are, and start there. But that’s really selfless of a leader to do that. A leader should go into a ministry and start where they are. And if that means hitting reverse, and backing up into maybe something you used to do, or something that they used to do, be wise enough as a shepherd to do that. And you build the credibility. You can’t lead someone from where they are to where you’re going. If you don’t first start where they are. And I would say take baby steps and look for the wind on the familiar before you ever start engaging for the new. Find that place of success, and what is already in place. That’d be wise for any leader to do.
Alex Enfiedjian 43:47 That’s amazing. You mentioned the senior pastor and connecting with him. Maybe Could you just for a second speak to senior pastors, how can they help in this process? What can they do to partner with the worship leader to make this better?
Mike Harland 44:01 Personally, I would say to any senior pastor is except the truth that you are the worship leader, that the worship Ministry of the church is going to be defined by how the pastor leads it models. It engages it preaches about it teaches about it. And I would say worship ministry is not two things that happen on Sunday morning that two people lead like a music part and a preaching part. It’s one thing that happens on Sunday morning that two people lead together. So I realized pastor personalities get into play here and there are pastors that probably wouldn’t be prone to do this. But ideally, these two people would approach this ministry together with one mind and one heart, which would require shared vision, shared preparation, shared evaluations, shared execution, where you did it together, and there’s some really really great ways it’s one of my favorite things to talk about is how a pastor and a music leader or worship pastor can work together. Create one thing that the two of them do together. It’s a beautiful relationship when the pastor, trust the music leader, and can engage that music leader in even the sermon preparation. And the music leader can do the same thing with the pastor pastor, here’s some songs I think are strategic, would you listen to this? And here’s an iTunes gift card that I just did. And I just got you 20 songs that I think are going to be important the next year, would you listen to them? And pastor, I know you’re going to be preaching through Ephesians later this year, I’m studying the book of Ephesians. Right now, in preparation for your sermon series. How are you going to handle chapter one that talks about the elect, and you know that those that have been predestined? I got to handle that. And what one of the songs Yeah, so this relationship requires a lot of investment of time. And it certainly requires two willing parties. Because I’m hearing the person out there right now, one, well, my pastor would never meet with me like that. Well, I think in a situation like that, you grab a towel, and you grab a basin, and you serve that pastor in every way you can possibly serve Him. And slowly, you’ll get the opportunity. I tell people, a lot of learn this the hard way, you really will not influence anyone that you’re not willing to serve first. So if you want to have influence over your pastor, and certainly a pastor having influence over you, then serve together and I will tell any pastor leave leading, if you want to have influence over your worship pastor, learn how to serve Him in His role, and support him in a way and that service actually earns the right of influence that you can share with each other. And I’m telling you, when I pastor and a worship leader, we’re on the same page. in worship ministry, the church benefits are just off the chart. And the church members know what they probably wouldn’t even articulate it. But they know in their heart, that this is this contest on Sunday morning, or in worship gathering between these two dynamic leaders. But this is a joint ministry that we all are benefiting from and that it is worth every bit of effort you can pour into that relationship to make it what it ought to be. So the church can benefit in worship.
Alex Enfiedjian 47:10 That’s amazing. I’m gonna ask you in just a second, for some final words of encouragement to the listeners about this topic. But before we do that, I want to give you a chance to talk about where they can get your book where they can stay up with you online and where they can find your podcast.
Mike Harland 47:26 Well, that’s very gracious of you, Alex, we have a website that LifeWay worship runs. And it’s called worship life. It’s an the address of it is worship life. That’s all one word.com. And that worship life is my blog, the podcast that we do. And then there are all kinds of links to events that we do. And they’re even links back to the music we make. They want to find out more about me, per se. Mike Harlan calm is my website. It’s got links to the book, you know, worship essentials, and you can get worship essentials anywhere you can get it at LifeWay or Amazon or wherever books are. There’s an audio version of it. I’m hearing about churches that are taking their worship teams through the audio part, which is kind of cool. Because we know musicians don’t read. Well, that’s not true. And anywhere you buy a Christian book, you can find it.
Alex Enfiedjian 48:18 Awesome. Call and I will link all of those links in the show notes for the listeners to have easy access. So the final question for you then is, do you just have any final words to our listeners to encourage them to unify their churches and the worship wars?
Mike Harland 48:34 Well before values and we’ve really hit them, but tell the story about Jesus? make disciples Make sure your ministry is a disciple making ministry, any worship leader that’s out there that struggles over calendar priorities on the church calendar or budgeting priorities. If your ministry is a disciple making ministry, you never will have to worry about the leaders of your church wanting to fund it and wanting to make accommodated. You need a better facility, you need more equipment. If your ministry is a disciple making ministry, the leaders of your church will find ways to support it. That’s not the greatest motivation to be a disciple making ministry. But I’m just one day if you want to focus on being a disciple making ministry. The book talks about that. The third thing that you the book talks about is engaging the body. And that’s that whole thing about worship ministry that is more than attraction but is actually engagement. And there’s a difference between the two. And how important it is that our congregations be engaged in worship, not just attracted to music, and then the fourth value I call it aspiring with purpose. And that’s a kind of a fun part of the book that talks about eliminating the distractions that can happen in music ministry, that’s as practical as having fresh nine volt batteries in the wireless mics. All the way to the pictures that the Vocal Team soloist has on their Facebook account. You know, all of the distractions that we have to deal with as a leader of a worship ministry has to fight against those distractions. those mistakes words in the presentation, the video that’s not queued up at the right time. All those kinds of distractions are things that we have to fight against so that the gospel of Christ goes unhindered. Those are the four values the books talks about with a lot of stories in between and hopefully some scripture as well that will be meaningful. My last word of encouragement is to fight the enemy that wants to divide and disrupt with a ministry that should equip and unify. And he can be better than the divisions. And hopefully we can be mature enough in our faith to pursue things that will build the body up and make the body more effective in encouraging and equipping the saints.
Alex Enfiedjian 50:42 All right, well, that’s all we have time for this month. I hope this episode was helpful to you if it was please pass this on to a friend. Share the love. And please leave us a rating and review on iTunes. Let us know what you like about the show. Alright, I will see you guys next month for another helpful episode. God bless