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Biblical worship is trans-generational

Recently, an article was written by Thomas Rainer here  regarding a worship style that is attractive to Millennials. Just to be clear on the name “Millennials,” it is a generational term ascribed to a particular group of people born during a certain time period. Here is a list of the six living generations today:

“The Greatest Generation” – born between 1901-1924

“The Silent Generation” – born between 1925-1945

“Baby-Boomers” – born between 1946-1964

“Generation X” (or “Baby Busters”) – born between 1965-1980

“Millennials” (or “Generation Y”) – born between 1981-2000

“Generation Z” – born between 2001 and the present

Millennials-HappyIn this article, Rainer describes an occasion in which he and his son were asked what kind of worship style the Millennial generation prefers. Their answer was that the style of worship was not what mattered most to Millennials, but that they were attracted to churches which exhibited three elements: 1) music that has rich content, 2) authenticity in a worship service, and 3) a quality worship service. Now admittedly, those three elements are somewhat generic, and Rainer goes on to give further explanation of what each point means.

In the course of the article, Rainer points out that Millennials “will walk away from congregations that are still fighting about style of music, hymnals or screen projections, or choirs or praise teams. Those are not essential issues to Millennials, and they don’t desire to waste their time hearing Christians fight about such matters.”

I would like to offer some points to consider in response to this article.

  1. The three elements attractive to Millennials are all noble elements and worthy of consideration. I, too, desire to sing hymns with solid biblical content. I desire “authenticity” in our worship, and by that I mean that I desire for all believers attending our worship service to truly enter into the time of worship rather than be entertained by a select few performers on a stage. I also desire quality and excellence in our worship services. While excellence does not necessitate professionally trained musicians, it does mean adequate preparation and seeking to do one’s best for the glory of God.
  2. Every believer, no matter what age bracket, should desire those same elements. They are biblically based and helpful in worshipping God in a way that pleases Him and is acceptable to Him. The article, however, leaves the impression that it is only Millennials who desire those things. While there are no doubt examples of Christians in the past who did not model these elements, we cannot conclude that these elements were missing entirely from previous generations.
  3. During the course of the past several decades, various attempts at attracting the younger generation have  been made because of the importance of raising up the next generation of leadership. However, what is often cast aside is the number of older people in the church who currently serve as leaders who should themselves be training the next generation in the truths of solid biblical church leadership. When we forsake the wise counsel of the older men and women in our church, we risk the same chastisement that Kings Rehoboam and Joash faced due to their failure to listen to and follow wise elderly counsel (2 Chronicles 10 & 24).
  4. Healthy churches should be comprised of people in every generation. When church leaders seek to do whatever is necessary to pull in more of the younger crowd (such as Millennials), they run the risk of pushing out people in other generations before them, and therefore create an unbalanced church ministry. The Millennial generation is not the only generation that should be desired in a church. Personally, I am thankful for the fact that we have folks from every one of the generations listed above. We are all united around biblical truth and a desire for biblical worship.
  5. Perhaps there is a reason why Millennials are not concerned about discussions regarding worship, music, etc. Perhaps it is because in their individualism, which is common to many young people no matter when they are born, they refuse to acknowledge that God indeed cares about the very things that they may not. Rebellion is bound up in all of our hearts. However, I would guess that discussions regarding worship and music are important to people in other generations who desire biblically accurate worship. I suggest that we do less catering to the younger generation and more praying for them and modeling conservative, theologically-sound, loving, evangelistic (and whatever other buzz-word you want to insert) Christianity before them. This starts in the home with parents being consistently loving disciplinarians.
  6. Finally, the so-called “non-issues” of the Millennials should not be dismissed as unimportant by Christian leaders. It is not a waste of time discussing what kind of worship does or does not please God. It is not a waste of time discussing various musical issues. While the younger crowd may not understanding the full significance of such discussions, the older and wiser Christian leaders should. God cares about what kind of worship is offered to Him. He does not accept just any worship done with a sincere heart. If worship matters to God, it should matter to us as well, and should not be thrown aside as a “non-issue.” Rather we must teach the younger generations about these important matters to God.

Again, let me reiterate the point that I also desire theologically rich hymn texts coupled with authentic and genuine worship. However, I do not desire these things in an attempt to attract Millennials, I desire those things because those sentiments are pleasing to God. God wants me to sing theological truth in praise to Him; God desires my heart to worship Him sincerely.

Let us all understand, though, that when it comes to the worship of God, what matters is not what any one particular person or generation desires. Worship has nothing to do with pleasing those who are worshipping; worship is all about pleasing God. Therefore, as Hebrews 12:28-29 teaches us, we must worship the right God (the God as described in the Bible) with a right heart (sincerely and wholeheartedly) and in a right way (indicating that there is an unacceptable way). We are created to worship God. Therefore we must be diligent to discern and practice proper worship and teach our children and every age group what proper worship is, because our God is a consuming fire, and worthy of all the praise, glory, and worship His creation properly ascribes to Him.

This essay first appeared here and is republished by permission.


About Guest Author

This guest article has been published because an editor has determined its contents to be supportive of the values of Religious Affections Ministries. Its publication does not imply full agreement between its author and RAM on other matters.

8 Responses to Biblical worship is trans-generational

  1. Well put. The use of worship styles to appeal to Generation Y is contrary to the fact that worship is formative. This implies creating intentional worship which prepares us to live in a secular society. Using that society’s styles is not such a preparation as it suggests there is no difference between Christians and ‘the world’:

  2. The irony of the title is actually quite sad. It speaks of worship being trans-generational and then proceeds to talk about how the youth should not be catered to, and how we need to guard against casting aside or pushing out the older generation. There is some truth in these things but the pendulum swings both ways. In too many of these churches, the older generation has been so stuck in their ways that they push out the younger generation.

    He then proceeds in point number 5 to say that they are individualistic and their hearts are full of rebellion because they aren’t concerned with discussions on the style of music. Could it be that they are simply tired of churches making music more important than Scripture itself. Music has become an idol to quite a few of the hymn only group and it may just be that they see the arguments being unbiblical and don’t want to waste their time on it….I can see their point!

    I actually agree with point number 6. However, I don’t want to have a discussion when Scripture is twisted to try and make an argument against a certain style of music. We (I’m not a millenial but I agree with them) want Biblical discussions not preferences made into doctrines. If you can show me how to identify sinful music Scripturally, I am with you…but remember that we have Bibles as well and know how to read.

    My whole point is that often our attempts to not cater to a group ends up simply catering to a different group. I’ve worked with youth for a long time and they simply feel neglected. It is like the other article that was posted here in the last couple days (Change Your Tastes)…they are simply told to sit down, shut up, and learn to like it! The old ways are the best and they just need to smile and drink the Kool-Aid. They are tired of that attitude and want meaty discussions about these things that are based on Scripture (as opposed to your preferences that are impressed onto Scripture). Perhaps listening for a bit would be good instead of ramming non-biblical doctrine down their throats.

    I honestly don’t mean this to sound as angry as it might sound. I am just so concerned about losing our youth because they get shallow pithy answers to questions and see their leaders twisting Scripture to cater to their own preferences. We should be able to listen to each other and learn to like some of their preferences as well as long as it is not a violation of Scripture.

  3. Actually, Rick, the emphasis in Scripture is far more similar to encouraging young people to be quiet and learn from their elders than with the contemporary consumerist notion that the 18-26 year old demographic should “feel” like they’re the most important.

    Since, as Martin correctly pointed out above, corporate worship is formative, it is certainly biblical to allow the elders to shape the course of worship, and the younger should submit their tastes and preferences to those elders.

    Now, what you might be reacting against is that fact that much of the “elder” generation are actually simply old former teenagers who got what they wanted when they were younger and now hold tightly to those preferences even though those preferences are not at all themselves really good. So I recognize the dilemma.

    Which is why part of listening and benefiting from our “elders” includes preferencing the grand tradition handed down through the community of faith before consumerism elevated the tastes of youth above that tradition.

  4. Rick, thanks for your response. I can tell that this issue is important to you, as it is me. My point in writing this article was to give a different perspective from what the article I reference states. True biblical worship should never be a “younger” vs “older” issue. It is something that is relevant and necessary for all ages. Yet I agree with Scott’s point that the younger is to be humble before the elder.

    Whenever we begin catering to any generation, we fail to be theocentric in our worship, but in fact become anthropocentric. For instance, I would be considered a “baby-buster.” If a church seeks to cater its services to the perceived needs and desires of my generation, it ceases to elevate the glory of God to the place it deserves, and in fact replaces it with the baby busters.

    When it comes to worship, we ought not be any less concerned about our practice of worship as God is in our practice of worship. By virtue of the fact that God is concerned about how we worship, God is obviously and necessarily concerned about our music in worship, just as he is our preaching, our giving, our ordinances, etc. there is no aspect of a believer’s life, including all aspects of worship, both private and corporate, that God is not concerned about. There are both acceptable and unacceptable ways to worship God. This goes beyond the heart, but even includes the activity of worship, even our music.

    But I return to my initial point: true, biblical worship is trans-generational. I am grateful that in a recent survey of our church, I discovered that we have a good chunk of people from every generation. We do not carry our generational labels. In fact, until this article, I did not really even consider our people in those terms. I view us all as believers in Jesus Christ.

    If some want to be divisive beyond that, well, I have a problem with that.

  5. Scott, thanks for replying…following are some thoughts regarding your comments (it has been a long day so I apologize in advance if they seem like a random jumble of comments!!!).

    You said, “Actually, Rick, the emphasis in Scripture is far more similar to encouraging young people to be quiet and learn from their elders than with the contemporary consumerist notion that the 18-26 year old demographic should “feel” like they’re the most important.”

    I agree with the trajectory of Scripture. There is much to learn from the older generation, and they should be respected and listened to. I have not and am not stating that we should cater to the young (or any group for that matter) or make them feel like they are the most important. However, they should feel like the older generation at least listens to their questions. This is part of discipleship. Many times questions are asked about the Biblical backing for a position and flimsy answers are given that simply come from eisegesis. Shouldn’t we be seeking for the correct position and seek to exegete correctly? Questions can just be a means of digging deeper and not necessarily disrespect.

    You said, “Since, as Martin correctly pointed out above, corporate worship is formative, it is certainly biblical to allow the elders to shape the course of worship, and the younger should submit their tastes and preferences to those elders.”

    I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. I must add though that the elders should be willing to submit their tastes and preferences as well as long as they are in areas where it does not violate Scripture. However, more times than not, this does not happen.

    You said, “Now, what you might be reacting against is that fact that much of the “elder” generation are actually simply old former teenagers who got what they wanted when they were younger and now hold tightly to those preferences even though those preferences are not at all themselves really good. So I recognize the dilemma.”

    Yes, that is part of it. To take it farther, I see a bigger problem with some of them making their preferences into doctrine and twisting Scripture to “prove” their position. Granted, this can happen on both sides. However, if I think like the Millenials (and it sounds like I do), I want to know what Scripture says and not an opinion outside of Scripture. They are tired of the twisting of Scripture and the associated inconsistencies in teaching and want to talk about what Scripture actually does say rather than someone’s attempts to prove their preferences from Scripture. If that is what the Millenials actually think, everyone can actually learn from their example! Like my hermeneutics professor used to say…I don’t care what you think or believe, what does Scripture say?

    You said, “Which is why part of listening and benefiting from our “elders” includes preferencing the grand tradition handed down through the community of faith before consumerism elevated the tastes of youth above that tradition.”

    To some extent, consumerism has always been around and is not unique to this generation. Consumerism just boils down to selfishness and pride…that is nothing new. The grand tradition that is handed down reflects changes in styles and preferences over many generations. Why do we assume that has stopped? If we are truly to be a church, shouldn’t each member preference the others before themselves? I should be able to stand beside any member in my church, no matter how wide our differences in style, and be able to worship alongside of them just being thrilled that we can do so as a church family. That should apply to all members no matter their age. I just don’t want to see our kids run from church due to fighting over issues that are based more on tradition than on Scripture. Frankly, they are accused of making music an idol when I see it is even more so in the life of those that are doing the accusing!

    Thanks for taking the time to respond and to go through this. We all come from different backgrounds with different experiences and discussing this helps us to see other points of view.

  6. Taigen, thanks for your response. I couldn’t agree with you more that worship shouldn’t be a generational thing. You are right on!!! We then have to ask why it comes back to a generational thing. Because each generation has their own preferences. Unless we are willing to give up our preferences, we will have bickering over issues that simply aren’t addressed in Scripture. This is not a new thing when it comes to music. It happened when someone tried to sing something other than Psalms. It happened when musical instruments were reintroduced to the church. It happened when the piano was introduced to the church. The list goes on and on. These were all generational preferences as well. Why do we have to argue over these things?!

    I applaud the millenials that they want solid biblical content in their music and they want it to be authentic rather than fake. In other words, think about what you are singing. When this happens, the style becomes a secondary thing. The primary thing is whether it lines up with Scripture. So I agree that this should not be a generational thing.

  7. Rick, one thing that transpires from this thread is that there have been discussions over musical preferences throughout the ages.
    No news, there also have been theological discussions about a plethora of issues. Or over dress code, or over the order of worship, or church administration.
    My question is, what’s so horrible about that? Isn’t that what we should be doing? I agree there is a problem when one group uses power instead of argument to have it their way. But I don’t think discussing all these issues is a waste of time. I realize I am in the minority, but I really appreciate a good debate about these things. I see this as the only way to sharpen both my mind and my theology. If we are seekers of Truth, we should remain open to these discussions. There are minor issues that should not cause separation, but I am not convinced music is a minor (actually, I fear it’s part of a package deal often linked to unorthodox theology or methods).
    Given that discussion has been going on for centuries, this shows my our ancestors have always found it to be an important topic. So no wonder we are still discussing it today – especially in an age where we have large swaths of the church using musical style to attract a target audience (young people who they hope will finance their churches in the decades to come). The church constantly needs to reposition itself over against society at large as the culture changes, so this will probably never end. And I don’t find it to be an easy discussion with obvious choices.
    Anyways, won’t waffle on – just a thought.

  8. Rick, thanks for the opportunity to dialog about these things.

    I certainly agree with what you are reacting against. I have seen many cases in which the elders stubbornly hold on to traditions that are not themselves good using logic and argumentation that fails in many points.

    I also agree that the elders should graciously listen to the concerns and needs of the younger out of a heart to disciple them.

    Thanks for bringing these biblical emphases to our attention.

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