Why We Have Worship Wars and What to Do About Them

Think Like a FilmmakerI just finished reading Marcia McFee’s Think Like a Filmmaker: Sensory-Rich Worship Design for Unforgettable Messages. If you’re not familiar with McFee, she is a leader in creating and teaching about multisensory worship. I had the privilege of attending a workshop she led several years ago and seeing her create meaningful and memorable worship on the spot was something I’ll never forget.

For many pastors and worship leaders in traditional churches, the challenge is not so much creating sensory rich worship which touches many types of people, but in convincing some in their church to accept changes in their worship service.

In the last chapter of Think Like a Filmmaker, McFee explores the diversity inherent in the human family and how that means there will be a diversity of opinion about what should constitute the worship of God. In some churches this has led to “a small but vocal group threatening the ministry of the church by withholding their gifts and their presence if they don’t get their way.” McFee states that we need to find ways to help churches be blessed by diversity, rather than be broken down by it, as they plan worship. She compares worship to a potluck dinner, where everyone has brought a dish that they want to share with the community; however, not everyone will like every offering.

McFee suggests having people share with each other a moment in worship that was meaningful and memorable for them. Participants will see how these memories are varied from introspective experiences to memories of joyful exuberance and see that no story is the same. She believes anger over worship change is “an unarticulated fear of losing God.” This is more of a gut reaction rather than a reasoned one. Sometimes worship wars are actually about other issues in the church; worship is safer to argue about than these deeper issues. These gut reactions to change may also be related to our experience of God, our memories of church, ideas of what worship is supposed to be, as well as physiological, psychological, or political reasons. The physiological reasons are fascinating. McFee has researched these and states that:

“Primal Patterns” of energy…form the rhythms with which we move through the world…Some of us will literally, neuromuscularly, resonate with grandeur, others with meditative silence, others with celebrative and interactive worship, and still others with pulsing, driving rhythms. Because our reactions arise from our bodies, they feel so completely “normal” to us that we cannot imagine others feel differently.

Learning how we relate to worship differently can help us understand and appreciate our neighbor’s perspective and their varying needs for worship. Then we will hopefully be more open to diversity and innovation so that there is something meaningful for everyone in worship, as in that church potluck dinner. If you’re having worship wars in your church, I highly recommend you give Think Like a Filmmaker a read and take note especially of the last chapter where McFee gives her best pointers to deal in a healthy way with the politics of change.


2 thoughts on “Why We Have Worship Wars and What to Do About Them

  1. A church having “worship wars” and “anger over changes” is a church that is probably too far gone to be salvaged. I mean, think about it: Who in the world nowadays is looking for a church? And of the very few who are, why would anyone choose to remain more than one trapped hour in a church that is arguing, fighting and fearing that they are losing God?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I guess I have hope that a church that is having conflict can resolve it, although this is difficult. But your point is well taken. In today’s climate of cultural change, we will see the dysfunctional churches close as the vital ones try to hang on.

      Liked by 1 person

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