Some of us prefer the latest Bethel album. Some of us would prefer a classic hymn, perhaps by the pen of Charles Wesley. Some of us can’t bear a sermon that goes on for more than 25 minutes. Yet others find ourselves bored stiff by repetitive choruses.
Worship wars are all too common, whether it’s moaning about organ or the drum kit, the liturgy or the sermon. Man we love to complain! All too often our analysis of worship services and our preferences for musical genre are all too caught up in the style of how our services are dressed. Skinny jeans and checked shirts or cassocks and clerical vestments. More than that, hymn sandwiches or band-led time of worship. Each one of us think we’re holier than the other and that we are the ones who have really grasped what it means to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
But beneath these differences that divide us as brothers and sisters, are not merely stylistic preference, nor even deep theological convictions. At least not until we give it some considered thought. And this is because we take what we do when we worship for granted. We assume we are all doing the same thing when we are worshipping, when in fact we all have different models to explain our worship together. We can make changes to our style all we like, including different musical accompaniment and different song selection but unless we recognise the model in which we are operating, the worship wars will continue to be fought.
OK, but what are these models I hear you ask? Most of these can be recognised by what we see as most important in the worship service.
The Sacramental model – Most obviously recognised in the Catholic and High-Anglican Church – the climax of the worship service is in the Eucharist and it all points to the bread and wine as the moment in which we see God’s glory most clearly.
Or The RE model - Church as an RE lesson with singing. For many evangelical churches the most important of the service is the sermon and the proclamation of the word, but with this model we must be careful not to reduce the service to “what have we learnt” as God is not only interested in our minds but our hearts.
More than ever, many of us will be most comfortable with The Encounter model, viewing worship as an intimate encounter experience with God. We sing how much “we love you Lord” and “come Holy Spirit” and we focus our personal affections on God. Interestingly this model assumes the encounter will come in the sung worship or the prayer ministry, whereas other models still are expectant for encounter, it just happens in a different part of the service.
There are still other models, such as The Obedience model, which recognises we meet out of a sense of duty to worship for God’s sake and not our own; The Throne Room model perhaps recognisable from the likes of IHOP Kansas or an Anglican cathedral’s marking of daily prayer, as we regularly tap in and participate in the ongoing worship of heaven; and also The Therapy model which looks for worship to be the place for God to meet my needs.
None of these models are necessarily wrong in and of themselves, but each of us may find ourselves viewing our worship as one or the other and there will be one that particularly resonates with your experience of church. Once we recognise this, we can look beyond the guitar and the organ to find that actually we may have more in common with our brothers and sisters than we first realised. Our worship may in different ways tap into some of these different models in the same service.
One final model to mention is The Formation model, most evidently found in Anglican churches, where the liturgical structure tells the story of God and rehearses us in the creed, confession, intercession and proclamation of the gospel. As we meet together, we don’t just bring ourselves and we don’t just receive from the preacher or worship leader, we are storytellers renewing our hearts and minds as we remember what God has done and has promised for us. This in various ways includes the RE model, sacramental model and encounter model and invites us to see worship as more than just what we bring or receive individually.
Most of the time we take for granted our assumed model of worship, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t differences theologically or stylistically, but giving some thought to what we’re really doing when we come to worship at church should give us the grace to forgive others with different preferences and give us the insight to treasure the ways in which we come to worship God as His people.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)