If you haven’t done it, you’ve seen it. Mom or dad can’t get one year old Billy to eat what’s good for him (strained carrots/baby cereal, etc.) and so they have to fake him out – they have to make him think that what he really hates is really good. And, of course, it is good for him – except it’s not good (at least on his palate – which is all he cares about). If he could talk, he would say it’s pooh-pooh.
To make little Billy open up and do what’s good for him we have developed some pretty impressive delivery methods. My specialty was the airplane buzz move where the lips were the runway which I would buzz a couple of times until my Billys would laugh and then I would shove in the offensive stuff. But my little Billys got wise pretty quick and developed immunities to my delivery methods which just forced me to be even more creative. I developed the itsy-bitsy-spider, the charging bull, and the hide-and-seek delivery method. (I was working on my black-belt in baby feeding.) Moms and dads sometimes have to fake out their little ones so that they will receive what is good for them. A lot of energy and imagination goes into the delivery systems which, if little Billy knew what was good for him, could be dispensed with.
You can take Billy out of toddlerhood, but sometimes toddlerhood doesn’t come out of Billy. Fast forward 25 years. Billy is exiting church on a Sunday morning and a friend going into the 2nd service asks, “How was the worship, Billy?” Billy replies, “Ah, not that good. They had no drummer and the bass was too loud and the keyboardist stayed on that mournful organ voice too long and they sang ‘Blessed be Your Name’ way too slow. Finally, I just gave up and stood there waiting for it to be over.”
Fast forward to the following Sunday. Billy emerges from the 1st service and the same friend says, “Hey, Billy, how was the worship today?” Billy responds, “It was an acoustic set w/ a percussionist. It didn’t rock. Too mellow for me. They said a couple of the songs were Maranatha choruses that were really big in their day. Whatever. I really wasn’t into it.”
Fast forward to the following Sunday. “Hey, Billy, how was the worship?” Billy, with excitement, “It was great! The lead guitarist was laying down some cool riffs and overlays. They set a floor mic right next to the bass drum – it was sick (meaning: good J). They only did Tomlin and Hillsong. Oh man, I was so into it – I just closed my eyes and raised my hands. It’s so great to worship Jesus.”
OK, let’s analyze this. (I already know what your objections will be to my analysis. But we can’t analyze the analysis until we know the analysis – so the analysis first.)
Billy is a spiritual toddler. He has to be ‘faked out’ to worship God. He has to be coaxed into doing that which is healthy for his soul. Music poorly done and music not his liking leaves a bad taste in his mouth and he won’t open his mouth to worship Jesus unless the music is sweet to his palate. Unless worship, and all that accompanies it, is delivered in a package that suits him, he will stand there and cross his arms and close his mouth and Jesus won’t hear one peep of thanks from him. But if Billy gets his bass drum and electric guitar and his driving beat – he’s all about God. Billy is a spiritual toddler. (And it works the other way, too – it’s a multi-generational phenomena. If Sam and Peggy don’t get their piano and organ music and Fanny Crosby hymns and have to listen to those dab-nabbit guitars, they won’t worship God. “No, God, I will not worship You unless I can worship in a way that conforms to my preference and tastes.” This, too, is toddler worship.)
Yes, yes, I know – music poorly done can be (not necessarily is), but can be very distracting. And music not performed in the way that you have come to enjoy and therefore prefer can be (not necessarily is), but can be a dynamic that would keep you from fully participating in the worship of God.
OK, why am I so hard on Billy? I used to be Billy! Unless the music and the songs and the way they were performed fit my niche preferences, I would spend most of the time in a critical spirit toward those who were leading. I was at the place where if I had to listen to, let alone sing, “Open the Eyes of My Heart” or “Lord I Lift Your Name of High” one more time, I wouldn’t be responsible for what my actions. I was Billy.
Here’s where I am today. “Tim, how was the worship?” “Ah, the worship was awesome!” Even though the band was not hitting on all cylinders that day, even though the absence of the drummer threw off the bass and rhythm guitars, even though the melodies and harmonies of the singers were more maladies and harm-on-me, I worshipped God. I have purposed that wherever I go, whoever is leading, however it is led, I will lift my heart and voice (and maybe my hands) and worship God. My worship of and to God is independent of the music that is supposed to aid my worship.
When the question is asked, “How was the worship?”, I think what is meant is, “How was the worship band? Did they bring it? Were they hot? Did the music get you revved up and passionate and cause you to lose yourself in the experience of worship?” I don’t think I’m too far off the mark there. And, please don’t get me wrong – I want the music to be spot on. (A possible future blog is how performance music has manipulated the emotions and diluted the worship of the church.)
What I have done in order to keep my sanity in the worship service is to separate the music from the worship. I can say, “The music did not help me to worship, but I worshipped nonetheless.” I don’t want to participate in toddler worship. Even though the music, style, beat, and songs don’t please me, I am not going to stand there with arms folded, mouth closed, enduring the duration of this mediocre performance. My attitude now is, “It is what it is.” I am going to use this occasion to worship the mighty God who created and redeemed me. God is worthy of my worship wherever I am. If, in the middle of a mediocre musical presentation I open my mouth and worship my God, worship has taken place. God is glorified. My soul is open to that which is healthy and good and right and righteous. You don’t have to coax me or fake me out or pamper me to get me to worship God. The worship of God flows from me even though nothing may be flowing from the platform except noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. Though the instruments are out of tune, the singers are off key, the melody line is wrong – I will worship. (As a pastor, this doesn’t mean I won’t speak with the leader of the worship band about improvement. It means that, in the moment, it is what it is, God is who He is, and I will worship.)
“But, Tim, if we are going to reach the (fill in the blank) generation we have to reach them where they are.” I get that, I really do. Be the best, strive for the best, put on the best you can. But let’s make sure we’re not creating little Billys who won’t worship our awesome God unless the context, style, song selection, instruments, melody, mood, and beat are exactly to their preference.
Yes, music greases the wheels of worship and when the wheels are turning and there is no grease, things can screech. I have purposed to worship when things screech. Instead of coaxing Billy, “Come on, Billy – here’s a Tomlin song, will you worship now? Come on Billy – here’s a class A lead guitar riff, will you worship God now?” I want to teach all the Billys that worship music is important and it should be done well. But more important than the worship music is the God we are worshipping. When worship music overshadows worship, we are in danger of toddler worship.
God is worthy even when the music is not. The motive to worship has to be greater than the music of worship. My motive to worship has to be greater than the means of worship. It is easy to get to the place where we depend on the music to supply the motive of worship. Music is to be a handmaiden to worship, but for many, she has become queen and worship the handmaiden. Music should be the grease on the wheels of worship. (Yes, I know, music is worship, too – at least for those who make it.) But I wonder if we are depending on the music to be the motor that turns the wheels. My love for God should be my motive to worship. Music should assist my worship, not be the motor that drives it. When all is said and done, if I am depending on the music to get Billy to worship, to get Billy to open his mouth and do the healthy thing, I am aiding and abetting toddler worship.