I consider myself to be somewhat of a worship historian. Certainly in all of my reading, research, and study I have only just begun to peek over the edge of Christian worship history, but the subject is definitely one of my favorites. By studying worship history, it has allowed me unique opportunities to critique and evaluate current worship models and mindsets. One conclusion I have reached through my studies is that the last forty years (approximately) have been an anomaly. Only over the past forty years has Christian worship been defined in terms of its style rather than its content.
I am sure we have all heard the term “worship wars” used to describe tension in the church over various styles of worship. Interestingly, the connotation of this “war” is that battles have taken place concerning labels for the style of worship within a church, mainly focused on “contemporary” verses “traditional” forms. These arguments tend to center around musical style and instrumentation, or at least that is the connotation when hearing the terms. Other issues include formality verses casual approaches or high liturgy verses simple liturgy. The stereotypical argument accredited to traditionalists is that “this is how we’ve always done it.” The stereotypical argument accredited to contemporaries is that they want to be more “seeker-friendly.” Traditional worship is seen as dead. Contemporary worship is seen as shallow. None of these arguments (at least as I often hear them) take into consideration the content of worship – proclaiming, acting out, and living the story of the Triune God. (Admittedly, I am making extreme generalizations here.) Content has been pushed aside and become a lesser priority.
If the leadership of the church begins to make the content a lesser priority, why then should the people be any different? What does this do to the life of a congregation? Surely living out the story of the Triune God – a life of love, communion, and sacrifice – will no longer be seen between the people of the church.
Ageism is an issue not often spoken of, but one that is rampant across churches of America. Especially in the midst of these “worship wars” has ageism become a concern. Ageism is defined as the stereotyping of and discrimination against individuals or groups because of their age. It is a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify age based prejudice and discrimination.
There are many ways I have seen ageism at work within the church. I have seen younger church members denied the opportunity to share music because it uses a guitar. I have seen older generations ignored and eventually pushed out of the church because their style of worship is not considered seeker-friendly enough. I have heard methods of starting new services or church plants based on reaching specific demographics of age. Likewise, I have attended churches where services were split depending on age – children, youth, young adult, and then everyone else.
What happens when we allow these attitudes to enter and divide our churches? Certainly, we miss out on important elements of kingdom living. We miss out on opportunities to learn from, share, grow, and serve with people of all generations and experiences. Similarly, stereotyping becomes common and congregations are divided, and sometimes split, because of assumed generalizations. Good conversations are not held to work through issues together. Care for listening to, working with, and caring for the other is not considered. Personal preference becomes the ultimate authority. Relationship, unity, and community become lesser priorities. Instead, worship is decided in terms of style, preference, and appeasement.