Our various reactions to worship can cause clash, consternation, and conflict. As a worship consultant, I’ve spent significant time listening to tales of heartache over “this-or-that music” or style of worship, and I’m going to guess that many of you have experienced these difficult conversations as well.
Conflict over worship is often not really about worship but rather something deeper, such as unresolved grief within the community or reactions based in our varied histories of church experience. Sometimes, however, we are simply having a reaction based on something so deep in our bones we often can’t even articulate why it just feels “right” or not. We experience a bodily resonance or dissonance with the rhythmic expressions themselves.
Why do we resonate with different “styles” of worship?
Several years ago, this question was the basis for my PhD dissertation. I was fascinated by the fact that some people gravitated vehemently toward or away from certain “styles” of worship. There had to be something actually physiological going on, I thought. I searched for a theory from kinesiology that would help me understand this phenomenon. Kinesiologists study the ways that the body moves through the world. And because I believe in the mind/body/spirit connection, I had an idea that the rhythms with which we move through the world affect somehow the rhythms we choose for our spiritual practices.
What I found was a theory that I call the “primal patterns.” The bottom line from the researchers was this: We don’t all march to the beat of the same drummer. Our various rhythms (called our “home patterns”) cause us to energetically resonate, or not, with other rhythms. Varying worship styles have different rhythms. Each of us may primarily look for worship to:
”¢ Energize us to go out and make a difference in the world. We find the Holy in driving, exciting, motivating energies.
”¢ Be done “decently and in good order.” We find the Holy represented by steadfast, repeated, orderly worship repertoire.
”¢ Connect us to God and others intimately and emotionally. We feel the Holy when we are moved deeply toward community.
”¢ Draw us into the deep wells of our souls. God is best known as a still, small voice with plenty of time to listen to that voice.
We feel these things on such a bodily, neurophysiological level, that what we “like” in worship simply feels completely right and we wonder, “doesn’t everyone feel that way?” We can’t imagine otherwise. So when worship doesn’t meet our energetic expectations, it feels “off” or (literally) “foreign” to us.
”¨Since writing that dissertation and teaching this theory in workshops all over the country, I have found that this idea makes immediate sense to folks. This concept not only explains why people don’t agree over worship styles but also why they find themselves in conflict in relationships and at work. So the next step is determining what to do with this knowledge. I believe that knowledge is power, and knowledge is the first step to bettering ourselves and our relationships.
This tool leads us to the realization that we must cultivate a radical hospitality. We will never, ever, all like the same things, so we have to find a way to embrace the diversity and let our differences build us up rather than break us down. We can only do this when we build the trust level in the congregation around honoring our diversity. When we can trust that even though at this moment we are doing something that doesn’t really “float my boat,” it doesn’t mean we won’t ever get to “my thing.” In the moment that “my thing” isn’t happening, I can enjoy that others of my sisters and brothers are being filled, lifted and steeped in what furthers their spiritual journey, just like they will enjoy the time when what is offered touches me deeply. When one part of the Body is built up, it is good for the whole.
What makes us “tick”
Friends, it is important to deal constructively with conflict over worship. The health of our communities, which directly affect our spiritual journeys together, depends on clear communication and a deep understanding of what makes us “tick.” I suggest that you share this article with your worship team, especially when dealing with difficult reactions from members. May you be blessed in your worshipful work!