Updated: Oct 29, 2018
BY TINA MUN RO
As a very young girl, one of the highlights of my week was going to choir practice on Wednesday nights and sitting in the choir loft on Sunday mornings with my mom. My newly-immigrated parents had found a home at the First Presbyterian Church of Sun City, an American church in an active senior retirement community. Though there were seemingly insurmountable differences in generation, language, and culture, the church embraced this young couple as their own. As a result, I gained an entire choir full of “grandparents” who instilled in me a life-long passion for worship – not only in my personal life, but with my church family. Week in and week out, I witnessed my mom welcomed into the fold of these men and women, who gathered together to sing praises to our God in the fellowship of other saints.
Our Sunday morning worship songs at Open Door sound much different than those in the services I sat through in that choir loft. Instead of a big pipe organ, we have a band. In lieu of a choir director, we have a worship leader. Gone are the paper hymnals with theologically rich texts, replaced by screens projecting simpler, but no less profound choruses and refrains. I understand that, for some, these are welcome changes and, for others, not so much. For years, I too struggled; in my heart, the tested and true nature of tradition seemed to compete with the freedom of expression and soul-stirring emotion I had found in the new.
In the end, however, I realize that these disputes don’t hold much weight when we view worship in light of the fact that, though everything else may change, our God is the same. The truth of who He is remains. And the richness found in fellowshipping with fellow brothers and sisters wins over preferences about style and sound, every single time. Why? Because, as Pastor John so beautifully reminded our praise team at our recent retreat, worship is not about us. It is about God.
So, when a worship leader asks us to clap our hands or sing out, it is not to make the band sound better or to force the congregation to feel good about a song, but to worship God with our bodies and voices as the psalmist declared in Psalm 47 when he exhorts us to, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” When the lyrics on the screen seem to be filled with despair and depression, it isn’t to exclude those who are not walking through a valley at that particular moment, but to give God the opportunity to pour out on our entire church body the blessing that comes from mourning with those who mourn. When we sing what seems to be an outdated hymn or song, it isn’t to pander to the “old” people (like me!) in our congregation, but to allow the Spirit to reveal new and fresh truths to us today through the songs of our forefathers. In every single situation that we are tempted to “opt out” of worship, if we fix our eyes on God, we will no longer find warring differences. Instead, we can focus on the words we sing; words that have the power to transform us when we speak truths over our hearts and one another. The music that accompanies them, then, inevitably will become less important and we can truly embrace the fullness of freedom and unity in our song.
Over 30 years later, the songs of my spiritual grandparents still echo in my heart. The images of the sweet fellowship they found together are etched into my being. I praise Him for allowing me to see the beauty that comes from His people worshipping together in that choir as well as in our Open Door family today. My fervent prayer for our times of worship is that we always remember to fix our eyes on God instead of ourselves, so that we can experience the sweetness of the ancient fellowship found in Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!”
Tina Mun Ro is a deacon of the Praise & Worship Ministry.