Music Preference in Worship: Name It and Claim It

Recently I wrote a post on musical style and the response was astounding. In almost two years of blogging that post received the most hits. Why is that? Why is style such a hot topic in worship?

The answer is an often-reviled word: preference. 

The word “preference” is often spat out rather than spoken. In arguments “their” preferences are pitted against “my” preferences, “they” get preferential treatment, and so on and so forth.

Preference is getting a bad rap. The truth is, we all have preferences, and that is a God-given gift.

Think about it. If Adam had not had preferences, how would he have named all of the animals?

God: “Adam, go name the animals.”

Adam: “Nah. I want to lay out and catch some rays. You go name the animals. I don’t care.”

Really? Take a moment and name all of the animals you can remember. Listen to the incredible diversity of sounds coming from the different names. Listen to how each name describes the animal owning that name.

Then God created Eve and Adam immediately gave her a name, as he had done for every other creature on earth.

Adam cared, and he had preferences from the beginning. You and I also have preferences.

Here are some of mine:

  • I prefer to live to eat rather than eat to live.
  • I prefer to stay up late.
  • I prefer contemporary and modern art over representational art.
  • I prefer Betthoven and Prokofiev over Bach and Mozart.
  • I prefer steak that is medium to medium rare.
  • I prefer congregational songs with ranges from c-d1.
  • I prefer U2, Coldplay, and Norah Jones.
  • I prefer worship services brimming with art, media, music, and stories.

Does this mean I limit myself to these preferences? Absolutely not. I limit my eating, try to get to bed at a reasonable time, listen to many styles of music, eat meat as long as it isn’t crawling off my plate, and enjoy leading worship and visiting churches even when very little art is present in worship

What are your preferences?

Every human being has preferences, and the sooner we become comfortable with our preferences the sooner we can move on to more meaningful discussions.

Discussions such as:

  • Who has God called us to be as people and as a church?
  • What is my role in this church?
  • What is my role in the world?
  • How can I reach the next generation?
  • How can I love the older generations?
  • What can I set aside in deference to my younger or older brother or sister in Christ?

The evil one likes to take the very things God has given us for our good and turn them against us. Instead of letting the evil one get the best of us, let’s reclaim preference for the beautiful description of individuality God meant it to be. Let’s not use preference as a weapon.

List some of your preferences below. Keep the language factual and not argumentative.

The Truth About Preference

In our me-centric world personal preference has become king and queen, dominating nearly every facet of life.

Bread at a Bakery

Wegman’s grocery stores, a favorite of mine when I lived in Rochester, NY, lists almost 500 responses on their website to a search for actual bread products.  Choose between Giant Bread, Garlic Tuscany, Orange Cranberry, and hundreds of other shapes and flavors.

Music Genres List has catalogued over 230 different styles of music.  Dubstep, Opera, and Dirty South are just a few possibilities.  AMC’s Filmsite list displays hundreds of possible movie genres, sub-genres, and hybrids.

With this level of preference in culture, we should not be surprised to find that preference is a major player in church selection and even church leadership.

Humans are preferential.  Choice and free will are actually a gift from God.  We, on the other hand, often go to the extreme of declaring our preference the only correct preference.  I used to believe in a world where someone could make choices outside of preference, that there are black and white answers to everything.

I could not have been more wrong.

My executive pastor recently reminded me that one of the most important parts to discussing worship and music is admitting that your own preferences are always influencing your decisions.

  • When I choose music for a service, in addition to praying, considering Scripture references, and incorporating themes, I will undoubtedly base my decisions on preference.
  • When I look for a recording to guide my band, my preferences will guide me.
  • When someone asks me to listen to a piece of music, I will listen as objectively as I can, but my preferences will be present.
  • When I am hired, my employer in part hires my unique preferences.
  • When I get defensive in a worship or music discussion, I can usually look back and see me on a soapbox touting my preferences.

Over time I am becoming, with God’s help, more aware of my preferences and less judgmental of the preferences of others.

How do your preferences influence your leadership?