What is more important in worship, substance or style?
The substance of our worship is more important than the style or form of worship. God is not very impressed by the outward actions of our worship; he is really looking to the heart and the place of the heart. But I want to say a little bit more about that in this principle. When we gather together, of course, one of the things that has been so problematic and has divided the churches so much are these so called worship wars — wars over organ or guitar; hymnal or overhead projection; quiet, still, cognitive, contemplative or loud, expressive, jubilant. God is concerned more about the heart of the worship, the substance of our worship, the heart of the worshiper, the content of our worship than He is about the style or the particular format or approach of our worship. In fact, many of our worship styles are basically the expression of personal preferences, personal prejudices, or cultural and generational experiences and tendencies. Of course, style, preferences, prejudices, and generational things will change from time to time, but the heart of the worshipper is critical to the Lord in the content of our worship.
To my mind, which style we participate in, whether we see ourselves as contemporary or traditional or high liturgical or low liturgical, is secondary to whether or not the worship is substantive. Is the revelation from God in Jesus and in His word clearly on display in that worship, and is there opportunity for the people to give faithful response? Are they being challenged in that way through the worship experience? That is far more important to me than whether it is loud or quiet or a little bit of both, dignified or spontaneous; those things are secondary. I have been pleased and privileged to worship in a number of environments: numerous different denominational settings, theological settings, worship styles and also in multinational experiences. I have been overseas a number of times and been in a wide variety of cultural settings. Regardless of the setting, theological, traditional, cultural, that you are involved in, there are some things that shine through and you know, as you experience it, that this is the heart of worship.