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Beyond the worship wars

by Nathan Proctor

Being the church by being ourselves

Nathan Proctor pic

Nathan Proctor is the associate director of music at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I am a millennial who unabashedly loves worship. I love the energy of being around people, singing hymns together, hearing new ideas from Scripture, and then discussing it all over lunch. Liturgy, choral anthems, and organ music captivated me the first time I led a congregation from the organ as a teenager. My excitement grew as I studied church music and culminated in my current ministry as an associate director of music. Last summer, it took me to Montreat, where I led music for youth conferences.

Being at the center of so many voices singing praise to God is amazing, whether it’s at my small home church in Iowa or with several thousand youth in Montreat. Connecting the whole church, millennials and all, through worship is not about offering a style for each age group; it’s about creating a culture of authenticity that welcomes everyone as they are.

Authenticity is essential for millennials. We have too often experienced church as a social group busy with the work of going through the motions. And when worship was designed for us (the infamous “contemporary” worship service comes to mind), it has come off as gimmicky. Now is the time for something real!

We want to feel the joys and sorrows of those around us instead of being met with the happy Sunday church face. Church leaders, tell us something about faith or this church that really matters. Help us discover what is new in Scripture, moving us toward deeper understanding. Make us feel the world Jesus inaugurates. Challenge us; give us something new to think about.

If we, the church, want young adults in worship, then give us space to lead. Listen to our ideas. The church needs to abandon the mindset that young adults should wait to lead until they are older and their faith is stronger. Help us find room at the lectern, in the choir, or on the session. Instead of assigning us to serve in a separate service styled for “young people,” let us worship and serve with the whole church.

Like many millennials, I live across the country from my family. So I understand the value that worship provides in connecting to a family that is bigger than my own. I want to pray and sing and feel with people who are like my parents, my sisters, and my grandparents. My grandma would sing a hymn that I love, and I want to sing something she loves.

piano pic

Nathan Proctor plays the piano and leads music for a youth conference at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina.

With your help, we are ready to move past the worship wars that have divided previous generations. We have more understanding and love of different styles of worship and music than we are credited. Let’s not allow differences in taste to prevent us from worshiping God together.

Authentic worship, with the community of faith surrounding us, provides us space to wonder about our true, created selves. In worshiping God we are fully known—in all the good, proud parts we show but also the shameful, vulnerable parts we hide. God meets us and loves us in this vulnerability, and we are God’s. And so I pray: let the grass praise God in its greenness, let the birds praise God in their song, and let me praise God by being me.


May 2014 cover

order the special issue Guide to Young adult ministry and read more articles like this one