Fierce battles over whether classic hymns or contemporary tunes should be the linchpins of Christian worship may have subsided, but the arena is still messy, according to worship pastor and recording artist Lincoln Brewster. Some Christians are more excited about turning up for a concert than they are about getting to worship on time, he says from experience. Others have placed facilitating genuine God-connections on the back burner for the sake of being "cool."
Brewster, in his 40s, was such a maestro on the guitar as a youth that by the age of 19, he was considering a major recording contract. But he passed on the golden opportunity for what he believed was a more sure-fire deal — serving at his local church. He has since released seven albums in partnership with Integrity Music, and has produced for the label such worship anthems as "Everlasting God" and "God You Reign."
Bayside Church in Granite Bay, California, where Brewster has served as the worship arts pastor for the last 14 years, describes him on its website as "a multi-talented guitarist, singer and songwriter" who "speaks to the hearts of people who are hungry for non-traditional, passionate worship." His accolades surely attest to his skills, but Brewster, a married father, is reluctant to take on the "rock star" title.
He's all about keeping his music ministry authentic, especially when it comes to leading people into God's presence during worship. Brewster's approach isn't very complex, he explained in a recent interview with The Christian Post: he leads people to sing words that are both inspiring and motivating.
"Really just songs that are saying 'I love you' and 'thank you' to God," Brewster told CP. And whether he's serving at his home church or performing on the road, his end-goal is the same — which is [that] people would connect with God and ultimately come to know Him.
But leading people in worship is a bit different than putting on a show at a concert, he explained, stating that the "expectation level is different."
"If somebody has bought a ticket to come to a concert, they expect a certain thing," he said. But he invites God to work in those venues, too.
"I've believed since I very first got into worship ministry that God would use the parts of what I do that are maybe fun to watch to open the door to be able to speak to people and minister to people and kinda tear the walls down," said Brewster. "People come into church with lots of walls up. Typically, people don't come into concerts that way for the most part. They're ready to rock n' roll, they show up on time."
For church? — Not so much. "I try to encourage any church that we go minister at, to show up on time. That's an appointment with God," he said.
Pointing to John 4:24 — 'God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth' — Brewster emphasized the need for authenticity in worship, calling that particular aspect "huge."
As for critics hung up on style more than substance, Brewster said, "We can tend to make too much out of the packaging and not enough about what's inside of it."
Yet the trend he finds most troubling that he has picked up on during his travels doesn't have much to do with music as it does with church in general.
"I think that church in general in the younger generation, the biggest core value unspoken is cool," said Brewster. "That's problematic."
"When cool becomes more important than people, we are really missing it," he added.
"I get that there's a way to do things that keep church relevant, where people [don't] go, 'Oh, that's corny, I don't want to be a part of them.' To me, when it prohibits ministry, it's gone too far probably."
At the end of the day, it's the "foundation things" that matter most to him — community, authenticity, and being challenged and encouraged.
"It could be the coolest thing in the world, but if you don't have that, [you can't keep people]," he added.
But neither should Christians place "right worship" so high on a pedestal that it overshadows the purpose of worship altogether.
"I heard Abraham Laboriel, Sr. say this one time," said Brewster, referencing remarks made by the renowned bassist. "He said, 'We worship because we must.'
"And it really is true, it's who we are. We will worship. The problem is, we worship everything. It's a focus issue most of the time. Even in the case of hymns, many people worship the hymns. There [are] church splits and worship pastors getting fired, all kinds of craziness because of songs. Even if the person's really got the right heart and going after the right things, it becomes about style. That's kinda sad I think."
Watch Brewster's CP Newsroom discussion about the complexities of Christian worship in the video player below: