So, how’s that working out for us?
I think it’s time for pastors, church musicians, and worship leaders to ask that question. Here we are, in 2014, with more of everything when it comes to worship styles, technologies, and options for worshipers in our churches. And yet, it seems we may have less than we bargained for when we cashed in the chips of how we used to do music in our churches.
Let me explain.
As the church growth movement slipped into the 90’s, church leaders everywhere began to take notice of some high profile ministries that were exploding in growth, and the “Mega-church” was born. I’m talking about churches that were larger than my hometown – 20,000 worshippers on a weekend. And if something is huge, then it must be right – right?
The interesting thing about some of these ministries is the larger their attendance became, the smaller their worship leadership becomes. The music leading is relegated to the few “professionals,” and the rest of us sit in a darkened room to enjoy being worshipped at. Sadly, the churches that emulate this approach take the chairs out of the choir loft and put stage greenery and iMag screens in – all in the name of making worship better.
Okay, that was sarcastic. But, I’m frustrated that we seem to have moved into the modern era of the church, and less and less of our people actively engage in the worship expression than ever before. Because – when we took out those chairs, we also took out those people.
It seems more and more we have leaders that give us worship like they are giving us our medicine – “you may not like this, but trust us, this is good for you.” And they even add a “spoonful of sugar” with lighting and sound effects with over the top visual effects.
So, how’s that working out for us?
The church has to come back to the place of realizing that until all of God’s people are engaged, whatever we are doing might be artistically great, but it doesn’t come close to the impact of corporate worship in the era of full choir lofts and singing congregations.
And to think – back then we didn’t even have mist machines.
It will start when we expect more from our leaders than mediocre original songs with a four chords and a few hot vocal licks.
There – I said it.
Director, LifeWay Worship
As a person who has served SBC churches as a staff member, pastor & layperson for the last 30 years, I’ve been a part of traditional churches with full choirs lofts… and GenX “coffeehouse” church plants with an acoustic guitar-playing worship leader backed by a kid with a djembe & shaker. I’ve “led the singing” as we sang old favorites from the Baptist Hymnal (the 1975 one, not that newfangled 1991 version)… and I’ve “sat in” with a 6 piece alternative rock band in a darkened worship center.
I start with all this because I want you to hear what I’m about to say in context… and it is (in the words of Darth Vader) “all too easy” to dismiss dissenting voices on the subject of corporate worship by marginalizing their background and/or musical preferences.
I have two problems with your blog post:
1. I think your sarcasm & attempts at humor (“back then we didn’t even have mist machines”) backfire as you try to make your point about worship demanding engagement. The post becomes more about the attack on iMag screens & stage greenery (“how DARE they take away our choir loft!”) than it does about meaningful participation & communion with a holy and awesome God.
My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that your frustration boiled over into this post – and that you didn’t realize how it would sound to those of us who’ve fought to be culturally relevant in our musical worship choices at the same time as we’ve worked to involve the hearts & minds of each person present.
2. More importantly, I believe you’ve mistaken the proverbial forest for the trees. By concentrating on the form (choir vs worship leader, hymn vs original song, traditional curch vs megachurch) and particular elements (lighting, sound effects, etc.), your focus has slipped from the actual purpose of worship.
It’s certainly not congregational participation. My nearly 50 years in SBC churches has shown that people can not sing along with hymns just as easily as they can not sing along with contemporary worship songs. Moreover, someone choosing to sing – whether they’re singing the alto line from the hymnal or following the melody while reading the lyrics off of a screen – gives little to no real indication of the spiritual condition of their life.
Harold Best wrote that worship is “acknowledging that someone or something else is greater – worth more – and by consequence, to be obeyed, feared, and adored…Worship is the sign that in giving myself completely to someone or something, I want to be mastered by it.” I am certain that we both believe that ‘someone or something’ is Jesus Christ.
What I think you’re longing for is congregations who give themselves completely to the living God… but your post makes it sound like that can only happen if we restore the choir & turn up the lights.
At the close, you finish the post with a call to expect more from worship leaders than “than mediocre original songs with a four chords and a few hot vocal licks.” Setting aside (again) the sarcasm in that statement, your desire for depth in lyrical content & quality musicianship is a good thing. (Psalm 33:3 NKJV says “Play skillfully with a shout of joy.")
But none of that will matter unless worship leaders, instrumentalists, choir directors, choir members – and most importantly laypeople – give themselves over fully to Christ. We will simply trade worship forms – contemporary for traditional or vice versa… and be like the people Paul warned Timothy about in 2 Timothy 3:4-6 (AMP):
For [although] they hold a form of piety (true religion), they deny and reject and are strangers to the power of it [their conduct belies the genuineness of their profession]. Avoid [all] such people [turn away from them].