Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Monday, August 8, 2016

My Problem with Worship pt. 2: (A multi-post in which I offend many friends)

Since this is a blog and not a thesis, I’m going to make some observations that I won’t be able to back up with statistics or footnotes to research.  This doesn’t mean that my observations have no merit or are not true.  But they will just be observations that come from my experience.  Feel free to tell me how it really is.

In my original post I wrote, “We’ve created a culture that has mistakenly come to believe that worship is primarily songs we sing about God or to God and that loving God is best and most adequately accomplished through singing songs.”

I am convinced this belief has taken root in our church culture because we have commodified worship.  We’ve found a way to harness the winds of heaven in a way to benefit ourselves. And by “we,” I specifically mean those in senior leadership of the Church. Worship has become a commodity by which we secure market shares and fortify our positions.

I’m old enough to remember when contemporary worship started to gain traction.  I’m a veteran of the ‘worship wars.’  I can still recall when, “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me…” was both contemporary and risky to sing on a Sunday morning. I’ve survived a church split where the style of worship was ground zero for the pent up frustrations of two similar but distinct groups of people.

But we’ve crossed the Rubicon, even if skirmishes continue to break out in some places.

And do you know when the tipping point came?

Ever see a gas war?  I used to drive through a small town with 3 gas stations situated on 3 corners of a 4 way intersection.  They always had the same price on gas.

Until one of them blinked.
And then down came the price for a time. First in one, then in the other two. Market driven competition.

In the worship wars, someone blinked.

Someone told their former senior pastor they were now going to another church because they used guitars and drums in their worship.  Blink.

It was less an ideological shift and more a pragmatic shift.  Not for everyone, but for the mainstream folks, we went from killing the musical prophets one month to investing in new sound systems the next.  And in most places, non-musical pastors started telling gifted musical people how to play, what to play and with whom to play.

And as soon as we pastors saw how the musical people created “the feels” for people, we both feared and adored them.  We feared them for their influence and we adored them for their influence.  The fault was not in our stars, but in ourselves.

And frankly, we still fear and adore those who lead our worship.  And so we’ve been handicapped from the start of this adventure. Senior leaders know that those who gather can just as easily scatter and often have.  So senior leaders do what every human is tempted to do when they are scared: they control.

And there are so many ways to control.

Sometimes we control with honey.  We make promises that range from paid salaries or stipends to goals of getting your music recorded and published.  We tell you how wonderful you are and valuable you are, under the umbrella of our covering. Or some other non-sense that puts you under me.

Sometimes we control with a stick.  We berate worship leaders on their song choices, the length of time the songs took that service, the lack of response from the congregation.  We wonder to our worship leaders if maybe they aren’t harboring some hidden sin.  We accuse them of building their own empires or having a “spirit of pride.” And we keep those who are wired to be sensitive and who tend towards self-doubt off balance and disempowered. Hungry for our benevolent approval or fearful of our anointed disappointment.

And so we created an us vs. them world, when really there’s only ever us.

But as soon as you’re a “them” and you’re not an “us,” it’s ever so easy to turn you and what you do into a commodity.  Rather than I/Thou, we maintain an I/It relationship which never produces life. 


What happens next?  Tuesday…how worship came to mean singing.


  1. We live in a culture that thrives on "the feels" and who/what can give us the thrill on "the feels". I think our natural tendencies toward being connected to the Divine and our longing for connection to Abba have been perverted and misinterpreted by "the feels".

    1. Interesting. Do you think "the feels" have a place in our relationship with God or our practice of worship?

    2. Yes, but really no. We need to find a way of integrating the culture and then helping to transform after conversion. The early Constantinian church had a hope of having the outside culture being easily integrated after their conversion, which is what led to a lot of the history and form of the liturgical church - a Christianized mirror of the outside. But somewhere along the way, we kept mirroring, which I think led to the creation of "the feels". Everyone wants to be a celebrity, everyone has a youtube page or a blog. I think the Church got really good at "the feels" and stopped moving people into the space where they are fully connected to their Creator.

  2. Nice one! I'm looking forward to reading your next post and as I am behind, I can read it now!

    I was wondering what you thought about the nature of singing or preaching from a stage and if that naturally (?...I hesitate on the word) conjures an us/them or I/it relationship, due to it's position elsewhere in society. I suppose the next step would be to qualify it and say whether or not this is a good or bad thing... not sure it's that easy. However, i was thinking about this as i was reading.

    Also, I remember when I was leading worship and I so badly wanted us to upgrade to a sound system that involved earbuds. I wanted to rock-star look.

    1. I think we usually design our worship spaces for convenience and expediency rather than beauty and telling our story. I don't think there's anything inherently bad about a stage, but it definitely communicates a message and we neglect to acknowledge that to our detriment.

      Earbuds can serve the whole church when we amplify sound. I don't think technology is our problem but I do think, as you illustrate, we need to ask "why" are we doing this? Is it to get that rock star feel? Is to compete with the church down the road? I once heard a pastor say they were going with auto-tune in their worship so they could guarantee an experience of the same caliber as the slightly larger church down the road. Again, I would suggest this comes out of our commodification of worship - not using it to appeal to non-Christians but rather to offer a slightly better product to discerning consumers of said worship. (Mind you, we tell ourselves it is to appeal to non-Christians, but as my old teacher used to say, what you win them with is what you win them to.