Lights and smoke do not make what we do on Sunday a show, and the lack of lights and smoke do not make what we do on Sunday worship.

Lot’s of digital ink has been spilled recently about the “look” of worship in a lot of churches and why it either hinders or helps “worship”.

Many writers and leaders have diagnosed a problem. That problem being the congregation is not engaging. I believe they have correctly diagnosed the problem. However I believe the wrong solution has been prescribed. What has been missed IMHO has to do with the presence, or lack thereof, not the presentation, necessarily. The presentation can be the reason there is no presence in some settings but let’s start somewhere else. Let me give examples as explanations.

James K.A. Smith just posted An Open Letter to Praise Bands this morning.

It’s a good article. In it he gives three criteria to evaluate whether we are leading worship or delivering a concert.

1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.
2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.
3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

In his final paragraph he says “My concern isn’t with style, but with form:”

I’m not saying he is wrong. What I’m saying is there is another aspect that is more important than style, or form.

Doug Lawrence also posted 5 Ways to De-Professionalise Your Worship.

Doug gives us these tips:

1. Stop being a slave to glitz
2. Start seeing congregations as people instead of numbers!
3. Let people see worship as part of their offering instead of just yours!
4. Stop competing with pop culture, you’re probably bombing there anyway!
5. Shut it down instead of whipping it up!

Again I don’t mean to criticize this critique. Although it does begin with an assumption that I am confident is not true of many churches. Most Church leaders and worship leaders I meet are great people who love God and love Gods people. Unfortunately We don’t have many fathers in the church. Many teachers but not many fathers. Seems like Paul mentioned something about this in 1 Corinthians 4:15. So most of todays leaders have not been taught incorrectly. They think the magic is in the media, or the presentation, or the show. “If you build it they will come” is true but what are we doing with them once they arrive?

I am not against the media, the presentation, or the show, necessarily. The issue is deeper and bigger than all of these things in themselves.

Late last year Matthew Sigle at Seedbeed, a Methodist blog from Asbury Theological Seminary. nails the main issue in his post called “Misplacing Charisma: Where Contemporary Worship Lost its Way.”

Among other things he says:

it’s important to point out that this theology of worship, while undergirded by “praise and worship” songs, understood the entire time of singing (the pauses, instrumental solos, spontaneous prayers, raising of hands, shouting, etc.) to be part of the progression from praise to intimacy. The songs themselves are only a part of the complete picture of what is occurring in a Charismatic praise and worship service. Something much deeper is understood to be going on in worship.

This needs to be couched in the next point he makes:

What’s missing? The answer is found in looking at what happened when “praise and worship” was adopted by mainline denominations. During the 1990’s many mainline congregations began to import the songs, sounds, and some of the sights (like hand raising and clapping) of the praise and worship style. In many cases, what got lost was the robust pneumatology behind this approach to worship. In other words, many mainline churches brought the form, but didn’t bring the theology of praise and worship into their congregations.

That last point is the main point and the reason we’re in the fix we’re in and is not exclusive to “mainline churches”. We do need to be careful about what elements we bring into the worship service. That is a much bigger conversation than I want to get into here but I want to note that we must evaluate why each element is present.

The bigger issue as leaders is our why. If get the why of worship right the how will take care of itself.

The only way to evaluate the corporate time of worship entrusted to us as worship leaders is did the Bridegroom meet with the bride?

  1. Did I prepare a place for the two to meet?
  2. Did I approach our time together with a deep love for the bride as the one Jesus bought with His own blood? (Acts 20:28)
  3. Did I prepare as one laying down his life for the sake of unity in the body?
  4. Did I prepare myself and my team well enough to recognize when the bridegroom enters and then get out of the way when He does? (John 3:29-30)

Before you reply let me clarify. I understand sometimes the bridegroom does not enter (Read Song of Solomon). I also understand your tradition may define “His entering” differently than I would. We also need to be sure we are not trying to manipulate a feeling or an emotion, although I defy you to come into the presence of God and have it not be an emotional experience, what we do is not about a specific outward response.

Having said all of this let’s make sure we begin from the right premise before we begin diagnosing a cure. Let’s do all we can to prepare a place for the Bridegroom to meet His bride and then get out of the way.

Would love your thoughts.

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Gary Trobee is a certified coach and a seasoned leader with over 20 years’ experience mentoring, coaching, and encouraging leaders and their teams.

1 Comment

  • At 2015.01.21 16:16, Michael McInnis said:

    Hi Gary,

    Good thoughts. I've seen the first article before (by James K.A. Smith)…maybe it was republished recently?

    Anyway, I also think there's a lot to the last point made in doug Lawrence's article:

    "Shut it down instead of whipping it up!

    If we believe that our job is to build into every service a great crescendo, we are ultimately doomed to fail. Why? The human spirit needs rest and our church services are sometimes so rapid fire that we don't allow people to settle in, slow down, and most particularly, find God. I hated writing that just now, but it probably needs to be said."

    I focus on that because I think we're struggling with what theologian Michael Horton discusses in his latest book "Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical and Restless World." Horton critiques our current church culture and mindset that we have to be radical, we have to be relevant, we have to CHANGE THE WORLD, and hopefully by this afternoon!

    A steady diet of being radical and world changing eventually leads to burnout. We weren't created to always be 'up' or 'on' or 'radical' or even 'above average'. Our days have nights when we have to shut down and rest; every year has a winter season, which again, slows things down (even though we fight against this!).

    Horton calls for us to reclaim living 'ordinary' lives of daily discipline and discipleship, in which we trust in what God has done for us in Christ (which we could not do for ourselves, no matter how radical we are!). That is the well from which we draw water, and it is the reason for our worship – because God in his love and grace has done for us what we could not do, redeemed and restored us (already and not yet) to new life in Christ.

    Anyway, don't want to get too long-winded, but I do think the worship issue you're talking about is the result of this deeper issue in our Christian mindset today. Our narcissism has caused us to believe that we're great and wonderful (like our teachers and parents and coaches keep telling us – or at least keep telling this generation of young people); no wonder we feel like it's up to us to save the world…and to cause "great worship" (whatever that is) to happen every Sunday.

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