It’s another week, so I’ve seen yet another article on Facebook or Twitter about how ___________________ is slowly destroying worship in our churches. It’s usually a critique of contemporary worship culture, and often, it’s presented as “Hey, I’m only saying this because I’m concerned!” Now, I do appreciate people who have genuine concerns. Unfortunately, though, in my experience, most of these writers are just usually annoyed by __________________, and they want it gone.
It’s always phrased as a concern for the state of worship, though – whatever the _________________ might be, it’s destroying worship as we know it.
The latest one? In a nutshell, contemporary worship culture is becoming more about the performance than the worship. In other words, it’s becoming more about sitting back and enjoying the music than in actually engaging in worship of God. Or, from the other side of the stage, it’s becoming more about being a “rock star” worship leader than really leading people into a worshipful encounter with God.
Is that a legitimate concern? Yes, it is – and for anyone who works in worship, it’s one we should take very seriously. Worship is a matter of the heart, a we should strive constantly to make sure that we’re putting our heart’s focus where it belongs – on God – and not on ourselves.
The problem is, this is not a new concern. In the Bible, we see God over and over and over again trying to get it through to His people that worship is about the heart. You see this especially with the Pharisees, who did so many seemingly-“worshipful” things. They boldly and loudly prayed on the street corners. They gave large amounts of money. They followed the law to the letter. They were seemingly always at the Temple. And Jesus told them that none of that mattered. What mattered was the heart. If their hearts were wrong, there’s no way their worship could ever be right.
And that’s where these modern criticisms lose all their legitimacy. They’re not so much worried about your heart. They’re worried about ________________. They’re worried that worship is turning into a performance because you’re using drums. Because you don’t have a choir. Because you turn the lights down when people are singing.
Please understand. You’re free to not like those things. You can hate on _______________ all you want. You just don’t get to claim that my worship is someone less worshipful than yours because of your personal preferences.
And again, as it always has, this is what the whole argument boils down to. Personal preference. Are there churches where the focus has shifted from worship to “being cool?” I don’t doubt that there are. In fact, I’m sure that there are churches somewhere just like that, where it’s all about performance and not at all about God. But hey, I’ve grown up in churches where we did everything in the “traditional” fashion, and I could look around and see plenty of “worshipers” who were completely disengaged (many seem to like to read their bulletins during the music service, as if that counts as a “spiritual” act.) I’ve known plenty of choir members who were all about putting on a show – I’ve even known a few choir directors the same way. I’ve had that attitude myself more times than I care to admit, and I’m the least traditional person around.
I’ve seen churches on both sides of these issues where their services were very worshipful, and I’ve seen plenty where they didn’t seem very worshipful at all.
Why? Because we’re people. We’re sinful, stumbling, often-getting-it-wrong-and-needing-a-second-chance people – and every single one of us was born with a desire to make everything about ourselves. That’s the thing with Christianity. The one who founded it? Perfect. All the rest of us since then? Not quite so perfect. He was selfless. We’re selfish. And that’s the same with all of us, whether or not we like drums, or we prefer organs. Whether we feel moved by skits or with think drama is stupid (or even sinful). Whether we have a praise team or a choir – it’s about our hearts. That’s what we need to be worried about.
The only thing that can destroy our worship is when we do without being focused on Him. When we focus our hearts on ourselves, and not on Him. That’s what we need to focus on – every worship leader, every sound tech, every guy punching up the next PowerPoint slide, every usher passing around an offering plate, and even every person sitting in the pew. Are our hearts focused on worship Him, or worshiping ourselves?
Writing that was exhausting. Reading it might have been, too. I hope not.
Anyway, this Sunday, remember that we’re at church to worship God, not ourselves. And when someone gets up and sings a song you don’t like – remember that it’s about worshiping God, not making you comfortable. Or, you could just go gripe about it on Facebook.
(Yeah, I know. Worship is more than music, and it’s both an oddity and a flaw that we’ve let people think that the word “worship” doesn’t have any deeper meaning than “let’s sing a song”. I know. But that’s a different post.)