Worship, it is a part of our everyday routine whether we like or it or not- whether we are aware of it or not. I have committed the month of April to playing bass for my church’s new Saturday night service. Since I’ve started practices and especially after the first service, I’ve developed a few concerns with the way the modern church approaches its worship service. Before I get too far into this post allow me to make clear that this is not a rant or an attack. This is me trying to figure my own questions and concerns. Please feel free to post your thoughts. This is meant to be a learning experience for everyone, myself included.
MANUFACTURED: I can’t help but notice some things during worship. There are a few elements that occur in most worship services that elicit a certain response. I have picked up on it as member in the modern church’s congregation and now see it blatantly as a bass player helping to lead worship. Let’s take key changes for example. It sounds awesome if the timing and feel is right. This is why the hands raise up at every key change. Today’s worship songs usually run through a typical routine, starting really low then gradually working its way up via crescendo to a loud and powerful second chorus. Then it backs down a little during the bridge. Once another verse is barely sung in meditative like a cappella, the drums come in a thunderous herald to another chorus. It is powerful. It moves us. Again please don’t think I am down playing or attacking our worship, but I do have a concern about it being so manufactured.
We have been conditioned to this type of emotional prompting. It’s a bit like Pavlov’s dogs. Most of us have had several legit encounters with the Holy Spirit in similar settings, so when we enter into another environment where the conditions are the same we start salivating at the key changes and crescendos whether the Holy Spirit moves us or not. So what’s the problem? We have gone through a worship service feeling rejuvenated and moved by the Holy Spirit when really all that has happened is the drummer clashed his cymbals a bit harder… just like Pavlov’s bell. We walk away believing we have had sincere encounter with the Holy Spirit when really nothing was stirred in our hearts. Worship is a sacrifice, not an emotional experience. Don’t get me wrong. Worship can be extremely emotional at times, but there must always be an element of giving to God Coming in contact with the Holy Spirit changes us. Having our emotions stirred with lively music may give people the false impression that they have had a legit worship experience, but they come back home unchanged. This is a problem. Being moved to tears does not qualify an experience as worshipful or not. Being moved to surrender to the Holy Spirit is the qualifier we are looking for here.
FORCED: So it is worship time during the service, which means we should all be worshiping right? What happens when the crowd is standing around like a bunch of dried sticks? The church leaders get concerned. I understand their concern. It is the first sign of a dying church. A congregation that wont worship together can’t serve together. When they stop serving, the church will stop growing. When you stop growing- you die. I get it. However, I am not sure church leadership always responds appropriately to this problem. Many times church leadership wants to have a word with their music leader; after all, the problem happens during their watch.
Assuming there is nothing wrong with the service and that the worship leader is continuing their walk with God in a way that honors Him, this would be the wrong approach. It is the worship leaders job to orchestrate an environment where people can come and worship. It is not their job to make them worship or to determine if they are worshiping or not. Only the Holy Spirit can move someone to the point of surrender (by surrender I mean giving). Unfortunately, many churches do not see it this way. The church leadership with this wrong approach has forgotten the purpose of the worship service. They view their problem along these lines- If people were not singing or clapping as much this week as they were before, then something must be wrong. Did we not play the right selection? Was it too loud? Too many lights? Not enough lights?
I understand the importance of playing music to meet people where they are. There is something to be said about making the congregation feel comfortable and free to worship in a style that suites them. But where do we draw the line? What is a church teaching when it consistently caters to the minute desires of the congregation? Are churches unintentionally teaching their disciples week after week that worship is about their preference? Worship is dropping everything to be with God. Are we creating this environment?
INSINCERE: I try to picture the experience a guest or new believer may have while sitting in a worship service that feels forced and manufactured. It kills the genuine experience one can have with the Holy Spirit. It would feel insincere. How do we combat this? The obvious answer I guess would be to make it less manufactured and forced. Easy enough, but I think the most direct way to address the problem is to change the goal of the worship service. We must remember that genuine worship comes only by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The service should not focus on getting people to worship, but having a time to celebrate a week of worship through our acts and deeds from the previous seven days. It may seem like a small change, it might even look identical to the service that focuses on trying to get people to worship, but I believe there is a profound difference in our disposition with this celebratory approach. It will convey to others that the service is without a doubt about God. That we are celebrating what God has faithfully done through our acts of worship while at work, loving our families and our neighbors and keeping our cool in traffic. With this approach to community worship I believe it will subtly change our egocentric position. It wont matter as much if they played a song I don’t know, or if the lead singer’s voice cracked, or if the sound guy’s mix stunk. This is about the congregation coming together to praise God for what he did last week.
So how do we do it? What would it look like to change the goal of a worship service from, trying to get people to worship to celebrating together what God has done? It is all in how we sell it. Before worship begins, announce what the time is set aside for- (We are going to celebrate what God has done this past week along with what he has accomplished through Jesus the Messiah.) Get a member to kick it off with a small testimony about an act of worship done in the previous week, and most importantly, be sincere about the celebration. The biggest changes will be mental. Ultimately, the church needs to lose the feeling of obligation to make people worship. Just show up and rock out. Give your best to God with your talents and think of the service as a celebration of a week’s worth of worship through our acts and deeds. The Holy Spirit will show up and touch hearts.
Like I said earlier. I mean no ill-will against anyone or how they worship our awesome God. I do have concerns about what we indirectly teach while we lead others in worship. Please share your thoughts and ideas, especially if your disagree. Stretching one another is a powerful way to learn, and I am not afraid of being stretched. God bless