Wow is this article going to get some fiery responses (provided anyone reads it). I, as a relatively new believer in Jesus Christ, have been struggling in recent months with this topic. I look around and I see the remarkable variety of styles of worship falling under the banner of Christianity. It really is a varied spectrum of philosophies I see being brought to bare in God’s services. As a newer believer, and one without a seminary education, I sometimes wonder who is honoring God most in their style of worship. Is there a “right” way? I currently am a member of a medium-sized evangelical church which identifies itself as “seeker-focused.” I love my church and it’s mission. But I’d like to present some thoughts that have plagued me in recent months. First, a little snapshot of my church background, such as it is…
As a kid, I would occasionally (very occasionally) attend a service with my grandmother. Grandma was a native of Appalachia and, consequently, sought out churches in NE Indiana when she migrated here that closely followed the style of church she grew up attending, which I believe was United Baptist or Old Regular Baptist. Now theologically and doctrinally I can’t comment on her church, but the style of worship they observed was, to me as a kid, very frightening. There was a lot of yelling and sweating and stomping and wailing. Very serious and very fervent. I would imagine now I would find it sort of entertaining in a curious way. But, when I was roped into attending one of those services I remember hating it and having zero interest in returning of my own volition. That WAS church to me as a kid.
Over the years, I occasionally would attend a wedding or a funeral at various churches and I could see stylistic differences just from those instances. Additionally, I would attend a service with a cousin or an aunt or uncle once in a blue moon. I have been in Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Church of Christ and several other churches. I have to admit they all bored me to death and I really didn’t get it. In hindsight, I do appreciate that each disparate style has a specific function among believers and is, in some way, needed. They just didn’t float my boat as a kid.
So that was my opinion of church for most of my life. I stayed away until my early 30’s, when I discovered the new, hip style of worship that is beginning to become prevalent in America. The non-denominational megachurch, or mini-megachurch in some cases. The prototype for this style of church is Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago, and the many hundreds of others that have taken their lead.
In late 2001 I attended my first church service in a “seeker-focused” church. Coming from a non-church background, I found the transition from hedonism to Godliness easier when it was presented to me in a more palatable form. As a musician, I was immediately taken with the worship music I heard;I was unaware God allowed guitars,drums,bass and the accompanying volume in His house. During that initial service the music was the first thing I was exposed to and it got my attention. Then the pastor took the stage and presented a message for 30 minutes or so. Having always been impressed by gifted speakers. this man held me riveted. He was engaging, funny, likable and immediately struck me as a genuinely good man. It didn’t stop there. Next came a drama skit, a clip from a mainstream Hollywood movie and probably some more I am forgetting. In all honesty, I liked all those elements, but because it was so different I was a little taken aback. It almost made me feel, because of all my preconceptions of church, that it wasn’t reverent or solemn enough and that God wouldn’t like that.
But I came back many times with my future wife and I eventually accepted Christ while attending that church. Something that grabbed me was the welcoming nature of the regular attendees and I grew to love many, if not all, of the people I came to know there and it wasn’t long before I joined the worship team and my wife rejoined the drama team. I had found a home and I am still there. My intent isn’t to single my own church out as an example of what’s wrong with church. My church just happens to be an example of a modern, contemporary, seeker-focused church and, additionally it is my only frame of reference as I have never attended another church on a regular basis. Maybe it’s because it’s my church and I care so deeply for it that I feel the need and the right to use it as an example. In fairness, I am more disturbed by what I see in various video clips and TV sermons from other similar churches. We certainly seem to have an authenticity ingrained in our church that many do not and that comforts me despite my misgivings.
A day ago, this article differed greatly from this point forward. I sought the opinion and advice of a trusted friend and Christian, who also happens to be a pastor. He offered some constructive criticism, as ewell as a request to remove my churches website link from the resources at the end of this article. As we did not have a great deal of time to discuss in great detail the reasoning, I chose to respect his request and have removed the link as well as a photo of a Sunday service. Regardless, I thought about the words I had written in this space and I was able to see his concerns. Therefore, after some prayer and thought, I have slightly altered my focus.
I had been a member of my church’s worship band for narly 5 years when I made the decision to step away for a time. I have many close friends as well as brothers and sisters in Christ on that team and it did pain me to desert them. Music has always been my passion and one area with which I feel some level of competence. The friend mentioned above expressed a concern that by offering my opinions, such as they are, that I was, in effect, calling for the removal of our worship leader. Not true and very difficult the dots in my opinion in supporting that contention. The worship leader we have is an immensely gifted musician and leader. The issues affecting me as a member of that team were related to the style of worship in general and in my attitude towards it specifically. I began to question our focus. I began to wonder if it was more important to make our music palatable to the mass of people in the congregation or to make it pleasing to our real Audience. Now, despite the claims of literary snobs and self-titled intellectuals, asking these questions does not equate to an indictment of the concept of modern worship. My point is that I had concerns about where our focus was. My attitude during that period became very negative and disregarding in many ways God’s desire. I became egotistical as a musician and saw many others behaving in a similar manner. It became more about playing the most cutting-edge music and less about the effect that music had on those people hearing it. Additionally, I began to see diminishing quality in what we were performing, myself included. As I stated in a previous article, I believe that if you are playing music specifically for the glory of God you OWE it to Him to perform it to the best of your ability. Period.
Well, since that time, I have spent more time in the study of God’s word as well as more intense and longer periods of time in prayer and the conclusion I have drawn is that I was approaching it backward. I expected everyone to follow my lead and do it my way. I wasn’t deferring to the leadership that we, as a church had put in place to make those decisions. I was unable to trust God to guide that leadership in the right direction.
I regret and feel some guilt for the feelings I have had but, at the risk of sounding “liberal” theologically, I believe gifted us with the ability to reason and use our intellect. It is in that spirit that I submit this article. I want to be able to criticize my church or any other without fear of repercussions, provided my criticism is offered in love and with the intent of making positive change. The moment we, as members of the Church and our local churches, lose the ability to offer opinions and point out areas of concern, the more likely we are to see those churches fail.
I love my church and I have never felt more accepted and cared for than I do in the church I am in; (Name Withheld by Request) and I sincerely look forward to seeing more and more souls won for Christ through our efforts. I know we are following principals set forth by our Lord in His Word, and if you use that as your guide you’re doing it right.