It is with fear and trepidation that I even attempt to write about a topic as volatile as worship in the current evangelical church American-style. Having been involved in local church worship for many years, I read up and listen to stay current on trends, issues and movements within what is commonly called contemporary Christian music. I am neither a trained expert nor a weathered guru in this field. I think what I think but I don’t say what I think. I figured there were enough people doing that already.
But recent blog posts made the rounds on my newsfeed this week, stirring within the desire to set aside my silence for just a moment and address the elephant in the worship room that no one wants to talk about. At least not in what I am reading. I don’t know, maybe the elephant isn’t in your worship room – maybe he is only in mine. But I am tired of ignoring him.
Jamie Brown’s article, “Is Evangelical Worship Headed for a HUGE Crash?” was the first to come to my attention. The title is a dead give-away as to his answer to his own question. His evaluative comments of a recent worship conference are generally balanced in their approach. He follows this up with a succint do/don’t do list for worship leaders to implement in order to avoid the crash he references in his title. Personally, I feel his list of suggestions are worth consideration, in spite of the lack of explanation as to what will happen if these are ignored. We already implement most if not all of his points in our worship on a regular basis.
In response, David Santistevan, in his article titled “What is the Real Problem With Today’s Evangelical Worship”, takes issue with Jamie Brown’s perspective on reasons for a pending crash in modern worship by countering his focus on outward details with direct attention on inward issues of the heart in worship. Personally, I agree with his reminder that true worship is first and foremost spiritual in nature and God-connected in content. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV). We understand, believe and teach our congregation these points about what really matters in worship.
So what’s the elephant in the worship room that no one seems to talk about? Comparison. It seems no matter what any conversation, comment thread, Facebook talk, or magazine article says about worship, there is some opinion comparing what is sung or not sung, how loud or how not-loud it is sung, what is plugged in or not plugged in, whether it is light or dark, projected or print-bound, high or low, old or new, foggy or bright, and on the list goes. You know what, folks? I think our greatest disaster in worship today has nothing to do with the above list and everything to do with the comparison collisions that never end. It’s like being on the bumper card ride at the fair and never being allowed to get off. We just keep running into each other and banging each other around, hoping somehow all the other cars will get in the same lane as us.
No doubt God is interested in the manner in which we worship Him – that’s the understatement of the year. I can’t even begin to imagine how much our worship matters to God. I am equally certain that God is more interested in our heart condition than our outer performance in worship, or in any other area, for that matter. So I agree with Jamie. And I agree with David. But I agree more with the Apostle Paul, who, after describing himself as not very impressive in person, says this: “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” 2 Corinthians 10:12, ESV [italics mine].
No two churches are alike. The history of a church, the culture of a church, the community surrounding the church, the people of the church, the budget of the church, the inherent abilities and desires of the church, are unique with every historical brick-and-steepled church and new steel-and-shiny church across America, not to mention the world. What you do in your church will probably not work in mine, nor will our worship exactly work in your church. That is how God made it to be. I think God just might be more distraught over our constant comparisons with each other than whether we have drums on the stage or not. According to God’s Word, when we compare ourselves with ourselves, we are without understanding – or as one translation puts it – we are fools.
So there, I said it. I fear we are acting as fools in our worship comparisons. I wish we could focus on doing our best to worship in the God-pleasing manner that He directs us to do in our own churches and leave our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same in their places of worship. If the strife would end, if we all got off the bumper car ride together, somehow I think God would be pleased.