This post comes hot off the heels of something I read on another blog. And I had to come on here and say something about the same issue. I’d love to hear some comments on this one.
We seem to have a huge number of different worship styles and concomitant services out there. Family services; seeker services; youth services; praise and worship services; miracles-and-healing services; outreach services (and maybe we also have ‘inreach’ as well…); high-church services; low church services – and all with their own music protocols, dress codes and vernaculars.
I’m not knocking variety. But today’s question goes something like this: while of course the world is made up of difference – period – at what point do we stop being positively different – culturally and linguistically etc – under the banner of Christ – and become veritable capitalist consumers of worship?
In the book Selling Worship, Pete Ward makes the point that ‘evangelicals have been engaged in ‘selling worship.’ Now he does go on to make the point that ‘selling’ in this instance is not inherently negative, but can be understood as a ‘means of communication and exchange.’
I’m still considering my theoretical response to that, but there is a level on which I do take his point. Nonetheless, we can use that concept as a jumping-off point for other journeys of thought. One of the crucial ways in which many churches seem to try and ‘attract’ new members is by investing time and money into ‘worship’ which often means into the music. Now, at least two authors that I have read have made the point – in different ways – that the only thing that matters in a worship service is the presence of God. And my own drum on this matter beats to this tune: it is theologically and spiritually corrupt to sing songs and make statements declaring the presence of God in a sanctuary when He may in fact not be there ministering to the congregation at large. If the speaker is unconsecrated and unsanctified in the sight of God, how can the Holy Spirit work through that person? If the praise team members are indulging in sexual proclivities and not confessing it before God, however well they sing, how on earth is a HOLY God supposed to minister through them? Or, flip that round – if the worship team have actually prepared to lead the congregation into an actual worship experience, but the overwhelming majority of congregants only want to have a jolly sing-song – that’s a tug’o’war right there in the sanctuary. How does the Spirit function on those occasions?
I’ve been talking about praise teams – which clearly represents the more ‘contemporary’ end of the bandwagon. Let’s switch to the traditional. Some churches regard the organist as a ‘minister of music’ – but how many organists who are in fact good enough to be paid to play at church services are fully-confessional Christians? And since when does singing hymns instead of so-called ‘worship songs’ indicate greater piety or spirituality by definition? Does God only favour the high-European cultural tradition? There are a whole heap of people who are in serious confusion on this point – but the issue of the only thing mattering being that of the presence of God in a liturgical gathering still remains paramount. God is not in any way more guaranteed to show up if you sing 300-year-old hymns and do away with drums. The praise teams frequently commit what I call ‘spiritual perjury’ – but the hymn-singers are also frequently condemned by the very theology espoused by those anointed hymn-writers of yore.
We really could not be more fragmented within our worshipping communities. Capitalism has fuelled the ideology of self-interest and naked materialism, and the result is impending economic meltdown on a global scale. And yet, so many people would rather do anything other than give up their rights as consumers. This type of thinking has spread to the ways in which Christians decide where they worship from week to week. To my mind, every service should be family-friendly – but the perceived need to put bums on seats has turned the sacred business of soul-winning into a business enterprise (yes, I’m aware of that Weberian argument about the Protestant roots of capitalism – but this isn’t the time for that). Pete Ward again: “In the present day church growth models draw quite openly from business-management theories.” So, if churches cater for a wide range of markets – sorry, I meant ‘needs’ – then in a stats-conscious society, as the numbers go up, the better the ‘church is doing.’ As such, it becomes about offering a ‘choice’ – and churchgoers are increasingly growing up on a diet of expectations of ‘experiences’ that are supposed to fill the God-shaped hole in all of us.
Worship may be a noun, but it will always also be a verb. And it requires a little more than simply turning up to a place where others claim worship will take place. One can experience ‘something’ but experiencing the presence of God is not a ‘run-of-the-mill experience.’ It is literally life-changing. The quest for a ‘worship experience’ is not always going to lead to a discovery of God. And if the believers are busy consuming worship styles based on their worship aesthetics – what kind of message is being sent out to those who do not know God for themselves, and for whom the lives of the self-proclaimed Christians is the ‘only Bible they’ll ever read?’