Thursday, March 27, 2008

Arson or Spontaneous Combustion

Worship. The source of conflict in the modern church disproportional to the amount inspired by the Holy Spirit about it in the NT. Among the more charismatic of us, it can take on a mystical, superstitious, or even shamanistic flavor (i.e. it's seen as the means of conjuring up the presence of God). Among the less charismatic, it is just part of the package of techniques employed to appeal to this generation of potential pew sitters. In way too many churches it is nothing more than a crowd-warming preliminary to the supposedly more important art of the preacher. In other churches (the more liturgical among us) it has no separate identity at all, everything that happens is part of the worship service.

What do we actually know from scripture about the practice of worship in the church? We know Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the Lord's supper. We know that songs in tongues and in understood languages were part of the corporate worship at Corinth (and presumably elsewhere). We know worship was participative, consisting of individual and corporate expression simultaneously. And [insert drum roll] we know that there was no recognized anointing or gift of worship leading [cymbal crash]. We do have that wonderful instance where the curtain to the heavenlies is pulled back to reveal that loud, boisterous worship is part of the milieu of the throne room. Beyond that, we really know very little. Truth be told, our practices of contemporary worship are more informed by the OT and the surrounding culture than they are by the NT.

Just for the sake of clarity of argument, however, let me propose a definition:
Worship is those acts, both inward and outward, that focus attention specifically on God and thereby distill within the soul an awareness of his presence and arouse reverence toward and elicit surrender to him.
If we combine that definition with the NT understanding of what it means to be born again (and thereby become the temple of the Holy Spirit), it seems to me that worship teams (bands, leaders, choirs, combos, or whatever) should never be considered the sources, starters or sparkers of worship. We already bear the presence of God within us, so why would we need to be "inspired" to experience it? If one requires such inspiration, it would raise questions regarding whether or not he or she was truly born again! If we are depending on the skill of a worship leader to get us into the presence, worship is not what's happening-- manipulation is.

What happens in worship gatherings today often resembles rock concerts and stage shows more than the throne room of God. It's a cheerled spectacle of star power, a clamor of flesh and self-indulgence. Please, don't infer from those words any critique on the type or style of music used, that really doesn't matter one way or the other. At best, worship leaders are, in fact, nothing more than accompanists, a utilitarian backdrop to what's happening among the folk, between the folk and God. And therein lies the problem with much of today's worship-- is something happening between the folk and God?

We can't make people know God, love him, or express true worship to him. It has to come from them because of what God has done in them. Unless the Lord builds the house, the labor is in vain. Worship is about opportunities not compulsions. It seems to me, worship ought to be more like spontaneous combustion than arson. Sadly, there's getting to be fewer and fewer who understand the difference.


Anonymous said...

I have a question. Is it safe to say that the role of a worship leader is not to start the atmosphere of worship but to lead the church with music (lyrics, tune, more of the technical aspect of the song)?

Anonymous said...

well, as long as it is all planned and everyone knows their lines and their part to play in the production, then no one will be thought of as strange, or crazy. no one will have to be afraid or feel anything at all. one can just come in on cue, say their lines and then exit stage right...or left,depending on the scene.

how God ever works through us...i just don't know! but, He does!

Anonymous said...

Hmmnn.. God is the audience.. the performer is the church....

But today, many church is like this one... Worship team is the performer, congregation is the audience, God is... someone outside trying to peek through the windows...

SLW said...

Your second comment is very insightful, and gets to the gist of the problem the post points out. We wouldn't have to actually change much in practice to get God as the audience and the church as the performer-- the attitude of the worship leader would go a long, long way.

As for your first comment, I'm not quite sure how to respond. It's certainly safe to say that the worship leader is not responsible for making worship happen, but to give the congregation the opportunity and accompaniment that assists their worship of God. And yes, that means the worship team serves by offering their technical acumen to the congregations's spiritual exercise of worship. IOW, I may want to sing a song of thanks to the Lord, but if I don't play an instrument, it would be a blessing if someone who did helped me out.

An interesting corollary (mainly, just my own theory, though) is that accompaniment music shouldn't be too complicated, lyrics should not be too hard to follow, and the arrangement should not be over-orchestrated if the aim is congregational participation. The folk not in the worship team are usually musically challenged to large degree, and end up as audience when the music is overdone. Save the fancy stuff for special music.

SLW said...

"no one will...feel anything at all."

Or if they do, it's "wow, is our worship team great!" The point is to give expression to the feeling, "wow, is God great!"

Anonymous said...

yep, the point is to express to God how Great He is...for He is Great.

so you want the stage show to take a back seat...well, they could actually take a back seat.

honestly, just sit them in the back or in the balcony. then ask if anyone has a song they would like to sing or would like to say anything in worship to God.

let the team be part of the congregation and the congregation be part of the team.

if you don't want a stage show...don't use the stupid stage!

for crying out loud!

oh! but, oh dear...the songs might not match with the sermon! no problem...skip the sermon! i am serious here...put the pastor in the pews as well...and i don't mean in the front pew! he or she can sit smack dab in the middle of the church next to somebody they have not met. and if they have something to say in worship they can take their turn and say it.

if people really want to come and worship God, well, maybe the leaders should let them do it!

SLW said...

Some interesting, and either Quakerian or emergent thoughts. I may have to try some of your suggestions someday-- that would make an interesting gathering for sure! :-)

Anonymous said...

must be emergent because the quakers quit quaking a long time ago! and they are fairly staged-up now.

go for it.
nothing wrong with interesting.

Anonymous said...

And I just preached this topic earlier in our church.

I am a worship leader (guitarist). I am a victim of these "worship leading" thing. And sometimes, when I visit a church wherein I don't belong to their worship team, honestly, I enjoy it more (enjoy worship to God) than when I am part of the team.

** In my first church, my Pastor there, during the praise and worship part of the service (singing), he sits in the midst of the congregation. He is the one who taught me that God is the only audience in worship.

SLW said...

God the Only Audience in Worship

That would make a great post title!

Sista Cala said...

Another fine post that deserves the front page of every newspaper in the country. No kidding. If church folk could just........

SLW said...

Thanks Carla, for looking in.