Rockin’ at the Church?

It seems that worship is watered down concert experiences that feel neither artistically nor emotionally stimulating.
Worship
 (Kelly, CC BY-SA 3.0)

I just finished reading a good article titled ​“Blinded By Pop Praise,” which takes a few digs at modern, popular worship music (which, for better or worse, has always been a favorite target of mine). The focus of the article is not on any style of worship or music per se, but it does touch on a few things that have been bugging me about worship music lately.

The church I go to performs (and yes, I specifically chose that term) what would best be termed ​“contemporary” music. In other words, pop songs reign, with the occasional hymn or Christmas carol given a modern sheen. Not being a fan of ​“pop” music in most senses, it shouldn’t be too surprising that I find most of these arrangements, well, banal at best. But I’ve come to realize that’s not the main problem for me. What bothers me is the performance aspect of it.

When I still attended my church’s college group, I used to help out with the worship. I remember talking with the group’s worship pastor (whose opinions and insight I greatly respected and admired) and hearing him comment that fewer and fewer people seem to be singing during worship services. He went down to the main sanctuary during the regular services and was amazed to see very few in the congregation singing with those on stage.

Now, my church has a pretty large congregation, so that might’ve been part of the problem. But after talking with my friend Ruth, I realized something else. In my time with the college group, I saw the worship time get enhanced with lights, smoke machines, and other gimmicks. And I’ve seen that in other worship services. In other words, it seems to be moving from worship to a performance, from a community experience to a concert experience. All of those gimmicks serve only to separate ​“us” in the audience from ​“those” onstage, be it at a church, bar, or stadium. In short, worship becomes a spectacle when it should be something far more humble.

Now, admittedly a lot of concerts involve a great deal of audience participation. But that’s where I think some of the conflict arises. We’re in a church, not a bar or concert venue. Do we throw up the rock horns, cheer wildly, and whip out the lighters after a particularly rousing version of ​“We Want To See Jesus Lifted High”? I think it’s a safe bet that hootin’ and hollerin’ would probably be given an odd look in most American churches (unless you happen to be charismatic and only then if tongues are involved). But that’s what you do at concerts, right?

We could go ​round and ​round on this, and I’ve heard countless viewpoints on this. I’m definitely not opposed to worship with a modern twist. And I think true worship ultimately does reside in the heart of an individual. But I also think that this whole sense of ​“contemporary” worship has gotten out of hand. It used to be that worship was watered down pop music that felt 10 years behind the times. Now, it seems that worship is watered down concert experiences that feel neither artistically nor emotionally stimulating.