Fall 2010

Weightier Worship

Does modern worship need a dose of doctrine (and imagination)?

By Brett McCracken

Last spring, evangelicals across America were abuzz when Atlanta’s North Point Community Church released “Sunday’s Coming,” a short film that parodied contemporary evangelical worship. The popularity of that video — which went viral across Facebook and Twitter and dominated chatter for weeks on the Christian blogosphere — is a testament to the accuracy of (and our familiarity with) its depiction of contemporary worship. Featuring a stereotypical evangelical church with formulaic rock music (“lights and big drums”) and laughably predictable worship leader banter (“I’d like to invite the ushers to come…”), the video was a hilarious, slightly disturbing reminder of how silly our worship can look from a distance.

“Sunday’s Coming” raises questions about the homogeneity and shallow predictability of contemporary worship. Many evangelical churches in America today share a very identifiable style of worship music: a five-piece band with electric guitars, singing U2-sounding songs about God’s love written by Hillsong or Matt Redman. The experience of “worship music” has become formulaic, standardized and narrowly conceived within much of evangelicalism. In some cases, it is simply the “thing we do” for 25 minutes before the pastor preaches a sermon.

How can we go deeper in our worship? How can we make it more meaningful and less worthy of parody? And how can we make worship more about “we” the church than “me” the consumer, but above all about God?

Worship as a Hammer

Fundamental to any discussion of worship is the question of its intended role in the Christian life. Andrew Braine (M.Div. ’06), who teaches in Biola’s Music in Worship program, suggests that the practice of worship music in the church is inextricably tied to our ecclesiology, or understanding of what we are there to do when we gather as God’s people.

Andrew Braine

“In the East, corporate worship is a window so that we can see what’s happening in heaven,” said Braine. “In the West, worship is seen more as a hammer. It does something.”

Braine says that in our Western evangelical context, worship often seems to be largely about cause and effect — getting people in the door so that they might get saved. Within this utilitarian framework, notes Braine, our styles of worship often veer toward elaborate production, performance spectacle, and highly emotional experiences that are audience-friendly and, yes, “seeker-sensitive.”

But Braine, who is teaching an integration seminar on music as worship this fall with Bible professor David Horner, worries about what this “hammer” approach does to our experience of worship.

“Worship should not be a marketing tool to get people in the door or to appeal to a certain demographic,” he said. “Worship should be about shaping your congregation’s practical view of who God is.”

Braine thinks the style of worship today — favoring simple, easy-to-play guitar riffs, soaring emotional melodies and repetitive lyrics — comes out of the audience-friendly, path-of-least resistance approach. Among the most troubling aspects of this style for Braine is the heavy emphasis on emotionalism and ecstatic experience.

While this sort of exciting, emotional worship might draw in crowds and appeal to seekers, the problem, says Braine, is that it creates an assumption that ecstatic experience in worship is normative or expected.

“When people don’t experience it, there’s this sense of ‘I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I’m not really saved. Maybe God’s not really speaking to me,’” he said. “Then you’re at a crossroads. To avoid cognitive dissonance, you have to decide either ‘I need to try harder to trump up that mystical experience’ or ‘I tried Christianity and it didn’t work.’”

The problem with using worship as a means to bring people in is that, once they are “in,” they don’t necessarily get the depth of biblical understanding that matches up to the worship that initially drew them in, says Braine. Thrilling, visceral, spiritually moving worship might attract them to the church, but invariably those feelings won’t last forever, and then what are they left with? Stripped of its emotional impact, does our worship say anything about who God is or what we believe he did?

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

One way we can make sure our worship is offering something more substantial than mere emotion, says Braine, is to approach it with the mindset of lex orandi, lex credendi: “That which is prayed is that which is believed.”

Our worship music should articulate what we believe.

“If we are praying or singing things together as a congregation that are shallow or disconnected, we are not succeeding in forming Christians to be the people of God,” said Braine, who believes worship pastors should be intentional about choosing songs and leading a service that is deep, meaningful and every bit as truth-filled as the pastor’s sermon.

Walt Harrah, a music pastor who leads three Sunday morning services at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, laments the disconnect between a church’s “singing time” and “sermon time,” because ultimately both should be seen as worship.

Walt Harrah

Harrah, who also teaches in Biola’s Music in Worship program, uses “worship scripts” that incorporate carefully selected songs, Scripture and written prayers in worship, all thematically integrated based on the topic of that Sunday’s biblical teaching.

Harrah, an established session musician and writer of such songs as “Think About His Love,” agrees with Braine that worship music shouldn’t pander to the audience or assume they can’t handle complexity or depth in worship.

“Just give people the real God,” suggests Braine. “The real, triune, tough-to-figure-out God. Don’t try to guess which sort of God people want to encounter.”

Dan Radmacher (’90, M.Div. ’04), who leads the contemporary service at Sierra Madre Congregational Church near Pasadena, thinks that worship should be less about making us feel good and more about fundamentally changing who we are as the people of God.

“The words that the spiritual formation community uses are consolation and desolation,” says Radmacher. “Probably a lot more desolation should be happening in worship. It should be more of the Isaiah 6 ‘woe is me’ experience. If you really are experiencing the greatness and glory of God, then you’re going to realize what a worm you really are. And that’s not a bad thing. It drives you to worship. When I lead worship, I really want him to pierce our hearts with the truth of who he is. I would say that confining worship to ‘celebration’ is a little bit crazy.”

Ultimately, we need to turn our eyes to God and away from ourselves, adds Radmacher.

“It’s really hard to find songs that are focused simply on who God is,” says Radmacher. “There are a lot of songs about my response to God in worship, but songs that focus on him should be our bread and butter. 2 Corinthians 3 says if we gaze on God’s glory we change; not if we focus on ourselves. So much worship music is focused not on God but on my experience of God. If a whole service is comprised of those types of songs, I just don’t see how that’s transformational.”

Moving Away From “Me”-Centered Worship

Because so much of contemporary worship has been of the audience-friendly, “hammer” variety, it’s only natural that it has taken on a strong individualistic bent. It makes sense that “worship wars” are rampant in churches, as we argue over our own particular tastes and the way we think worship ought to be. But should worship really be about “me and my individual encounter with God,” or are we missing a crucial community component?

If we move away from the “me” mentality, says Braine, worship music can become a great source of unity in the church.

“It gives us an opportunity for humility, because I’m not going to hear what I think I want to hear all the time, and that’s fine,” said Braine. “The community should come before my own individual preferences, and we should take delight in seeing others enjoy a song even if we don’t.” Braine also thinks that worship music can create a broader unity among the church universal as an activity where the brotherhood of Christ can play out.

“Why not sing a song that was written by a persecuted pastor in the underground church in China?” he says. “Then as a congregation, take a few moments to pray for the persecuted church?”

One of the factors contributing to evangelical worship’s “me-centric” disposition has been its tendency to frame the activity in terms of performance and musical excellence. Though the emphasis on “excellence” of craft and musicianship is understandable, Braine thinks that excessive excellence draws attention to the music and the individual performance of it, which can distract us from the actual experience of worship.

Walt Harrah agrees, noting that while excellence is good, its importance is sometimes overrated. He likes to tell the story of being at Mariner’s Church in Irvine, Calif., 20 years ago and watching in embarrassment and horror as a woman sang the words of John 3:16 to the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun.” A few years later at a Christmas party he met a lady and asked her how she met the Lord, and she said, “Well, I was at Mariner’s Church one morning and heard someone sing John 3:16 to ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and I committed my life to Christ.”

“This is not an excuse to be sloppy in our quality,” said Harrah. “But I think excellence gets overrated.”

In her recent Worship Leader magazine article, “Return of the Folk,” Constance Cherry — a church worship consultant and professor of worship at Indiana Wesleyan University — calls for a shift from the performance-driven “program worship” to a more “participatory worship,” which is less about whether I am pleased and more about whether God is pleased. Participatory worship, writes Cherry, is about “experiencing the presence of the risen Christ in the fellowship of community.”

But how do we foster a community-focused, collectivist worship culture that isn’t totally homogenous and predictable? And how do we do it in a way that both honors our shared traditions and values innovation and diversity?

Balancing the New and the Old

Maybe it happened in 1998 with the arrival of British worship band Delirious? or maybe it was the 2000 release of Third Day’s Offerings worship album, but at some point around the turn of the millennium, worship music became the new focal point of the contemporary Christian music industry.

Because of this shift, more and more Christian musicians today are making worship music and more worship songs are making the rounds to churches. Worship pastors at even small churches are writing their own music and releasing worship albums, and all of it adds up to an increasingly flooded market of worship music.

Coupled with the fact that audiences have shorter attention spans and (presumably) demand new content more regularly, the shelf life of any given worship song is shorter than ever, and worship pastors often feel the pressure to play the latest song, says Walt Harrah.

“I really like the song ‘God of Wonders,’ but that was a really big song in like 2002,” he says. “Would it be OK to sing it now, or is it passé? Everything is so throwaway and ephemeral today — even worship songs.”

Harrah is concerned that the culture’s obsession with “new,” coupled with the “everyone is a worship songwriter” trend, might lead to a lost commonality of song within Christianity.

“The worship song movement does elevate certain songs that show up in every church, where everyone will know it,” he says. “But most of the time when you go into a church, they will have their own canon of songs they sing. Wherever you worship, you’re bound to sing a song you’ve never heard before. There are a lot of really bad songs out there that shouldn’t be sung, and the whole narcissistic focus of homegrown songs just fosters this.”

Radmacher writes original music for his church, but doesn’t do it as much as he used to because he also sees the value in a broader commonality of song.

“Part of me likes the idea of churches in an area singing the same music,” he says. “I kind of want my congregation to know the songs in a given area, and if we’re doing all my own songs then they aren’t going to.”

On the other hand, Radmacher believes that new songs can help us to worship in ways that old songs can’t, inject life into tired worship styles and re-imagine the possibilities of what worship music can be.

One artist currently making waves in the worship world is John Mark McMillan, the writer of “How He Loves” whose recently released album The Medicine debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ Christian album sales charts. With his distinctive Springsteen-esque roots rock sound, McMillan hopes he can create “new associations” in people’s minds about what worship can be (read Biola Magazine's exclusive interview with McMillan).

Fragrance

Linzy Spann, senior Music in Worship major and singer/keyboardist of the band The Fragrance, is another example of someone actively trying to broaden our understanding of worship music.

Spann, who has been leading worship in Biola chapel services with The Fragrance since her freshman year, believes “there’s something precious about diversity within our worship music — hymns, multicultural songs, praise music — which we miss when we stick to the typical homogenous styles.”

Her band, the Fragrance, which is currently recording a full-length album, plays music that combines eclectic indie-rock style with biblical themes and lyrics. (One song, “Awake My Soul!” incorporates a Hebrew praise chorus at the end.)

For The Fragrance, musical diversity and innovation is prioritized, as well as depth of lyrics. This reflects the emphases of the Music in Worship program at Biola, which requires students to spend their first two years being classically trained with classes like music theory and music history.

Bands like The Fragrance — who play old hymns in their worship sets alongside original songs — represent a new face of worship music for young evangelicalism: music that is quality, creative, thoughtful, forward-thinking and yet mindful of tradition.

Though the temptations of trendiness and the notion of worship as performance/attraction will probably not go away, Spann has learned through her time at Biola that the best bet for a worship leader is to simply remember that, at the end of the day, worship should be all about God.

“Worship is about the created ascribing worth to the Creator,” said Spann. “Worship music brings us together as a community to ascribe worth to our creator. It’s an incredible gift that God has given us.”

Listen to songs by the worship leaders featured in this article, plus some of their hand-picked favorites: "31 Worship Songs to Download."

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  • bobby r October 18, 2010 at 9:10 PM

    I was raised in church all of my life (THANK GOD!) Where I worshiped was very traditional. But I loved it! They had great hymns and sang them regularly. Those hymns were inspired by the Bible itself. While the world around me was changing the truth of those hymns never did! I thank God for them. But as got older, my taste in music changed too, however what didn't change was my thoughts on worship. Remember, hearing a song that magnified the character of God to such a place that my problems got smaller and He got bigger! Also that song, that when sung, stirred your soul, like Hallelujah.

    But now that I have led worship for almost 20 years, I have recognized the transition from "Just worshiping God" to acknowledging the by-products of being in the Presence of God!
    Songs that seemingly glorify the way I feel in His presence..... where did we miss it? Shouldn't praise & worship be strictly for God alone & be offered with a heart of gratitude for what He's already done for me? Shouldn't we concern ourselves with whether or not God is pleased rather than wondering whether or not the congregation liked it? As the writer noted it is all about God, and I would be more concerned about offending God, than his people.

    As a worshiper, I have discovered the oneness that comes from offering to God, worship that towers over the cares of the world, the noise of distractions & the offenses of people. And as Evangelical believers we must rely on the Spirit of God to lead us and guide us into all truth regarding worship! I don't know it all, by any stretch of the imagination, but I know how to tap into the Presence of God and prepare my heart for the word to come. It's like Christianity 101 first you give (in praise & worship) the receive (in the ministry of the word) Far too often people view the music portion of service as "fluff" because they haven't been taught the basics of sowing and reaping!!!

    Well if the heart of worship is giving God praise for what He does and worship for who He is then, that should take a lifetime to perfect, but an eternity in Heaven to enjoy!!! Sounds like a bonus. I JUST PRAY BEFORE HE RETURNS, WE HAVE IT RIGHT!
    God bless;

    pbr

  • Zac Hicks October 20, 2010 at 6:51 PM

    I'm grateful to see my alma mater tackle this topic in a way that's simultaneously, mature, constructively critical, and generous. My favorite part of the whole article:

    "old hymns...a new face of worship music for young evangelicalism: music that is quality, creative, thoughtful, forward-thinking and yet mindful of tradition."

    That's what I learned to appreciate at Biola.

  • Peter Kaddis November 3, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    I enjoyed reading this article. Worship is one thing i have been thinking about a lot lately. I have thought a lot especially about the contrast of different types of worships. Although I grew up in a church which sang mostly hymns (Presbyterian Churches mostly), and although i appreciate the deep lyrics and rich theology in many songs, I must be honest in admitting that I personally enjoy singing modern songs as well and do not want to discourage the epidemic of modern worship. I dont see it as wrong for a church to be at least a little bit seeker friendly and to associate with the culture in a way as long as it does not contradict the Bible. There are many churches for example that have very modern worship, yet very biblical sermons in which people are accurately being taught about God. I have to admit, i do love Hillsong, Tim Hughes, Matt Redman and many other worship groups that are in the modern category and feel some of their songs are well written and deep. I realize that some songs are more rich in words while others are more emotions based. I am also aware of the potential of emotions to become everything especially in the newer songs and agree that this should not be the case. I think a blend of emotion, intellect and sound theology is healthy. We should definitely intellectually know God for who He truly is. Thanks again. Blessings.

  • J Wilkerson November 5, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    I enjoyed this read. Well written and had me thinking and pondering right up until the last quarter where it turned into an advertisement for Biola University. I understand this is Biola magazine, but you killed this article for me by the ending. Still much to consider tho. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Matt H November 6, 2010 at 6:23 PM

    We should be students of the Psalms and then sing and worship accordingly. If we read carefully, we see reminders of a deeply personal response to God, originality, and excellence in musicianship. When these principles are held in the upmost, it should not matter if a congregation likes or dislikes the worship of God, for God himself will be blessed.

  • Fredrick A. Tribble November 8, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    As a young man in Bible college, we got a lot out of the scripture songs that were produced by Maranatha Music. We also enjoyed the challenging music of Kieth Green. I have always been at a loss to understand the lack of depth in our contemporary worship. Many times, my wife has heard me bemoaning the sorry state of worship. I could go on and on, but I will not. You're welcome.

    It seems as though the Church Triumphant elsewhere in the world is the Church asleep in the west (Southern California evangelicals).

  • Richard Irwin ('81) November 11, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    What spoiled me forever for contemporary evangelical "worship" music was the year I spent in Chorale, which I joined mainly so that I could go on what was, if I recall correctly, it's first-ever Europe tour.

    My view is that what distinguishes the type of challenging, gorgeous literature we sang then from the dreck that I hear on the TV and radio preacher channels these days is that, e.g., J.S. Bach praised the Creator by expecting the very best of himself, by fully exploring and taking chances with his own genius and creativity (this matchless gift he'd been graced with), whereas nowadays "worship" is primarily a marketing strategy. It's mostly about attracting crowds and keeping 'em coming. Hence the lowest-common-denominator nursery-rhyme-level literature (if you could even call it that). Hence choreography and TV-level (i.e., mass) entertainment value replacing liturgy and challenging content.

    What a drag to be a "worship pastor" these days! (In the late 70s we were still calling them "music ministers.") Apparently, you've got to stay current on an ever-changing batch of very mediocre Christian Top 40 stuff to even be considered relevant. And you've got to be excellent at being slick. And my guess is that relatively few worship pastors have the gift of actual slickness, rather than a mere pale imitation of it.

  • Kristin ('99) November 12, 2010 at 9:30 PM

    “Though the emphasis on “excellence” of craft and musicianship is understandable, Braine thinks that excessive excellence draws attention to the music and the individual performance of it, which can distract us from the actual experience of worship. Walt Harrah agrees, noting that while excellence is good, its importance is sometimes overrated.”

    The reality is that most American churches don’t orbit a strong Christian university and their musicians are mostly hobbiests and volunteers. With the exception of maybe the worship leader, who might be paid for part-time service, most of those playing an instrument or holding a microphone on Sunday only rehearsed for a couple of hours earlier in the week, and rarely did they actually practice at improving their musicianship. If the “emphasis on excellence” isn’t there from the worship leader, the entire congregation (who has been listening to professionally produced music all week long) suffers from the impression that mediocrity for God is passable. Rather, our “utmost for His highest” should be tempered with grace, but it can never be overrated. In light of what Jesus has done for us, our very best, backed by hours and years of training and fine-tuning, is a small thing.

    Clearly, turning our hearts and eyes towards Him is the heart of the issue, and of the article, but undercutting the value of artistry in worship of all forms betrays a disconnect between the reality in the average American church and the “Ivory Tower”. Why offer or take a college degree in Music as Worship? Because well-trained musicians who value excellence are needed not only in the secular art scene but in the Church!

    It is through the sacrifice of excellence (it’s never cheap or easy) that the most meaningful worship is born, musically, as well as in every other area of life. As we get closer and closer to excellence in musical worship, the musicians and even the music itself disappears and the attention is shifted to the One who is the focus of our worship. When all the vowels were properly shaped, the notes sung on pitch within the pitch, and the phrases textured to precision, my heart and mind soared, enveloped by the sounds of some 60 Chorale voices, to the throne of God and I worshiped in a way I had never before, nor since, worshiped. Richard, we were not spoiled – we were taught to worship. May God give worship leaders in churches around the world the same ability to prepare their congregations for heaven!

  • Joel Hughes 1992 November 18, 2010 at 5:25 PM

    Maybe the problem is that worship as singing is an idea alien to scripture, which has evolved into a nearly worthless and often destructive, yet central, element of our gatherings. Why is the singing worship service so important to Christianity in North America? There is absolutely no scriptural basis in the NT for the worship service as it is currently practiced. Jesus never commanded anyone to sing, although he taught on prayer, railed against religious formalism and hypocrisy, and devoted extensive time to explaining the Kingdom of God. None of the books of the NT discuss proper procedures for singing at the worship service, despite many ‘one another’ passages and extensive discussion of other matters of ecclesiology (e.g., qualifications for leadership, the importance of teaching the word, the exercise of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ, submission to authority, relations in the Christian family and the relationship of the Christian with society and government). Furthermore, the typical worship service redefines worship from a lifestyle of sacrificial loving service to singing at a group meeting. Paul defined worship in his letter to the Romans. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). A lot can be said about this passage, but simply put the most reasonable worship we can offer to God is to give our whole lives and selves to God in thanks for what He has done for us. To reduce this to mere participation in a musical show is incredibly offensive if you think about it. Becoming a living sacrifice, or setting yourself apart to serve the Lord instead of yourself, is a profound decision with wide-reaching implications. Don't get me wrong, singing was probably a profound revolution in the reformation when the laity were suddenly allowed to sing, and there’s no scriptural prohibition against musical instruments and singing in church. Freedom in Christ covers a lot of territory on non-essential matters like music (Galatians 5:1; Galatians 2:4). Perhaps it's time to reconsider whether Christians' devotion to the singing worship service is healthy or worth it--at all. "Song in a box" has kind of become a joke, and not everyone is laughing.

  • Captain Contrarian ('12) [Part 1] November 30, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    Expanding on the comment by Joel Hughes (maybe too much):

    It sickens me that a conversation about worship has become synonymous with a conversation about musical taste.
    I'm not so sure that "Our worship music should articulate what we believe;" I think our actions/lifestyles should. I'm not so sure that a conversation about worship should be at all about music, or even lyrics. I feel like this article suggests that we need contemporary Christian music to contain more profound lyrical phrases, "like them good ol' hymns do," arguing for a more robust rationality in the midst of over-emotionalized worship shows.

    Perhaps I'm just jaded because, during my years at Biola, I have ceased to appreciate the music of the Christian sub-culture--whether hymnal or contemporary/rock. There is so much music out in the "secular" world that is not only better, but more creative and far more worshipful (Sigur Ros, seeing Sufjan Stevens live, etc.) I feel that both hymns and Christian alternative/rock are unchallenging ways to get the listener to feel better about his/herself and keep coming back to drop their contribution into the tithing bucket, especially the contemporary Christian music scene (or, in the case of Biola, the music helps students maintain the illusion that they are actually doing God's will by staying trapped within isolated Christian community, and is a consolation for the fact that they are forced into attending chapels). In the name of a "deeper relationship with God," lyrics gush forth fountains of excessive feel-goodery with the sole intention of sending shivers down the listener's spine. Lights, synthetic sound--even the quasi-emotionless trend of an "acoustic set"--all symbolically communicate that worship is about introspection, quiet meditation, and "expressing worship however you feel led." All of this is done in the name of an abstract conception of "connecting with God."

    Like I said, maybe I'm just a jaded bad Christian because I have ceased to feel "connected to God" through any form of Christian music. But I think there is also a sense in which the contemporary Christian music scene has missed the point. God doesn't want us to connect with him through thinking really hard about theologically robust lyrics, raising our hands, or distorting our faces in a crowd like the Pharisees did to feign sincerity on the street corners. We show our love for God through our love for others. We don't love God by saying "God I love you" while exploring our feelings at a Christian concert. We love God by clothing the homeless, feeding the hungry, serving our husbands/wives, raising good children, adopting orphans, and caring for widows.

  • Captain Contrarian ('12) [Part 2] November 30, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    If worship is about a community showing its love for God, then I sincerely believe that the best step for the contemporary church today is to "sell all that it has" related to musical worship and seek worship/love in a more mundane, day-to-day way--trash your gaudy sound-systems, unplug your lights, stop hanging black curtains up over the windows to add to the ambiance, stop burning fragrance, stop trying to write deeper lyrics, stop trying to synthesize old-people and young-people music, stop band practices, stop amplifying voices, stop your band from taking its place on stage while the pastor utters a transitionary prayer, stop tuning your instruments, stop debating over acoustic or electric drums--stop singing about loving your neighbor, and love your neighbor.

    What makes a father really pleased with his children? A son comes to his father with a crappy drawing of stick figures and a house, labeled "Family" in broken words. Is the father really pleased with this measly attempt at art? No--he says "Oh, thanks buddy!" without sincerity so that his son won't burst into tears. Is God pleased by our poor attempts at worshipful creativity, justified by a notion of good intentions? No, because it doesn't actually do anything for him. A father is TRULY pleased when he sees his son help his brother up after tripping, or brings his mother a cup of tea while sick in bed, or cleans up after his sister's mess, or doesn't argue back when a friend accuses him of stealing a toy. A father is truly pleased with his son when he shows love to those who he can empathize with at his level of maturation.

    Spann is quoted as saying, “Worship is about the created ascribing worth to the Creator.”
    If this is the case, then the musical worship I've seen doesn't accomplish this, because it is empty fluff that distracts the audience from the fact that they aren't actually following Christ. It's empty jargon of spiritual propositions.

    God doesn't need us to try our best to ascribe worth to him--he's made it clear that he'd rather have us love our brothers than to shout praises at the top of our lungs. At least, I think that's what Jesus was getting at.

    I think Christians should critically accept all music as worshipful at heart, let GOOD musicians make music, and be wary of people in the Christian subculture who try to brand their pathetic attempts at creativity as "worship."

  • David December 1, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    quoted from Joel Hughes 1992:

    "Maybe the problem is that worship as singing is an idea alien to scripture"

    Actually singing and worship are often connected in Scripture, especially in the Psalms (Psalms 21:13, 33:1-3, 59:16-17, 81:1-2, 95:1-2, 98:4-6).


    "Jesus never commanded anyone to sing"

    True, but it's something that He did (Matthew 26:30 and its parallel in Mark 14:26) Moreover the New Testament does command singing:

    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Colossians 3:16

    And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Ephesians 5:18-20


    "there’s no scriptural prohibition against musical instruments and singing in church."

    Correct, in fact psalms were apparently part of the service in Paul's time:

    How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. I Corinthians 14:26


    "the most reasonable worship we can offer to God is to give our whole lives and selves to God in thanks for what He has done for us."

    Amen. That can also include a God-centered, biblically-based musical tradition, but glorifying God should extend to far more than an hour-and-a-half on Sunday mornings.

  • Joel Hughes December 1, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    @David: I am aware of the Psalms, but that was OT. The sacrificial system is over, the law fulfilled, etc. there's a new covenant now and ceremonies/rituals are simply not as central to our relationship with God as they were in the OT. I am aware of the passages in which Jesus sang certain Psalms after passover like any good Jew would do (part of the passover protocol, which he followed mostly but broke with at key moments). Obviously you can't build firm doctrine or practice on narratives. I am aware of the NT passages in Colossians and Ephesians which both state "in your heart" and neither of which are about instructions for a worship service. The 1 Cor passage may be about the worship service, but it also includes toungues and revelations, which are usually absent from the evangelical service (thus the passage could be about being edifying and perhaps not a list of necessary elements of the service). Nevertheless, we are in agreement that you can sing if you want to, absolutely. Be edifying. At our annual Christmas celebration, I will probably be pressed into service to lead the singing again, because even my rag-tag band of anti-institutional outlaws will want to sing some familiar Chrismas tunes! I'm not at all anti-music--I'm against the conflating of singing with worship and elevating the service to a mandatory sacred cow of evangelical Christianity. On this we agree. I like Captain Contrarian's ideas. He proposes an interesting test. Here's another imaginary test for your local body: if the building burned down and there was no worship service for a year, would your ekklesia still exist? Would it be rockin' along baptizing new believers and making disciples? Or would it fall apart because the central element was Sunday Morning?

  • Joel Hughes December 1, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    FYI--feel free to contact me if you want at hughe036@gmail.com
    I'm not trying to be anonymous, and I do get out of hand with my comments sometimes. I should have been more clear as "alien to scripture" is surely an exaggeration. I appreciate Captain Contrarian's caveat--built into the screen name!

  • RLK December 14, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    I can imagine how much weightier worship would be with that FAT accordion! Must be at least ten pounds heavier.

  • Cory Zipperle December 24, 2010 at 12:56 AM

    It is interesting to read an article that is critical of our doctrinal depth that is quite shallow. This is a very classic problem: looking at the symptom and calling it the problem. The cough is never the problem. What causes the cough is the problem. The author focuses on the cough without ever really diving into the real problem:

    [quote]
    “In the East, corporate worship is a window so that we can see what’s happening in heaven,” said Braine. “In the West, worship is seen more as a hammer. It does something.”
    [/quote]
    So the East with its window is better? Sounds more mystic than worship ought to be. By definition, worship IS (yes, it does something, even by every biblical definition I have ever seen) a demonstration of reverence and respect. The point isn't what it does for us, the point is that we give it to God.

    [quote]
    our styles of worship often veer toward elaborate production, performance spectacle, and highly emotional experiences that are audience-friendly and, yes, “seeker-sensitive.”
    [/quote]
    Elaborate production only happens on rare occasions. For every "elaborate production" church out there I can show you 100 non elaborate production churches. I can also show you 100 churches that barely execute the Great Commission. Churches that have elaborate productions are churches that were given many talents that they then invest, thus God gives them more.

    [quote]
    But Braine, who is teaching an integration seminar on music as worship this fall with Bible professor David Horner, worries about what this “hammer” approach does to our experience of worship.
    [/quote]
    While worship can be an experience. It is not the experience that defines good or bad worship or what worship is intended to do.

    [quote]
    “Worship should not be a marketing tool to get people in the door or to appeal to a certain demographic,”
    [/quote]
    I don't know any large church pastor that actually thinks this way. I'm sure there are some, but I'm convinced that they are in the minority. At the same time, many of these guys know that certain music styles appeal to certain demographics. Just because they recognize this thing doesn't mean that they are specifically using worship to be a marketing tool.


  • Cory Zipperle December 24, 2010 at 12:57 AM

    [quote]
    “Worship should be about shaping your congregation’s practical view of who God is.”
    [/quote]
    Another fundamental failure in the definition of worship. Worship isn't about what it does for us, worship is about giving to God.

    [quote]
    Braine thinks the style of worship today — favoring simple, easy-to-play guitar riffs, soaring emotional melodies and repetitive lyrics — comes out of the audience-friendly, path-of-least resistance approach.
    [/quote]
    Before today's contemporary worship we had hymns... which were just as repetitive and simple as anything in today's catalogues. As for path-of-least resistance? It is much more difficult to do modern contemporary worship than it is to bang out a few hymns on a piano and organ. To do modern worship well, more musical skill is required.

    He knocks emotion in worship. We are supposed to submit to God, this includes emotions. Preaching is cognitive, music tends to be emotional. This is part of the way God made things. Failure to recognize this means that we deny God a proper worship offering.

    [quote]
    “When people don’t experience it, there’s this sense of ‘I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I’m not really saved. Maybe God’s not really speaking to me,’” he said. “Then you’re at a crossroads. To avoid cognitive dissonance, you have to decide either ‘I need to try harder to trump up that mystical experience’ or ‘I tried Christianity and it didn’t work.’”
    [/quote]
    This isn't a problem with emotional focus in worship. Instead, this is a problem with the Church leadership not correctly teaching what worship is really about.


    [quote]
    The problem with using worship as a means to bring people in is that, once they are “in,” they don’t necessarily get the depth of biblical understanding that matches up to the worship that initially drew them in, says Braine.
    [/quote]
    Using worship music to bring people in isn't the problem. The problem is in the failure of (again) church leaders to correctly teach what worship is about and even then to provide good or great learning opportunities. I have had a harder time finding good teaching in churches that practice traditional worship methods than in any of the larger (flashier) churches that have contemporary worship.

    That said, I'd rather be in a church that is working to find and teach the lost about Jesus on the lost's own level than a church that is so deep in doctrine that the lost can't understand it. Jesus doesn't call us to be deep. He calls us to love, make disciples, and baptize.

  • Cory Zipperle December 24, 2010 at 12:58 AM

    [quote]
    One way we can make sure our worship is offering something more substantial than mere emotion, says Braine, is to approach it with the mindset of lex orandi, lex credendi: “That which is prayed is that which is believed.”
    [/quote]
    True, but the church for the last 50+ years has failed here. Prior to 1960 why did people go to Church? Because it was expected of them and gained them status in the community. Is that really the right reason to attend church?

    [quote]
    Harrah, who also teaches in Biola’s Music in Worship program, uses “worship scripts” that incorporate carefully selected songs, Scripture and written prayers in worship, all thematically integrated based on the topic of that Sunday’s biblical teaching.
    [/quote]
    Don't most churches do this?

    [quote]
    Dan Radmacher (’90, M.Div. ’04), who leads the contemporary service at Sierra Madre Congregational Church near Pasadena, thinks that worship should be less about making us feel good and more about fundamentally changing who we are as the people of God.
    [/quote]
    Again, a fallacy of what worship is about. We can never worship as we are supposed to with this kind of teaching.

    [quote]
    Because so much of contemporary worship has been of the audience-friendly, “hammer” variety, it’s only natural that it has taken on a strong individualistic bent. It makes sense that “worship wars” are rampant in churches, as we argue over our own particular tastes and the way we think worship ought to be. But should worship really be about “me and my individual encounter with God,” or are we missing a crucial community component?
    [/quote]
    I can't speak to the author's experience, but I hear more "me" worship talk coming from senior saints than any other demographic in the church. "Me" centered worship isn't the problem, it is the symptom. The problem is that for many years, well before I was born, pastors weren't correctly teaching worship. "Me" worship has been a problem for much longer than the contemporary music trend.

  • Cory Zipperle December 24, 2010 at 12:58 AM

    [quote]
    Walt Harrah agrees, noting that while excellence is good, its importance is sometimes overrated.
    [/quote]
    I totally agree with this. Giving the very best that we are capable of giving is key. Trying to do something that God didn't gift us to do is wrong and something that we see happen too frequently.

    [quote]
    In her recent Worship Leader magazine article, “Return of the Folk,” Constance Cherry — a church worship consultant and professor of worship at Indiana Wesleyan University — calls for a shift from the performance-driven “program worship” to a more “participatory worship,” which is less about whether I am pleased and more about whether God is pleased. Participatory worship, writes Cherry, is about “experiencing the presence of the risen Christ in the fellowship of community.”
    [/quote]
    Ironically, the contemporary movement is much better equipped to execute a return to folk music than any of the traditional models as contemporary movements are less scripted and more open to interpretive styles. While there are a lot of churches that do the U2 thing, there is a lot more variety in the contemporary church than any traditional church. Don't believe me? Listen to 100 recordings of traditional churches and then listen to 100 recordings of contemporary churches on Youtube. Guess where the variety is? In the contemporary church.

    [quote]
    But how do we foster a community-focused, collectivist worship culture that isn’t totally homogenous and predictable?
    [/quote]
    You teach what worship is about and not what worship isn't about.

    [quote]
    And how do we do it in a way that both honors our shared traditions and values innovation and diversity?
    [/quote]
    You disband forced policies on what we want our worship offering to be like and allow those servants to do what God provisioned them to do.

    [quote]
    Balancing the New and the Old
    [/quote]
    This is just a bizarre section. If we want folk, there is going to be variety in the sound and songs that we sing. The differences that we see between churches only shows that many churches are working to grapple with the dynamic society that we deal with. Ironically, these are all virtually contemporary churches as most traditional churches are exactly the same - unlike the societies around them.

  • Cory Zipperle December 24, 2010 at 1:06 AM

    By the way, somebody needs to fix this site some. Paragraphs aren't respected at all by the site. Therefore, we all look like morons that can't write ourselves out of a paper bag.

  • Chris January 7, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    I was sent this article by a friend, and I am very grateful she shared it! I am in the band "I've Died Daily" who's genre isn't worship, but this is a very eye-opening and thought provoking article. I really appreciated these statements:

    “Worship should not be a marketing tool to get people in the door or to appeal to a certain demographic,” he said. “Worship should be about shaping your congregation’s practical view of who God is.”

    "...worship should be less about making us feel good and more about fundamentally changing who we are as the people of God."

    "If we move away from the “me” mentality, says Braine, worship music can become a great source of unity in the church. "

    And I especially appreciated the push to pray and really consider ourselves as a piece of the body by reflecting on others such as in the statement, “Why not sing a song that was written by a persecuted pastor in the underground church in China?” he says. “Then as a congregation, take a few moments to pray for the persecuted church?”

    Although I am not a worship leader, or even in a worship band, I am really going to take to heart these concepts when performing.

    God bless and keep the faith!

    Chris
    www.ivedieddaily.com

  • Lisette February 24, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    I am a Seventh-Day Adventist and definitely agree with the conclusion of the article. Music in worship is another form of prayer and should therefore reflect of love for, and praise to our Creator.

    Quotes:

    "There should be a prayerful attitude on the platform.--But things that transpire in the sacred desk are often wrong. One minister conversing with another in the desk before the congregation, laughing and appearing to have no burden of the work, or lacking a solemn sense of their sacred calling, dishonors the truth, and brings the sacred down upon a low level with common things. The example is to remove the fear of God from the people, and to detract from the sacred dignity of the gospel Christ died to magnify. According to the light that has been given me, it would be pleasing to God for them to bow down as soon as they step into the pulpit, and solemnly ask help from God.--RH May 30, 1871. {PaM 178.1}

    Music


    Worship music should be cheerful, yet solemn.--Those who make singing a part of divine worship should select hymns with music appropriate to the occasion, not funeral notes, but cheerful, yet solemn melodies. The voice can and should be modulated, softened, and subdued.--ST June 22, 1882. {PaM 178.2}

    The use of musical instruments to create a bedlam of noise, shocks the senses and perverts the worship.--The Holy Spirit never reveals itself in such methods, in such a bedlam of noise. This is an invention of Satan to cover up his ingenious methods for making of none effect the pure, sincere, elevating, ennobling, sanctifying truth for this time. Better never have the worship of God blended with music than to use musical instruments to do the work which last January was represented to me would be brought into our camp meetings. The truth for this time needs nothing of this kind in its work of converting souls. A bedlam of noise shocks the senses and perverts that which if conducted aright might be a blessing. The powers of satanic agencies blend with the din and noise, to have a carnival, and this is termed the Holy Spirit's working.--2SM 36. {PaM 178.3}

    ot for Display


    Musical talent too often fosters pride and ambition for display.--Musical entertainments which, if conducted properly, will do no harm, are often a source of evil. . . . Musical talent too often fosters pride and ambition for display, and singers have but little thought of the worship of God.--VSS 422. {PaM 179.4}

    Musical accomplishments as well as forms and ceremonies can take the place of God in worship.--When professing Christians reach the high standard which it is their privilege to reach, the simplicity of Christ will be maintained in all their worship."

    From the EG White Estate Archives

  • Sharon Luna September 17, 2011 at 1:08 AM

    I was raised as a traditional Catholic. About three years ago I converted to a non-denominational church after being lost for much of my adulthood. The worship music was not the reason I attended but I did feel like the Holy Spirit led me there to worship as God willed. Singing songs that held such passion and love for God gave me a deeper spiritual connection to Him and drove me to study at Kings Bible Institute. Contrary to what Radmacher claims, I don't believe that God wants us to feel like we are condemned during our worship time because we fall short of His glory. In fact, scripture states that He wills us to live in joy and abundance and Christ died for us to have that joy. Condemnation is the work of the devil. Anytime we feel that we must limit our joy, we are being deceived by the enemy! Of course that doesn't mean to give into carnality but thinking that we can't have fun during worship is absurd!!!!!! I have never felt closer to God than during those moments when I whole heartedly worship Him with song that is truly in my heart to sing to Him. Therein lies the distinction. Not everyone is called to worship in the same manner just like not all of us are extroverts or introverts. God created each of in His image and with unique qualities that He placed in us to accomplish His will. We must treasure that and not be critical of others because they worship in a manner different from the way we worship. If we are true Christians, we will know that He alone sees the heart of every man and He alone knows if there is or isn't sincerity in a person's heart during the time they are worshiping! It is not for us to decide and when we begin to place our judgments above His, we are in alliance with evil!!!! I refuse to do that!!! I pray that the rest of you do too. In Jesus name... Amen.

  • Greg Jones September 16, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    If we are to be EFFECTIVE at leading worship to shape the congregation's view of who God is, we have to meet them where they are. To do so, involves relevance. If we sang in Japanese to an English speaking congregation, we'd violate relevance and it wouldn't matter the content of our message.....

    I think the most important value in regards to worship as humility. 'Relevance', if done with pride could be called 'trendiness' but not if done with humility. The latter is something I'd simply call 'cultural relevance'. You have to meet people where they are. That can mean divorcing the style of the message (music or otherwise) from your personal preferences. You can't more humble than that.

    And I don't see musical excellence as an inherent contradiction to humility either. Just as a bright light shines best in a dark room, humility shines best within the context of excellence not mediocrity.

    Show me excellence musicians who are humble and I'll show you the testimony of God's presence.... a testimony that only makes sense if God actually exists....

    Think about it from this perspective. If I'm a non-believer and I see excellent worship musicians who are NOT soliciting praise to themselves, and I see both them and a congregation pointing to someone else and giving that someone else glory, doesn't that testify much louder of God's presence than if those musicians were displaying mediocrity so that they could avoid being mistaken for being proud?

    And was Christ so consumed with being misunderstood when he said "Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you cannot become my disciples"? I don't think the question is whether or not we are misunderstood but WHO is misunderstanding us.... those who want to remain in the 'kiddie pool' or those who want to go deeper.

    Christ always said things that allowed the shallow to fall into the pit but showed the humble God seeker a deeper, rich path to the truth. Musical excellence can do the same. After all, we don't ask people to dress homely so that no one can mistake them for being proud do we? Do we not instead give glory not just to the beautiful or handsome but also to God?

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