I grew up going to a Catholic elementary school where every Friday morning we’d attend Mass. It was the 1980s, and Sister Sheila would get out her guitar, and lead us in singing songs like “Great things happen when God mixes with us” or “And He will raise you up, on eagles’ wings…” I know a young man is not supposed to like singing in church, because, lets face it, for the longest time singing in church has been something the old ladies do, but I enjoyed it, and I still do.
If Sister Sheila, the school principal by-the-way, wasn’t up in front of us asking us to sing along, then that meant above us in the balcony a woman would be playing the austere pipe organ, and when that happened, hardly anyone sang. We couldn’t see the organ player, and those pipes were so loud and impressive that they’d drown out our little kid voices. Still, there was something quite majestic about the sound of all those pipes playing a song like “Amazing Grace.”
In college, I started going to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and every Friday night we’d gather together–about 15 of us–and sing songs together, songs like “As The Deer” and “Salvation Belongs To Our God.” Our guitar players weren’t the best, and our vocals weren’t the best, but those times meant a lot to me, because the people gathered together had something in common– when they sang/played the song, they did it with feeling; they meant the words they were singing. And that is precisely what I think “Worship” is.
That brings me to today’s evangelical/non-denominational/megachurch congregations, and their version of “Worship.” Lets take a hypothetical, yet typical example of what it’s like Sunday mornings at your average Christian church:
1- There’s a “Praise Team/Worship Band” consisting of one or more guitarists, a drummer, a bass player, and, if they’re lucky, a keyboard player and/or a stringed instrument player (usually the violin). The majority of church musicians are men.
2- There’s a main singer– usually a white male– and a back-up singer–usually a female, along with 2-5 supporting vocalists. The main, male singer plays guitar, too, much of the time, while the female doesn’t play an instrument.
3- You can read the words to each song up on projection screens/monitors on the left and right-hand sides of the stage. “Technically-behind” churches just put words up, while “technically-progressive” churches have elaborate, moving backgrounds. Churches love using “Power Point” presentations to-the-max. You will spend much of your worship/church time looking at a screen rather than a real life person!
4- Before the overall service starts, screens are usually flashing notices to the crowd as they fill the seats– announcements of upcoming events, volunteers needed, things of that nature…
5- The main singer welcomes people, especially “first time guests.” He may or may not ask them to stand up so everyone can clap for them. Then it’s time for the first “worship song.”
6- The first worship song is usually one written within the past few years by Chris Tomlin, Paul Baloche or Matt Redman. It lasts 4 minutes. The main singer encourages the people to sing along to the words on the screen; some sing, but most people aren’t even awake yet!
7- After the first song, the main singer again addresses the crowd, telling them how happy he is that they’re there this morning, and how great God is; then it’s time for the second song. It’s another uptempo song by one of today’s popular writers. Now more people sing-a-long, and there’s hand clapping.
8- Song three slows things down– it’s a modern take on an old hymn, done with a “really cool” guitar solo. Not as many people in the congregation sing this one, but you can bet eyes are closed and hands are raised as the people in the pews wiggle back-and-forth silently talking to themselves/God in prayer.
9- If there’s time, the main singer hypes the upcoming preacher’s sermon, then delves into song four, an upbeat number “everyone knows,” so they’re singing along, hand clapping, and arm raising with excitement. There are colorful lights on the stage– it’s like a party, now.
10- Ok, the main singer says a very quick prayer, asks everyone to sit down, and the white male preacher takes the stage and begins his 45-60 minute sermon.
There you go, that’s “Worship!”
And if you attend a Christian church, like clockwork, every Sunday morning you’ll get pretty much the same thing, over and over and over again, filling up about 18-22 minutes or 22-32 minutes if the main singer decides to repeat a line ad nauseum, like “Oh Lord we worship you/Oh Lord we worship you/Oh Lord we worship you/Oh Lord we worship you…”
I’m certain that some people in the congregation are experiencing wonderful and true “worship” at church, but I’d also reckon that there are a lot of people going through the motions, halfheartedly “there,” looking at their watch or iPhone, occasionally mouthing the words or clapping. Some people even skip “the music part,” coming to church a half hour “late,” just to catch “the sermon.”
So what do you think– with regards to the church you attend– is what you/they do Worship or a Concert? Are the people “in the pews” truly involved/engaged in the music? Is your church’s music time almost exactly like a secular pop music concert? Finally, what would happen if your church stopped music all-together– could/would it survive? Leave comments.