Is it Worship or a Concert?

English: Chris Tomlin performing a concert in ...
English: Chris Tomlin performing a concert in Johnson City, Tennessee, November 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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Published by

Mark Weber

Mark Weber publishes the MarkWeberMusicBlog.

8 thoughts on “Is it Worship or a Concert?”

  1. I, too, was raised a Catholic. I attended church faithfully all through my teen/early adult years. I also sang with folk group and loved harmonizing the hymns and adding some of the newer music to our repertoire. Then, I felt I needed something more. My first “Christian” church experience was a little unnerving as I felt a bit uncomfortable with such outward professions of glory and praise. Still, I was drawn back. I have enjoyed the music overall…but do miss some of the old hymns. It’s hard to get to know a song when new ones are constantly introduced…and I TOTALLY agree with the ad nauseum repetition of one line…I have even sent in my comments to the music team about that! It’s only one person’s (well now two!) opinion. Our church does not seem to follow a strict order of things…as it does get changed up a little week to week. I’d be happy if it ran about an hour!
    I do enjoy all that my church has to offer and especially the pastor’s messages. I sang with the larger chorus at my new church briefly…just couldn’t get comfortable here and enjoy attending side by side with my spouse.
    Our current series now is “How Does Jesus Want us to Worship?” It looks like they want the congregation to get more personal with their experience. I am not quite sure how this will impact me…but I can keep you posted.

    Good article –

  2. Good topic to think on….

    In our typical One Hour weekly meeting you describe so well, we try to be all things to all people. Big FAIL. That’s such an unrealistic expectation. Worship is a 24/7 life, not a scripted meeting – no?

    Personally, I think that getting together each week with God-Loving folks, to re-energize myself is helpful, but what we actually do at these meetings should be varied and flexible. I love music but I find most Contemporary Christian music to be bland and uninteresting, (again because it tries to be all things to all people)…. so I listen to My Preferred music during the week. I love my pastor’s Jesus-centered, low-key, thoughtful, conversationally-styled sermons, but I also read books during the week that delve into other aspects of faith that I’m studying. To me, just hanging out with Christian friends for a while (aka fellowship) is important, but the Worship Meeting is not the end-all and be-all of my relationship with Christ or my fellow believers.

  3. I loved reading your comments….. you Sir are a keen observer…….. the opposite is naturally the conservative audience (like my local Catholic one) who proclaim the gospel reading (from a gospel they have not read) repeat the Old Testament verse and have absolutely no idea who the heck Isaiah or Daniel is and think possibly Zion is the capital of Zanadoo or a character out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory……. sing amazing hymns containing radical statements with about as much passion as watching an infomercial for a steam mop, listen intently to the homily (whilst constantly checking their watches and iPhones)……. let their iPhones ring and ring and finally work out it is THEIR phone that is ringing – same people every week (and the same person calls – every week)……. skip the confessional but consume communion and tell Gloria how talented she is (whist actually hoping the choir tells her to leave – the words bad harmony, tinnitus and discordant never escaping their lips)…… then shake the priests hand and smile piously , stand out side and if you say “God Bless You” they think (you are not a priest – how odd) and if you dare ask then what they actually thought of the homily (which was superb mind you) they just blankly stare at you and think you may be a secret Jehovah’s Witness …….. one day you visit a charismatic church and you say “now these guys know how to put on a show” and surely the Lord is in that extended lead brake and the back up singers are not that good but they dress real nice and the one one the left is hot hot hot……. and BONUS – NO CONFESSIONAL wohoooooooooooooooo and no mention of sacraments……… and no need to be offended at communion…….. it’s symbolic……… “Shine, Jesus” Shine let the…………………” 🙂 (God bless us all as we seek him, this way and that)

  4. Well I’m the 30 year old white male guitarist that sometimes will lead here and there, depending on the song. The other guitarist is the lead the majority of the time, due to his years of experience and great talent. We have multiple women in the band who are mostly singers and one very talented pianoist. 3 men in total, with 1 being a drummer. Our Christian Church has recently developed a 2nd service, which is contemporary. Our 1st service is still more traditional, as we did not want to disturb the people who enjoy and need that type of worship. Many people have made the decision to attend the contemporary service for now on, due to their personal preference and need to worship in a new way. The majority of the contemporary service consists of the younger crowd, being early 50’s and younger. Although, there’s a few elder families that enjoy the newer type worship. The way I see it, no matter who you are and which type of worship you prefer, you will only get out of it what you choose to put in. If you come there to only witness a band playing music, you’re not worshiping. If you come there to sing the songs and open your heart, you’ll be worshiping. In my experience throughout the years in a traditional service, i’ve never been able to worship very well to the hymns and traditional music. I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work for me, which saddened me. I would be the guy wanting to find my ipod or phone, but was too afraid to because of the traditional feeling of the church, knowing that someone would give me a strange look for doing so. So contrary to what you mentioned in the article about people doing this in the more contemporary services, I was finding myself doing this every week in the traditional service. Why? Because it’s not for me. If you can’t bring yourself to worship well in a church, then I recommend finding a new church where you will grow and mature, instead of going thru the motions. Fortunately, I didn’t have to find a new church, as there were enough people to start a contemporary service.

    Also, you mentioned the 2 screens with words and graphics behind the band in a contemporary church. It’s funny because our praise team in the traditional service is asking for a screen to be placed in the back of the sanctuary so that they can see it. And these are women in their 70’s and 80’s asking for it.

    As for your question concerning if the church would stop music/worship alltogether, would it last? My answer is no, even though a large group of people in the U.S. don’t know how to worship. Since I was brought up in a traditional setting, I had to go into a missions field in Africa to witness a contemporary worship. Finally I had experienced worship for me! And due to the fact that this article was written and people are reading and responding to it, tells me that people come to church for worship. There’s so many “younger” people out there that want to worship, but just don’t know how to…and I was one of them.

    Good article, Thanks

  5. As the senior member of a small praise band, I constantly strive to keep our music focused on message. I don’t always get what I want, and I am not always too critical. But the younger ones are beginning to see my point. I don’t personally believe strongly in “contemporary” music. Mostly this is music for the baby boomers. To me, it becomes a lot of noise a lot of the time. Old hymns are meaty, textual, evangelical in the real sense of Law and Gospel. And they focus on what God did for us, not about what we are doing for God and how we feel about it. New songs are also heavy on talking about the worshiper and not extolling the great deeds of the God we worship. I retired from CCM for these reasons, but now I feel compelled to step back in and try to educate.

    My church follows traditional liturgy most of the time, with a praise song throw in here and there. Our congregation LOVES to sing hymns. When it comes to singing the contemporary songs, however, they lack the same enthusiasm. I think it’s because they have trouble with the rhythms and harmonies, which are more complicated. Also, I think they are afraid of sounding out of place, or “not like the lead singers.” My pastor tells me that the special music is what attracts people to the church. I have a tendency to disbelieve that. I think the wonderful fellowship of the members, which spills over to their hymn singing, attracts people more. I have always held that it’s not really about the style of music; it’s about how much people put into it that determines what they will get out of it. In my mind, contemporary music is more a reaction to complacency that anything else. But truly good worship doesn’t come from whiz-bang music; it comes from scripturally well-fed hearts.

  6. I found Weber’s article interesting and very accurate, his bias was obvious however. And Alexander Leitch’s comments were just as revealing and to the point. Bottom line: Worship is a verb. It cannot be done unto you, it is something you do, a prompted response to an engaged God. I grew up in a Baptist home attending church every Sunday. My my, we had the market on anemic “worship”. And yes with the same format every Sunday. As I became involved in worship leadership I felt and saw a need to make worship more pro-active. I had observed that many in attendance were present but absent. Thankfully many seminars and books have been written on this subject of worship and I am also grateful for congregations who sincerely desire engaging and life changing worship. God created us musical. He desires our worship. He deserves our praise. So the next time you think you are getting nauseated over repeated lines in a song, just remember that repetition has always been a part of the human condition, especially in education and expression of thought. Catch phrases, mottos, buy lines and so forth are repeated for emphasis, dedication and conviction. Over half the hymns in our church hymnals have a chorus or refrain that “repeats” after each verse. And not to be out done by the way we behave at sporting events, see how many times we repeat the same slogan, chant or cheer, over and over. Sometimes it’s just one word. Advertisements hit us over and over with the same message. Parents repeat themselves to their kids. Why? Because it is important. So, I will not let the sports enthusiasts or the marketing gurus have the edge on repetition. If worship means that much to me I will shout it, sing it and repeat it.

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