I’m finding myself increasingly disillusioned and confused about much of the “worship” of our contemporary churches. And being a worship major attending an evangelical school where the “worship” runs through those same veins, I’m finding myself in an awkward place.
Switchfoot and The Civil Wars were on campus here over the weekend. My very first legitimate “concert” was seeing Switchfoot and the O.C. Supertones (oh, the good old days of ska). Switchfoot was right on the verge of breaking through to the mainstream. The Beautiful Letdown had just come out, Meant to Live was on every radio station, and, lest we forget, every teen girl at the time was swooning over Switchfoot-full A Walk to Remember. They’ve only gotten better at what they do since then.
I was struck, however, by many of the similarities between that setting and the settings of our contemporary worship, especially when you move into larger church settings. The lights, smoke machines, cameras, screens. Same number of band members, same instruments, same sounds. The only differences may be that in one case the lyrics being sung are plastered on a wall for one setting and sung from memory in another.
I don’t know that there is anything inherently evil about lights and smoke and cameras in a worship setting. I’m just wondering what those things say about our motivations coming into what most consider to be the “worship” of the church.
Much of the discussion revolving around the use of these technologies in worship settings is focused on atmosphere, emotion, conveying a sense of meaning or drawing people’s focus and thoughts to a certain place. Planning out a “worship service” often involves discussions of the dynamics of a song and how those dynamics will draw the congregation to a certain point, the “set up” for the pastor to drive home his message.
I’m increasingly convinced that we have created a system in which what is considered the worship of the church has been divorced from the purpose of the church, creating a place where we can come and sing familiar songs and believe we are worshiping God and walk away from church feeling good about ourselves, having not worshiped anything more than music, a band, or our own overwhelming desire to feel good about ourselves.
I’ve been reading through the New Testament this past semester, and the further I get the more I wonder where all the talk of our modern notion of worship is. There’s a few verses here and there that those on the contemporary side of the “worship wars” loved – the ones talking about “songs and hymns and spiritual songs” – as if Paul had a vision of the future where us twentysomethings would be in this debate with those fiftysomethings, and so he put this verse knowing that we made a distinction between “hymns” and “spiritual songs.”
The further I get through the New Testament, the more I’m coming to understand that the worship of the church is never and can never be divorced from the reality of what the church is in the world and what its mission is. The church does not exist for the sake of the church, yet most of our “worship” would make you think that we just love singing songs together and getting all pumped repeating choruses and letting the drum beat build us into a holy frenzy for Jesus.
If our “worship” does not thrust us out of our church buildings and services into the world to be Christ to the world, we are not truly worshiping the God of Scripture, the same God who equates worship with the love for one another and love for the least of these. The true worship of the Church should compel her out of her walls and services and into the slums and brothels, into the broken homes and lives of neighbors and strangers, a cruciform Church following a crucified Christ. The songs we sing are not worshipful unless they are the beat to which we march as the kingdom of God invades this broken world.