January 17, 2021

Jonathan Aigner: But contemporary worship brings people to Jesus! Right…?


Reposted with permission from Jonathan Aigner, Ponder Anew

• • •

Consider this comment I received on the “Modernized Hymns” post.

I have tried to avoid God my whole life. I wouldn’t know a traditional hymn from a modernized hymn. I’ve never even stepped foot into a church…until this past Sunday. The people on stage sang a song by David Crowder, and I began to feel the very presence of God. It was like nothing I ever felt before. Tears streamed down my eyes and right then, I bowed down and made a decision to surrender my life to Jesus. I ask you a simple question…wasn’t David Crowder’s song – guitars, modernized lyrics, and all – worth being written and sang that way?

• The person next to you in the pew

This type of appeal is quite common, both on this blog and elsewhere. I’ve heard it as long as I can remember. “We don’t worship like we used to because it doesn’t bring people to Jesus. You want people to come to Jesus, right? RIGHT?!? YOU BETTER WANT PEOPLE TO COME TO JESUS!!”

I heard one pastor say it this way: “When we aren’t willing to change how we worship so that our culture understands it, we’re telling the world it can go to hell.”


To make sure I don’t come across as mean or callous, especially to my evangelical friends and readers, I should explain something.

I do want people to come to Jesus.

But my answer to this commenter is, “No.”

For one thing, music doesn’t bring people to Jesus. Jesus does that work admirably enough through the Holy Spirit, certainly better than a brush with David Crowder’s beard.

But there’s an even deeper flaw in our thinking.

Worship is not an evangelistic tool.

We don’t worship together to attract unbelievers.

We worship together because God is worthy. 

We worship together because this gracious God has called us into his story and grafted us together as covenant people. 

We worship together because we desperately need to tell and retell and hear and rehear that story. 

We worship together to be refocused, reshaped, renewed by God’s gifts. We need liturgy. We need Word and Sacrament.

unnamedHomily on Homage

Did you know that we’re supposed to do work in corporate worship?

I didn’t for the longest time either, having grown up in the middle of the church growth movement. As far as I could tell, the point of “worship” was to get as many butts in the seats as possible, mesmerize them with a theatrical production of bright lights and shiny objects. You know, the latest and greatest in Jesusy entertainment. And then, we bait-and-switch them with the gospel at the end.

At some point, we decided that the worship service was the best venue for evangelism. After all, if we can just make things interesting enough, funny enough, dynamic enough, and entertaining enough, we can really pack ‘em in. So, put together a mini-concert, followed by a speaker who knows how to get the crowd energized, mix in a few things about Jesus, and you’re set.

Even our language has changed dramatically, as we’ve learned to borrow more from our entertainment culture. Instead of a Sanctuary, a place of refuge, we have an auditorium. Instead of chancels and platforms, we have stages. We have performers and an audience. Churches are now hiring worship “producers.” Our music is entirely current and commercial.

We couldn’t possibly do anything else. We’d lose too many people.

To make matters worse, we’ve grown to like it ourselves. It’s nice to come to church and be entertained. Throw that liturgy out the window. I don’t want to to work, I want to sit here and get fat off the spiritual carbs they put in front of me. And if the production value slips, I can always go down the road and find another fast-food church that fits me just right.

No longer are there opportunities for congregants to participate, other than singing along if they feel like it, as if they were singing “Roll Out the Barrel” at a Milwaukee Brewers’ seventh-inning stretch. We’ve lost the idea that we are gathered there for a sacred task, not in search of a good time.

And it’s cost us dearly. We don’t have the opportunity to be the people of God together anymore, reshaped by God’s gifts and molded by the Christian story.

And in case anyone is wondering, it hasn’t really helped the evangelistic cause in the long run, anyway. It’s still shrinking. See, when you compete with all other forms of entertainment – TV, movies, music, sports – you will lose. Those things are always more entertaining, at least to those who are looking to be entertained.

That doesn’t mean we lock our doors on Sunday morning. To the contrary, and this is the tricky part. Evangelism is always a byproduct of true Christian worship. The problem is that we thought we needed to be marketable to begin with. Along the way, we got caught up in illusions of grandeur, judging our evangelistic worth by the number of people we could squeeze in our buildings.

Cancel the Vaseline and shoehorn.

But the moment we turn from our task at hand to try and capitalize, we fall short again. Stanley Hauerwas says it well: “The difficulty with worship especially shaped to entertain those who are ‘new’ is not that it is entertaining but that the god who is entertained in such worship cannot be the Trinity.”

So back to David Crowder. Whether doing his songs or his hymn arrangements is a good thing, well, that’s up for discussion I suppose. But I don’t think answer can be, “It’s okay, because it brings people to Jesus.”

acupofcoldwater1Hymn of Invitation

So what happens, then, if we don’t craft our worship services to attract unbelievers?

We’ll have to get serious again about Sunday. All of us. And then as the clock strikes noon, we’ll have to go.

Go out and feed the hungry. 

Go out and clothe the naked. 

Go out and associate with people who don’t look like us, don’t think like us, don’t act like us, don’t vote like us, and don’t usually like us.

Go out and fight for justice. 

Go out and end oppression.

Go out and proclaim anew the old, old story.

Go out and reach out to those who are running from God and God’s church.

Go out and stop deflecting tough questions with our usual, tired cliches.

And do all of this in the name of the one who sent us.

And then open the doors wide again on Sunday morning.

A Redeemed Benediction

I can’t help by think of Fred Pratt Green’s haunting, convicting hymn.

When the church of Jesus shuts its outer door,
lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer,
may our prayers, Lord, make us ten times more aware
that the world we banish is our Christian care.

If our hearts are lifted where devotion soars
high above this hungry, suffering world of ours,
lest our hymns should drug us to forget its needs,
forge our Christian worship into Christian deeds.

Lest the gifts we offer, money, talents, time,
serve to salve our conscience, to our secret shame,
Lord, reprove, inspire us by the way you give;
teach us, dying Savior, how true Christians live.

Forge our Christian worship into Christian deeds. Wow. Let it be so.


  1. I didn’t accept Christ because of the music, I came to Christ because He drew me, because I knew that I was lost, because I KNEW that I was a hopeless sinner, lost and without hope. Worship helped me to express my emotion and thanksgiving to My Lord for who is IS and what He has done.

    If we think that our “worship” is what is drawing souls to the kingdom then we have truly lost the meaning of the Gospel. In reality, the music we use in our “worship services” is irrelevant. It is the Holy Spirit that draws people to the Son. The music may help to set the scene, so to speak, but it is not the greatest factor in regenerating lives.

  2. I like this piece. I would argue that modern “worship” music inflames the passions & creates the illusion of intimacy with God. When the music becomes old & doesn’t excite like it used to, a congregant is left with a feeling of emptiness & a loss of the “nearness” of God, as if he only comes when the emotions are high. Emotionalism has become a sacrament; it is the opposite of the sober-mindedness the NT exhorts us to in all things.

    • Emotionalism has become a sacrament; it is the opposite of the sober-mindedness the NT exhorts us to in all things.

      like that; that’s something worth thinking about today, thank you Mr s

    • Rather like romantic relationships today, we’re so fixed upon the rush and feeling that we call religious experience that we never actually get to the realities that underlie our relationship with our God. When the high fades, we lose our moorings and go in search of the next sense experience, be it spiritual or romantic, telling ourselves and the world, with an impassioned certainty that ought to be left behind in eighth grade with the teenage hormones that brought it to life, that THIS new high will last forever. That other one just wasn’t meant to be, but this, this is the real thing.

      And then when that wears off, THIS NEWER experience, THIS is it! This is The One(TM)!

      Meanwhile those who’ve found how to commit to a long-term relationship, with a spouse or a church, can only sigh and shake their heads while the next 30-going-on-13 generation regards them as “uptight” and “dull” (perhaps “loveless” or “spiritually dead”, or that they’ve “settled”).

    • But is it emotionalism?
      Ben Witherington on his Ephesians Commentary (talking about Ch 5):

      “…early Christian worship was often ecstatic and jubilant, involving loud singing… it should be noted that Paul says to Christians who already have the Spirit “be filled” and the verb is in the present continual tense…In such cases it is a matter of the indwelling Spirit inspiring and lifting up the individual, not a matter of the individual getting more of the Spirit. They are caught up in love and wonder and praise and adoration of God by the Spirit that moves them. John Chrysostom is right in suggesting that Paul is contrasting intoxication that leads to one sort of singing and inspiration which leads to another…There is a difference between mere ecstatic uttering of things, and heartfelt praise which is an act of adoration…The Spirit is both the means and the substance of the filling, and vs. 19 tells what sort of response the Spirit prompts in the believer. Christians sing hymns to Christ and also give thanks to God through the impulse and empowering of the Spirit. Note the implicitly Trinitarian nature of this discussion. The life of the Spirit-filled community is to be characterized by joyful singing, thanksgiving, and submitting to one another. “If believers were only filled with wisdom, the influence would be impersonal; however the filling by the Spirit adds God’s personal presence, influence, and enablement to walk wisely, all of which are beneficial to believers and pleasing to God. With the indwelling each Christians has all of the Spirit, but the command to be filled by the Spirit enables the Spirit to have all of the believer.” (H. Hoehner).”

      • There is a difference between jubilant worship and crowd manipulation through the various technological means we have available to us for today’s stage shows. To be fair, this is not just an issue for contemporary worship, but because of the tech, we’ve taken the ability to manipulate emotions to another level altogether. Some of the most truly joyous worship I’ve known was in small simple settings. What brings us joy is the gospel and the presence of Christ, not music that carries me away into realms of ecstasy. Frankly, that’s more pagan than Christian.

        • And so the prevalent question “how was the worship…?” has to do with some kind of concert/praise song experience, some kind of musical euphoria (perhaps spirit led, but perhaps not that different than the Eagles coming to town ….hopefully cheaper)

          Emotion doesn’t mean the spirit is NOT there… and we should expect that our emotions would be Spirit affected, but using them as some kind of worship barometer: NO.

          • Joseph (the original) says

            I attend a small Vineyard faith community that does exhibit many of the Vineyard trademark expressions during the worship and praise portion of a typical Sunday service.

            Yes, it’s usually a younger, guitar-playing musician leading the attendees in songs with words projected on the back wall of the school gym we meet in.

            There are many people that seem to connect to this method of worship expression. I do not. I do not categorize this practice as either worshipful or praise worthy, but it can be pleasant as I choose to simply sit quietly and meditate.

            Once in a while an older hymn will be sung which I do enjoy participating in. And some of the older Vineyard songs can also get me to tap my foot and join in lyrics that are lodged somewhere in my brain.

            I don’t like to equate the emotional energy, or response, or display as the barometer of ‘God’s Presence’, dynamic worship, a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, etc. I don’t like to hear how “God moved…” when highlighting a particularly emotional gathering+service. I have exited the hyper-charismatic camp for this and other reasons. I have been at highly charged emotional services that to me seem more like the prophets of Baal that Elijah taunted on Mount Carmel rather than the worship of Lord of Israel. Hype, emotionalism and obvious manipulation that becomes acceptable, expected and then necessary to maintain the illusion of worship…

            I’m not sure what a good substitute would be, or how to provide a proper balance, if that’s the proper term/consideration. I’m not so uncomfortable in my church setting that I am upset or wanting to leave. I may cringe at the 2-3 “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend” type songs that have been mentioned here on this site more than once. But then I read the bulletin or scroll through my iPhone features to distract me.

            I do know that a liturgical expression is not something I could endure. That was made clear early in my spiritual journey as I exited the Roman Catholic Church of my upbringing. That’s just me though, not the anti-liturgical sentiment others may harbor…

          • fwiw: raised Roman Catholic here also, and I would not want to go back to that either; found a home in an anglican setting after 11 yrs of vineyard: weird factoid: the man who was my national leader in the 2000’s (Todd Hunter) is now my anglican bishop. Maybe he’s stalking me…..

        • Yes, there is a difference between jubilation and manipulation. The author here seems to not allow for the jubilation in contemporary services.

    • “Music is a sacrament.” – Bono

      Greatest worship song written in the last decade is U2’s Magnificent.

      • I think the various theological underpinnings in this discussion are present in this discussion, and Bono’s statement is one such indicator. Does God just use Word and Sacrament, or does He also use other means to impact us? Also, how much do we bring to worship? I imagine Reformed, Lutherans, Arminians, etc… will have differing answers, which then impacts how and where we worship.

        • And the secret is there is no right answer, just different types of people understanding and appreciating and disliking various things.

          I’ll repeat: there is no right answer. But there are many wrong answers.

      • Yes. When I sing along to “Magnificent,” I’m singing it for the Lord God Almighty. Wonderful worship song.

  3. “At some point, we decided that the worship service was the best venue for evangelism. After all, if we can just make things interesting enough, funny enough…”

    This is an often repeated charge against American churches; it gets a lot of air time here. It has gotten a lot of air time here and on other blogs for years and years.

    Simple question – why not leave?

    There are many churches that do not reflect this entertainment/consumerism/whatever-label-you-like meme. Leaving a church due to entertainment value to find a more entertaining one is often critisiced in these critiques. But cultural values are values, they are the manifest expressions of a communities actual values [which may differ from the values written down]. If entertainment is not a value, go where it isn’t a value. If the ultimate end of an entertainment oriented church is perpetual decline then by leaving you are *helping* to move it towards its eventual end.

    People leave dying neighborhoods and towns for vital ones, people leave poorly managed companies for better managed companies, people leave poorly administered countries for better administered countries, peole leave abusive relationships for healthy relationships. There is no shame in leaving.

    If there are so many people dissatisfied with Entertainment Church, and they all just left, then Entertainment Church would shrivel into a footnote overnight. Perhaps it is not true that there are so many dissatisfied people, but do you want to live in a community that does not share, or perhaps even recognize, your values?

    After years [decades?] of reading this [legitimate, IMO] grievance I am puzzled by the author’s motivations more than I am moved by their angst. I would understand if we were in a land of few churches, then fighting to ‘save one’ would make some sense. But there are an abundance of religious communities in almost every American municipality; there is no scarcity. [Can you not move due to some issue with Doctrinal Purity? if so then there is another problem]

    For clarity – I am not criticizing the article. It is well written, I recognize the legitimacy of what is being said. I just don’t ‘get it’. at this hour, at this stage of decline [does anyone, anywhere, doubt the decline, at this point?]

    “And in case anyone is wondering, it hasn’t really helped the evangelistic cause in the long run, anyway. It’s still shrinking. ”


    • “If there are so many people dissatisfied with Entertainment Church, and they all just left, then Entertainment Church would shrivel into a footnote overnight. Perhaps it is not true that there are so many dissatisfied people, but do you want to live in a community that does not share, or perhaps even recognize, your values?”

      Agreed. Many of these churches are thriving, so trying to make a connection between this and “decline” is painting with way too broad a brush.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Simple question – why not leave?

      Simple answer: leaving isn’t the solution. In fact, leaving perpetuates the problem.

      If I leave, I’m conceding to the individualist, consumerist ideology that has permeated the Church, one which says, “If you don’t like what you see here, pick something else off the rack,” instead of, “If you don’t like what you see, figure out why it’s wrong and fix it.” I refuse to do that. This is my church, and my family, and while I’ll criticize them until the sun goes down, I won’t leave them.

      If I leave, people still come to the altar, but the Jesus who they approach is a Jesus who they accept because they like Him, not because they need Him, and not because he accepted them first.

      If I leave, then the church continues to be more of a reflection of its surrounding culture than the God it claims to worship. And when the church decides to change, it does so to accommodate the culture than out of deference to the will of God.

      If I leave, who else is going to make these arguments?

    • Too many Christians LIKE criticizing. It makes them feel as if they are thinking deeply when, in reality, they are only picking at a scab.

    • Jonathan is one of the few voices left that is advocating traditional worship and music. His site is devoted to that, and I for one am glad to have his voice. It’s a voice crying in the wilderness these days, and I encourage him to keep at it, lest great traditions of liturgy and hymnody are lost to the church forever.

      Most of us who feel this way have already walked away from the show. But if it had not been for voices like Robert Webber, I would not have seen another way. Jonathan continues to voice that message well.

      • But what are we defending here? I grew up in a country Southern Baptist church that did nothing but use the Baptist Hymnal, which was with a few exceptions banal, tuneless, and endless. Surely we don’t want to go back to that!

        Enough negative examples. Give us a positive one. Who is doing it right?

        • Excellent point. It may be that some of these bodies that only sing songs with all the substance of today’s popular music might just be upgrading from only singing songs with all the substance of the popular music of the 1890’s.

          Related, Hans Fiene’s video “The Gilbert and Sullivan Mass”.

        • There’s a traveling Irish prophet with a band called U2…lol

          • Many of U2’s songs are worshipful in nature, and I sing along with them as such.

          • I have a cousin who is active in the CCM field and leads a band that plays at a lot of churches and festivals. His constant complaint is that all the new bands that come along try to sound just like…you guessed it..U2.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Isn’t that called “The Bandwagon Effect”?

        • “Enough negative examples. Give us a positive one. Who is doing it right?”

          I’ll give what will sound like a shameless answer: my church is.

          We’re not doing it “right” because the music is primarily old, or primarily new, or entertaining, or staid.

          It’s because the songs have been well written, and have melodies that are not artistic pablum. The worship band plays unostentatiously and skillfully. The songs are simple and not cliche. They are easy to sing and to memorize, but offer the chance for developed harmony and careful artistic interpretation. It’s beautiful music, and it doesn’t tempt you to worship it. It’s moving, but it’s not manipulative. It’s not very loud, but you can hear it. It’s unassuming, but important. The whole congregation’s voices are audible. Most of all no one is trying to be something they’re not, because against all odds, no one seems to think that the music, or an experience you have that is caused by music, is the point of a church service.

          • Brianthedad says

            Yes. This. What’s the address?

          • One piece here harmonizes with one of the observations that I’ve seen multiple places that has struck me as quite astute. That observation is “For worship music, the dominant instrument should be the voices of the congregation, not anything from the front.” (Not an exact quote of any one person.)

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “Simple question – why not leave?”

      This is a fair question, and I have wondered about it for some years now. I see Evangelicals offering critiques of the Evangelical church that I consider entirely valid. That is why I don’t go to an Evangelical church. These same people contrast these failings with the practices of other churches. I also consider this valid. This is why I belong to one of those other churches. So why don’t the critics?

      I think the answer is that the split between American mainline Protestant churches and white American Evangelical Protestant churches is deeper that I previously realized. It is as great as the more traditional Catholic/Protestant divide. For an Evangelical to join a mainline church would be as extreme as converting to Catholicism. A few are prepared to make that leap, but many are not.

      I came to this realization just recently, when I looked at the Progressive Christian section of Patheos. Patheos rather naively divides Christendom into four categories: Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, and Progressive (or five, depending on how you classify Mormonism). I had assumed that the Progressive section was how they classified the liberal mainlines, and that they simply didn’t realize that there are conservative mainlines as well. But when I went and looked, I found it is almost entirely Evangelicals who don’t fit in with the main Evangelical category. Reading them, it is clear to me that they are quite distinct from mainlines, even while they are open to borrowing from the mainlines.

      So what we have in these critiques is a discussion internal to Evangelicalism. So can they just go find an Evangelical church that eschews the entertainment mindset? Heck if I know. Frankly, nearly every Evangelical service I have ever attended has left me wondering when the worship is going to begin, but in truth my personal experience with Evangelicals services is not such that I can safely generalize. It may be that they could just go down the road to that other Evangelical church, but it may not. I imagine this also depends a lot on where they are located. But I have come to realize that pointing out that there is a perfectly nice Episcopal church down the road is often not the answer.

      • NotUsuallyAnonymous says

        This discussion is not restricted to the evangelical churches you mention. The danger I see is how this is creeping into the very mainline churches you posit as a safe haven from the Show. My very own LCMS Lutheran church has gone all screens and rocking videos to sing along with, at least for one service, keeping a traditional service for the old-timers. Funny thing, the younger millenials and just marrieds are mostly in the Divine Service II worship service that has almost double the attendance of the contemporary. The doublemindedness that this illustrates bothers me, but the answer I’ve gotten is simply what is listed in the title above.

        Before long, there will be no refuge in the mainlines. The butts-in-the-seat argument has been used by many a church-growth consultant to convince Lutherans they have to move to the Show to survive.

        • “has gone all screens and rocking videos to sing along with, at least for one service, keeping a traditional service for the old-timers.”

          Meaning a congregant can ‘leave’ and ‘join’ within the same institution.

          “Funny thing, the younger millenials and just marrieds are mostly in the Divine Service II worship service that has almost double the attendance of the contemporary.”

          So in time won’t this just sort itself how? Certainly someone is paying attention to both attendance and revenue at the distinct services.

          “he butts-in-the-seat argument has been used by many a church-growth consultant to convince Lutherans ”

          However, by your example, butt-count doesn’t support the assertion.

          • This is perhaps the best defense of split services I’ve heard. I know immediately below here I criticize the big Lutheran church in town for adding yet another service, but in light of your comment here, I must consider that it’s a very wise idea to let the people who wanted an all-contemporary service to have it as Lutherans, then let them or their children come back to the old forms when they grow out of that phase, rather than letting them leave for somewhere else and never come back.

            Heck, even the Catholic church across the street from this place (hello, American Midwest) has a contemporary Mass every Sunday!

          • Richard Hershberger says

            It’s a nice idea in theory, but as I note elsewhere, in practice very few churches do both well. It may be that they would need two entirely different sets of people running the two services. Doing a mediocre liturgy is easy enough, but doing it well is an art. You can’t just back into it. I assume the same is true of a contemporary service. I also suspect that the skill sets don’t have a great deal of crossover, and that someone who can do both well is pretty rare. So to do both well you have to devote an awful lot of resources. The tendency would be to skimp on one or the other, and it will show.

            That being said, my problem with the Lutheran church down the street from you is dropping “Church” in favor of “Worship Center.” That would be a giant red flag, warning me of trendiness. When I see institutions such as this telling me that they aren’t churches, I know that either they are telling me the truth or they are lying. Either possibility is reason to keep on driving past it on Sunday morning.

          • NotUsuallyAnonymous says

            I suppose my problem is not so much that there is a contemporary service. I’ve been to good ones. There’s a Lutheran mission church up the road that we have visited when in the area. They do it well. Their musical choices are intentional. The liturgy is modified but still recognizable and functional. You know you are worshiping with Lutherans and within Lutheran belief. Not so where we are. It’s being done out of a sense of desperation that it’s what we “have to do to survive.” Having faith that God will provide seems to be secondary. I used to be a big fan of the service, believing it to be a legitimate practice of Luther’s Third Mass. Not so anymore. Simply an attempt to be like everyone else, listen to the consultants, adapt or die. Got to have those young married millennials. Oh the irony that they stay away in droves…

            Pardon my cynicism. The post just struck a nerve today. Meanwhile, i’ll try to be about the business of Aigner’s hymn of invitation.

        • The 150-year-old Lutheran church down the street from me has recently put out a contemporvant-looking sign for “St. ______’s Worship Center,” in addition to their existing traditional and family/blended services. It’s conveniently located in the parish hall gym, rather than that stuffy old sanctuary.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Did I posit this? If so, it was inadvertent. I have been aware of the church growth movement on the ELCA side of things since the 1990s. I go so far as to avoid any Lutheran church that has a contemporary service, even if it has a traditional liturgy as well. This is not because I am offended by proximity to such things, but because in my experience very few of these churches do the traditional liturgy well. I’m not sure why this is, but I have seen it often enough to consider it a pattern.

          The big Lutheran church in my town has a contemporary service in a space explicitly designed to be easily convertible to a basketball court. The traditional service is held in their very nice old sanctuary. They can do a mediocre liturgy when they aren’t thinking about it. The problem is that, like many quasi-liturgical modern mainlines, they consider the liturgy the fallback when they can’t think of something else they would rather do that week. When I first moved here I rapidly learned that walking in on a Sunday morning was a crapshoot, and the dice are loaded.

          That being said, there clearly is some demand for a liturgy well done. Your larger cities will have a few churches like this. Also, the Episcopalians, while far from a sure bet, often take liturgy seriously. I drive forty-five minutes into the city most of the time. When I want to stay in town, I go to the local Episcopal parish.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Before long, there will be no refuge in the mainlines.

          Then you can always swim the Tiber to escape. We went through our own version of The Show (“Spirit of Vatican II and all that”) some 40 years ago — long enough for it to burn out and us to recover.

          The butts-in-the-seat argument has been used by many a church-growth consultant to convince Lutherans they have to move to the Show to survive.

          As it was used by WWF/WCW/WWE promoters to justify all the pro wrestling angles cataloged at Wrestlecrap.com.

      • “I think the answer is that the split between American mainline Protestant churches and white American Evangelical Protestant churches is deeper that I previously realized… For an Evangelical to join a mainline church would be as extreme as converting to Catholicism.”

        Ah, this makes sense and explains a lot of what I see/read. I have always visualized Evangelicalism – even when I was in it – as a branch of Protestantism, which may be true historically, but only historically.

        Thanks for the response.

    • If there are so many people dissatisfied with Entertainment Church, and they all just left, then Entertainment Church would shrivel into a footnote overnight.”

      I think it’s because so many people are not dissatisfied with it. It’s a common complaint on places like IM, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near the majority opinion in entertainment driven churches.

      • Yes. If people were so dissatisfied, so many of those churches would not be growing, and impacting lives, like they are.

    • Simple question – why not leave?

      Why not reform?

      • Reform is the only option – unless you can go somewhere else to go. But why go through the fight if you have an option? Different institutions will choose different directions, some may not choose ‘my way’, but others will. Ok, pluralism.

        Reform of any type of institution does not have that great of a track record, failure is common.

        Reform consumes a lot of time and energy – maybe that could be better spent, more productively, in a place going in the direction you feel is the right way. Does someone really *want* to attend church meetings to debate worship style? That’s a first or second choice way to spend time?

  4. “So what happens, then, if we don’t craft our worship services to attract unbelievers? We’ll have to get serious again about Sunday. All of us. And then as the clock strikes noon, we’ll have to go…”

    Yes, but churches that do focus on attracting unbelievers do those things anyway (and many do them very well). It is not necessarily and either/or issue.

  5. I fail to see how this is any skin off my nose or anyone else’s. Other than likely some still at home children, no one is being forced to attend these services against their will, and they will grow up soon enough, as we all did. Being entertained is hardly being abused, and if there are cases of actual abuse going on, that is an entirely different matter.

    It’s not like there is a monolithic church with Inquisitors at the ready to enforce attendance and compliance, thank Luther. Jim Jones wouldn’t let people go out even to use the bathroom, but that isn’t happening here. The door is open anytime you don’t like what’s going on, and the doors on the churches down the street are open as well. In this little village of 250, I have my choice of three churches, all quite different one from the other. I also can choose to stay home or go somewhere else.

    What is this drive, almost a frenzy, to have everyone thinking, acting, believing exactly alike? Why would I want to go to church with a control freak running the show? Why can’t we live and let live?

    • On the contrary, IMO we need strong, thoughtful voices like Jonathan’s to advocate for traditional worship and music lest it be lost to the church altogether.

      • I found a certain humor in your use of the word “lest” here.

      • I have no quarrel with Jonathan or anyone advocating for a traditional style of gathering. I have a big problem with someone saying that other styles are wrong and that those people in those other styles need to change and become like whoever is doing the advocating. It’s admirable to present alternatives. It is not admirable to demand or enforce them, or even manipulate and pressure and cajole. I’m attending a traditional church myself. I have absolutely no quarrel with those who choose to attend the local Evangelical church, regard them as fellow Christians and glad for them. Any of them would be welcome at my little church but no one would even think of trying somehow to make them switch. Like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

        • Jesse Reese says

          Five words: The means is the message.

          If this is true, then the proposal that “styles of gathering” can simply be treated as relative and alternative options is on shaky ground. It is true that some things can be subjective, but what the author is talking about here is very comprehensive and, indeed, important to the kind of faith nurtured in the congregants.

          Also, advocating for one thing necessarily means critiquing something else. This is just a reality.

          Now, I am not personally a fan of the excessively mocking tone this author takes. But I don’t think relativism about worship “styles” is the answer.

          • “Five words: The means is the message.”

            Agree. I believe – just by style and form – The Message delivered at a Catholic mass is distinct from what I experienced at an Evangelical service. Even if they visit the same verses.

            This is the root of my pondering of this l-o-n-g running [internal?] critique of Evangelical services. These critiques seem to come primarily from a group that really wants a different religion than the direction their community is steadily moving. This means the division goes much deeper than style.

            It isn’t whether or not Christianity can be expressed through rock-n-roll [of course it can], but if you believe in a rock-n-roll Jesus [I don’t].

            “Also, advocating for one thing necessarily means critiquing something else. This is just a reality.”


          • I believe in a rock and roll Jesus, who is comfortable in the stained glass lightshow at a cathedral just as much as he is with three chords and the truth.

            I don’t believe in the country western americana Jesus who served in Vietnam, shops at Walmart, drives a Hummer out of spite of others, and thinks book learning is for idiots and limp wristed homosexuals.

          • And sitzpinklers, besides!

          • The definition of rock and roll as “three chords and the truth” makes me laugh. Quite often it’s been nothing more than “the couple of chords I know, and whatever will get me laid.”

          • I, too, believe in the Rock and Roll Jesus, brother! His name is Ziggy Stardust, and his Apostles are The Spiders from Mars! Preach it to the ends of the earth (and all other planets)(but not in any Walmart, not even the interplanetary ones)!!

            “He was the Naz, with God given ass.
            He took it all too far, but boy could he play guitar….”


    • I agree with CM on this. The problem is that ‘we’re all in this together’ – in the sense that as ‘the church’, those outside the church look at a prominent part of it (American entertainment evangelicalism) and say ‘that’s Christianity’, and judge all of Christianity by what they see (in the case of entertainment evangelicalism – largely individualistic, self-centered religious consumerism). It is the same as non-believers turning on their TV to TBN and seeing the goofiness there (not to mention outright heresy) and thinking that is real Christianity (e.g. someone who doesn’t even believe in the trinity is one of the most recognized spokesmen for ‘Christianity’ in America today). It does not help the cause of Christ or his church.

      • To be fair, I once saw none other than Pope Shenouda III on TBN (pledge drive or maybe PTL). He wasn’t saying anything, but he did make quite the impression sitting there with his beard and little black hat among all the extravagantly-dressed crackers.

        And that’s not to mention Drive-Thru History, which got me interested in the early Church, particularly the story of St. Polycarp.

        • Be careful, turnalso… seriously investigating the “next generation” of Christians – Polycarp et al – was the occasion of a major turn on my path… 😉

          “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” – John Henry Cardinal Newman


          • “seriously investigating the “next generation” of Christians – Polycarp et al – was the occasion of a major turn on my path”
            Mine too… particularly towards the Eucharist. I was raised Restorationist, so it was a weekly solemn ritual that… really didn’t do much of anything for you. But for some reason I thought it was special. For a long time I was staunchly Memorialist because that was what I was raised as, and because the Chick tracts said that the Big Bad Pope stole the Real Presence idea from the ancient Egyptians to lead the True Church(TM) into idolatry. Reading the Bible gave me doubts about that, but I trusted that the tracts and my church were right in saying that the Bible said it was symbolic…somewhere. Then I heard of St. Justin’s apology, specifically where it said that people were not admitted to the altar who didn’t believe that the Elements were the Body and Blood of Christ. It was a bit of a watershed, and I’ve been more and more disillusioned with the Evangelical world ever since.

            “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”
            Don’t I know it… all I can do is trust that God will lead me and mine where we need to be…wherever that is.

    • And I’m kinda with Charles on this. I’ve read this sort of article enough times now that it’s kinda like, “Meh.” Let’s face it, what appeals to you is what appeals to you. What connects you to Christ is what connects you to Christ. For some, it’s liturgy. For others, liturgy is like purgatory. For me to criticize something that doesn’t draw ME to Christ but draws others to Him is a form of churchianity and religiosity in itself. My least favorite worship song of all-time is “I Am a Friend of God,” but I’ve had several friends point out why that song means so much to them.

      I love rock music…SECULAR rock music…and to me, rock music didn’t have a place in church. There was a time I LOATHED hearing rock music during our services (in the form of worship songs). Now, though, I don’t mind it, and actually enjoy some of the contemporary worship songs that some of you iMonkers might think are garbage.

      • And by “enjoy” I mean: I’m able to worship God and Jesus via their melodies and words.

        • Yes Charles, yes,RR. I love contemporary music. If one doesn’t like CCM, then go somewhere else, it’s not for you. Isn’t it time for “I am right, you are wrong” theological Molotov cocktails to keep being tossed around. I’m.never going to change on this issue I am not aware that the liturgical tradition is the only one in the Kingdom of God and the Jesus only abides outside the Evangelical community But an outsider to IM would think so based upon so many of the posts here. This blog is so much better than that. By the way, I never think or have seen these sentiments expressed by Chaplain Mike. It’s from others that I see criticism, yea outright distain against certain traditions
          . Is the organ mentioned in the Bible?

          • -> “Is the organ mentioned in the Bible?”

            Yes, the heart is mentioned! 😉

          • Nobody said, not in this post, nor any post before that I’ve read, that Jesus only abides outside the Evangelical community. I’m not sure that’s a particularly helpful assertion to make. Nor have they said that you must have an organ. Nor is there a disdain for any particular tradition. If you’re looking at this piece and others like it as “I’m right, you’re wrong” Molotov cocktails, I would guess you’re reacting rather than thinking. I don’t see any of that here.

            Oh, and many Evangelicals are liturgical. And that number is growing.

          • False.

            It’s not always about style. It’s often about content.

            Why would I choose to listen to music produced by Hillsong, IHOP, or Bethel, knowing full well what they believe and that I would never dare attend any of their churches for multiple reasons. And how many musicians know about them as well, other than “it’s purty sounds, yay jesusgod”?

          • You cannot convince me in the least that the God of the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth, is who Misty Edwards is singing about. Not. At. All.

            And that’s the point.

            The words may be the same, the meanings and persons behind them are vastly different.

            Bring me guitars. Bring me drums. Bring me the big screens and the lights.

            Don’t fucking take Jesus away.

          • OldProphet says

            Sorry John (2:29 time). This blog has been FULL of Evangelical bashing for a while now, so your premise is incorrect. The statement by this writer is that contemporary worship sucks. Period. But that’s okay. I never said anything about his character. I respect his post, but I believe he is wrong about worship. Yeah, the overall tone at imonk is pretty down against Evangelicals, but, that’s what makes this blog so great. You can’t get this entertainment anywhere else! And where else can you speak out and not be called a heretic or a apostate?

    • You’ve never had to escape a church, have you? It’s not so easy…

  6. Ah, the old “If even one person gets saved because of my pablum of a tract/sermon/worship song, then it was worth it and thus we should keep producing pablum,” schtick.

    Meanwhile all the real artists and preachers head for the door, and everyone loses their sensitivity to beauty. This is called “lack of stewardship of the church’s gifts.”

    • And there’s the saying that, perhaps, God didn’t save them “because of” the _______ (tract/worship song/etc), but rather “despite” the _______ (tract/worship song/etc). The ends don’t always justify the means; just because something yields good fruit, doesn’t mean that is the way God intended it to be.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Ah, the old “If even one person gets saved because of my pablum of a tract/sermon/worship song…

      Which makes Saved Souls ($aved $oul$) into nothing more than the currency of Heaven,.

      And it’s all about those Benjamins, baby.

  7. Yes, contemporary worship brings me to Jesus. Liturgical worship puts me to sleep. I am sorry if that offends people, but that is the way I am wired.

    • How dare you have a different personality. :^)

    • Marcus Johnson says

      But is worship, contemporary or liturgical, supposed to keep you awake? I read a lot of boring articles in grad school, but I never once thought that the purpose of those articles was to prepare my for my future career, not to entertain me.

      Also, isn’t worship, as described in the Bible, something that you give to God, rather than something that the church gives to you?

      • Marcus Johnson says

        I meant to write, “I never once thought that the purpose of those articles was to entertain me, as much as prepare me for my future career.”

      • Fabulous reply. It’s not about personalities. You will find all personality types present in any worship “style.” Preference for music is not a reflection of your personality, nor is it in your wiring. No, corporate worship is supposed to be work. It can be joyful, meditative, or at any other part on the spectrum, but if you enjoy it all the time, you might not quite understand the task at hand. Corporate worship is not supposed to entertain us or capture our attention, but to prepare us for our immediate future as kingdom people.

    • It’s not offensive, Mike, it’s just incorrect. Music has no power to “connect you to God.” All it is doing is holding your attention.

      • I would have to disagree Miguel. Lots of things connect me to God. Music, a hike in nature… anything that makes me aware of who he is.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Are you sure it’s connecting you to God, though? I’ve seen a lot of folks make the assumption that the warm-and-fuzzy they get when a Hillsong tune is played in the worship service is a sign that they’re getting connected to God.

          I’m also a little concerned about the pop psychology that informs the phrase “connect to God,” as though we were disconnected from HIm before. If the bond between worshipper and God are so easily broken and, yet, so easily connected, did that bond really have much value in the first place?

          • Maybe it is semantics…

            What comes to mind is Psalm 100.

            Psalm 100
            A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

            1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
            2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
            come before him with joyful songs.
            3 Know that the Lord is God.
            It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
            we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

            4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
            and his courts with praise;
            give thanks to him and praise his name.
            5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
            his faithfulness continues through all generations.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            A couple things about Psalm 100:

            1. The worship in which this psalmist would have engaged would look absolutely nothing like a contemporary or liturgical worship in modern-day Western cultures.

            2. Worship here is described as something we give to God, not as a medium by which we “connect” to God. The psalmist seems more concerned with why we are supposed to worship God, not with how we’re supposed to feel when we worship.

            3. There is nothing in this psalm that presumes that contemporary worship is more capable of this “connection” (which the psalm never affirms) than liturgical worship. There is also nothing in the rest of the Bible to affirm one worship style over the other. However, my experience with contemporary worship is that the folks who lead or engage in that worship style are driven more by the need to feel something about God than to give something back to God.

          • Watch a worship service with the music low or turned off. You can almost see the programmed timed responses to the Holy Spirit.

        • So when you say “connects me with God,” you mean “makes me aware of who he is.” That’s all fine and good, I’m generally in favor of that happening through any means necessary.

          But that’s not a relational connection. That’s merely the imparting of information. Revelations of God’s goodness and beauty can inspire confidence in us about his care towards us as His children, but at the same time, it can also be very impersonal.

          For a genuine connection with God, communion with Christ, we need to recognize that the connection we were originally created to enjoy is broken by sin, and only receiving forgiveness restores that.

          That is why in our churches we believe in the power of music to tell us about who God is, especially in the person of Christ and what He has done for us, but ultimately it is the Word and the Sacraments that connect us to God. Through the Scriptures God truly speaks to us, through the Gospel God directly calls us, and through the Sacraments he gives to us personally, as sure as the water we sense or the bread we taste, his full and free forgiveness, assuring us of full restoration to our right relationship with Him. That’s a connection that music and hikes in nature do not deliver, even if they make us feel better about the whole situation. It’s rooted in the objective so that even when our subjective tells us that we have no connection and God does not love us, we can have confidence that His Word is more certain than our feelings.

          • “Through the Scriptures God truly speaks to us, through the Gospel God directly calls us…”

            Are you saying God can’t or won’t do that through Music? Because my experience would say otherwise.

          • You’ll find that the Means of Grace are rather flexible. So long as music is proclaiming the Gospel, it is a tool that God regularly uses. I don’t have that much confidence in instrumental music to call unbelievers to faith in Christ. But if the text of the songs proclaim the living Word, than He is the one speaking through it. But I would be careful to say it was the music itself that did the work. It was simply a medium through which the Gospel was proclaimed, and the Gospel itself does the calling. Once we attribute the power to the music itself, suddenly the Gospel becomes completely unnecessary to the equation. And there’s a ton of “Christian” music that has nothing to do with the Gospel.

            As Norman Nagel has said, “If you can’t nail it to the cross, it isn’t Christian.”

        • Further, Mike, I was that musician trying to “connect people with God” for years. I finally had to give it up when I realized I was just bullshitting. My own music wasn’t even connecting me with God, who was I kidding it was gonna help others? No amount of effort or spiritual concentration ever gave me the slightest form of “connection,” and to continue to fake it was not psychologically healthy. I never felt more disconnected from God than those Sunday mornings. I still don’t feel that great about it, but at least I don’t have the shame of constant hypocrisy weighing me down. And in my new tradition I can count on a spirituality that is formed 100% around assuring me of God’s full connection to me despite my best efforts to sever it.

          • “I was that musician trying to “connect people with God” for years. I finally had to give it up when I realized I was just bullshitting. My own music wasn’t even connecting me with God, who was I kidding it was gonna help others?”


      • -> “Music has no power to ‘connect you to God.’ All it is doing is holding your attention.”

        Wow, if that’s not an opinion stated as a truth, then I don’t know what is.

        • Well there’s a blank criticism stated without a counter.

          Rick, if you can find in scripture where we are taught that music has some sort of magical power to “connect us to God,” I’d be open to learning about it. Too often we judge what connects us to the divine by what makes us feel connected to it. How can you know that difference? How can you determine what is genuinely spiritual versus what is a divinely inspiring aesthetic experience?

          I propose that they are all the latter. Mankind is intimately connected with his creator at all times and in ways he is not aware of. Sin destroys this connection, and forgiveness restores it.

          • Rick, if you can find in scripture where we are taught that music has some sort of magical power to “connect us to God,” I’d be open to learning about it.

            Nah, I don’t play that game anymore, having to find a scripture to support a claim. I know it to be true and self-evident. And I’d hope the Biblical authors would have as well.

          • Miguel. What you are saying here is important. In orthodoxy, we are taught that we can be deluded easily. I can be so even during the Divine Liturgy!

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Um, it’s not an opinion, Rick Ro. Jesus connects us to God. That is the point around which the gospel and the entire Biblical narrative revolve. Music can help us find a common identity and affirm the culture in which we live, but no musician, however gifted, can ever connect you to God.

          • Well said. Music is not some sort of mediatorial substance through which God imparts spiritual grace to us. The over spiritualization of music in Evangelical subculture is surprisingly un-Christian, really, the concept finds its root in other alarming sources.

          • Different definitions of “connecting to God”. Maybe we are all speaking past each other.

          • Would love to hear someone actually make an honest case that a worship group or musical experience can “invoke the Presence” of God and bring you “before the Throne”, etc.

            Think I saw an article critiquing that idea once, based on some pentecostal understanding of worship being a Tabernacle experience, progressing moving inwards toward the Holy of Holies. Tabernacle or Second/New Kingdom Temple.

            Problem with that though is…the veil is ripped, and guess what: God was not inside.

          • If I tell you that there are musicians and certain songs that connect me to God and Christ, how can you say they don’t? Some people can connect with God by looking at Mt. Rainier or Mr. Shasta. Some while watching creek flow through a forest or listening to the surf pound a beach. God and Christ can be found in Creation, some of it even man-made creation. Writings (the Bible being one), music, art, sculptures.

            That’s my point. If you’re stating something because YOU PERSONALLY haven’t experienced it, then it’s opinion, not truth.

          • Rick, how can you really know that what you’re experiencing with these songs is actually a connection to God? By what can you even evaluate that? All you got is your feelings. You’re feelings are a terrible source of theological truth.

          • Miguel, can’t music be a language that tells of God’s glory and grace? If the heavens declare the glory of God, can’t music?

            Related topic: Where does music come from?

          • Marcus and Miguel,
            To make the unequivocal statement that music cannot connect you to God seems divorced from sensibility and plain experience. I appreciate the pendulum swing away from sappy emotionalism but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rationalism is as limited as emotionalism. Lop one off and you have half a tree spreading its branches to heaven. God speaks in music, feeling and emotion whenever He wants to without permission from any theology or acknowledgement from the intellect. He speaks to the intellect whenever He wants to as well, whether we are emotionally prepared or not. How do we ever get off deciding how He can and cannot speak? By what authority? God sings to the whole being and speaks to the whole being. Humanity without the benefit of feeling (Jesus wept.) is no humanity. It is part and parcel of our communion with the Father and music is an adjunct to or an appendage of that feeling. He uses it all however He wishes. Now I am off to dinner with my wife.

          • ->”Rick, how can you really know that what you’re experiencing with these songs is actually a connection to God? By what can you even evaluate that? All you got is your feelings. You’re feelings are a terrible source of theological truth.”

            I have no response to that. I’m left dumbfounded and sad.

          • Yes, Ted, in a way. But how do you know which God it is talking about? Most importantly, how do you know this God has become man to take away the sin of the world by dying and rising? Music alone can communicate something, but there is no connection to our God apart form Jesus, whom God has chosen to communicate to us with words.

            Chris, I am not against emotion. At all. I just don’t call my feelings “the voice of God.” It’s rather presumptuous, really. I’m also not saying God speaks through the intellect. Reason is the devil’s whore, as far as I’m concerned. He speaks through His Word, the writings of the prophets and apostles, and the message of the Gospel. THAT is his voice. “Given for you, for the forgiveness of sins” is what He is saying. I do not have a special connection to Him to receive divine revelation directly to my person. I do not believe anybody does, and I am very suspicious of anybody who claims otherwise: 9 out of 10 times, they’re selling something.

            Ted, I’ll have to think about a good answer for your last question.

          • Miguel,
            I am befuddled. If neither reason nor emotion are vehicles for integrating God’s communication to our being, how do we know what His word is? What faculties are left in us to absorb it? Am I missing something? Help me. Are you saying that we have these rational and emotional receptive (and emotive) capabilities with which we live socially, responding to and sharing with everyone around us but they are somehow not a part of our relation to God? They get turned off when it comes to Him and His word comes to us through some other facilility or aptitude? Am I to divorce myself of those? What in fact is it that I use to receive the Word if not my brain and my heart? Is it planted into me without knowledge or feeling? I assert that rationality, emotion, body and spirit are all experientially usurped and employed by the Spirit, only with our assent so only kinda kidding about the usurpation, to bring the Word into living reality in these clay pots. He wants it all. Greedy, I grant you, but He will be pleased with nothing less. He lives in all of it. I don’t see how you can just take a slab of your being aside and say He doesn’t communicate through that. In fact, I don’t see how you can possibly answer the question of where music comes from without opening that whole indecorous realm back up. Music has everything to do with feelings. Everything! Divorce feeling from music and you can take out the G clefs, the flats and the sharps too, not to mention the minors and the key changes.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Ted: Sure, music can the medium by which we declare the glory of God in tribute to Him. In an earlier post, I referenced one of the psalms which does exactly that, and I can cite a list of both contemporary and traditional songs which does just that. My only concern is when we start thinking that “connecting to God” is the main purpose, rather than the by-product of worship. It’s just not. Worship is tribute, in the same way that ancient Israel was taught to view the sacrificial system–a means by which we give back to God a portion of what he has given us.

            Chris: I’m still with Miguel on this one. Feeling emotionally good about worship is great, but I worry about us assuming that a) our feelings are evidence that something has happened, or that b) worship is something that we do when we’re “in the moment,” rather than a tribute rendered to God for what we know He has done.

            Rick Ro.: As soon as you said the word “I,” we went in different directions. Yes, you can have a spiritual epiphany by standing on a mountain or hearing a great song. But the definition of worship that you’re going off of is one in which you sense or feel something, which makes that worship experience all about you. Worship, especially as defined in the Psalms, is about tribute to God. That is why Paul called the presenting of our bodies as a living sacrifice “true worship.” This is why every command in both Testaments to worship God lists the achievements of God, rather than the expectation that worship will make us feel closer to him. This is why there is a second commandment that forbade Israel from constructing graven images. Once you start claiming things like, “God and Christ can be found in…man-made creation,” we’re not only talking about competing definitions of worship; we’re talking about profoundly different Gods.

          • P.s. I’m Catholic. Emotion is not the hallmark of my Sunday morning.

          • Marcus,
            “Chris: I’m still with Miguel on this one. Feeling emotionally good about worship is great, but I worry about us assuming that a) our feelings are evidence that something has happened, or that b) worship is something that we do when we’re “in the moment,” rather than a tribute rendered to God for what we know He has done.”
            I appreciate the phoniness, in fact abhor it, to which you refer. Fake tears, crying out, blah blah blah. So what. If I feel something, something Has happened. Did I bring Down the throne? No! I felt. I felt something in my relation to my Savior. And aren’t we always in the moment? Not sure what specifically that refers to but I’m looking for the moment, moment to moment. If I hear Sting sing, If I Ever Lose My Faith, I may have a ‘moment’. Well I embrace that moment as a gift, not a threat to my theological well being. I’m not fearful that I worshipped some idolic part of myself rather than my Lord. I really don’t get it. :). Going to bed. Night!

          • Marcus…
            This would be a discussion best served face-to-face as it’s difficult to explore the various angles in short blog posts and as equally difficult to re-state and re-phrase comments that are clearly being mis-read or skewed.

            This comment of yours:
            -> “Once you start claiming things like, ‘God and Christ can be found in…man-made creation,’ we’re not only talking about competing definitions of worship; we’re talking about profoundly different Gods.”

            Perhaps a better way of phrasing my thought/belief is “God and Christ can REVEAL themselves in man-made creations.” Of this, I have no doubt, and I have no doubt it’s the same God and Christ you worship.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Chris S: I never used the word “phoniness” to describe your experience. In fact, I have no doubt that it is a genuine experience. Biologically, mentally, spiritually, socially–nothing that you felt was wrong. In fact, I don’t think right or wrong are legitimate criteria to use here if all we were talking about are the feelings you feel when you worship.

            But I’m not discussing that. I’m discussing the problem folks have in thinking that the primary purpose of worship is to feel those feelings, which inherently detracts from the true purpose of worship: to give tribute to God. Worship then becomes an addiction, a need to feel something each week, and then the tolerance level builds, and the need to feel becomes greater than the capacity of the service to satisfy, and so new, bigger, better, greater worship experiences are being sought out…and all this time, the true purpose of worship (to borrow from a contemporary Matt Redman classic “It’s all about you/It’s all about you, Jesus,” becomes lost. Solution: go somewhere else and start the search for the worship service all over again.

            This is a very common trend, especially among American evangelicalism, and it leads to burnout, because it creates a craving that the act of worship was never meant to fill. And, with all due respect, when you argue that this is a very personal experience for you, you’re kind of proving my point.

            And as a person in a non-Catholic faith tradition, I can find a lot of emotional value in a Catholic mass.

          • That clarifies it for me Marcus. That makes sense. I know you didn’t use the term phoniness but that’s what it is after all. It’s an ‘unreal’ experience of God because His presence is equated with raw emotion. All I want to hold on to is the other side of the coin which says that experiencing the real presence of God can produce emotion. I was hearing that that was an impossibility and basically a figment of imagination which should be taken captive. Our worship calls for every faculty in a forthright way and if in that process He brings some consolation to our spirits it is acceptable and fitting. He loves us and that is sometimes an experiential reality.

          • Chris, I am not against the use of emotion and intellect at all. We just ought not to spiritualize them as means of divination. Of course, they aid us in our understanding of God’s Word, but their value in the spiritual and to revelation consist in their connection to God’s Word. When they are used as servants to appropriate the Scriptures and encounter Christ through them, then they are good, right, and salutary. But apart from the Word, our emotions and intellect usually just tell us what we want to hear. They will never be prophetic to our souls unless Christ speaks truth to their power over us in Holy Writ. Kind of like how Scripture divorced from tradition will say whatever we make it, so emotion and intellect do not reveal Christ by themselves. The revelation of Christ actually impacts and transforms the way we think and feel, so they are really after the fact rather than means of grace.

          • Rick,

            “God and Christ can REVEAL themselves in man-made creations.”

            That’s a good thought there. Let me put it this way: God has given to the faithful the ability to PROCLAIM who God is in Christ through the instruments of creation He has given us.

            Music and the arts are only encounters with the Christian God to the extent that they actually proclaim who He is and His saving acts for Us. When we begin singing about us and how much WE love him and all WE want to DO for Him, that obscures the Gospel by putting the focus back on us.

            But if the proclamation of Christ is a means of encountering God, suddenly the music itself becomes superfluous and ultimately unnecessary. Apart from the Gospel, music has no divine power in and of itself. As a musician, I am fully confident of the inability of my most excellent technique and expression to accomplish what the Gospel does without it.

          • Miguel said,

            Ted, I’ll have to think about a good answer for your last question [Where does music come from?].

            Bonus points: Do Tom Waits and Jerry Garcia qualify as music? Even better, worshipful music?

          • Ok, Ted, now you’ve just gone to far. I guess all I can say is this: Music comes from God. It is both His creation and His gift to us, both to be explored and enjoyed for its own sake and to be used to tell of His mighty works. I reject “worshipful” as a descriptor. Question right back at you: Does 4’33” by John Cage qualify as music? What is the sound of one hand clapping?

          • Miguel,
            Fair enough. I am reacting to this because I have seen the tragic results of bad neuroses that, in my estimation, were born directly from the teaching that feelings are bad, without meaning or that they are simply not a part of our relationship with God. Verifiably destructive results ensued. (Back in my fundamentalist days) Feeling is critical. Without it we are amputees, living in a two dimensional world. Of course complete dependence on feelings is misguided as is dependence on reason alone. The whole being is required, and then some.

          • Miguel said,

            Question right back at you: Does 4’33” by John Cage qualify as music?

            I had to look that up, and I’m “listening” to it right now. Interesting. And very restful. I’ve also heard that one-half of a Beethoven symphony is silence, and without the silence it wouldn’t be as powerful.

            The Sunday after Christmas I visited my middle daughter’s church (Unitarian) and they had an annual “gong” service instead of a sermon. The musician is a percussionist in real life, also collects gongs from all over the world, and offered this for the service with some explanation first. I found it very restful, sounding something like waves and wind, and an opportunity to pray for 20 minutes. I told my daughter afterward that I got more out of that than most sermons I’ve heard.

            Does 4′ 33″ qualify as music? Probably not; there’s no sound at all. But it may qualify as a “worshipful” experience—although I don’t think I understand the term as you do. Is the silence at a Quaker meeting worshipful? And I’ll volley back to you the ol’ puzzle, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I’ve never figured out what that means.

      • It is helping direct, and reflect, our focus. Although it does not have power, it can be a means, and an expression.

      • I’d disagree, Miguel, lol. Let me site the sacred works The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby…

        • I do enjoy those, but you’re gonna have to do better than that to win me over. Choirs of angelic hosts. Voices that make the Edge and his stack of amplifiers sound like a tin whistle.

    • I get this, but I wonder if the author is not simply giving an uncritical blessing to all “liturgical worship” but levering an expectation that worship will be GOOD, whatever its form. The implication being that good music is not necessarily going to satisfy us instantly, but it might eventually do so if we put in the time. Hence his note that we are supposed to do “work” in worship.

      I have often been frustrated at how so many people have what is in my view a shallow taste in music. Then I remember that I have spent many thousands of hours listening to, and seeking to appreciate, a variety of different types of music. This is not everyone’s experience. Those with better things to do simply grab onto the nearest snappy tune that is accessible and popular, and that’s what builds the pathways in their brain. We’re all like this in some way. I’m sure I wouldn’t know fine French cooking from gruel if I were presented with it.

    • A mix and match of the two is good for me. Give me a good rocking song…and give me a few moments of utter silence without some banal drippings flowing from some worship leader’s mouth.

      • Hear, hear! I like a mix, too. I prefer quieter, reflective times over some of the noise, but music is good, too.

  8. I think most here would agree that the aim of worship (and not solely the musical portion, but the entire service as a whole) is not to entertain people, so if we are artificially constructing a worship service centered around trying to draw people in and cater them (instead of God, see for instance Galatians 1:10: For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ), we are not being honest and faithful. It is a shame that this fairly elementary truth can be so easily overlooked.

    However, ultimately there is freedom in worship–that is, there is no inherently “right” or “wrong” manner in which worship is expressed. I believe singing old hymns vs more contemporary songs is irrelevant, as long as it’s done out of a sincere heart that isn’t attempting to impress. I think we have to be careful we don’t go too far to the other extreme by becoming overly-legalistic. It should hopefully become clear to the discerning Christian over time whether or not a Church and its services are people-pleasers or God-pleasers.

    • That being said, there is certainly the danger of a service (and particularly its music) being shallow or devoid of Godly content, and therefore is something to consider when evaluating the style.

    • Jesse Reese says

      Your point about freedom-in-worship is a very important one, and often overlooked by advocates of traditional worship who see it as antithetical to music with contemporary instruments, dressing down to more of a casual tone, etc. However, as an advocate of a generous traditionalism in worship, I would take issue with these phrases and what follows:

      “worship is expressed” “out of a sincere heart that isn’t attempting to impress”

      I think these ideas are where you are distant from CM and the author of this article. What is the essence of worship? Your answer (I could be wrong) appears to be “sincere expression of adoration on the part of the believer.” I believe CM, this author, and myself would answer, “an encounter with Christ, who makes himself present through Word and Sacrament.” There is an outward focus that directs the service. Yes, believers are to express their response, however the selection of music and such is guided by the outward, God-in-Christ-come-among-us focus. The sincerity of our expression is (in an important sense) secondary to this focus in the organization of the service, because our response first needs to be SHAPED and DIRECTED, not expressed.

      I think this is an important difference between liturgical vs. contemporary worship advocates that often doesn’t get enough attention. What is the first priority of worship form: To express our inner state, or to shape it?

      • I could also be wrong, but I don’t see our evaluations as being in conflict. First, when I wrote “worship is expressed…”, I was saying worship should in fact guide the manner in which we shape/structure the service, by the song selection, etc. as you yourself stated, and “then” ultimately this results in a response. Christ will come among us and there will be an encounter whether the song selection is liturgical or contemporary. So unless you would like to maybe clarify a bit more (perhaps I’m missing something), I don’t see any disagreement.

        Also, upon further reflection, I suppose your definition of worship could be considered part 1 and my definition part 2. Worship begins with “an encounter with Christ”, true, but an encounter isn’t the end in itself, it’s so much more. An encounter with Christ will ultimately lead to an “expression of adoration on the part of the believer”.

        • Jesse Reese says

          I think you’ve got some of what I’m saying, but I also think we’re talking past each other, possibly because of differences in ecclesial context. I am coming from an Episcopalian/Anglilcan context, and it sounds to me like yours might be a bit more free-church and congregational. The first thing that you should know is that, in my context (as well as Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and some Methodist and Presbyterian ones), it is taken for granted that the forms of worship (complete with options for variation) are determined at a level higher than the local congregation and adapted for local use. A wider Church together works out the form in our context. But I get the impression that in your context the local congregation by and large makes decisions about worship “from scratch” and any norms are simply what that congregation has “always done,” or at least for a long time. This is my understanding of free-church worship from my Baptist background.

          Now, some things I want to clarify:

          1. “…who comes to us through Word and Sacrament” is an important key to what I was saying. “Encounter with Christ” is vague and can be subjectively interpreted; in highly sacramental church contexts, it has a specific meaning that takes place outwardly and not in our inner states. Christ has promised to be present and working among us through the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are called the “means of grace” because of this. Christ himself binds us to him, who is the only true Worshipper through whom our worship is sanctified. The “how” is up for debate (though it is important), but that THIS is how Christ is present and works among us is key. From the beginning of the church, worship has been carefully scripted to guide us through this particular encounter and direct us toward the Christ who makes himself present in it, as well as teach us something about what that means. So…

          2. We receive our “form” of worship, and are not left to create it ourselves. First, the Church receives the core form of Christ in Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, then throughout history it maintains a basic script of worship that guides is through the encounter and our response so as to work WITH the means of grace rather than DISTRACT from them, then in every generation we RECEIVE the form, encounter Christ through it, perhaps reform it in ways that it may have gone astray, and pass it on. This ensures the stable passing on of the wisdom of the historic church while allowing us (carefully and in time) to leave the mark of our own wisdom as well, with fear and trembling. We gather, we hear the Scriptures read and interpreted, we come to the Lord’s Table to be fed by him, and we are sent out with his blessing into the world. Selections of music simply SUPPORT this basic form in doing its work by guiding our approach to each step and our response. Thus…

          3. Whether our song selection is “contemporary” or “traditional” ultimately does not matter. This is where I will depart from some who advocate “traditional” worship. What matters is the content (Does it proclaim the Gospel, GOD’S saving acts in history culminating in the Incarnation, Ministry, Cross, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Does it say something substantial in the time it has, or waste it on pointless repetition? Is the response it engenders appropriate?) and the appropriateness for worship (Can the congregation sing it? Are they drowned out or overpowered? Can at least some of them grasp what it is saying? Can we perform this with skill and guide the congregation in it?). The church I attended in Nashville was St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, and they used contemporary along with traditional music in their worship. To get an idea of how worship there worked, I would HIGHLY recommend reading the series that CM did interviewing their former worship leader, Eric Wyse:




  9. Every old song was once new. The liturgical worship styles were once new. Newness is not a valid critique of a worship style.

    The first time I read this post (elsewhere) it struck me as an unusually weak post for the adovcacy of older worship styles. There is no engagement with the good aspects of contemporary worship. There is no substantive discussion of whether or not contemporary worship delivers anything we need. And I’m one who wishes that the mix in my church would change to include more hymns.

    • I’m not sure where the post advocates for traditional worship.

      The point seems to be “we shouldn’t be crafting the worship service to attract people.”

      • In this article, the word “traditional” is not so much about style as about the purpose of worship. Jonathan is pointing out that worship has had a traditional purpose in the church. The church growth movement along with what we call “contemporary worship” accelerated movement away from that purpose. On Internet Monk we would describe it as the difference between the liturgical and revivalist traditions. It is not simply that they have different kinds of music or certain other elements, but rather that they are, at their heart, about different purposes.

  10. I often think of something that happened when I was out to lunch with my daughter. Very simply put, she of the kindest heart towards the disabled, the homeless, and all rejected animals in shelters, and her generosity has no boundaries that are commonly regarded as ‘sensible’ in our modern world, no.

    We met for lunch at a Pantera’s in the city where she lives, and going in, there was a homeless man sitting to the side of the building in a sunpatch. My daughter told me to secure a table and that she would place our order. She came back to table and said ‘Mom, you get the coffees, I’ll be right back.’ And she took a sack of food outside and gave it to the person sheltering in the sunpatch.
    Then my Catholic-educated daughter returns to table, sits down, and says, ‘Ma, I suppose you want me to say grace’ . . . and I replied,
    ‘Jenn, I think you just did.’

    Very proud of my girl. She gets it. She totally gets it.
    ‘Modern worship’? some kinds of ‘worship’ our young are capable of doing looks a whole lot like an offering Our Lord would approve of, I think.

    • Thumbs up, Christiane!

    • That’s a beautiful story. Would to God that I was more that way.

      Also, I would eat anything at a restaurant called “Pantera’s.”

    • Great story! Great testimony!

    • I had a friend challenge me on this last night. She used to routinely give out bags of stuff to homeless people, water, food, whatever, and wants to start doing it again. In that moment I realized just how deep and profound my respect for her was, and how that’s the type of person I want to be: a giver, who shares, who cares, who remembers the least of these. It was such a profound moment seeing Jesus right there again that I just sat there weeping. I rarely see that.

  11. Start laying hands on the sick and see them instantly healed.
    Start rebuking demons in people and see them suddenly cast out.
    Start preaching messages about the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, with the result that the Holy Spirit falls on the congregation with charismatic manifestations.

    Do those things on Sunday mornings and you’ll have to kill people to keep them from worshiping God.

  12. Randy Thompson says

    If I could run experiments on church people like psychologists do with white rats in a lab, I would take a representative group of believers and have them all attend a Quaker Meeting, where there is no music and not much of anything else, unless the Spirit prompts someone to share something. It would be interesting to see how many people were worshiping. I suspect not many would be.

    However, I think the old-time Quakers were on to something. Worship is a matter of the heart. For a true worshiper, all of life is an excuse to worship. You don’t need a praise band (or an organ either, for that matter). The real issue when it comes to “worship preferences” is not the style of music, but whether someone is a worshiper to begin with. If someone loves God, then the means of doing so is strictly secondary. If someone needs (needs!) a rock band to worship, they don’t know what worship is. If someone needs (needs!) an organ, they don’t know what worship is, either. .

    But, that said, I find that I am increasingly agreeing with the author, because what is lost in so-called contemporary worship is a thought-out, prayed-for liturgy, which unites believers by giving them a shared vocabulary of praise, confession and thanksgiving, and which links believers to previous generations of believers, joining us with a collective wisdom that transcends the usual insanity of the present moment.

    The repetitiveness of liturgy not only teaches us how to praise and confess, but it also trains and shapes our hearts. If you are a worshiper to begin with, liturgy encourages, teaches, and enables the heart to worship. If you are not a worshiper, if you approach liturgy as an obligation or as some sort of weird ecclesiastical entertainment, it is merely words.

  13. I think it’s somewhat ironic that he uses David Crowder as his example of modern, non-liturgic worship. Crowder actually has recorded quite a few traditional hymns over the span of his career, and I don’t really think he would disparage liturgy, either.

    It’s also interesting to me that “traditional” essentially is a very limited scope within historic Christianity. The western hymns being extolled my Mr. Aigner are quite different than what you’d hear in, say, and Eastern Orthodox liturgy.

    It does seem that there’s a certain desire to impose epistemological and cultural uniformity on churches. It seems to me the elephant in the room is that Christians can’t even agree on basic, foundational things like how they conceive God to be. Why should we be surprised that they have different ideas on what worship should be like?

  14. Marcus Johnson says

    Reading over the comments, I’m sensing that worship, as understood by some folks, is a ritual conducted in order to feel something about God. If so, then it would make sense that, if worship at one church doesn’t make you feel the way you think you should feel, you should go somewhere else.

    But that’s not what worship is. This is not a semantics issue, in which we’re using the same word to describe to sides to the same coin. This is a very foundational part of who we are and our relationship to God.

    Consider the Psalms. I’m reading over some of them, in accordance with the lectionary, in preparation for this weekend’s service. I notice that most of the “praise and worship” Psalms begin with a command to worship, then affirm that the reason why worship is demanded is not because it makes us feel closer to God, but because God deserves praise (in most cases, listing the reasons why God deserves praise). Worship, then, is not about reconnecting; it’s about tribute to a King.

    So, when folks choose worship styles because of how they feel, or when worship leaders select songs because the song really gets the crowd energized, my concern is that the tribute which God is rightly due is being given on the condition that we like the environment in which we are supposed to render that tribute. Should we really hold worship hostage because we want a beat we can clap to, or an organ that makes us remember what it was like to be a kid in Sunday School?

    I like and enjoy both styles of worship but, more and more, I see people making decisions about worship styles based on what they feel, not on what they know God deserves. Granted, in my experience, I see that happening more in contemporary styles of worship than in traditional styles, but that probably has more to do with the reduction of choirs and orchestras in church services and the convenience of worship bands.

    In the end, I just think that we need to remember why we worship, and if it’s primarily to feel connected to God, then we’re doing a good thing for all the wrong reasons.

    • Good points Marcus. I would also add that in classical christianity, the central act of worship was the reception of the Eucharist; this is true food, true communion. I don’t know how music ended up the focal point.

      • When you take away the means of grace, people longing for a connection with God begin to seek him through other means. Therefore music often becomes a quasi-sacrament alternative spirituality for traditions who reject substantive sacramental theology.

    • Marcus, I think your comments here and above are right on. And I agree with Mr s, that the principal act of worship every Sunday (or other day) should be the celebration of Holy Communion. Without the Holy Communion, worship otherwise consisting of emotional songs and extended sermon is like a head without a trunk (to turn Karl Barth’s saying on its head).

      • Joseph (the original) says

        RE: the idea that Communion is the central focus, act, sacrament (the RCC catechism definition resounds in my head: “An outward sign [rite] instituted by Christ to give us grace) that anchors, or is the highest form of worship.

        Well, it seems this one pinnacle of worship expression can be understood differently depending on the emphasis of the faith tradition and worship practices it represents.

        I don’t really think that the rite, or sacrament of communion, is more important than the actual gathering together as saints in His name…

        I do recall that Jesus was quoted in the gospel of Matthew about the spiritual dynamic where there are two or three gathered in His name, there He would be in their midst…

        Now, it seems that in this instance Jesus was not too concerned about the need for bread and wine to be the necessary elements in the equation. So any worship or praise songs that have a theme about wanting God’s presence, or pleading for Him to show up in power, etc. simply being rude. What’s with the idea of begging for more of God’s presence, whether it’s some form of external ‘manifestion’, or the rite of communion that implies those that participate in partaking of an external element translates into getting ‘more’ of Jesus???

        What has ‘evolved’ over the centuries to become the communal faith traditions we classify as worship, praise, sacrament, etc. do emphasize, or elevate, one particular component over others that somehow translates into the right, correct, intended, established manner of what should be appreciated as being pure worship…

        Just from the various comments about this topic we can see how the hierarchy of worship styles and methods somehow negate the experience of some that do feel they can connect with God, or can become ‘more-in-tune’ with Him through music of different styles.

        Contemporary worship styles and songs? Meh…

        Liturgical worship styles and songs? Meh…

        Communion no matter how often or how it’s understood? Meh…

        I choose to gather with the saints on a Sunday morning because I do understand there is a corporate dynamic unavailable to the Lone Ranger for Jesus. I may not fully understand its spiritual importance, nor appreciate how every expression of such gatherings actually magnify Jesus, impact my overall spiritual health, or help with the process of transformation etc., but I do know I cannot claim with clear conscience that what is my unique personal experience of ‘connecting’ with God the absolute Golden Standard that becomes the measuring stick for everybody else, or even if it can be fully appreciated by those other saints that also claim allegiance to this very same Lord and Savior…

        • I like your take on this, Joseph.


          -> “I choose to gather with the saints on a Sunday morning because I do understand there is a corporate dynamic unavailable to the Lone Ranger for Jesus. ”

          Yes. And some of those saints I gather with like some of the same things I do, and some of them don’t, and some of them believe almost exactly as I do, and some of them don’t, and I think the longer I’ve walked this Christian walk the more I realize most of my beliefs and the beliefs of those around me are beliefs based more on opinion than truth, and yet we choose to worship together anyway!

        • J(to), having thought about it overnight, I think you’re probably correct. I should have said that I prefer Eucharistic centered worship, for a variety of reasons, not least of all that it provides a consistent pattern and action, in which all present may participate, not dependent on the creative inspiration of musicians or preachers. And it presents and embodies the gospel in miniature, by proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection until his coming again. Where preachers and musician may fail, and often do, Holy Communion does not, provided a few simple elements are kept in order and observed (I say this as a Protestant who has a conception of Holy Communion shaped by Reformed, and Reformation, thinking).

          But my Pentecostal co-worker has his reasons, too, for preferring the worship that occurs at his non-sacramentally centered Pentecostal church. I know some of them, because we’ve discussed it on a number of occasions. I’m loathe to say that what goes on at his church is not fully Christian, or is not “real Church” ; I don’t think that would be true. So I acknowledge the truth of your comment.

  15. Here is another duck and run thought.

    Jesus tells us to love the Lord our God with all our Heart and Soul and Mind and Strength.

    Is what we are doing on Sunday morning engaging all of that?

    • Well, Mike, that is the goal of worship in the Orthodox Church – to present and offer oneself to God, honestly and with as much of our whole self as we can muster in any given moment (and then to go out and be the Sacrament to the world). The Liturgy engages the whole person, and the emotions are certainly involved, but they are not in the driver’s seat. Furthermore, the body is also engaged, because to be human is to be an embodied soul/spirit; in addition, someone with limited cognitive understanding can still participate physically. When I am that much present, even a little bit, I know that I have worshiped, no matter what I feel like. In 6 years now, I have never come away from an Orthodox Liturgy with any kind of notion that I haven’t worshiped. Subjective, I know, but nonetheless…

      As Jesse said above, worship is something we have been given. The first Christians were Jews; the Jews worshiped liturgically in a manner they believed had been given to them by God, and the Jews who were following Jesus didn’t just dump that and re-invent the wheel. Rather, they understood what they had been given to have been fulfilled, kept the basic Jewish prayer service and appended the Eucharist to it. In the Orthodox Church we don’t monkey with the Liturgy very much, and the last time we did, it was centuries ago.

      Now, along the way I heard of a person – I believe an atheist – who came to Christ as a result of hearing Bach’s St Matthew Passion. I know of another couple, who although were already Christian, were propelled deeper into the Christian life as a result of hearing Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. Both instances were in a concert hall setting, not even “in church.” As Dostoyevsky wrote, Beauty will save the world. “Good” and “beautiful” are the same word in Greek. Those musical compositions are simply sublime, and God certainly can use even text-less music to draw someone to Christ.

      I am about to finish my 59th year, so very much formed in the ’60s. I *loved* the guitar Masses growing up as a Catholic. Later on, I was a worship leader for most of my 30 years as a Protestant, and sought out songs to be used in worship that had quality, both musically and textually. I believe God is gracious and loving and receives what we offer him in love, because he knows our intentions. During the time in which my theology was changing, there was also a marked reduction of quality in contemporary worship music, and as grateful as I had been for the freedom and encouragement to make the emotional connection with God during worship in community that some churches offered, a strictly emotional connection became as problematic for me as a strictly intellectual connection had been previously.


    • I had a similar discussion with a pastor a few years ago. The basic question we asked ourselves was, “Are we sure we’re even doing church right?” And that wasn’t just OUR church, but ANY church, since we all are pretty certain we’re doing church right.

  16. What alarms me is the degree to which Church music, and worship in general, has become captive to youth culture. I don’t have a problem with more rhythmic music in worship; many non-European societies have traditional music that stresses rhythm, and I wouldn’t expect them to adopt European music culture and tradition as part of their worship. Again, I have no problem with technology, when used soberly and judiciously to communicate and include everyone in the act of worship.

    I do have a huge problem when churches use music and technology to make worship “cool,” and thereby make it captive to youth culture (a category that may as easily include 60-yea-olds as 20-somethings). “Cool” is the aesthetic category and adolescent spirit (smells like teen spirit) that youth culture adopted at its birth in the 1950’s; it’s typified by an embrace of Dionysian excess, as shaped by commercialism and the tyranny of the latest, and a rejection of sobriety and studied craftsmanship in all the arts, including music. When churches sign on to “cool” as one of the major criteria for choosing the music they will use in worship, they effectively gut depth, profundity, reflection, and maturity in worship, and opt for the cheap thrills of emotionalism and fevered excitement. It’s not a good transaction to make; it impoverishes the worship of the Church in the name of the contemporary, as assessed through the sensibility of an adolescent.

    • Brianthedad says

      +1. As usual, an erudite comment from Mr. Robert F.

    • Really RF. Ziggy Stardust? Oh, man, we are old!

      • OP, as one of the commenters in the link I provided said, they just don’t write rock and roll guitar licks like that anymore. Underneath all that make-up and glitter that he wore in the 70’s, David Bowie was a fine craftsman of pop melodies and songs in multiple sub-genres. Nevertheless, though I liked it, and still like it, it’s only rock and roll (though his Berlin trilogy pushed past the limitations of rock and roll, and is probably the best work he ever did, or ever will), and rock and roll is the music of wounded adolescents and enfants terribles.

    • Nailed it.

  17. A Simple Hillbilly says

    The focal point of understanding that worship is not an evangelistic tool is solid. I think that singling out CCM actually does this article a disservice in that it takes the discussion in an unfortunate detour. My first problem is that there is actually a spectrum of worship styles in churches, and no matter were they fit in the spectrum, they all have to deal with people trying to use it to bring people in. In addition to trying CCM, churches in my area regularly have classical concerts, Southern gospel, highland bagpipe services (with kilts for the pastor), Celtic services and the list goes on. Doesn’t this all fit into the same problem?

    • davidbrainerd2 says

      “and no matter were they fit in the spectrum, they all have to deal with people trying to use it to bring people in.”

      Not true at all. I’ve never seen anyone arguing that traditional hymns bring people in. That’s because traditional hymns were written for worship; CCM is written as a gimmick to replace real evangelism. So the singling out of CCM is perfectly appropriate. Concerts are not the church service obviously. If someone likes a particular style of music and wants to put on a concert, good for them, but its obviously for the entertainment of those who like that music. So keep the CCM in entertainment concerts and be done with it.

      • It’s amazing how you’re able to discern the motives of whole swaths of people like that…

        It’s pretty easy to find examples of churches using traditional worship as a gimmick of sorts. My wife was a member of a Moravian church for a few years, and they advertised and sold tickets to their traditional Christmas worship service. I also know of churches who spent more than an entire year’s budget on a pipe organ. Somehow I don’t think such thing make Christ all that happy.

        • david brainerd says

          If there’s an organ I don’t consider it traditional at all. Traditional is a cappella. Even an organ is modernizing.

  18. I didn’t accept Christ.

    He accepted me.

    • So musical styles don’t matter, right?

      There’s the answer!

    • Prove it.

      Seriously. Prove it. I’d like to hear it. Prove that Jesus uniquely accepted you and you didn’t uniquely accept Jesus. Prove that Jesus did not accept everyone, and you accepted him in respond. Prove that you didn’t accept Jesus first, and then Jesus accepted you second. And prove that Jesus accepted you and you could not accept him.

      Prove it. List it all out for me. Make it as raw and as simple as possible.

  19. I think I disagree with the premise of this post. If what Aigner is saying is that worship shouldn’t be designed “to bring people to Jesus,” then I think that’s incorrect; though I’ve been practicing my faith for decades now, I continually need to be “brought to Jesus,” and converted again and again. I hope that God is doing this through the liturgical worship I participate in, particularly in bringing me to Holy Communion, where I receive him in body and spirit. That others are brought to him again and again, and converted again and again, through different forms of worship is something I have no wish to question. But I do disagree with Aigner’s idea that an essential part of worship is not to bring people to Jesus; it’s not the only purpose of worship, but conversion is not a one time occurrence: in worship it occurs again and again.

  20. I found myself unchurched for about a year not too long ago, and I used that opportunity to check out the variety of churches in my area, basically attending services at a different church once or twice a month. About half the time I either slept in on Sunday morning or revisted one of the churches where I knew people. But altogether, I probably attended the services of about 25 different churches, including all the major denominations and quite a few nondenoms, during that year or so.
    When it came to worship, there were some I liked more than others, but, honestly, I didn’t encounter anything I would consider unChristian or spiritually counterproductive. As far as I could tell, all the worship was directed at Christ, and, as far as I see it, it was all good — by which I mean that it was all spiritually profitable and certainly better than no worship at all. Some churches were more lively in worship than others, some were more liturgical, and some of the liturgical-heavy churches were more upbeat, while others were very solemn.
    As far as music is concerned, I encountered just about everything from loud and heavy contemporary to contemporary light to standard traditional hymns to backwoods hillbilly hymns you won’t find in most hymnals to high hymns set to classical music to folksy Jesus songs from the 60’s and 70’s. Some churches were better at music with some considerable talent out front, and some were quite obviously lacking in that department.
    And while the music ranged widely on my personal scale of likes and dislikes, it was pretty much all about Jesus and I didn’t have any theological qualms about singing along. Honestly, I had a lot more of a problem with some of the junk I heard coming from the pulpit than with the music. But expecting a man or woman to get up and do a 30 minute to hour long soliloquy without stiicking their foot in the mouths once or twice is just unrealistic in my book.
    As I see it, worship is a gift we give to God — and we give it from where we are as human beings with all the traditional and cultural baggage that goes along with that. And if those engaging in worship are shallow, entertainment-addicted, cogs in the consumerist American machine, then their worship will quite naturally reflect that. It don’t mean they love Jesus any less.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, humanslug. I really liked this line:

      “And while the music ranged widely on my personal scale of likes and dislikes, it was pretty much all about Jesus and I didn’t have any theological qualms about singing along.”

      That’s been my experience, too, and why I have trouble with the “music” pushback from some of the people here.

  21. Sorry I’m arriving late at the party on this one, but I work for a living and have little free time these days to devote to commenting on blogs.

    I am a megachurch evangelical. I read a lot of the critiques of the megachurch here and find that they strike uncomfortably close to home, yet I have invested a significant portion of my life in the megachurch world and in the church where I am presently, and at this point I am pretty much worthless for anything else.

    As to this article, it is a critique of the contemporary worship model which is so prevalent in evangelicalism nowadays, a critique which strikes uncomfortably close to home. I am sure that traditional worship is more worthwhile and I know I should like traditional worship–but I have invested enough of my life in contemporary worship settings that at this point I am pretty much worthless for anything else.

    Previous commenters have asked “Why not just leave?” My thought is that if I leave, then I lose the opportunity to be an influence for change where I am. Also, the church where I am has been my spiritual home for a significant portion of my young adult years, and has been very good to me over the years. It offers me a community where I have the opportunity to belong and be involved, where I am known and accepted and valued for who I am and have a great deal of latitude to be who I am. It offers me space to wrestle with my questions and doubts, and even to express those openly without the threat of loss of relationship which exists in many evangelical communities. I have no desire to walk away from this unless I absolutely positively have to.

    Yet this is clearly a conversation which we need to be having in the megachurch world. What would this look like in the church where I am? It would not mean getting rid of the band and bringing in a pipe organ. I love the band and the light show too much for that–as noted earlier, at this point I am pretty much worthless for anything else–and there are lots of other people who feel the same way. So keep the band and the light show, but let us think about the things we say about worship. Let us stop talking about it as if it was meant to be used to draw people to Jesus. Let us instead start thinking of worship as something we get to be part of, something which helps us to keep the story of God’s redemptive plan front and center.

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